The £110million axe: Sunderland’s leaders ask for help with ‘hard choices’ as city faces ‘bleak’ times

Sunderland Civic Centre.
Sunderland Civic Centre.
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Every household across Wearside will lose out on £873 worth of services in the next round of council cuts, a civic leader has warned.

Sunderland City Council is predicting it will suffer Government cuts of £110million by 2020, on top of the £207million cut from its budget during the last six years.

Councillor Paul Watson.

Councillor Paul Watson.

City chiefs say this means while it currently spends £663million, which equals £5,262 per household, on 700 services for its 277,000 residents, it will have £873 less to spend on each home during the next four years.

It is now asking tax payers to have their say on where savings should be made as it warns it is facing “hard choices”.

Leader of the Labour-led council, Coun Paul Watson, says the council will need to save at least £40million in the next financial year and that, in five years’ time, the amount it has to spend will be half of what it had in 2010.

Coun Watson hit out at the Government for its actions which “take it off the poorest, rather than the richest” and admits it “looks bleak for people who are vulnerable.”

Given the level of savings needed, we’re going to have to radically rethink some of the things we do and this will inevitably impact on the services we provide.

Councillor Paul Watson

But while he says he understands austerity measures are needed to reduce the country’s deficit, Coun Watson accused the Government of failing to target large tax-evading companies and leaving councils in the least

affluent areas to bear the brunt of cuts. warning they will hit Sunderland “especially hard”.

He added: “Governments of all colours have set negative, deficit budgets for the last 200 years. The world’s economy has changed and we need to decide how we deal with that.

“I also want this to be less political. We are elected to govern for everybody and I want to get away from party politics so that everybody contributes. We want to empower people.

“They need to understand the council has to deal with these pressures in our communities and we need to speak to that pool of people and be more intelligent, and ask what is tolerable to them.

“We’re in a position of opposition here, but we need to demonstrate we can make the right decisions, but in a compassionate and sustainable way to half the deficit by 2020.”

Coun Watson says the cuts will increase pressures on services which help vulnerable adults, children and families as demand rises.

Earlier this year, the council’s children’s and safeguarding services was told it was inadequate in an Ofsted report. The council has since invested more in the service, but highlighted cuts as one of the reasons why the departments were under pressure.

Coun Watson said the local authority must set a balanced budget, otherwise the Government will impose one on it, with a promise it is trying to put the reductions in place in a way with minimises the impact on people.

He added: “We’re facing some really hard choices.

“Given the level of savings needed, we’re going to have to radically rethink some of the things we do, and this will inevitably impact on the services we provide.

“The level of cuts is such that we can’t simply top slice money from council services. We have to work with residents, businesses and other organisations in the city to look at new and different ways of doing things.

“We also need to make sure that we continue to focus on regeneration and attracting investment to our city, so we can make it more sustainable and help generate more wealth and jobs.”

A review of green waste collections has already resulted in the decision to bring in a £25 annual brown bin charge, with changes to the regularity of refuse collections and grass cutting in parks among the ideas mooted, over where funds can be saved.

The council has said it will look to the voluntary sector to save cash and also that agreements, such as the Everyone Active partnership to run its sports centres, could also be drafted in through other areas.

Events will be set up in coming weeks to give people a say on where they believe savings can be made.

Views can also be made online via www.sunderland.gov.uk/budget-survey.