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Southwark confirms service cuts and job losses

After weeks of speculation about cuts to public services in Southwark, the borough's council has revealed its draft budget with details of where the axe will fall.

The draft budget – due to be considered by the executive on Tuesday and by the full Council Assembly next week – assumes a 4 per cent rise in the element of the council tax set by the local authority (in line with inflation). However, most of the borough's cash comes from central government and it is this funding which will increase by 2 per cent in 2008-9 and just 1.75 per cent and 1.5 per cent in the following two financial years.

"Thanks to below-inflation increases in our grant for the next three years, Southwark faces a severe funding shortfall," explains council leader Nick Stanton.

"The executive has worked hard to minimise the impact of this on local people by cutting waste rather than services. By working more efficiently, we plan to make more than 30 million in efficiency savings over the next three years, and we will be reviewing everything from management structures to the number of biscuits at council meetings."

As well as the efficiency savings the council will make 6 million worth of cuts to services over the next three years.

Confirming that there will be job losses, Cllr Stanton praised council staff for their co-operation in what he described as an "impressive exercise" to find ways of making savings. "Everyone's rolled up their sleeves and made an effort," he said.

"This whole budget process has shown how bad Nick Stanton's cynical brand of leadership is for Southwark," says Southwark Labour leader Cllr Peter John.

"He's spent the last month stoking fears that every service in Southwark faces cuts when he and his Tory masters should have been finding ways to reduce the millions and millions of pounds that Southwark wastes on consultants, agency staff and spin."

Social services

The Lib Dem/Tory administration intends to shave 2 million from the social services budget by changing eligibility criteria for social care so that those deemed to have a 'moderate' need for care will no longer receive council assistance.

Southwark Labour's spokesperson for health and adult care, Cllr Martin Seaton, described the cuts as "absolutely devastating for Southwark's vulnerable adults and "a comprehensive wrecking of Southwark's nationally recognised adult social care provision".

He also attacked the plan to increase meals-on-wheels prices, though these will remain below the London average.

Southwark retreats from tourism

The borough's efforts to attract visitors to the area are to be scaled back, with the closure of the Southwark tourist information centre at Tate Modern.

Formerly based at Vinopolis – where the centre was opened in 2004 by Kate Adie and won a major award in 2005 – the TIC was reduced to a single desk at Tate Modern during 2006. Its closure will save the council 60,000 a year.

"We have to ask 'Are we we really in the tourism business as a council?'," says Nick Stanton.

The plans for Tate Modern's extension include provision for a permanent tourist information centre, but the council is now unlikely to be able to fund its running costs.

Bankside Frost Fair funding axed

For the past five years the council has funded the annual Bankside Frost Fair in the run-up to Christmas. Its 100,000 council funding is now to be withdrawn, although the event could still continue on a commercial basis.

"The time has come to say either it's commercially viable or it's not," argues Cllr Nick Stanton.

He suggests that Bankside has grown so much as a visitor destination over the past five years that it no longer needs special promotion: "A few years ago trying to get people to come to Southwark was a major thing. In the winter, do people stop coming to Bankside?"

Other events funded by the council – such as the Carnaval del Pueblo in August – will continue to receive financial support but will not be allowed to overspend.

The move to Tooley Street

As we reported last year Southwark Council is preparing to relocate many of its staff to a new building on Tooley Street.

Council bosses hope that by centralising many functions when the move takes place in February 2009 they can save in excess of 5 million over the next three years.

Although the council had intended to continue to hold Council Assembly and committee meetings at the Town Hall in Peckham Road after office functions had moved to Tooley Street, this is now up for review with the possibility of a complete sell-off of the current Town Hall.

Livesey Museum to close

The Livesey Museum for children on the Old Kent Road – which attracts 20,000 visitors a year but costs 140,000 to run – a subsidy of 7 per visitor – is to be closed within the next three months.

Cllr Stanton describes the closure of the Livesey as "the least painful option" which enabled the council to protect libraries and leisure centres from cuts.

The decision has been branded "absolutely spiteful" by Labour councillor for Livesey ward Andrew Pakes, who has set up an online petition to save the museum.

"I'm worried the real reason the Lib Dem-Tory Executive want to shut it down is because it hopes to sell off the beautiful listed-building for private development in the long run," says Cllr Pakes.

Lambeth and Southwark London Assembly member Val Shawcross has already written to Nick Stanton to express her concern about the proposed museum closure.

"I am shocked that the council would consider getting rid of the museum – they are dispensing with a great public asset which was originally a gift to local people from the public benefactor George Livesey," says Ms Shawcross. "It truly is immoral that this is being contemplated."

Campaigners fighting to save the museum will demonstrate outside Southwark Town Hall on Tuesday from 6pm.

Community Wardens

The controversial community wardens scheme will also be cut back with fewer wardens and fewer managers. In future the service will be more reactive and focussed on enforcement of bylaws, with council bosses claiming that all-day patrols by wardens are no longer a priority since the Metropolitan Police's introduction of a Safer Neighbourhood team in every ward.

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