Suffolk countryside department fears axe as services hived off

A local authority that voted to hive off a slew of services to slash costs may force the closure of an entire countryside department, a councillor has warned.

Suffolk County Council agreed last month to focus more on commissioning and rely on private firms, volunteers and community groups to cut costs by 30 per cent. Conservative council leader Jeremy Pembroke said: "The coalition requires lesser government and a bigger society and we have responded to this challenge.

"Changing the way services are delivered will enable us to cut costs, reduce size, cut out waste and bureaucracy and give people a better say on their services."

Suffolk County Council's countryside, parks and leisure team looks after three country parks - Brandon, Clare and Nettershall Heath - car parks and picnic areas. Its countryside management team targets areas of outstanding natural beauty run on a partnership basis with groups such as Natural England.

Labour group leader Sandy Martin said the combined workforce in the countryside service was 31 staff and the county council's total revenue budget was £500m. "There are parks and wildlife sites owned or managed by the council," he said. "That service will be closed down or threatened.

"The council has to cut overall spending by a third, which is enormous, but the percentage taken by countryside services is minimal - hardly a scratch worth."

Martin added that countryside management took up less than £1m. Cutting all countryside and environmental services would save 0.2 per cent of the budget - 19p in every £100.

Few district councils had in-depth biodiversity or wildlife expertise and axing the department was "reprehensible" and would undo much of its good work, said Martin.

However a spokeswoman for the council said: "There are no done deals. We are going out to consultation and hope to start the process next April.

"I have seen no details as yet, which is not to say people aren't putting their thinking caps on. Individual boroughs deal with local parks and their choice is their choice."

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