‘Sunderland’s suffering is the only promise David Cameron has kept’ – council chiefs blast £70million cuts

Council leader Paul Watson (left) and Cabinet Secretary Mel Speding
Council leader Paul Watson (left) and Cabinet Secretary Mel Speding
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COUNCIL leaders hit out at the Government as details of how the authority needs to save £70million over two years moved to their next stage.

Members of the city council’s cabinet yesterday reluctantly approved the Revenue Budget 2014/2015 Proposals and Provisional Revenue Support Settlement.

They unanimously agreed the “disproportionate” cuts to the northern economy have been the only promise Prime Minister David Cameron has kept.

By approving the report, by chief executive Dave Smith and head of financial resources, Sonia Tognarelli, a second round of consultation is underway.

The result, including any amendments, will be back before the cabinet at its February meeting.

Council leader Paul Watson said: “It’s not unexpected. We were finding it difficult to cope before this. This is further punishment for the North East. It’s not an easy position for this committee.”

Presenting the paper, cabinet secretary Mel Speding said the authority faces a 22 per cent reduction in spending power, working out at £576 per household.

This is significantly higher, Coun Speding said, than the 14 per cent national average, while some southern councils, including Wokingham, faced a slight increase in spending power of two per cent.

“It shows the very level this Government is willing to go to,” he added.

“David Cameron had promised he would make North East England suffer – and long it will suffer,” Coun John Kelly said. “It’s one of the few promises he has actually kept.

“It’s been a horrible time to be a cabinet member. The decisions that have been taken have been immensely difficult. We are now at the point where frontline services are going to be affected and people are really going to know it. We have managed to protect them so far.

“People really need to point out to their Conservative councillors exactly how many people are suffering. It’s a damned disgrace how these people are being treated.”

Coun Graeme Miller said: “The cabinet certainly has been very measured in how it has presented these stark figures. The unfairness is staggering. Us northern councils have been disproportionately hit by these cuts. It’s an absolute disgrace.

“There is no way it can be said to be fair, particularly considering what this city has already been through. We are effectively being hit harder than other areas.”

James Blackburn pointed out how certain back-office cuts would protect frontline services, giving as an example the proposed four-day working week for binmen, which he claims would safeguard weekly collections.

He said that training highways inspectors to carry out minor repairs would be beneficial and that expanding the environmental apprentice scheme would be good news for Sunderland’s unemployed. The introduction of parking permits for people working in the city centre, Coun Blackburn added, would be cheaper than workers paying daily parking charges.