‘Draconian cuts will hit Devon’s most vulnerable’

Claire Wright

Claire Wright - Credit: Archant

County council watchdog to pressure MPs on austerity budget

A call for Devon MPs to vote against ‘draconian’ cuts that could hit Devon’s budget by £28million has been made by a county council watchdog.

County councillor Claire Wright – representative for Ottery St Mary and Sidbury – spoke out last week against a budget settlement from central government that she says will affect the most vulnerable people in society.

Her proposal to put pressure on MPs to vote against ‘huge’ austerity cuts was unanimously agreed by members of a Devon County Council’s (DCC) joint budget scrutiny committee last Friday, January 29.

The proposed reduction comes on top of £174million of cuts to the authority’s budget in 2010. Planned savings include the removal of arts funding and crossing patrols – with the onus being put on schools to pay for their own safety measures.

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Speaking at the meeting, DCC leader Cllr John Hart called this ‘the most difficult budget so far’ amid collective disappointment at delays from central government - which has still failed to announce a public health funding figure.

He said: “Things that are not mandatory are all being looked at to see if we can afford them. We will be spending in 2016 something like the equivalent of £200million less than we did in 2010.”

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Condemning the proposed cuts to school crossing patrols, Cllr Brian Greenslade said: “Safety of our children is paramount. I think the MPs should hear the message ‘you do actually have the power to make the Government rethink – you have got the voting power, use it’.”

Cllr Wright said: “This year the decrease is actually 15 per cent – the biggest so far in percentage terms. I would like to add a further recommendation that the cabinet requests that Devon MPs vote against the settlement, because I think that if enough MPs did think against and vote against them, the Government might think twice about imposing these draconian cuts that hit the most vulnerable people hardest.”

Members of the committee acknowledged that the proposed budget was probably the best that could have been achieved in the climate of ‘unprecedented cuts’. On this basis, they voted in favour of the budget - and also a four per cent increase in its share of residents’ council tax bills.

The recommendation to put pressure on MPs to vote against the finance bill, if the settlement for Devon is not significantly improved, was carried.

A proposal that consideration should be given to allocating additional funding for drainage works, if the budget settlement is better than expected, was also agreed on.

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