OPPOSITION councillors have published alternative cost-cutting proposals ahead of the Isle of Wight Council's crunch budget meeting.
As reported, all members will meet on Wednesday to set the authority's budget for the forthcoming year, described by senior councillors and officers as the most difficult in the council's history.
Faced with devastating cuts in government funding and the prospect of a £31.5 million black hole in its finances over the next four years, the ruling Island Independent group has drawn up a series of recommendations to slash spending. They include closing public toilets, reducing funding for Wightcare and axing free floating bridge travel for bus pass holders.
Alternative proposals have now been put forward by a group of four independent members, not affiliated to the ruling group.
Cllrs Richard Priest, Jon Gilbey, Julie Jones-Evans and Bob Blezzard say £760,000 can be saved by implementing a range of measures — including introducing a £1 overnight parking charge, raising prices for council-run facilities, such as Dinosaur Island, implementing efficiencies in the highways PFI contract, restructuring mental health day services and reducing the number of local area co-ordinators from six to three.
The proposals have already come under fire from Cllr Phil Jordan, executive member for public protection and the highways PFI.
He said the council only employed three local area co-ordinators, not six, and said they did not duplicate the work of Age UK Isle of Wight's care co-ordinators, as claimed.
Cllr Jordan said the proposals for efficiency savings in the highways PFI lacked detail and pointed out the council's parking strategy would take at least another six months to complete, asking how the group's proposals for 'parking efficiencies' would fit into it.
Labour cllrs Geoff Lumley and Alan Hollands have already published their alternative budget proposals, as reported, calling for an extra £50,000 to be taken from reserves to help protect services 'vital' to the Isle of Wight community.
*Further proposals have been published by the two UKIP members of the Isle of Wight Council, Cllrs Daryll Pitcher and Graham Perks.
They have suggested a number of amendments to the Island Independents' budget including reducing but not axing funding for stroke services, youth services and Supporting People services — saving £153,000.
They have proposed fees and charges for all council services, from library photocopying to leisure centres, are rounded to the nearest £1.
In addition, they have called for a number of cost-cutting proposals to be dropped, including slashing staff numbers in the council's call centre, democratic services department and benefits team.
Those proposals amount to £151,000 — making the overall saving proposed by UKIP just £2,000.
Cllr Pitcher said: "Cuts to the benefits team and subsequent increase in waiting times will increase hardship for some of our most vulnerable people. Waiting for benefits is one of the prime drivers for use of food banks. With the contact centre, we believe most people expect to be able to pick up their phone and speak to their council. Moving to an online service is not the way forward because, as we all know but never admit, ignoring e-mails is far easier than ignoring the phone."
"Given the parlous state of council finances writing a budget was actually quite easy, there was only so much left to cut anyway."