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Social Policies Top Council Spending Plans

Coventry’s beleaguered social services department is set to receive more money along with maintenance of pavements and parks in a rethink on council spending.

Economic regeneration is to be moved down the agenda by the council’s ruling Labour group as councillors try to tackle the huge problems faced by social services.

Pavements, parks, public loos and parking schemes for residents are also being identified as areas for action.

The council’s strategic directors have been told to look in their budgets to find any spare cash to pay for these new objectives.

And they have been told to re-examine spending patterns to see if money is being spent where it is no longer needed.

A rise in council tax has not been ruled out, but any increase is likely to be restricted by the government.

Cllr John MuttonDeputy leader John Mutton, who is in charge of the council’s resources, said the emphasis could be switched away from economic regeneration.

He said:

“Ten years ago we had 20 per cent unemployment and a vast amount of money went into economic regeneration to encourage companies to move here to create jobs.

“We are now below the regional average and while we still want to encourage companies to come to Coventry, it isn’t as important as it was.

“We are looking at this in a radical way. We are asking all the strategic directors to see if they can make savings in their budgets to meet these new priorities.

“Just because we’ve always spent money on it doesn’t mean we still should be doing so.”

He acknowledged that some parts of the council would be unable to make savings, while others, such as education, would remain a priority.

He said:

“Some departments won’t be able to make any changes.

“Once we’ve got a clearer picture of the problems faced by social services we will know what they need.

 “The top priority was education, with all the money allocated to it and more going to schools in the city, and that will still happen.”

More cash is expected to come to the city from the central government, following a re-assessment of spending plans.

Cllr Mutton said that a projected shortfall of up to £5.9m over four years has now been changed to a surplus of £2.6m over the same period.

He said that could free up some funds for long-term investment:

“Some of that will have to go to meeting the cost of the 37-hour week, under Single Status but it will leave a little left.

“The housing transfer won’t save us any money because the revenue will go to Whitefriars, but it might save us some capital, which we can use to make long-term savings.

“For example, we spend a lot of money on out of city placements for children in care. If we could build some small children’s homes in the city, then the unit cost might be high, but we would be able to save money in the long-term.”

Although the decisions about next year’s spending will be taken by the Labour group, before going to the full council, which has a Labour majority, Cllr Mutton said groups in the city were being consulted.

He said:

“We have a statutory obligation to consult with the business community and I addressed the first meeting to the voluntary organisations in the city and explained how we wanted them to be able to feed in their work plans and their views.”

Some of the extra cash will have to go on the councillors’ pay rise, which will see an increase of £80,000 a year in the total bill.

Cllr Mutton said the original suggestion had been a £150,000 rise, but he had rejected that.

He said:

“I put in a lower proposal than that suggested by the consultants because I thought that it was too high.

“There were 23 chairs of committees under the old system, now there are ten people doing their jobs.

“The Standards Committee was concerned that the members were being underpaid because it is turning into a full-time job and people don’t have a chance to earn any other money.”

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CWN / Politics / Coventry City Council / 20 Sep 00
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