Sunday, 23 January 2011

CCC Press Release: Zero Council Tax Increase And A Radical New Approach To Services In County Council Budget

There will be no increase in the County Council's element of Council Tax in the next financial year, and probably no increase for a further four years, proposals released today reveal.

The County Council has unveiled its Integrated Plan covering the next five years, which aims to save £50.4 million in 2011/12 and £160.6 million over the life of the plan.

The proposals, published in papers (available online from Thursday morning) to be considered by the Council's Cabinet next week, are the Council's answer to the most difficult financial situation in its history, as the Council deals with the increasing pressures of demand, an increasing and ageing population and inflation coupled with a 14 per cent reduction in the core funding received from Government.

They are defined by a new set of Council priorities, and informed by the results of a consultation process which put residents in the place of County Councillors and replicated the tough decisions in this year's budget.

The new priorities - supporting and protecting vulnerable people when they need it most, helping people to live independent and healthy lives in their communities, and developing the local economy for the benefit of all.

The proposals also contain radical changes to the way the Council works.

Four principles will guide the way the Council work - being a genuinely local council, making sure the right services are provided in the right way, investing in prevention, and working together.

The savings proposals within the Integrated Plan cover all aspects of the Council's business.

In Children's Services a fundamental shift from universal to targeted services is proposed, which over the next four years would save £1 million from youth services, £761,000 from home to school transport and £600,000 from children's centres.

Direct support to some children and young people will end, saving £1 million from disability services, £527,000 from specialist teaching, £315,000 from budgets for educating looked after children and £301,000 from the Cambridgeshire Racial Equality and Diversity Service.

The Council aims to save £950,000 from children's social care, £240,000 from the early year service, and £3 million from mainstream and special educational needs school transport.

In Libraries, Learning and Culture, the Council will save £282,000 through operational efficiencies, income generation and new ways of working, £108,000 from redesigning the mobile library service, and £100,000 from introducing more self service and using volunteers in libraries.

Working in partnership with other councils to provide support services and creating a Trust to run libraries will save a further £294,000.

In social care, promoting prevention and localism will save £2.9 million, adopting reablement approach a further £4.75 million, and decreasing the cost of high cost and complex placements will save £1.3 million.

In Environment Services, a proposed restructuring Trading Standards will save £641,000 over four years, reducing spending on environment and climate change £492,000, a proposed restructuring waste services will save £159,000 and a proposed reduction in senior management will save £100,000.

Further efficiencies from the highways services contract will save £2.4 million, and restructuring Highways and Access £1.1 million.

In public transport, phasing out subsidised bus services will save £2.7 million but there will be an extra £1 million invested in supporting community transport schemes over the next five years as well as a summit on how to make public transport more locally focussed and value for money. There will also be a £1.4 million saving in revenue funded highways maintenance but an extra £3.85 million investment in this area from capital funds.

In Corporate Directorates, over a four-year period, reducing properties and maximizing office space in retained buildings will save over £1 million, reducing the contact centre opening hours and standards and moving more services being accessed and delivered online £426,000, reducing IT functions and delivering services in different ways will save £989,000 and reducing communications and marketing activity will save up to £550,000.

Budget decisions have and are being made in conjunction with Community Impact Assessments, which consider the impact of our services on communities, with particular reference to ensuring equality and cohesion. These will continue as changes are made to services.

The Council consulted on proposals in its budget this year using the Simalto method, which puts residents in the position of councillors in having to take tough decisions.

The consultation was conducted across the County because the Council wanted residents to help shape the budget plans.

The key findings were that if at all possible they would like to see less cuts in road maintenance and library services.

The savings which would cause less concern if reduced were lowering the number of looked after children while offering better support for families and support for people leaving hospital known as 'reablement'

Councillor Jill Tuck, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, said: "These are unprecedented times. We know that rises in VAT, fuel prices and living costs in general are impacting on family budgets. So the first thing to get right is to make sure we don't add to that, and so we propose not to increase our portion of council tax in the next year.

"To deliver our proposed plan, The Council will have to work in a completely different way.

"We will be a genuinely local council.  We'll hand decisions about spending and service provision to people at the most local level wherever possible.

"We know that a lot of people are already actively involved in their local areas, and we want to free up communities to do even more and support themselves.

"We will focus on prevention - helping people early on, increasing their independence and choice, and helping them to help themselves.

"We will make sure that every penny in every pound counts.  We will protect the frontline and will be as efficient behind-the-scenes as possible.  We will only provide services directly when this makes most sense. And we will work even more closely with other public services, the private sector, voluntary organisations, and communities to make sure we're joined up and providing the best value possible."

Councillor John Reynolds, Cabinet Member for Resources and Performance, said: "The proposals within the Integrated Plan will see the County Council become leaner in terms of what it directly provides and the numbers of employees it needs to deliver services.

"The reduction in our grant reflects the part public services have to play in repaying the nation debt. There is no escaping the fact that there will be cuts to services. Cambridgeshire was already a lean authority and that has made for difficult decisions.

"We will focus more than ever on our priorities, so our proposals will protect the most vulnerable, help people to live independent and healthy lives, and promote economic growth."

Councillor Steve Criswell, Cabinet Member for Customer Services, said: "The
libraries network emerged as a high priority for residents and the desire not to close libraries is reflected in our proposals."