SUNDERLAND is facing at least five more years of misery as savage budget cuts are expected to increase year on year until at least 2018.
At a meeting yesterday, the city council’s cabinet reluctantly rubber-stamped a document which will guide next year’s budget-setting process.
In total, £110million will need to be saved by the city over the next three years after Government funding was slashed – £10million more than was first expected.
And the financial headache is set to last.
A joint report by chief executive Dave Smith and executive director of commercial and corporate services Malcolm Page states: “The Government have indicated similar levels of reduction may be in prospect to 2018, in order to meet their target to eliminate the structural deficit.”
Until the budget-setting process begins early next year, it will not be known where the additional cuts will come from, but services will be asked to bring forward savings plans.
“We’ve got to make it absolutely clear that these are cuts imposed by the Government, absolutely by the Government, and not at the behest of the council,” cabinet secretary, Coun Mel Speding told the meeting at Sunderland Civic Centre.
“We are duty-bound by law to carry these out. We are doing our very best.”
Coun Graeme Miller said: “We are doing everything we can to protect the residents of the city and the services they are expecting from us.
“It’s an ideological attack on the public sector, there is no reason for these cuts.”
Helen Coomer, Unison organiser for Sunderland, told the Echo after the meeting: “Sunderland City Council has done a good job in saving the first £100m without making any compulsory redundancies, but there is only so much they can do.
“We would look to work with the council to try and help them through these cuts and look for Sunderland to reiterate its promise of no compulsory redundancies.
“The worry is that it will be an excuse to outsource. We think there are other options to improve services by retaining them in-house. That will also ensure the council retains any profit and that it doesn’t go to the private sector.”
Speaking after the meeting, Tory opposition leader Coun Robert Oliver said residents need to accept financial restraint to reduce the national budget deficit.
“Austerity is working in a sense that it’s leading to growth,” he said. “The International Monetary Fund has said the UK is the fastest growing of all advanced economies.”
He added the council has been able to improve services while making significant savings, citing a recent residents’ survey as an example.
“The payback for the cuts is now evident and that should benefit Sunderland in terms of regeneration and jobs, which is very important.”