£22m of cuts called for in ‘too fast time’
PUBLIC “howls of protest” may be heard as Darlington Borough Council sets about cutting its budget by nearly a fifth.
Coun John Williams, leader, gave this warning as he revealed that cuts would amount to £22m.
Representatives of rural areas around Darlington are concerned about possible effects on services, though Coun Brian Jones, who represents Sadberge on the council and is chairman of the Association of Darlington Parish Councils and Parish Meetings, said he hoped the cuts would not impact too badly on villages.
He said: “If there were to be cuts in rural services, it’s the supported bus services I would want to protect. This is an area where there have been cuts before and we’ve managed to retain a service of sorts.
“The rural areas depend more on bus services than urban areas.”
Darlington Borough Council had budgeted for £11m of savings, but the budget announced by the new Coalition Government means it must almost double this sum.
It is expected that the first £11m of savings may have to be made within a year. It is not known where cuts will be made, but Coun Williams said he hoped to work with different organisations in the town to help decide on priorities.
He said: “We will be doing everything, as far as we can, to protect the most vulnerable and needy in Darlington’s community. But even doing that is going to be very difficult given the scale of the cuts.”
Coun Williams said he understood the need for the cuts, but felt they were coming too quickly and was concerned they would decimate council services.
He added: “I fear for all council jobs. Everything has to be on the table, even statutory things have to be on the table. It will be very difficult, and I understand people will howl with protest. I hope people realise they are not our cuts. They are being imposed on us.”
Coun Jones said he would fight to protect grants to parish councils.
“There has been a tendency to cut them in the past. Though it’s a very, very small part of the council budget – just over £30,000 – we’d still be keeping an eye on them and trying to retain them.”
Opposition parties have said they hope cuts can be made without serious effects to front-line services.
However, Conservative leader Coun Heather Scott said: “We have to be realistic about his. Everybody is going to be affected, there’s got to be a realisation that this is a very serious situation.
“The Coalition Government has had some difficult decisions to make.
“I agree with what they’re doing and I think the sooner we get over this the better.”
Liberal Democrat leader Martin Swainston said: “I think a reduction in management can protect the front-line services. The blank cheques that Labour were writing have now come back to bite us on the bottom.”
The town’s Labour MP Jenny Chapman has called for the community to help decide which services need to be saved.
She added: “The long-term consequences in terms of unemployment and loss of services are going to be quite devastating. What’s really galling is people didn’t vote for this.
“Labour might have lost the election but the Conservatives didn’t win and the Liberal Democrats certainly weren’t elected on this platform.”
A report on spending cuts will be presented at the cabinet meeting in Darlington Town Hall at 5pm on Tuesday.