Senior Conservative councillors and Rugby Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) both took to the Clock Towers last Friday to discuss spending cuts with shoppers.
Warwickshire County Council has to cut its £350m revenue budget by £92m by 2018, a drop of 26 per cent. The savings target is the result of inflation, reductions in Government grants and the rise in the county’s population. It’s separate from the £60m-worth of county council savings found that led to the part switch-off of street lights, the closures of youth clubs around Rugby and the loss of hundreds of jobs at the council over the past two years.
County councillors were there as part of the council’s Let’s Talk roadshow, where councillors discuss the council’s finances and talk about what services people want to prioritise. In addition to roads, schools (funding for which is protected), some waste services, trading standards and libraries, the county council is also responsible for caring for some of society’s most vulnerable young people and adults, with social services for these groups taking up 46 per cent of its budget.
Speaking at the event, Cllr Alan Cockburn, deputy council leader, said: “We were quite successful in dealing with the last reduction of funding. Some people noticed the street lights switch off and we had to close one of two libraries, but the majority of services were unaffected.
“Now we face tough choices about what services we’re able to keep running.”
He added: “Ideologically we have to reduce the public sector because we have to reduce debt. We need to radically change how we look after older people, for example, because if we don’t, demographic pressures mean we will simply run out of money.”
One example of changing services cited by Cllr Cockburn was Extra Care housing units for older people where people can live independently, but with help nearby.
But not everyone agrees with the need to make significant spending cuts. Yards away from the council’s stall were members of Rugby TUSC, who argue that nationally billions should be saved by shutting corporate tax loopholes, targeting off shore accounts and taxing Britain’s richest ten per cent heavier.
Pete McLaren, spokesman for Rugby TUSC, said: “I cannot believe we are the only political party that is being realistic about opposing what is going on here.
“The last round of cuts hit services that belong to vulnerable children and older people in Rugby particularly hard - all because the government haven’t the guts to tax people and corporations properly and the county council hasn’t got the guts to stand up to the government.
“We think the cuts are wrong and unnecessary and we were happy to discuss that with shoppers last Friday.”