Massive cuts in Comet country to come after Government Spending Review
PUBLIC services across Comet country will be radically affected by cuts announced in the Comprehensive Spending Review.
Chancellor George Osborne’s announcements yesterday (Wednesday), which outlined plans to cut �81bn from public expenditure, will see Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire enter a new era of austerity.
Police and local authority services will both suffer, officials said, after respective cuts of 4 per cent and 7.1 per cent annually for the next four years.
The reduction in police funding will affect numbers of bobbies on the beat with both Herts and Beds forces saying numbers will be cut.
Herts Police said: “Over 80 per cent of our money is spent on people - our officers and staff - so maintaining our current numbers over the coming years is not an option.”
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At Herts County Hall, council leader Robert Gordon welcomed the removal of ring-fenced grants and a freeze on council tax, but said cuts would affect services despite council plans to find �150m of savings over the next three years.
“Given the scale of the challenge, it is likely that some of this will have to be funded by service reductions and/or increased charges for some services. Tough decisions lie ahead about the range and standard of the services we provide,” he said.
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This fear was echoed by North Herts District Council. Cllr Lynda Needham, leader of NHDC, said the budget cuts will “require some radical changes to our services over the next few years”.
“We will be looking at making savings of at least �1.4 million per year over the next four years meaning a number of tough decisions will need to be made, while doing what we can to protect front line services as far as possible,” she said.
The warning that there are tough times ahead for local government and those who rely on their services was repeated by Central Bedfordshire Council which said that “service changes were inevitable”.
A Stevenage Borough Council spokesman said it will take some time to work out the effect of the proposals on saving plans already being drawn up by the authority. He added that once the details are clear the council will consult with staff, partners and trade unions before finalising their budget in February.
Union bosses in the region said the cuts would “affect everyone one way or another”.
Sasha Pearce, regional manager for Unison Eastern, said: “Anyone involved in the public sector at all will be worried if they’re going to have a job and this will affect their lives and their family’s lives. In many ways it is a myth that the Tories have been putting out that there have to be cuts this fast and also that it has to come from the public sector, Unison has put together a budget that would save about �76 billion.”
Health officials were also worried about the impact of the review, despite spending being protected.
A spokesmam for NHS Bedfordshire said: “We welcome the news that NHS funding is being protected. However, the NHS is facing increased demands due to an ageing population and the cost of new drugs. We need to meet these rising costs by making significant efficiency savings so that we can target more of our resources into patient care.”
NHS Hertfordshire did not want to comment at this stage.
But Comet country’s Tory MPs said the cuts were necessary to bring the national deficit down.
“It’s what the country needs,” Hitchin MP Peter Lilley said. “My constituents generally accept that something like this had to be done, and it’s better to get it over and done with in terms of the announcements.”
Stevenage MP Stephen McPartland said he was pleased with measures that protected poorer families such as the pupil premium and increase in child tax credit, as well as winter fuel payments, adding: “The Coalition Government is investing heavily in health and education in Stevenage.
“Nobody wants to make cuts, but it is important to protect the most vulnerable in our society by driving waste out of Government.”
And MP for North East Hertfordshire Oliver Heald said: “I’m pleased the most vulnerable people like children from houses with very low incomes and pensioners have been protected; I think that’s the right thing to do.”