THE severe impact of the cuts Cumbria County Council is being forced to make as its grant from central government is slashed is to be felt in the loss of hundreds of jobs and a reduction in services.
Councillors were told that up to 611 jobs will be axed as part of a budget package and although the authority has vowed to try to avoid compulsory redundancies wherever possible — more than 1,000 workers have already applied for voluntary redundancy — staff in all departments will be fearing for their futures, especially as there is further uncertainty over what will happen when major job-creating contracts come to an end.
Cumbrians have been warned that the cuts to services will have “very significant impacts” on their daily lives, particularly as the sweep of the axe is to be wide-ranging, affecting the provision of day care centres for the elderly as well as children’s centres where assistance to benefit infants and parents alike is provided under one roof.
Bus services, too, are under threat, particularly the loss-making journeys in rural areas, as more than £346,000 is snipped off the subsidy provided by the council. The Campaign for Better Transport this week claimed that cuts being imposed by local authorities across the country could mean the death of rural buses, but people in this part of Cumbria have been able to fight off previous threats to services that provide a lifeline for their communities and they must be prepared to campaign again.
There was some good news among the otherwise depressing picture that emerged from the meeting of the county council’s cabinet, however. Councillors stepped back from charging motorists from roadside parking in town centres and tourist hotspots, as well as from slashing spending on the maintenance of countryside rights of way. Both proposals created a backlash from the public, businesses and countryside campaigners as they would have sent out a dispiriting message as the dependency of the Cumbrian economy on tourism increases.
If access to forests is in future restricted, as opponents of the proposed sell-off of Forestry Commission land suggest, there could be even more people seeking outdoors enjoyment on Cumbria’s footpath network, and cutting maintenance work to the bare minimum would have been a step too far.
And at a time when town centres are desperate for more business, imposing further charges on motorists could have caused significant economic damage. Drivers are now looking to places where they can escape having to pay for parking at the expense of those where fees are steadily rising.
The county council has no choice but to impose some of the cuts, but it is vital it ensure that Cumbria, especially those areas outside the Lake District, remains an attractive place to visit.