Councillors call for rethink over cuts

OPPOSITION politicians are calling on the Conservatives at Herts County Council to rethink planned cuts to services to protect the vulnerable.

The cuts, which could affect many services, have been outlined to meet a dramatic fall in central government grant funding over the next four years. After days of number crunching, the depth of the cuts announced last week is worse than expected for the authority over the next two years, with a 14.3 per cent reduction next year, followed by a 10.4 per cent cut in 2012/13.

Deputy leader at the council, David Lloyd, however said the cuts were “broadly in line” with what they had expected. Although worse in the short term, he said over the length of the spending review the authority was actually not in as bad a position as expected.

But Labour and Lib Dem politicians have said the cuts, which will be finalised in February’s budget, should not fall on the vulnerable and those who can least afford them.

Stevenage Labour councillor Joan Lloyd, who represents the Bandley Hill ward, said the council’s plan to cut mobile libraries in urban areas will hit the elderly and disabled hardest.

She said: “The proposal will result in many elderly residents living in the Poplars area, which is part of my division, unable to use the service.”

She added: “There is a demand for talking books for the blind, not only in my area, but also in other areas of this county and unfortunately most blind people are not able to use the local bus service to get to their own particular static libraries. Is it possible for the service to continue to cater for their needs on a local basis?”

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Keith Emsall, community safety and culture portfolio holder at County Hall, said: “It hasn’t, I don’t think, been made sufficiently clear in the proposals for reducing the opening hours at libraries and other changes, the extent to which the mobile unit which provided dedicated service to the sheltered housing units around the county will continue to do so. The number of mobile units will be reduced from three to two.

“As far as the accessibility of the people she has referred to, particularly the blind and the disabled, there is a satisfactory home-delivery service, run by volunteers and I am quite sure that they would meet the requirements.”

The Lib Dem group called on the council not to reduce home to school transport as it would hit families in the wallet and create more traffic.

Ron Tindall, children, schools and families spokesman, said while the group understood the need for savings, the authority should not reduce provision to the minimum statutory level.

“A great deal of parents and children rely on the current system to get to and from school. If it is reduced to the legal minimum, there will be more cars on the roads and more people using expensive bus services.

“We propose that the county council retain a central buying function into which schools could opt. Schools could either pay for the service out of their own resources or arrange for parents to contribute financially.”