Warwickshire’s county budget for 2016-17 has been set with an increase in council tax and more biting cuts to meet financial pressures – despite savings of £98 million being made in the past five years.
The county council passed its planned savings at its budget meeting on Thursday amid an ongoing four-year plan to save £66.4 million by 2018.
Amended proposals were voted through after the largest party, Conservatives, got support from independent members. The Liberal Democrats abstained and Labour refused to support the proposals.
The budget for the coming financial year will see “large service reductions” in heritage and culture centres, a rise in council tax of four per cent and changes to adult social care and services.
This week Government minister Greg Clark announced that Warwickshire will be given £2.9 million as its share of additional one-off funding for the next two years.
But Cllr Izzi Seccombe, Conservative leader of the council which has no political majority, said they have been able to “significantly reduce costs in recent years” and will continue to find new ways of working to make savings.
She said: “ I believe that we have made strong progress as a council over the last three years. Throughout this time we have maintained the confidence of the people of Warwickshire.
“And at a time of further financial challenge we will keep a clear focus on our ambition to grow the county’s economy, to help create employment and opportunity, whilst ensuring the most vulnerable residents across Warwickshire are protected.
“We have worked with the people of Warwickshire to deliver savings whilst maintaining a high level of services.”
The approved budget sees £2 million for highways and investment to help ensure that children who leave care in the county are supported in independent living.
The approved proposals which was voted through includes a programme helping extra family support workers, and £2 million the following financial year on highway maintenance.
The council has delivered £98 million of savings over the last five years by making large reductions in back-office costs, increasing partnerships and making cuts to services.
But it must now make even greater savings to meet its four-year plan and factor in the latest cut in the Government’s Revenue Support Grant funding which will create a £22.8 million budget shortfall in the next two years.
Cllr Seccombe said the new challenges were “disappointing” despite fighting the case with ministers.
The council must make £2 million of savings as part of a review of the general support budget which could result in job losses.
There is also set to be £585,000 cuts to child social care and safeguarding, ‘by reducing the numbers of looked-after children’’ by reorganising how care is delivered.
There are £200,000 of cuts to road safety education and a loss of £178,000 for country parks which could see sites increasing parking and admission charges to cover costs.
The council is also facing £173,000 of reductions in some heritage and culture services with a new a focus on increasing volunteering and commercial viability of museum sites.
Choosing not to support or reject the budget which was passed last week, Liberal Democrats said they were “persuaded just enough” by the proposals - despite the plan as being “only good in parts” and coming with more sweeping cuts to services.
Cllr Jerry Roodhouse, Lib Dem group leader, said of the final budget: “This Conservative budget means only one thing for the people of Warwickshire – more taxes for fewer services.”
Cllr June Tandy, leader of the Labour group which put forward its own unsuccessful budget proposals last week, said there was a “considerable strain” on adult services which needs to be addressed.
The council’s budget vote was won 28 for, 23 against and 10 abstained.