Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Budget Proposals Set Out Tough Times Ahead

Cabinet members have agreed budget proposals which show public services are in for tough times ahead to meet nearly £149 million in savings over the next five years

Members of the County Council's Cabinet agreed the draft budget proposals today, Tuesday, 14 January, after they were debated by Overview and Scrutiny Committees. The proposals have been put forward to meet the huge savings required for 2014/15 and the following years.

The report warned that there are no easy solutions to meet the savings and that some services will need to be cut or reduced as the Council has already saved £74 million in the last two years.

Cabinet backed proposals that the Council sticks to its already agreed plan and, like other authorities across the country, increases Council Tax by 1.99 per cent to help protect frontline services.

Cambridgeshire is one of the hardest hit authorities in the country and has had a reduction in the Government’s Settlement Funding Assessment of 20.9 per cent (£29.9m) over the next two financial years. The County is also the lowest funded for education in the UK despite having the fastest growing population. This means the Council is seeing more and more demands on its services – especially for those who are the most vulnerable - as more people need them or are living longer and require more expensive care services. Increased population puts a £9 million strain on the Council’s budget every year while inflation also annually adds extra pressure on decreasing funds.

Cambridgeshire County Council is expected to make savings over the next year (2014/2015) of around £38 million. This is following savings of £42 million last year (2012/2013), and a further £32 million this current financial year (2013/2014).

In the You Choose public survey residents were given the chance to set their priorities and where they would make savings. Residents answering the questions online suggested on average a rise in Council Tax of 5 per cent while those who took part face to face suggested a 17 per cent rise.

The survey showed people wanted to see fewer cuts in children and adult social care as well as transport, including highway maintenance and public transport. But people also said if savings had to be made they would look to make deeper cuts in areas such as libraries and corporate services. They also suggested the Council go further in sharing more services and increase income from disposing of property.

The initial proposals reflect the You Choose findings with suggestions that the £90 million investment in highway and transport continues as well as the Cambridgeshire Future Transport investment.

The initial proposals are to try and maintain capital spend to provide much needed school as well as investment in transport projects such as Cambridge Science Park station, Ely bypass and improvements to the Kings Dyke rail crossing. However, clarification is being sort over the potential impact of the latest provisional Government settlement which has just been announced.

The Council is also assessing what the implications are of the Better Care Fund beyond 2014/15.

The Council will continue to look at sharing assets and buildings with other public bodies as it has been doing successfully through the Making Assets Count programme. This includes looking at leasing the Castle Court building on the Shire Hall site in Cambridge. The Council will also be making it even easier for residents and businesses to access services online which is easier for many and reduces costs to the public purse.

Savings will continue to be made in Corporate Services and shared services with LGSS with a total of £4 million expected to be saved.

The Council has continued to look to drive out efficiencies, further significant savings are expected from Home to School transport contracts for example. Additionally, work to prevent the escalation of needs is continuing with savings planned from reducing the number of children that need to be looked after by the Council and the number of vulnerable adults we support through intervening early and effectively. However, the financial challenges are such that reductions in services and support are unavoidable.

Adult Social Care will continue to target support for the most vulnerable but will look at reducing the demand for services, working more with communities and a reduction in the support offered to some service users.

The service will also continue to use reablement to target people early to preserve their independence and stop them from needing more critical care.

In Children’s Services focus will be put on more targeted work. There will also be a reconfiguration of Children’s Centres and an overall reduction in the services they provide. The Council’s funding for supporting Early Years settings and providers will also be reduced.

In Economy, Transport and Environment there will also be reductions in some services and where appropriate investigations will be carried out into looking at income streams on a user pays basis. Investment will continue in Cambridgeshire Future Transport to provide targeted public transport but consideration is being given to scaling back some services, such as winter maintenance.

Public health funding still remains ring fenced by Government but will be using feedback from You Choose and evidence to make sure services are targeted.

Cambridgeshire County Council leader, Martin Curtis, said: “This is a very tough time for Councils and especially Cambridgeshire. We are one of the hardest hit authorities in the country in terms of funding and yet we are trying to deliver the most growth. We have already saved tens of millions of pounds by making savings where people would expect whilst having very limited reserves. But we are also being innovative with such projects as sharing services with other councils through LGSS as well as being a UK leader in better use of public sector buildings with our partners. However, the scale of savings we now need to make means we have to make tough decisions and inevitably some regrettable cuts to frontline services. But these cuts are necessary so that we can continue to make sure we protect the most vulnerable while supporting the local economy and jobs.”

The proposed budget, which forms the County Council’s Business Plan, is subject to change. A final version will then be debated by Full Council in February.