Sunderland Council approves £37million cutbacks

Council Leader Paul Watson talking to members of the public protesting about council budget cuts.'Sunderland Civic Centre.
Council Leader Paul Watson talking to members of the public protesting about council budget cuts.'Sunderland Civic Centre.
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PROTESTORS clashed with councillors ahead of a meeting that saw £37million of cuts approved.

The 2013/14 budget was approved by an overwhelming majority yesterday afternoon, freezing council tax and committing £111million of spending on capital projects such as the New Wear Bridge.

Despite the council tax freeze, however, residents will still see their total bill rise by between £1.95 and £5.86 after Vera Baird, Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), increased the amount of money her office demands.

It is estimated the total amount of spending in the coming 12 months will fall just short of £700million.

Leader of Sunderland City Council, Councillor Paul Watson, said: “The priority for the council remains protecting and supporting vulnerable members of the community.

“Sadly, in the prevailing economic climate and the resulting measures being imposed by Central Government, I fear this will only increase.

“Nevertheless, this is not a council to batten down the hatches. Instead we are committed to continuing to develop and deliver services in different, more efficient and customer-focused ways – ways that lead to better outcomes for local people.”

Consultations will now begin to determine what will be cut, although where the axe may fall has been made a little clearer.

Children’s Services will have £3.8million less to work with and home-to-school transport is one of the areas under review. Meanwhile, Health, Housing and Adult Services must make do with £5.1million less.

Before the meeting, Coun Watson addressed the concerns of activists from Sunderland Against the Cuts outside the civic centre, telling them it would hurt the city if he proposed an illegal budget.

Gary Duncan, spokesman for Sunderland Against the Cuts, criticised Labour councillors for “doing the Tories’ dirty work” and called on them to reject the Coalition Government’s austerity measures.

However, Coun Watson told the Echo: “Clearly, I’m not happy with a budget like this, but I am passionate about Sunderland and I will not drag this city head on into a battle with the law by setting an illegal budget.

“People are terrified, but it’s important for us to get across that we will be the last bastion to protect our services.”

Robert Oliver, leader of the opposition Conservative group, criticised Vera Baird for upping her council tax demands.

“The council tax freeze is a welcome measure, but it’s not actually a freeze because the PCC precept has gone up,” he said.

“When all other authorities have frozen council tax, for one to break and ask for more is barking mad.”