|Leaders of Thurrock’s voluntary sector were told the council would examine their savings proposals carefully to see if there was a way it could temporarily find a way to use reserves to help increase the time they had to absorb cuts.Cllr John Kent, Leader of the Council and Cllr Richard Speight, communities portfolio holder were speaking at a special overview and scrutiny meeting on Monday (27 October); a meeting consisting of all overview chairs and vice chairs.The meeting – chaired by Cllr Shane Hebb – opened with a statement from Cllr Speight, who said: “As the leader has said many times now, the financial situation that the council faces is unprecedented. We are in the position of having to cut at least Â£37 million out of the budget over the next three years, after a previous period equally savage cuts.
“We have, up to this point, made savings in a way that protects front line services, but there is only so much you can cut without having an impact on residents. We are now at that stage.”
He added: “I don’t want to have to be making these cuts. I recognise that the voluntary and community sector levers extra money into Thurrock, I recognise that it plays an important early intervention role and I recognise the value that volunteering brings to our community.
“But recognising all of that doesn’t change the bottom line – Â£37 million to be cut.”
Representatives of the voluntary sector also spoke, including Neville Baldwin, chair of Thurrock Council for Voluntary Services, that organisation’s chief executive, Kristina Jackson; Mike Rawlings, manager, Thurrock CAB; and Neil Woodbridge, for Trans Vol.
The voluntary organisation put forward “alternative budget”, described by Cllr Kent as ”really positive” and saying: “Everybody wants to see the voluntary sector in Thurrock survive and thrive.”
He added the council needed to see if “there are examples here we can take away and make happen really quickly.”
But, Cllr Kent said some of the suggestions were already in the process of being carried out – Grangewaters and libraries were two examples. And he added others were a “frustration”.
He said that home to school transport was an example where “I would love for Trans Vol to bid for some of these contracts; I would have loved for it to have happened years ago. If by being where we are tonight makes that easier to achieve then at least we would have achieved something”.
Cllr Kent, said: “What I would suggest is we look to find a kind of small amount of money from a corporate reserve in order to act as a buffer for the year 2015/16 that would buy us the time to fully explore these options.” He said he did not wish to commit the council to where the money would come from, or how much could be available.”
And Cllr Speight reinforced the message, saying: “There are things we can look at here, it’s going to be difficult, but we’ll try and come back”, adding that any buffer would not mean tough decisions around spending won’t have to be taken.
Chair, Cllr Hebb concluded by saying he thought there were short- and long-term activities that came out of the meeting, describing Cllr Kent’s “buffer” as “a very credible solution in the short-term”, adding there was a “communications gap” between the council and the sector that needed to be closed, saying: “That’s why we’re all sitting here tonight”.
He added: “To make a truly fact-based decision you really need to know what you’re getting out for what you’re putting in. I would like to see a bit more detail around that before Christmas.”
The special committee noted Cllr Kent’s “buffer” statement, and agreed to review and investigate the alternative proposals put forward by the sector; to look at putting more council services out to the sector; to look at ways the sector could work together to provide services for the council or applying for grants; and to look at the way the system works currently.