Tough choices for Devon after Government’s CSR

Sidmouth Town Council to look seriously at spending commitments

TOUGH choices will have to be made by Devon County Council and East Devon District Council after Wednesday’s Comprehensive Spending Review by the Coalition Government.

Almost 1,000 staff have left DCC since the introduction of its jobs freeze last November, leaving – after some replacements – a shortfall of 724 posts.

In a year this will save the authority �6.3 million, but says its leader, John Hart, after learning almost 20 percent will be cut from the national budget for local government over the next four years: “This is going to be the toughest spending round we have seen in my political lifetime.”

East Devon District Council also faces a challenging time. Its spokesman said: “We had factored a five percent reduction per annum for the next four years into our financial plans.

“In his speech the Chancellor, George Osborne, spoke of an annual saving of just over seven percent in local government funding. This will clearly require a further review of our spending plans.”

He said careful analysis was needed following the announcement and the council would not know detailed proposals until grant figures were released in late November, early December.

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It would be then EDDC would react to specific announcements or issues, but, he added: “We are working on the assumption that council tax will be frozen for at least the next financial year.”

While Sidmouth Town Council is not directly affected by the spending review, it may have an impact on it with district and county councils having to reign in their spending on services the town supports and operates in partnership with them.

Chairman, Councillor Peter Sullivan, said: “As a responsible council, we, along with others, are having to look seriously on all our spending commitments from the past and any for in the future, so that when we set our budget next January it will have the minimum amount of impact on our local community, both in services and financially.”

Meanwhile DCC’s Mr Hart said: “We are preparing to have to make some tough choices. We will not be able to do what we have done in the past when faced with spending reductions and ‘salami-slice’ our services.”

He warned the council would have to stop providing some services people were used to, and is touring the county asking for people’s views on what services they most value and where the council could save money.

“There is no doubt that, in future, we will have to make every pound we receive work even harder and do more for less.”

The jobs freeze was a step in the right direction he added, saying DCC was in “good shape” to cope with the imposed Government reductions.

Mr Hart welcomed the Chancellor’s decision to lift the ring-fence on grants that local councils receive – apart from certain schools’ grants.

“This will give us greater flexibility to determine exactly where money should be spent to meet the greatest local needs.”

He welcomed the decision to increase spending on schools in real terms over the next four years and to introduce a Pupil Premium for the most disadvantaged children, although he said he feared DCC would not receive as much of this as it deserved if based on free school meals as Devon’s take-up was lower than in many urban areas.

Mr Hart said Devon’s cabinet member for Schools and Skills, Christine Channon, would raise the issue with Education Secretary, Michael Gove, in London next week and make a strong bid for some of the �15.8 billion set aside for school building.

Mr Hart also welcomed the �1 billion extra being set aside for adult social care on top of �1 billion extra from the NHS for social care.