‘Shock­ing’ cuts will hit peo­ple heav­ily

COUN­CIL BUD­GET PLANS SHOW NO END OF COUN­TRY’S AUSTERITY

The Chronicle - - News - By DANIEL HOL­LAND Re­porter daniel.hol­l­land@trin­i­tymir­ror.com

DIS­ABLED driv­ers will be forced to pay for park­ing, coun­cil tax will rise again, and li­brary open­ing hours will be slashed un­der New­cas­tle City Coun­cil plans to cut £20m next year.

Civic cen­tre chiefs are also seek­ing mas­sive sav­ings on so­cial care ser­vices, will make res­i­dents pay for re­place­ment wheelie bins, and will bring in new Sun­day and evening park­ing charges.

The coun­cil has an­nounced that it needs to save £60m to bal­ance its bud­get over the next three years, dur­ing which time 100 staff are ex­pected to lose their jobs.

Op­po­si­tion crit­ics have been left “shocked” by the im­pact of the pro­posed cuts on the city’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple, but Labour coun­cil leader Nick Forbes said that the au­thor­ity had no op­tion as there is “no end of austerity in sight”.

The lat­est round of swinge­ing cuts will take the amount of money the coun­cil has been forced to save since 2010 to a stag­ger­ing £327m.

Un­der the plans for 2019/20, coun­cil tax bills will go up by 3.95% – 1% of which is ring-fenced for adult so­cial care – which equates to an in­crease of around £5.20 per month for an av­er­age Band D house­hold.

Over the next three years, the coun­cil says it will find £22.4m in so­cial care sav­ings – de­spite the grow­ing de­mands of an age­ing pop­u­la­tion and the rapidly ris­ing num­bers of chil­dren in lo­cal au­thor­ity care.

Coun Forbes said that the sav­ings would be largely achieved through in­te­grat­ing ser­vices with the NHS, but ad­mit­ted that the cuts will be “en­tirely coun­ter­pro­duc­tive and re­ally bad for peo­ple”.

Dis­abled Blue Badge hold­ers will be charged for park­ing in multi-storeys and off-street car parks, while the Shop­mo­bil­ity ser­vice will be re­duced to three days a week from the cur­rent six – with its users also los­ing their free park­ing en­ti­tle­ment.

The coun­cil says it will also re­view Sun­day and evening park­ing charges – though the Alive Af­ter Five free park­ing scheme will con­tinue.

The City Li­brary will close at 5pm three days per week and not open on Sun­days – just one part of £1.7m cuts to the li­brary ser­vice in the com­ing years, which will see staffing re­duced and the East End Li­brary moved to the Shields Road Cus­tomer Ser­vice Cen­tre.

Mu­se­ums will also take a hit as the coun­cil cuts fund­ing by £150,000 and closes the Dis­cov­ery Mu­seum and Laing Art Gallery on five Bank Hol­i­days.

City res­i­dents will now be charged for re­plac­ing wheelie bins and the Brunswick re­cy­cling cen­tre is ear­marked for clo­sure in 2020/21 – just two days af­ter the coun­cil said it had “no im­me­di­ate plans” to shut the site. The au­thor­ity does not in­tend to use any of its es­ti­mated £10m of un­al­lo­cated re­serves to off­set the cuts. Coun Forbes said that, while the coun­cil has averted the kind of fi­nan­cial dis­as­ter that has seen other lo­cal au­thor­i­ties go bust, th­ese cuts will “bite deeper” into vi­tal front­line ser­vices. He added: “There is no doubt that the coun­cil is in­creas­ingly be­ing re­duced to just be­ing a provider of ser­vices to vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple and that is not cred­i­ble. What peo­ple ex­pect from their coun­cil is the things they see around them – the state of our streets, the clean­li­ness of their back lanes, graf­fiti re­moval, li­braries, leisure cen­tres, com­mu­nity hubs – those are the things that peo­ple think the coun­cil is there to pro­vide. And if the coun­cil can’t pro­vide them in the fu­ture that cre­ates a huge cred­i­bil­ity gap for what the whole con­cept of Lo­cal Govern­ment is all about.” Coun Colin Fer­gu­son, Lib Dem op­po­si­tion fi­nance spokesman, said: “We are ab­so­lutely shocked at where the knife has fallen.”

To gen­er­ate ex­tra in­come, the coun­cil plans to rent out more of­fice space in the tower block sec­tion of the Civic Cen­tre, in­crease coun­cil tax on empty prop­er­ties, and sell more ad­ver­tis­ing in­clud­ing bridge ban­ners and large dig­i­tal ad­verts.

The coun­cil is con­sult­ing on its pro­pos­als un­til Jan­uary 6, be­fore plans are fi­nalised by its cab­i­net in Fe­bru­ary and voted on at full coun­cil in March.

The coun­cil is in­creas­ingly be­ing re­duced to just be­ing a provider of ser­vices to vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple Nick Forbes

New­cas­tle City Coun­cil Leader Nick Forbes said the cuts will be ‘re­ally bad’ for peo­ple

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