THOUSANDS of people have backed a protest against budget cuts.
A 2,500-signature petition was handed to Durham County Council by four Citizens Advice Bureaux (Cab), including its East Durham and Chester-le-Street branches, which are threatened with decreases in funding.
It was presented ahead of today’s full council meeting at County Hall, at which the annual budget and council tax bills are to be decided.
The authority has laid out savings of more than £120million in the wake of the Government’s spending review.
Workers were today showing their anger at the proposed cuts by gathering outside council offices.
Unison, the Public and Commercial Services Union, and other public sector trade unions under the banner of the Durham Public Services Alliance (PSA) were among those protesting.
Members of the organisations say the cuts will bring more than 1,000 job losses.
Julie Young, PCS regional organiser and chairman of the Durham PSA, said: ”The Government imposed cuts to local authority budgets will have a massive impact.
“The general public are gradually seeing how savage these cuts are and how damaging they will be to communities right across the county.”
Outside bodies to be hit include Beamish Open Air Museum, the Gala and Cab services, which face a 14 per cent cut this year, and five per cent less in the following two years.
The charity argues this is the wrong time to cut Cab budgets, and called for an independent review of the service – which includes practical advice on debt, benefits, housing, legal, employment, consumer and other problems – before any changes are enforced by cutbacks.
“It’s false economy,” said Neil Bradbury, Chief Officer for the East Durham bureau, which is based in Peterlee and has sessions in Seaham, Easington Colliery, Horden, South Hetton and Shotton.
“These cuts will mean cuts to essential services, which bring far more money into the area than they cost.”
Pauline Chambers, of the Sedgefield and District Bureau, added: “We know the county council is facing a hard settlement from the Government, but to cut the very services that are so necessary in these hard times is madness.”
Gerald Tompkins, the council’s head of social inclusion, said: “We have had to make a number of difficult funding decisions, including a reduction in funding for the council’s own welfare rights service, but these have been unavoidable given the financial settlement.”
The council plans to freeze its council tax precept for the next financial year, with £67.1million to be made in cuts during the next 12 months, and another £57.9million by 2015.