“THERE is much worse to come.”
That was the message from politicians in Southampton as the Labour-run city council finalised its budget for 2014-15.
The budget, which will see the axe fall on £14.4million of services, has been described as the “calm before the storm”, with the cash-strapped council looking at having to make “in excess of £30million” in savings next year.
There are fears it could mean the end for services across the city, even though this year’s budget has already seen 100 jobs axed and council tax rise by 1.9 per cent.
Much of the savings through this year’s budget was made across all of the departments, cutting down on unnecessary costs including everything from photocopying to being more energy-efficient.
The council had originally had a savings target of more than £20million, but was able to use some Government grant funding to plug the gap.
But Labour council bosses say they will be unable to stave off some of the most severe cuts for another year, with council bosses having to find £47million extra by 2016/17.
City finance chief Stephen Barnes-Andrews said: “The next budget, there’s no point in pretending, is going to be in excess of £30million we will need to find if this Government continues with its current austerity programme.
“The council will have an immense challenge.”
He said much of the council’s financial struggle was down to continued funding cuts from central Government, while it also had to fork out £3.5million after the Government had now made it liable for all business rate appeal payouts, backdated to 2005.
And council leader Simon Letts added: “Obviously we have had a lot of time to prepare for that and we are already looking at options.
“We already have three or four more options we are looking at for next year, but obviously w i t h £30million we won’t be able to find that purely through efficiencies.
“But we will do everything we can to keep the impact on front line services to a minimum.”
Conservative opposition leader Royston Smith said: “This is the calm before the storm of next year’s budget. This is a standstill budget that hits residents but fails to take the initiative to get the city council's finances under control.
“If the Labour council do not find alternative funding streams or more efficiencies, then services to residents will degenerate still further.”
Rebel councillors Keith Morrell and Don Thomas, who quit Labour in 2012, have launched their new party, Putting People First. They said: “This Labour administration is being less than honest.
“It's trying to pretend that it is successfully managing the city's finances, but it should be shouting from the rooftops that there is a financial tsunami bearing down upon us which will devastate the city’s public services.”
And Liberal Democrat group leader Adrian Vinson said: “They have taken no notice of feedback from their consultation, and altered virtually nothing from their earlier, deeply-flawed draft.”
The 2014/15 Budget
ALMOST 100 jobs will be lost and council tax will increase as part of £14.4m cuts at Southampton City Council.
Labour council bosses have this evening put forward their final budget proposals, which will come into force from April if approved by the full council.
Among the proposals – which are likely to be formally adopted at a council meeting on February 12 – are raising council tax by 1.9 per cent.
Forty-eight jobs will be axed while another 43 will be cut through the streamlining of the authority’s children’s, public health, adult and housing departments into the new People Directorate.
The City Patrol service will be scrapped while Trading Standards will be scaled back.
The Tudor House museum will have its hours reduced.
In response to consultation, which 3,600 residents took part in, Labour bosses have reversed plans to make two staff within the museums and galleries education team redundant.
And the pledge by council leader Simon Letts to freeze parking charges for the next three years is also included within the budget.
He has also announced he will work with opposition parties to look at the numbers of city wards and councillors, and how often elections take place, in a bid to cut further funding.
The authority met a £1.4milion shortfall by dipping into the council’s reserves and using Government grants.