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Wiltshire’s Budget Bombshell

All Wiltshire Council spending on major projects has been put on hold after it received the bombshell news that instead of having to make £40 million of savings next year it may have to cut £70 million.

Jane Scott, leader of the council that this year had £885 million to spend, delivered the crushing news to a stunned full council meeting on Tuesday. She revealed that the council had believed the Government-ordered spending cuts would be spread evenly over the next four years but new details show the majority of the savings would have to be made in the first year. This means that instead of having to save around £30 million each year the council will have to cut up to £70 million in 2011/12 to make up the £122m it must cut over four years.

Key plans to introduce a harmonised waste and recycling collection service and a £119m investment in leisure centres in the county could have to be put on hold for at least one year. Plans for affordable housing and superfast broadband may also be shelved until further notice if February’s budget is as dire as predicted this week.

Coun Scott said: “The front-loading of the savings we are expected to make is going to have an impact in the first year. We need to find £30m more in the next year’s budget. I had hoped it wouldn’t be like that but the Government want to make the savings quickly and we just have to deal with it.” She added: “We will be looking at 12 per cent savings from each service we provide but that will be negotiable. We have plans to invest in the areas of waste and recycling, leisure, affordable housing and superfast broadband but we have to be realistic because these plans may have to be deferred to years two, three and four. If the worst case scenario happens we will have to make some tough decisions. One of these is the option of delaying these investments.”

The news of the additional cuts came days before consultations began on Wednesday with those of the council’s 561 managers who are eligible to take voluntary redundancy, as it looks to shed 240 posts. Libraries and heritage are to shed 26 posts and of the current 13 Community Librarians there are plans for only 4 to be re-appointed. The post of Area Manager (Libraries) for East Wiltshire will also be scrapped. The first round of voluntary redundancies will be known on 26th November, with the rest rolling out until the end of January 2011.

Talking about the multi-million pound redevelopment of County Hall, Coun Scott said: “I don’t know whether it would be possible to stop it at this stage as it may already have gone too far. However we will be looking at everything.”

Coun Jon Hubbard, Liberal Democrat group leader, first heard the news at Tuesday’s meeting. He slammed the council for spending £475,000 to rebrand from Wiltshire County Council to Wiltshire Council. He said: “Other councils have rebranded at a fraction of the cost. Of this amount, £113,000 was spent on replacing uniforms with a new logo. Some departments were throwing out uniforms that hadn’t even been taken out of their packaging. Where was the sense in that?”

Coun Scott defended the costs and said that she wanted to ‘move on’. She said: “This was done two years ago and we were not in the financial situation that we are now in. We did the rebranding in house and did it in the cheapest possible way.”

Source: Mike Wilkinson / Gazette & Herald (with some additional reporting)

Posted by: RB / TR on 11th November 2010


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