Luton Borough Council agrees 'brutal' service cuts

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A series of cuts to public services - described by Luton Borough Council as "brutal", have been agreed by the authority.

Street cleaning budgets, highway maintenance, school transport and uniform grants will be reduced or scrapped.

However, weekly bin collections have been saved, thanks to a £10.8m government grant.

The council expects it will have to find £48m of savings by 2016.

This figure includes £22m in the 2013-14 budget.

The council's executive committee decided a number of proposals would go to consultation.

These include saving £658,000 of maintenance budgets for bus shelters and road markings, and no longer contributing to festive lighting in the town centre.

Cuts 'will be noticed'

In the past, councils have tried to make cuts in the back office, reducing staff numbers, streamlining services and perhaps sharing them with other councils.

However, with these proposals, residents will begin to notice these cuts in a way they did not before.

The grass will get longer. It may be messier on our streets at weekends. Flower beds will be replaced by shrubs and grass.

The council, and Luton is not alone in this, is being squeezed by other responsibilities.

It spends about £75m a year on children's and adult services, a huge proportion of its budget, money which is has to spend, often at short notice.

It is inevitable in some ways these non-statutory services are at risk, as councils are increasingly facing stark choices.

It also plans to stop its discretionary transport to faith schools which costs nearly £500,000 per year.

A possible loss of up to 21 staff in the street cleaning division as part of a £413,000 saving, cuts to concessionary bus passes to save £350,000 and scrapping school uniform grants to save £190,000, will also be consulted on.

However, a £1.4m saving in the park and grounds maintenance budget has been agreed, which includes removing floral displays and less grass cutting and litter picking.

A move to fortnightly bin collections to save £1m had been proposed, but Thursday's announcement that the council was one of 90 councils awarded a grant from the government's £250m Weekly Collection Support Scheme, has saved weekly collections.

'Balance budget'

Councillor David Taylor said the proposed cuts were "brutal" but had to be made because of the way the coalition government had affected its funding.

"During my time in politics I have never seen a situation like this and it is regrettable that we have to do this," he said.

"But we have to submit a balanced budget.

"We are actually spending less, so we are looking at everything across the board [to see where cuts can be made]. It is brutal."

Richard Gates, from Unite, said he "sympathised" with the council's "no-win situation" but it was union members who would pay with their jobs.

"They are the ones having to pay the price for a crisis that wasn't created by them," he said.

"We were always told that [the council] would do everything they could to protect front-line services and that is exactly what they are targeting now.

"Sooner or later we have to say enough is enough."

The proposals are due to go before the full council in December.

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