COUNCIL tax will be frozen for a second year in Southampton after ruling Tories agreed plans to axe 200 jobs and slash nearly £14m from the authority’s under pressure budget.
They ignored noisy protests from unions and pleas from anti-cuts campaigners and voted through another raft of cuts to help plug a £57m three-year budget hole.
Opposition councillors said the vulnerable would be worst hit.
And after nine months of industrial action over controversial staff pay cuts Tory chiefs provoked further union fury by warning they plan to withdraw taxpayer funding for two full-time union officials as well as use of council offices, worth up £90,000 a year.
Tories insisted three quarters of their budget savings will come from efficiencies but day care for the disabled will be cut, street cleaning and park-keeping posts will be axed, and funding will be withdrawn from the Hawthorns Wildlife Centre on the Common. Half the job losses will be redundancies.
A £3.25m cut to the city’s £70m adult social care budget was voted through despite city MP John Denham urging a rethink after revealing a third of residential care homes inspected last year were “substandard”.
Labour opposition leader Richard Williams said: “The people that are going to be impacted on by the cuts are the less well off, the elderly and the vulnerable.”
Tories pledged to protect libraries and sure start centres, freeze charges for car parking and meals on wheels, retain weekly bin collections, strip out more layers of management, get better deals from suppliers and share services with other councils to cuts costs.
They claimed there would be no service cuts to young people and a new scholarship would be introduced to get help poorer students get to city universities.
Tory finance boss Councillor John Hannides said frontline services would be protected while bureaucracy was cut. He insisted the £183m revenue budget represented “best value for residents.”
A controversial ten per cent council tax discount for pensioners will also be retained in the city, while the full council tax bill is frozen at £1,447.
Labour finance spokesman Stephen Barnes-Andrews said the Conservative budget would be another blow to staff morale as Tories ignored an “innovative”
£200,000 Labour plan to avert 50 compulsory redundancies.
Lib Dem group leader Adrian Vinson who had proposed a “fairer, safer, greener and cleaner” alternative said: “I’m disappointed the Conservatives have chosen to stick with a budget which unnecessarily hits vulnerable people, our neighbourhood environments and jobs.”
An unexpected £1.3m VAT refund on commercial waste, dating between 1974 and 1995, will be used to plug a £750,000 black hole in the council’s capital budget.
Another £300,000 from the windfall will be used to beef up a reserve to pay out possible compensation and legal costs following a £12m claim by the unions over pay cuts.
Unions blasted the move by Tory council chiefs to set aside an additional £600,000 of “workers’ pay” from a failed pay deal to meet the claims.
Around £100,000 from the windfall will be also used for a “deep” spring clean of the city after last summer’s strikes by bin men and street cleaners. ‘No cold-calling’ zones will also be set up in the city.
Around 200 union members gathered outside the Civic Centre ahead of yesterday's meeting to rally against the pay cuts of between two and 5.5 per cent agreed at the same meeting last year, when bin men stormed the council chamber.
Unite regional officer Ian Woodland said members were “very determined to continue the fight to maintain their living standards” and would press ahead with industrial action on April 10, the day the city's £15m Titanic themed SeaCity Museum opens to the world on the centenary of the liner tragedy.
Unison regional organiser Andy Straker said the shock proposal to withdrawal funding for union officials at the council was “beyond belief” and an “attack on members” for the past 12 months opposition to cuts.