THE council has promised the needs of vulnerable people will continue to be its top priority when it makes £11.9m of cuts next year.

This comes as the local authority enters the final year of a three-year budget, taking the total amount of cuts since 2010 to £97m.

Cabinet member for finance and housing Eamonn O’Brien said the council was making this promise despite a long era of austerity.

He said: “Support for the most vulnerable people in our society remains at the heart of our priorities, and we are developing new ways of working to meet those increasing demands.”

In a fiery exchange with Conservative councillors at a scrutiny meeting on Wednesday, Labour councillor Noel Bayley brought up the government's cuts to the council's coffers, describing it as the “elephant in the room”.

He calculated that the local authority will have lost an average of £1m per month since austerity kicked in.

Cllr O’Brien said that local authorities are now expected to be self-sufficient through council tax and business rates but even boroughs like Bury are struggling to meet this challenge.

He said: “It’s not even party political because Conservatives in local government are saying the same thing. And Liberal Democrats are saying the same thing. These government cuts have gone too far.”

Nearly 90 per cent of the budget which the council controls is spent on providing care to adults and children.

The council spent £76m on social care in 2018/19 as the cost of care packages has almost doubled since 2010 due to inflationary pressures and the increased complexity of needs.

For every pound spent by the council, 43p goes to adult care while 22p goes to children's services.

Cllr O’Brien added: “We’re also providing extra investment to increase our number of foster carers and improve our early help service. Alongside this we have new policies to tackle domestic violence and keep our communities safe. The Social Capital Fund will also be continuing over this coming year, which is giving communities thousands of pounds for projects they have initiated and will directly help their local neighbourhood.”

The council will also continue investing in the regeneration of townships, look after residents and encourage new business investment and jobs, according to Cllr O’Brien.

This includes the regeneration of Radcliffe and Prestwich town centres, rebuilding the Summerseat bridge destroyed by flooding and spending £10m to improve the roads.

However, chief executive Geoff Little said that delivering the savings targets will be a major challenge for council staff this coming year.

A total of 650 members of council staff have lost their jobs in the last eight years and a recruitment freeze is still in place at the town hall.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Cllr O’Brien said he could not rule out further redundancies.

He said: “It does hurt the organisation to lose good members of staff.”

To help balance the 2019/20 budget, more than £5m of council’s reserves will be used.

Cllr Robert Caserta asked where this money has suddenly appeared from and why it had not been used before.

Executive director Steve Canyon explained that this pot of money had previously been earmarked for specific uses and could not be accessed until now following a review of the reserves.

Cllr O’Brien described the next financial year as one of “change and transition”. This period will see NHS and social care functions brought together to provide a more tailored service.

There will also be plans to develop stronger neighbourhood working and partnerships, empowering our communities and residents to self-help where possible and improve the overall quality of life, according to the cabinet member.

The budget is set to be approved at a full council meeting on Wednesday, February 20. A 2.94 per cent rise in council tax is also expected to be approved at the meeting after an additional mayoral precept of £33 is set by Andy Burnham tomorrow.

Cllr O’Brien said: “We’ll be announcing more measures in next week’s budget, but our priorities remain the same – to make Bury the place in which to live, work, study and live a healthy life.”