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Thursday, 24 April 2014

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Bitter clashes as embattled Cumbria County Council votes for £24m cuts

SWEEPING cuts have been made to a raft of public services in Cumbria.

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protests Union activists demonstrate against the £24m of cuts to services at Cumbria County Councill

Subsidised bus services and travel for young people in education are set to be phased out while on-street parking charges and a “dim and switch” approach to the use of street lights will be brought in.

The moves – part of government-driven austerity measures forcing £80m of cuts over three years – were approved at a meeting of Cumbria County Council in Kendal on Thursday February 14.

Deputy leader Councillor Jo Stephenson said the authority had been forced to make tough decisions.

He said: “No one enters politics hoping to have the opportunity to make cuts. I certainly didn’t.

“However, that is the hand we have been dealt and we must play it.”

Savings of £24.4m for the 2014-15 financial year were broken down into 35 budget propositions.

They include the use of community snow champions and revised gritting routes to cut the cost of winter road maintenance.

The cutting of grass verges will also be restricted to junctions only, with maintenance work being brought in-house to minimise costs.

Residents throughout Cumbria will also be charged £25 per year for on-street residential parking permits.

Cabinet member Councillor Keith Little said: “Difficult decisions have to be made but what we can do is buy time to come up with new and innovative solutions by finding ways to work with outside organisations and businesses.”

However, the cuts were slammed by opposition Conservative group leader James Airey, who stated they were about protecting the council and not those it sought to serve.

He said: “Today’s budget proposals are a complete betrayal of our rural areas.”

The Conservative group offered an alternative budget – pledging to retain subsidies for bus services and transport for teenagers in post 16 education while scrapping proposals for on-street parking fees.

Fellow Tory Cllr John Mallinson said: “This group is prepared to accept the challenge that local government faces.

“We will present amendments that are difficult but inevitable.”

However, the alternative – which proposed cutting school clothing allowance as well as closing three care homes for the elderly across the county – was turned down by the ruling Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition administration.

Cllr Stephenson, who represents Windermere, described the future financial landscape of the council as grim, adding there was no way around the tough decisions that had been made in order to provide a balanced budget from April.

He said: “The government is continuing to reduce its expenditure in order to try to balance the nation’s books.

“I also said at cabinet, that local government is having to bear the largest part of this burden.

“Protecting the most vulnerable people in Cumbria remains our priority and of the savings, the vast majority are designed not to have a direct impact on frontline services.”

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