GCC leader warns of 'challenging times ahead' as authority sets its budget for 2014/15

ANOTHER round of austerity in Gloucestershire appears inevitable despite the county council identifying where the last of its £114 million worth of planned spending cuts would fall.

GCC’s Conservative leader Mark Hawthorne warned of ‘very challenging times ahead’ as the authority agreed its £428.11million budget for 2014/15 at Shire Hall on Wednesday (February 26).

The council’s budget for the coming year, which was voted through with support from Tory members while Labour and Lib Dem councillors abstained, is actually only £2.8 million smaller than last year’s, but it accounts for £22 million of the planned spending cuts.

As part of its Meeting the Challenge programme, GCC set itself a target of saving £114 million between 2011 and 2015.

Although the council’s latest budget marks the end of that four-year programme, Cllr Hawthorne hinted that there would be more spending cuts to come.

Speaking during the meeting on Wednesday, he said: “We do face some very challenging times ahead. The cheque from Government will continue to get smaller and there is a demographic timebomb which we will have to contend with.

“We will have to make some very difficult decisions going forward.”

Despite the unprecedented squeeze on local Government finances, GCC’s leader said the authority’s budget still contained significant investments and he highlighted efforts to protect funding for adult social services as proof that the council was doing everything it could to help the county's most vulnerable residents.

“I am very proud that we didn’t take the easy route by cutting into the adult social services budget,” he said.

“The amount of money we are spending on adult social care is the same as it was in 2010. You would struggle to find any council authority in the country that is doing that.”

But Labour county councillor Steve Lydon expressed concerns about the scale of the cuts to GCC's budget and voiced fears about the impact future reductions would have on local communities.

"Sadly this budget marks the beginning of yet another round of deeper cuts that will be expected of all councils," he said.

In total, £147.6 million will be spent on adult services, £94.8 million on children and families, £21.7 million on public health and £86.2 million on communities and infrastructure, which includes highways, waste, trading standards, the fire service and libraries.

There will also be a series of one-off investments, including £500,000 to help get the ball rolling in relation to plans for a ‘missing link’ on the A417 near Birdlip, where a number of motorists have been killed in recent months.

A £650,000 pot of money has also been set-up to help reunite children in care with their families and to prevent children and young people from being taken into care where possible.

Meanwhile, half a million pounds will be spent to create a flood alleviation fund and £250,000 has been earmarked for improving safeguarding practices for those working with vulnerable children and adults.

Funds will also be channelled into improving employment opportunities for disabled people, with £235,000 being set-aside for the jobs programme.

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