The public will be put 'in danger' if more cuts are made to WRS, claims councillor

The public will be put 'in danger' if more cuts are made to WRS, claims councillor

The public will be put 'in danger' if more cuts are made to WRS, claims councillor

First published in News Worcester News: Tom Edwards Exclusive by , Political Reporter

MEMBERS of the public will be "put in danger" if Worcestershire's councils continue making massive cuts to services dealing with rat control, food safety, nuisance neighbours and pollution.

That's the shock verdict from a county-wide group of councillors, who say the very future of Worcestershire Regulatory Services (WRS) is now at risk.

The body, which gets funding from all seven councils in Worcestershire, has its lowest ever budget of £5 million this year after taking an £800,000 hit.

Your Worcester News can reveal how cash-strapped councils are now planning to reduce it even further by 2017, with the prospect of its funding shrinking to around £3.5 million by then.

Councillors are now warning that enough is enough, and say "significant changes" are needed if WRS is to survive.

Worcestershire County Council has just slashed its £1.8 million contribution to £1 million, and is planning to reduce that to a paltry £250,000 by 2017.

Worcester City Council is stumping up £571,000 this year, but is preparing to take £90,000 away from that over the same time frame.

A new report has now been published, prepared by six councillors from across Worcestershire, who say the cuts must stop.

Councillor Rod Laight, who chaired the review, said: "If there are any future cuts to WRS, financially, we will be putting members of the public in danger in a number of areas.

"We've all got to take responsibility - all seven authorities, including Worcester, have got to bite the bullet in other areas because if WRS gets any more cuts it simply cannot operate as it does now."

Speaking during a city council scrutiny meeting, he even said politicians "deserve to be criticised" over reducing the WRS budget .

He said during the review, which took nine months to complete, he established the cuts have led to staffing levels falling from 154 to 117, and another 15 roles will be slashed this year.

"I'm sure you've all had moments as a councillor when you've sat here and thought 'why am I being criticised," he said.

"Well in this case we deserve to be criticised. A lot of people have got to stand up and say 'this is wrong'.

"We can't allow councils to withdraw piecemeal.

"Get together and protect your residents."

The report says cuts to WRS risks Worcestershire being unable to respond properly to challenges like a repeat of the horse meat scandal, which required school meals to be tested.

WRS's responsibilities include animal welfare, contaminated land, anti-rogue trader activities, food safety, under age sales, and a massive range of public health issues like water supplies, burials and drainage.

Cllr Laight added: "There is a real danger of the public being put at risk if we cut it further - you must safeguard WRS, you can't cut any more."

Councillors from various parties shared his concerns.

Labour Cllr Simon Cronin said: "These services don't come for free - the cuts seem to get worse year after year."

Cllr Mike Johnson, a Conservative, added: "We wouldn't want to risk our statutory obligations."

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