COUNCIL chiefs say services in Staffordshire have improved over the last five years – despite £130 million cuts.
The Tory leaders of Staffordshire County Council – which rubber-stamped another £19 million of savings last week – claim reductions in Government funding have actually resulted in better provision.
Councillors also voted to approve a council tax freeze and a medium term financial strategy which predicts a further £83 million of cuts over the next four years.
The Tories claimed the cuts have resulted in a ‘leaner’ organisation, and derided the ‘tax and spend’ policies of previous Labour administrations.
But Labour councillors accused the council leaders of failing to listen to residents.
Deputy council leader Ian Parry, cabinet member for finance, said it was more important to look at how money was spent, rather than how much.
Mr Parry said: “We should stop obsessing about figures and instead talk about what we are trying to achieve. What improvements are we trying to make here?
“Having made £130 million of cuts, public approval of local government has increased. That shows that our people have been overcharged for services.
“Since 2009 we have put £30 million back into the wallets of Staffordshire people that would otherwise have been paid in council tax increases.”
Tory councillor David Smith added: “Savings might be painful but I have also never seen an organisation do this and not come out the other side leaner and better than before.
“If you gave the council back the millions of pounds it has saved over the last few years, we would be left with a massive surplus, as we would have no way of properly using it all.”But Labour councillors said the council tax freezes had been funded through cuts to services.
They compared the council to a cafe where you were charged the same amount but for only half a cup of coffee.
The council is currently consulting over ‘modernising’ libraries and youth services, following last year’s consultation on day service closures.
Labour group leader John Taylor said council chiefs were not listening to residents’ concerns over cutting or privatising such services.
He said: “The Conservatives claim they are listening to the people of Staffordshire about the services they want. But if you have a consultation it has to be real. I know a consultation is not a referendum. But that doesn’t mean that what people are saying shouldn’t influence what you do.””There are some things the county council can do which aren’t always the worst, just as the private sector isn’t always the best. There has to be a balance.”Conservative and Ukip councillors voted for the budget proposals, while Labour members voted against them.