‘Roads ahead of people’ budget fuels anger

County Hall in Aylesbury
County Hall in Aylesbury

THOUSANDS of pounds are set to be slashed from the budgets to support vulnerable children and adults by a council which is getting an extra £1 million from the government.

Opposition groups have accused the council of ‘putting roads ahead of people’ as it prepares to set its budget for 2012/13 – and there are predictions that changes to the way the council operates could mean 200 job losses.

On Monday Bucks County Council’s cabinet will start the formal process of setting next year’s budget, which is due to be agreed in February.

Proposals being discussed include cutting £816,000 from the ‘supporting people’ budget, £84,000 for the budget for physical and sensory disabilities, £661,000 from ‘assessment and care management’, £640,000 from ‘achievement and learning’ in children’s services.

Defending the proposed cuts, cabinet member Patricia Birchley simply said: “Vulnerable adults will always be one of our top priorities.”

Despite getting 10 per cent less money from the government, with new grants taken into account the authority is getting around £1 million extra funding.

But a report to cabinet claims that with a council tax freeze taken into account ‘resources are at a virtual standstill’.

Between April and September 2011 just over 200 staff members lost their jobs, others came to the end of their fixed term contracts and around 15 were redeployed to another part of the council.

Some workers estimated another 200 jobs could be lost in the next financial year.

In August the council announced a £25 million ‘we’re working on it’ extensive road repair programme.

Leader of the opposition, Liberal Democrat Mary Baldwin, fumed: “I think one of the big concerns is the amount of money they are putting into roads.

“It seems they are putting roads ahead of people.

“I think people and frontline services are more important.”

In response leader Martin Tett, Conservative, said: “The council is customer focused and we are responding to the overwhelming views of residents, who have said they want to see roads and pavements improved as well as maintaining support for the most vulnerable in our communities.

“It is disappointing that the Lib Dems appear not to be supportive of one of our major priorities to bring the county’s roads up to a better standard.”

Penny Gray, branch secretary of Bucks county Unison, said: “We are currently undergoing numerous consultations where the council are proposing to implement new ways of delivering services.

“For example looking at business support and a new thing ... which incorporates three services coming together.

“I have been working very closely with Bucks County Council to save as many jobs as possible.

“We continue to have dialogue and to try and find the best possible outcome for the staff.”

Councillor Tett added: “Everyone knows resources to fund public services are reducing dramatically whilst both costs and demand for services are increasing.

“It’s a difficult juggling act and tough decisions have had to be taken, but we do have proposals on the table to deliver a balanced budget, protect front line services and maintain support to the voluntary sector.”

Councillor Baldwin said: “They say they are not cutting going to cut the voluntary sector and that is one of the ambitions of this budget, but in reality that isn’t true.

“Because they have changed the system of procurement, so that they now commission services, the local voluntary sector can’t afford to bid to do the work.”