£42 million black hole still needs to be plugged

First published in News

MORE cuts are on the way at Worcestershire County Council - with a £42 million black hole between now and 2018.

Huge efforts are going to kick off about finding fresh ways of reigning in spending after politicians admitted there is still big work to be done to shrink the size of the authority.

Of the £103 million that needs to be saved by March 2018, there is a £42.3 million gap that needs to be closed.

A key council report on it was debated during a crunch Q&A with leader Councillor Adrian Hardman last week, where he admitted he has "no idea" about how to plug it.

During clashes with opposition politicians he brushed off claims there was a "lack of understanding over the public consequences" and insisted there was no quick fix.

A council blueprint reveals how £2.6 million extra savings needs to be found in 2014/15, followed by millions more from 2015 to 2018.

Coun Hardman said: "There is still a gap we have to face, which is £6.2 million in 2015/16, followed by £8.5 million in 2016/17 and then £25 million in 2017/18, and we have no no idea at this moment in time how we'll address it.

"The biggest proportion of this gap is the demand on services, it's mainly demand-based."

Speaking to the watchdog-style overview and scrutiny performance board, he warned about the scale of the long term issues the council faces as people are living longer, piling pressure onto services.

The funding gap is a predicted one based on Government funding and demand on social care, but the council believes it will prove accurate.

Councillor Richard Udall, from the Labour group, said: "One of the biggest frustrations I've heard on the streets is people saying 'yes, I know there's a budget gap, but there's a lack of understanding of the human consequences'

"A bit of understanding on the impact upon the public would help - mitigation about how how we can meet the concerns as a direct result of the decisions we're making."

Coun Hardman added he was very mindful of the public impact in areas like bus cuts but said politicians have to decide on the allocations of resources.

The panel agreed to back a motion saying it is concerned about staff morale and the potential impact it could have upon future productivity.

It also urged the leadership to be aware of the longer term consequences of the changes.

A vote on the budget for 2014/15, which includes a council tax rise of 1.9 per cent and £29 million of savings, is taking place later this month.

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