Cash-strapped South Gloucestershire Council has drawn the line at cutting its community safety budget.
The review had been looking at possible ways of cutting £277,000 from the budget. Options included cutting services to support victims of domestic abuse, nine Police Community Support Officer posts, CCTV, street marshals and hate crime work.
The Communities Committee, which met last night, was being advised by council officers to go for the PCSO option to make savings as part of a six-year programme aiming to save £40m annually by 2020 in response to national austerity measures.
But as part of recent cross-party budget negotiations at the hung council, Labour proposed that none of the options should be pursued. This one-year fix was agreed by the council’s political leaders and endorsed by the Communities Committee. Funds for this reprieve will come from blocking a planned increase in the money that the council’s local Area Forums were to get for local projects.
Labour’s deputy leader Cllr Ian Boulton (Staple Hill) said that at a time when councillors were being told that crime had risen over the past six months, residents’ safety and sense of security was being put in danger by the Government’s budget squeeze.
He said: “Our move is no more than a one-year fix, but a lot can happen in a year. What is certain is that if we lose this valued police support it would be very hard to get it back again, so we needed urgent action to safeguard it. We don’t pretend that this is a painless solution as the Area Forums will be unable to vote funds for many of the small local schemes that residents often want.”
Before last night’s meeting, people with placards gathered outside Kingswood Civic Centre to protest against more cuts.
Despite pleading with councillors, West of England Care & Repair, which helps older and disabled people to live independently, was told that its £189,000-a-year contract would be terminated from April.
WE Care & Repair, which employs 70 people, currently works across South Glos and neighbouring B&NES, Bristol and North Somerset, offering a handyman service for small repairs, free safety, security and warmth checks, free practical support for people coming home after leaving hospital, as well as free housing options advice.
Since 2011 the not-for-profit organisation has helped more than 4,700 residents in South Gloucestershire alone.
A report to the committee outlined concerns raised during the public consultation that any loss of We Care & Repair services would make older and disabled people more vulnerable.
But it was considered that the contract reduction could be “mitigated” by the council including using its own Handy Van service, maintaining a list of potential providers that could be used to refer requests for discretionary services which would no longer be provided by the WE Care & Repair, responding to calls and website queries for advice, and continuing to support the Celestine Centre in Yate, a home independence centre where residents can try out mobility aids and adaptations.
Chief executive of WE Care & Repair, Malachy McReynolds, told the councillors that the alternative £30,000 funding on offer would not be enough. He urged them to keep the service alive, or “tomorrow we will consider how to run down the service to (your) constituents”.
And Francis Philippa, from Foundations, the national body for Home Improvement Agency and Handypersons Services, also addressed the meeting, saying he hoped that “for the sake of older people in South Glos that you can come to a better decision that the one set out in your papers”.
The decision was unanimous although made “with regret” by the committee. They also pushed through savings of £221,000 in environmental health by reducing statutory services to a minimum. A further £200,000 was shaved off the community engagement service budget but councillors were able to keep some support (£45,500) for Priority Neighbourhoods and £43,750 for Safer Stronger Groups and £2,000 for the Town and Parish Councils Forum.