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Norfolk cuts may go deeper

PUBLISHED: 10:32 28 September 2010 | UPDATED: 10:33 28 September 2010

NORFOLK’S council-run adoption service is among a raft of services for vulnerable children that could be privatised or passed out of public control as part of far- reaching plans to slash funding by nearly 40pc.

County Hall is bracing itself for a 25pc reduction in funding when the government announces its comprehensive spending review on October 20.

It has already slashed £10m in grant funding to its Connexions service and road safety schemes while funding for new children’s, centres and nursery placements is also under threat.

But confidential council documents show that the authority is considering far greater cuts than previously thought, of around 37pc.

The papers list radical options that could potentially overhaul services, including outsourcing the council’s adoption service – which last week was awarded an “outstanding” rating by government inspectors.

Other services, including those for youngsters with special needs, could also be outsourced and funding for the youth offending team cut by 37pc, while some learner support funds could be halved.

Support for youngsters in care, including fostering and residential homes, could be given to other providers, while there could be less funding to help disabled children on short breaks and parents could be charged for “social care transport”.

Home-to-school transport subsidies would be frozen and schools would be expected to pay for crossing patrols themselves and see funding for education-related management and administrative support being halved.

The revelations come just days after Suffolk County Council agreed to press ahead with plans that could see it selling off most, if not all, of its services.

On Sunday night, there were warnings that the Norfolk ideas could put vulnerable youngsters at risk and affect the quality of services for both the public and staff.

But county council leader Daniel Cox said all the options needed to be looked at. He added: “It is open knowledge that the county council, faced with an anticipated funding gap of at least £155m over the next three years, is leaving no stone unturned to look for savings.

“Anyone who thought differently must have been living in some sort of an air bubble for the past few months.

“I have made this more than explicit on very many occasions - to staff and to members and in this respect, this council is doing exactly what its counterparts are doing in all parts of the UK, as we all prepare for any fallout from the comprehensive spending review.

“All Chief Officers have been asked to look at all areas of their budgets for ways of making 75pc of their budget work harder for local taxpayers and identify potential savings for helping fund the gap. Council officers are still looking at what may or may not be a realistic proposal to consult on and Cabinet Members have yet to agree what any final consultation choices might look like. This means that some things currently being worked on may well turn into options -but others may not.

“But in truth, detailed savings proposals must form only part of any debate about our approach in the future.

“The Norfolk County Council of the future will need to be smaller in size and much more streamlined. So in our consultation, we will ask people their views on more fundamental options and opportunities for rebalancing the role of the county council and that of local communities including those that look creatively at where, how and what taxpayer funded services the council should provide or arrange in the future. We plan to have the conversation in the round, as part of an open debate with the people we serve so we can listen before deciding.”

Paul Morse, leader of the opposition Lib Dem group, said he accepted the council had to look at all options but he was alarmed at the scale of the cuts planned.

“It sounds excessive and draconian to me,” Mr Morse said. “Clearly if you are going to cut expenditure, you are going to cut the quality of services.

“I don’t think excessive outsourcing is going to be the answer,” he added. “We have got an adoption service with a ‘outstanding’ rating and now all of that is going to be thrown away. There is a going to be a risk to people’s lives .

“What they are doing in Suffolk horrifies me and I just hope that we are not going to go down that road.”

Jo Rust, senior steward for children’s services at Unison, and also chairman of the Norfolk Coalition Against the Cuts, said: “The impact is going to be huge not only on the users but also those people providing the service. From a union perspective, outsourcing is something we would wish to avoid.

“It’s quite shocking that the council is looking for far deeper cuts than the 25pc they have previously mentioned,” she added. “There are other ways of reducing costs, including more collaborative working between councils and sharing services.”

The leaked papers assume a drop in revenue from the children’s services budget from £142.6m in this financial year to £126.5m in 2013/14.

But budgets in the demand led department are notoriously overspent and were forecast to be £4.3m in the read by March next year including £6.8m in the looked after children budget.

And Paul Fisher, the department’s finance head, has emailed managers reminding them to avoid all “unnecessary” spending and to freeze anything not “contractually committed”

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Members of the Norfolk Coaltion Against the Cuts are holding two protest meetings in Norfolk on Wednesday .

Members will be gathering at Hay Hill in Norwich at 12.30pm and also outside of Top Shop in King’s Lynn between noon and 2pm.


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