Savage cuts planned from Devon County Council

Devon County Council leader Cllr. John Hart was clearly lying when he claimed the cuts wouldn’t affect the most vulnerable sections of the population – if this is true, why cut Domestic Violence and Abuse support funding in half, £14 miliion cut from children’s and young people’s services, the entire budget for teenage pregnancies, and cuts to bus services? There is no need for these cuts, and Hart is a disgrace for proposing them.

From the Exeter Express and Echo:

THE full scale of almost £55million in cuts to services across Devon has been revealed as councillors met to discuss one of the most radical budgets for decades.

County councillors spent around eight hours yesterday discussing the cost-cutting measures proposed by the authority.

Several services face multi-million pound cuts to their budgets, while others have escaped largely unscathed.

While there have been reductions for school meals, youth services, presents and celebration events for children in care, and a proposal to cut funding to domestic abuse services, the council’s communications budget has seen a small reduction in two staff from a total of 21 and funding reductions of only £150,000.

Some councillors called for a more “streamlined” communications service.

There were areas of the budget which saw an increase in funding, including pothole repairs which has been given an extra £2.5million.

One of the most controversial cuts proposed was to the adva (against domestic violence and abuse) partnership.

Protestors against the plans gathered outside Devon County Hall in Exeter ahead of the meeting yesterday morning.

The move was part of a mounting campaign to stop the proposed cut in £1million to the service’s funding – which organisers say would have forced them to shut down, ceasing vital support to victims.

But in an extraordinary U-turn, the leader of Devon County Council, Councillor John Hart, announced that he would be taking a fresh look at spending reductions to the service after adva produced its own budget at the 11th hour.

Adva could now see its funding from Devon County Council halved instead of slashed altogether.

Cllr Hart said: “I would like to thank adva for putting together a budget which the county council can work with.

“It will be referred back for fresh examination.”

But the leader warned that other agencies in the partnership, including police, NHS and the probation service, would have to increase their share of adva’s funding for the service to continue.

The move was welcomed by Devon’s Labour group leader and county councillor for Pinhoe and Mincinglake in the city, Saxon Spence, who said: “The outcry and the very human stories we have heard has shown that you cannot make those cuts to this service. It simply isn’t acceptable.”

And manager of Exeter SAFE (Stop Abuse for Everyone), formerly Women’s Aid, Chris Pearson, said: “It is welcome that they are going to review it and we are really grateful to everyone who has supported the campaign.

“But what was mentioned in the meeting yesterday was some suggestion that it may be a 50 per cent cut.

“Obviously that is better than 100 per cent, but it will still mean a significant cut to our budget and the campaign will still continue.”

The area facing the biggest reduction in funding is children and young people’s services – the budget for which has been slashed by more than £14m.

Schools meals are set to be cut by £1.7million, while funding for the county’s youth service will be reduced by £1million and the £100,000 budget for teenage pregnancies has been axed altogether.

Cllr Christine Channon, Devon’s cabinet member for schools and skills, said there was a need to “review” how the county’s youth service is run.

“There is an opportunity here now to completely review how our youth service is run,” she said.

“I’m sorry if there are people in our youth service who feel demoralised by this.

“I think we need to grasp this and see that what was fit for purpose some years ago isn’t fit for purpose now.”

Another area of major concern was a proposed reduction to Devon’s trading standards.

With planned cuts of £500,000 to animal disease prevention, following the loss of Defra funding, and a loss of £280,000 to the trading standards budget, councillors raised concerns that Devon may face another foot and mouth disaster – which cost the county £300million in 2001.

There are also proposed cuts to bus services, arts organisations, waste collection and grass cutting.

Concerns were raised about cuts to the Citizens Advice Bureau and Council for Voluntary Services (CVS), which face £89,000 and £77,000 cuts respectively.

And some councillors questioned the “justification” of slashing many budgets while councillors are to receive an extra £5,000 in their community budgets.

It was a move described as “a luxury which we cannot afford,” by Cllr Saxon Spence.

Rural bus services look set to be hit as funding to public and community transport is slashed by more than £1.3million.

Regarding communications, a council spokesman said: “Employees within corporate communications are currently responsible for the running of the county council’s website, design and publications, social marketing and promotion, events and public engagement, internal communications, and media and public relations.

“The total cost of these services is being cut by £149,000 in the coming year from £994,000 to £853,000. This reduction is being achieved largely through changes to key publications such as the council’s magazine and other efficiencies.

“Further reductions to make the total saving in excess of 25 per cent are also planned during the coming year.”

Officers were unable to offer assurance that no community would be left entirely without a bus service.

Councillors agreed to refer back to cabinet the issue of adva’s funding and the budget for animal health and welfare.

Other issues discussed at the meeting will be signed off by the chairmen of each individual scrutiny committee.

Yesterday’s meeting was the first time the council’s draft budget was jointly debated by all four of the authority’s scrutiny committees in a single all-day session at County Hall.

The final budget decision is expected to be agreed by the council’s cabinet next month.

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