All services are in the firing line as borough faces ‘grave’ cuts

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All frontline services are in the firing line as borough bosses attempt to balance the books.

The first wave of ‘grave’ cuts have been drawn up to meet shrinking budgets at borough hall.

Mayor Dave Hodgson has warned that it will be a ‘long gruelling process’ as Bedford Borough Council attempts to plug a £25 million funding gap by 2019.

The council has already made £81 million worth of savings through cuts to its operations but now the public is going to start to feel the pinch with the axe looming over all services.

Council tax is expected to be increased by 1.5 per cent each year over the next four years and Mr Hodgson said no services are out of bounds as the council desperately attempts to save cash.

“There is a real threat to services and that is at crisis level now,” he said.

Initial cuts and money-saving measures have been drawn up and will be put before the council’s executive next Wednesday (October 7).

They include axing the council’s summer play schemes all together, scrapping funding for changes to speed limits and investment in average speed cameras, reducing opening hours at the customer service centre and withdrawing funding from the Marston Vale Community Rail Partnership.

Other cuts include changes to school transport policies to save £80,000, reducing the number of public toilets, removal of dog warden and pest control posts and discontinuing separate dog litter collections.

Mr Hodgson said: “This is the start of the process.

“I can’t see this process not lasting a whole four years and being pretty horrific and at crisis level.”

The funding gap is down to a reduction in central government funding and the increasing pressures that are cause by an aging population.

There has been an increase of £5 million in the cost of care packages for the elderly in the borough since 2013, which means spending on support for children and adults now accounts for more than 50 per cent of the council’s budget.

If the cuts are agreed at Wednesday’s meeting they will be put out to public consultation for eight weeks, starting on October 19.

Councillor Michael Headley, who oversees finance, said: “This is a very grave situation that we are facing and we want to face it with the public at large.

“There is no area that is not being examined. The scale of the task is so huge.”

Mr Hodgson added: “We have found in the past that sometimes the public come up with great ideas that we haven’t thought about.

“We would appreciate people’s comments.”

The full extent of the savings to be made will not be known until the Chancellor’s spending review is published on November 25.

>Read our previous stories on the budget by clicking here and here