Sunderland council cuts top £100million

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COUNCIL chiefs could have to find £100million of savings over the next three years, a new report has revealed.

A meeting is to be held tomorrow where councillors will be told cuts are “significantly higher than assumed”.

The council has already cut spending by £100million during the last three years and leader Paul Watson warned tough decisions would have to be made.

He said: “There is no certainty about anything but we have to look at what is likely to happen and that is not a good picture.”

City leaders today warned that some services will suffer, while they battle to ensure those they have to provide by law are still financed.

The initial announcement of the grant levels to come from central government for the next two years emerged just before Christmas.

But tomorrow, a Sunderland City Council cabinet meeting will hear that the devil is in the detail.

“The grant funding cuts for 2014/15 are significantly higher than assumed,” says a report from director of commercial and corporate services Malcolm Paige. “This could mean our funding gap by the end of 2014/15 could be around £6million higher than had been assumed.

“If this then feeds through to 2015/16, then the three-year savings requirement the city council is likely to be in the region of £100million.”

The report also accuses the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) of playing down the scale of cuts this coming financial year.

“DCLG have estimated our spending power will fall by 1.6 per cent in 2013/14,” it said.

“However, an analysis of the detailed figures shows the published cut in spending power is substantially understated, giving an inaccurate picture to the scale of cuts actually being made.”

The authority has already cut spending by £100million during the last three years.

Unison regional organiser Helen Comer said: “The news Sunderland Council has to find another £100million over the next three years is yet another devastating blow for the people of the North East.

“This is a clear indication the Tory-led central government is deliberately targeting Labour-run councils in the North East to take the biggest hit, the exact opposite of ‘we are all in this together’.”

Council leader Paul Watson warned the authority would be forced to make more sacrifices.

“We will be concentrating on doing the things we have to do by law,” he said.

“Other things will suffer, free services that we don’t have to, by law, supply.

“There is no certainty about anything but we have to look at what is likely to happen and that is not a good picture.

“We will absolutely keep to our fundamental principles and ensure priority is given to the people least able to look after themselves and those in most need – but there will be changes.”

But Coun Watson’s opposite number, Tory group leader Robert Oliver defended the funding announcement.

“The local government settlement for Sunderland reflects the necessity of reducing the deficit, but funding for the city as a whole is still about four times that of local authorities in more prosperous areas.

“The council has also been offered funding for a council tax freeze, millions in the pupil premium and funding for the New Wear Crossing as well as further school building, so there is good news too.

“Over the past two years, the council has saved £100million while claiming services have improved, and there is scope for more savings such as through shared services and the elimination of wasteful spending.”

Coun Colin Wakefield, leader of the independent group, urged Labour and Conservatives to put differences aside.

“The expected budget reduction of a further £100million is, of course, of great concern and a time to pull together to get the best deal we can, with the least pain. This is not a time for political sparring as is so often the case.

“The planned Council Summit to be held on February 7 is a step in the right direction. Sadly, I believe it will revert to party lines.”

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