Stop the Cuts Alliance spokesman Geoff Mason addresses the crowd outside County Hall. Picture by Robin Crossley.
DESPITE the efforts of anti-cuts protesters across the Island, who called on the Isle of Wight Council back down over plans to slash public services, the authority approved one of the most austere budgets in its history last night (Wednesday).
In a bid to save £17.8m over the next financial year, following government cuts and a shortfall in the concessionary fares scheme, councillors voted through cuts to adult social care and public services, including libraries, public toilets, tourist information centres, lifeguards and the Wightbus service.
Savings will also be made in-house at County Hall, following a reduction in senior management and principal- officer posts.
However, cuts to some services have been scaled back following a last-minute funding injection of £688,000. This includes a provisional allocation of £490,000 from the government's New Homes Bonus scheme, £88,000 from a reduction in mileage allowances and £110,000 from further savings in democratic services, such as reducing members' allowances and scrapping the civic car.
Extra cash has now been allocated to the Waterside Pool, after the Ryde-based Waterside Action Group was named as the preferred bidder to run the facility, and public toilets, while a further £100,000 has been allocated to community bus services, £25,000 to lifeguard training and support and a further £50,000 to the libraries.
Although members agreed to slash budgets for public toilets and the library service, saving £750,000 over the full year, final details of which facilities will remain open will be discussed by the council cabinet next week.
As previously reported, some libraries originally earmarked for closure are now set to open at reduced hours.
Plans to introduce foot passenger charges on the Cowes floating bridge, which would have saved £180,000, have officially been scrapped.
Ventnor Botanic Garden and Dinosaur Isle are still set to be outsourced by the council.
Key funding priorities over the next two years will include schools reorganisation, local housing, fire service modernisation and economic development, with £3.1m set to be invested in the highways PFI project over the next two years and £100,000 a year in the Solent Local Economic Partnership.
The ruling Conservative group's budget proposals were voted through by Tory councillors, none of whom stood against the cuts.
Alternative budgets submitted by the Independent group, whose proposals included cutting council salaries and scaling back the refurbishment of County Hall, and Labour councillor Geoff Lumley, who suggested using council reserves to plug the funding gap, were supported by opposition members, but rejected overall.
The Lib Dems called for all Highways PFI expenditure to cease, to allow for further scrutiny of the project, but this was also rejected, as was a suggestion by East Wight councillors that the council continue to fund Waterside Pool for another year by reducing costs at other leisure centres.
Two tories abstained from the budget vote, Cllrs Lora Peacey Wilcox and Jerry White.
Budget decisions at a glance:
£ Council tax will be frozen, enabling the council to qualify for a central government grant of almost £1.8m.
£ Service reductions will include closing tourist information centres, reducing spend on parks and gardens, scrapping the beach lifeguard and Wightbus services, scrapping plans to rebuild Newport and Ventnor fire station and cutting library and public toilet provision, saving £930,000 in 2011/12 and £1.7m over the full year.
£ Adult social care cuts, with effect from April 1, include scrapping free home care for the over-80s, introducing means testing, abolishing the upper limits for charges and changing the eligibility criteria for access to services to support only the most vulnerable. Overall spend on adult social care will increase next year by £800,000.
£ Westminster House will escape closure for now, after plans to relocate services were dropped while the council explores the possibility of transferring management to a social enterprise, voluntary or private provider. However, savings of £200,000 will be sought through cost-reduction measures at The Gouldings and The Adelaide.
£ There will be no changes to parking charges or permit arrangements.
Video by Christian Beasley.