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Councillors presented with tough choices on cuts

The massive task facing Fenland District Council in deciding where to find £1.8 million in extra savings over the next three years was revealed last week.

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The vast range of options has been spelt out in a 160-page report that was sent to all 39 FDC councillors last Wednesday (November 11).

The report includes a detailed analysis of the response to the recent public consultation and a comprehensive list of services where cuts could be made, indicating how much each one could save. Various opportunities for generating extra income are also outlined.

And it makes it clear that there will be further public consultation and that it will be several months before final decisions are made.

Council leader Cllr John Clark said: "What we're aiming to do is develop a four-year business plan on where the council is going.

"This report underlines the full extent and complexity of the task we face.The initial consultation has been very useful in giving us an indication of what people want. Now we have to go away and see how we can best take that forward.

"We want all our councillors to be fully involved in making those decisions. We are not going to rush them because it is vital that we make the right ones.

"As far as possible, I want to protect the weakest members of our community - all those who are poorer and more vulnerable - from the effects of any cuts or changes in services that we have to make.

"We recognise that it's not going to be an easy journey."

Two workshops are being held for councillors this week to go through the report and get their initial comments and questions. They will then have two more weeks to study the information in depth and give their views on which services they think should best be targeted for possible cuts.

Following their feedback, officers will then prepare full business plans on those areas that have been identified by the majority as the best ones for making possible savings or generating extra income.

Further public consultation on specific savings proposals will be held next year.

The extra £1.8 million savings required come on top of the £8 million made since 2010, during which time staff numbers have been cut from 626 to 389.

The report says that savings of about £800,000 have already been delivered or earmarked to ensure that a balanced budget is achieved for the first year, 2016/17. That leaves another estimated £1 million to find for 2017/18 and 2018/19.

However, the report adds: "It must be stressed that this figure may increase as an outcome of the Government's spending review, which will be announced at the end of November."

The current savings estimate also assumes an annual Council Tax increase of 1.9 per cent per year. The report includes detailed figures on the impact that any change to that would have.

The recent extensive public consultation, which ended on October 26, drew 6,361 replies, a response rate of 14 per cent.

People were asked to indicate at least six of a possible 19 services that they felt costs could best be reduced. They were also asked to say which of seven other possible ways the council could make savings they would prefer to be considered first.

Top of the services nominated for possible reductions were, in order of preference:

·     Managing Wisbech Port, including its leisure mooring facilities

·     Offering grants, funding and support to the community

·     Supporting local markets and community events

·     Providing flexible and affordable business facilities

·     Promoting Fenland as a tourism destination

·     Helping people to access the benefits they are entitled to

 Of the seven suggested alternative ways of making savings, the four most favoured were:

·     Joining up with other organisations to deliver services and share resources

·     Exploring opportunities to use Council services and assets to raise income

·     Making services available online to allow customers to self-serve

·     Making services pay for themselves, so that the people that use the service pay for it