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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

£50m cuts threaten ’frontline services’

By Richard MachinCUMBRIA County Council could have to cut up to £50m from its budget in the next two years – putting fire stations, libraries and recycling centres at risk.

The authority is consulting on proposals to make £18m of savings in the next financial year but leader Eddie Martin admits this will not be the end of the cuts – and that job losses will be inevitable.

“The £18m is a conservative estimate at this stage,” he said.

“It is difficult to be more precise until the government tells us how much money we are getting.

“We could face a bill of £23.5m.”

And Mr Martin warned that even these austerity cuts will not be enough. “Next year – 2014/15 – I’m anticipating we will have to make further savings of between £16m and £27m,” he said.

The current proposal outlines internal budget cuts of £10.5m, including not filling the estimated 1,000 vacant posts within the council.

The council has already made more than 700 people redundant over the past two years.

Other savings proposed for next year would see £5.2m from service provisions – such as reviewing IT contracts and restructuring the highways service to reduce staffing levels.

While the consultation runs until the end of January, the council is warning that once the government announces how much it will allocate to local authorities – a decision expected towards the end of December – further savings measures could be drawn up.

These could be for cuts of up to £5.5m, and would see another set of proposals put out for consultation in January – also to be voted on by cabinet in February.

“What I’m quite proud of is we’ve so far managed to avoid major frontline service cuts,” Mr Martin said.

“We have closed no children’s centres, libraries or fire stations, all the kinds of things the public need every day.

“But, there will come a time in the next year to 18 months when we are going to have to look at those frontline services, and say can we afford to keep 48 libraries open or 30-odd fire stations?”

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