Council leaders put on spot over cuts

COUNCIL leaders were due to be put on the spot last night in a series of hard-hitting questions concerning possible cost-cutting plans.

Representatives of Yarmouth and District Trades Union Council (TUC) tabled the questions at the start of last night’s borough council meeting as part of their ongoing protest against public service cuts.

Before the meeting they had been planning to signal their intent with a placard-waving demonstration outside the Town Hall.

Local TUC secretary Alan Stewart said: “We want the Tory-controlled council to know that we are watching them all the time.”

In his question, he asked council leader Barry Coleman to explain the reasons the authority was considering merging some local services with South Norfolk Council – a proposition he described as “crazy” because of the fundamental differences between the two areas.

Ahead of the meeting, Cllr Coleman told the Mercury that discussions with both South Norfolk Council and Norfolk County Council about possible further service mergers were at an early stage – and nothing would go ahead unless it was in the best interests of the borough.

He said that because of the government cuts, the council would be having to find a further �1.6m of savings next year and merging services with other authorities to benefit from economies of scale was more palatable than the alternative – slashing services in such ways as closing leisure centres, turning off CCTV, closing the tourist information centre or stopping home improvements.

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Cabinet member Graham Plant was to be quizzed over the future of Bradwell’s Phoenix Pool, and ahead of the meeting he told the Mercury: “There are no plans to close the pool. The borough council took back responsibility for running it from Waveney council a few years ago and we are going through a transition where it will soon be fully under the control of the trust that runs the Marina Centre.”

Cabinet member Barry Stone was to be asked to explain what measures were being taken to improve customer services in light of possible job cuts.

Ahead of the meeting, he said the percentage of calls unanswered by the council call centre had decreased to 18pc in November and December compared to 35pc in April, showing a major improvement.

He added that the council had taken on an extra part-time call centre operative on a temporary basis to measure improvement over the next six months and there were no plans to cut staff in any front-line service areas.

Cabinet member Steve Ames was asked how much the council had spent on early staff severances over the past three years and what the figure would be in 2011.

Ahead of the meeting, he said the figures were �134,000 for 2008-9, �146,000 for 2009-10 and �350,000 for 2010-11.

He said: “It is impossible to say what the figure will be for 2011-12 but we believe that the majority of expenditure will have taken place in this financial year.”

Cllr Ames said the average individual payments were �19,000, a figure he described as “relatively good value”.

l Full report of the meeting in next week’s Mercury.