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£3m cuts bombshell for Worcester services
REDUCED street cleaning, job losses and convicted criminals carrying out manual work in Worcester could be the result of swingeing new cuts to council finances.
Worcester city councillors have been urged to “think the unthinkable” in finding expected cuts of £3 million, leaving services and jobs at risk.
Your Worcester News can re-veal how politicians have left no stone unturned in coming up with desperate ideas to save money.
Measures being openly discussed by councillors so far include:
- Reducing street cleaning and grass cutting around the city.
- Using convicted criminals to undertake manual tasks.
- Asking residents to maintain roundabouts.
- Cutting down on the number of council-run playgrounds.
- Asking sports clubs to maintain sports pitches themselves.
- Culling the number of councillors and having elections every four years, instead of three out of every four.
The city council says it is expecting worsening govern-ment funding over the next five years due to the pressure on public finances.
In a bid to plan ahead it is preparing a new financial blueprint, which is designed to last until 2017/18.
Under the old plan, known as the Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS), £1.2 million of cuts were factored in un- til 2015, rising to a total of £1.8 million by the end. Bosses now say it is being ripped up, and a new MTFS available for public consumption in November is expected to call for total cuts of at least £3 million instead.
All councillors have been offered a briefing on the dire situation, and been asked by staff to think of previously “unthinkable” ways to cut spending.
Councillor Adrian Gregson, the leader, said: “We are facing very serious financial measures, some of which we don’t fully know about yet and some we do.”
It comes just two weeks after Coun Gregson admitted more jobs could go in future years to help balance the books.
The Government is expected to tell local authorities in December what funding to expect for the 2014/15 financial year, which gets underway in April.
That means the final figures could change, but the new MTFS is designed to paint a realistic picture of the expected situation.
In November, alongside the fresh report, a “draft transformation plan” is due out which will detail where some of the first cuts are expected to fall.
That will then be firmed up by January and made public as part of next year’s budgets setting process.
If the grand total does end up at £3 million, it will mean a 13 per cent cut in spending over that period.
So far, around £400,000 has been saved.
During a meeting of the council’s Performance Management and Budget Scrutiny Committee, city magistrate Jo Hodges, who is also a Labour politician at the Guildhall, vaunted the idea of convicts carrying out manual work in the city.
She said: “One source of help we haven’t thought of is the probation service and unpaid work.
“If there happens to be things not getting done because of the cutbacks, there is a source of manpower there we could use.
“When I sentence someone to community work, I often think ‘I wonder what they are going to do?’.
“There is always the worry they could be taking the jobs of people looking for paid work, but when something isn’t happening due to cuts, it makes sense to look at this.
“It would be a good idea to explore.”
During the meeting fellow politicians said tapping into other organisations like the WI could also help.
Councillor Joy Squires, Labour’s Worcester parliamentary candidate, said: “There is interest from the WI to help with floral displays around Worcester which could be pursued.
“We know the city council doesn’t do floral displays these days so there is potential there.”
Others - such as Tory Councillor Roger Knight - said the Labour cabinet could explore setting up an arms-length organisation to manage allotments.
The suggestion is expected to lead to talks with the Worcester Allotment Forum, which already works in partnership with the council, over taking on more responsibility.
“There is a will for that to happen, but we’ve got to push for it and help facilitate that,” said Coun Knight.
STREET CLEANING AND GRASS CUTTING
ONE idea already being discussed is reducing environmental work across Worcester like street cleaning, grass cutting and sweeping.
During the private briefing it was even suggested that some areas deemed “not dirty” could be avoided completely, in a bid to be more selective.
The idea is in its very early stages, but has been tried previously.
In 2009 the council decided to only cut grass 1.5 metres in from footpaths and leave the rest to grow, to save money.
Some councillors believe the idea is worth more investigation because it would help avoid worse cuts to other services.
THERE are 52 play areas in Worcester managed by the council, but many are coming to the end of their natural life and need attention.
Ideally, some of them would be handed to third parties to maintain, but the challenge is identifying who.
Some councillors say the two parish councils, in Warndon and St Peter’s, are the most likely contenders.
Councillor Roger Knight said: “It’s a very emotive issue.
“Other than the two parishes I don’t see who else can take them on with any real security, given the issues with health and safety, and so on.”
THE council is keen to continue providing sports pitches in Worcester, but wants the users to take a greater role in maintaining them.
One idea is to ask any interested parties to form a Co-Operative style organisation, which would look after the pitches, rather than hand them over outright.
Councillor Richard Udall said: “I see this as a possible ‘third way’ solution - asking people who use them, including sports clubs, to form a Co-Op and take over their maintenance.
“They could be maintained by the users, for the whole community to benefit.”
The council does not have a statutory duty to provide sports pitches, but does so because it wants to encourage exercise.
THERE are 36 councillors in Worcester, and one number being bandied about is to reduce it down to just 25.
But the idea was criticised at the PMBS meeting on Tuesday, where Councillor Stephen Hodgson said it would “be like turkeys voting for Christmas” and result in a loss of democracy.
Another suggestion is to move to elections every four years, something which divides opinion at the Guildhall, and cutting down on meetings.
All of the suggestions are thought to be unrealistic, especially as there are no known figures on what savings it could produce.
EFFORTS are already being made to see if the council owns land which can be sold off for redevelopment or handed to third parties.
It falls hand-in-hand with a review, first revealed by your Worcester News two weeks ago, of all council buildings to see if anything can be better utilised.
In recent years the authority has shed jobs, leaving many offices under-used.
At the private briefing some councillors suggested the authority should stop maintaining land which is unused.
A better solution would be handing over pockets of land to other bodies or developers, reducing the need to look after it.