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Saturday, 01 November 2014

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Cumbria council leader warns public service cuts are just beginning

Sweeping cuts to Cumbria’s public services are just the beginning, communities are being warned.

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Stewart Young: ‘We don’t want people parking on the roads’

Cumbria County Council leader Stewart Young says further savings are already being looked at after £24.4 million of cuts were agreed.

His authority must make savings of £89m over the next three years as it’s forced to grapple with the impact of Government spending cuts.

Speaking as the dust settled on a crucial county council budget meeting Mr Young revealed the two areas facing the harshest squeeze in next year’s budget are health and adult social care.

He told the News & Star: “Health has a huge budget and adult social care is the biggest part of our budget.

“So by bringing those two things more closely together and integrating commissioning we will have to make significant savings there because we have increasing demand as people live longer.”

Councillors approved removing subsidies for 70 bus routes in the county on Thursday, prompting claims vulnerable people in rural areas could be left suicidal as a result. Other measures included stopping transport subsidies for new students aged 16 and over.

Seven hundred county council staff also face losing their jobs while charges will be phased in for on-street and residents’ parking.

Mr Young added: “The new budget starts on April 1 so everything in the proposals will now be implemented. With the bus subsidies – this is not the same thing as removing buses.

“The vast majority operate without subsidy and we have a deregulated system which means it’s a free market.

“It is for the public but it is private transport and we have put money in to smooth the transition from next year. But by the end of March 2015 we will no longer be subsidising buses.”

He also said the council would be working with private companies and parish councils to find alternative solutions.

Mr Young added that he was heartened to hear that members of the Cumbrian Youth Parliament have pledged to work with the cabinet to come up with ways to keep community transport running.

“They aren’t just saying that’s that – they are trying to work with us to find solutions,” he said. “We will be talking to parish councils because they are not restricted in the council tax they can levy and for those areas that need a bus they could take on the subsidy – there are various things we can do.”

Mr Young said the vast majority of savings made in the budget come from management savings within the county council in a bid to protect frontline services as much as possible.

But he warned that cutting backroom services would still have a knock-on effect.

“As we have seen with the schools when you start removing support staff there is ultimately an impact because these people were doing a job,” he added. “But some areas we can make genuine efficiencies and do some jobs with less people so the public should not see any differences.

“We tried to protect frontline services as much as we could but everyone recognises the next two or three years we will have to stop doing some things we currently do.

“And it will become much more difficult as we try to find £48m of savings over the next two years – the low-hanging fruit has been picked.”

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