'City must cut costs or face bankruptcy'
PLYMOUTH City Council must chop £17.8million from its spending next year – or go bankrupt.
Council tax rises, job losses and scaled-back services are all on the horizon as the city grapples with its biggest funding cuts for a generation.
The full impact of Government cutbacks has been laid bare as city finance chief Councillor Mark Lowry prepares to announce his draft budget for 2013/14.
Amounting to £62 of savings per resident, plans include everything from selling off assets to hiking cremation fees – and even pulling out of the South West in Bloom flower-growing competition.
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Cllr Lowry, the council's Cabinet member for finance, told The Herald: "If we don't make these cuts the city would go bankrupt.
"It's not going to be easy delivering them, and nor are people going to necessarily enjoy it, but I'm not a magician I'm afraid and I don't have £18million."
He added: "We need to make sure that whilst we're making these cuts the impact is minimised on those most vulnerable."
The council has already been forced to make savings of £20million over the last two years, as central Government funding dried up in the economic crisis.
The indicative budget, which will be debated by Cabinet members next Tuesday, sets a revenue budget totalling £198.3million for 2013/14.
The proposals will not be approved until February, after the Government has revealed how much cash it will be handing to town halls next year.
Chancellor George Osborne is widely believed to be planning a reduction in settlements for local authorities. That would likely be offset by the first council tax rises in years.
In his report to councillors David Northey, the council's head of finance, said Government cuts would have a "drastic impact" on services.
"We are experiencing the largest public sector reductions in a generation, with the Government set to announce yet further reductions to local authority funding," he said.
"We cannot escape the fact that the Government's deep spending cuts will have a drastic impact on our council and the services we provide."
Mr Northey said on top of funding cuts passed down from Westminster, council income had also dropped.
The authority is finding it more difficult to collect council tax it is due and has seen a fall in revenues from areas such as commercial rents and car parking, he said.
As The Herald has previously reported, 100 council workers face redundancy as it bids to shave its workforce.
Another 100 roles are to vanish through natural turnover – and 200 further employees could be transferred to other organisations as part of an efficiency and skills-sharing drive.
The council currently employs around 3,400 people, who are in their third year of a pay freeze.
However, those who escape the chop can expect a 1.5 per cent wage rise next year, when a nationally-agreed pay award is set up.
Many of the council's savings will come through raising fees of services such as allotment and beach hut rental, or cremations and burials.
New parking meters could also spring up in areas where there is currently a mixture of free and paid-for spaces.
Some services will be scaled back, such as grass-cutting, garden waste collections and potentially the Chelson Meadow Recycling Centre.
The council is also trying to save cash by helping vulnerable adults, including the elderly, get support in their own homes instead of going into care.
The city faces huge rises in the number of elderly residents over the next 20 years and, at £71.5million, the allocation in the draft budget for adult social care is by far the largest chunk of the council's overall revenue budget.
It is hoped a further £2.1million can be saved by simply procuring goods and services more efficiently.
The removal of council tax rebates for second home owners and charging the landlords of empty homes could also bring in some much-needed cash.
Cllr Lowry said city people should be under no illusions about the scale of the looming cutbacks.
"A lot of councils across the country are potentially going to go bankrupt," he said.
"It needs the council to think imaginatively and people to start using services – or the same could happen to Plymouth.
"These cuts are £62 per person in Plymouth, that's the scale of them."
Council leader Tudor Evans was on holiday yesterday and unavailable for comment.
But Cllr Lowry said the Labour group had inherited an unhealthy balance sheet when it swept to power in the May elections.
"The Conservative administration have left me a legacy of £6million additional cuts they didn't deal with," Cllr Lowry said.
"We are experiencing the biggest cuts to the city's finances in a generation and sadly I don't think we have seen the worst of it yet."
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