The axe has come crashing down on £14.4m of services at Southampton City Council - to cries of “shame”, accusations of hypocrisy and claims of a “hatchet job”.
At a heated meeting, Labour council bosses approved their budget for 2014/15, which will also see council tax rise by 1.99 per cent and almost 100 jobs go.
And at the meeting yesterday there were fresh warnings that it is set to get much worse before it gets better for the city’s embattled finances.
Council bosses at the Civic Centre have already had to find £57m of savings in the past three years.
And the outlook is gloomy for the next few years, with an estimated £54.7m needing to be found by 2016/17.
Labour chiefs have staved off the deepest cuts to frontline services for this year, but with a huge savings target of £30m for 2015/16 it looks increasingly unlikely that they will be able to do so for a second year.
At the meeting leader Cllr Simon Letts attacked continuing Government spending cuts to the city. In particular he said that the city had been “disproportionately” hit in comparison to more affluent authorities, saying that Southampton had received Government grant cuts of £148 per head, as opposed to £27 per person in Winchester.
‘Minimum losses’ Claiming that his party had concentrated on making efficiencies in every department’s budget to avoid the worst cuts, he said: “This is an excellent budget with minimum job losses and minimum service reduction.”
But finance boss Cllr Stephen Barnes-Andrews admitted that there was a “huge challenge” ahead, while Labour colleague Cllr Chris Hammond said: “We cannot pretend that things can continue as though it is business as usual.”
They defended Labour’s record in office, with Cllr Hammond adding: “As an administration there is much to be proud about in this budget, and I think Labour can be proud about what it has achieved.
“I’m not saying there aren’t tough choices which have to be made in this budget, and sadly some people will be losing their jobs.”
While many of the positions lost through this year’s cuts are vacant or will go through voluntary redundancies, 35 people are set to be made redundant.
The opposition parties lined up to attack Labour and the budget, with Conservative finance spokesman Cllr John Hannides saying that Labour had done a “hatchet job” on services.
He added: “We have salami slicing of services and chopping at departmental budgets – there is no clear strategy.”
Declaring the Conservatives the “party of the people” he said that his party would have frozen council tax if in power.
He also said that his party would reverse cuts to the City Patrol and out-of-hours noise response service, while raising funds by selling some of the city’s artwork, sharing more services with neighbouring authorities and reducing the number of councillors by a third.
His group leader, Cllr Royston Smith, accused Labour of hypocrisy in increasing the size of its Cabinet by 50 per cent while reducing the size of the council’s workforce.
Putting People First spelled out a bleak message for the city’s finances, with group leader Keith Morrell saying: “This budget has squeezed every efficiency out of department budgets.
“In future there will be nowhere for this council to hide.
“This year we have saved almost £15m, next year we are going to have to find £30m and there is nothing further that can be cut without brutalising frontline services and I’m afraid that is what we will see next year.”
The Liberal Democrats were the only party to put forward an official alternative budget, which featured proposals to make 20 fewer redundancies, reverse cuts to street cleaning, bus services and out of hours noise services, and save the City Patrol.
Group leader Cllr Adrian Vinson said that his party’s proposals would help to support the city’s vulnerable people and minimise service reductions, saying that the proposals were “radical, fair and responsible”.
But his group’s alternative budget was defeated.
And, as a single shout of “shame on you” came down from the public gallery, Labour councillors unanimously voted to approve their budget, which will now come into force on April 1.