Financial situation facing the County: This month the Coalition Government will be announcing details of its Comprehensive Spending Review for Local authorities. The Chancellor will be making a speech to Parliament on the 20th October 2010. We expect that by mid November information will become available setting out in more detail how much funding Cambridgeshire will have for providing services in the next three years.
Public services are facing an unprecedented period of retraction as Government funding is cut back as a result of general economic conditions, the need to resolve the deficit and political decisions on the role and scale of the state. Based on Treasury estimates, the County Council is currently planning for a potential reduction in its funding from Government of up to 40 per cent in real terms over the coming five years. Our ability to raise council tax rates and charges will also be severely limited.
This means that, in order to place the council on a sustainable footing for the future, the way services are currently delivered will have to be completely and radically transformed. In the future, the County Council will become both a commissioner as well as provider of services, working increasingly in collaboration with other public services, the community, and the private and voluntary sectors. Some services will end, and others become more targeted to those in the greatest need.
Clearly this means that it is unlikely that any decisions, on any requests for additional spending, will be made before we know what we have to spend. Whilst this may be frustrating it is the right approach.
Libraries: I chair the Safer and Stronger Communities scrutiny committee which recently looked into the library review process. I was particularly pleased that the county is looking at a range of options to meet the savings targets and that library closures would be seen as a last resort. These include getting more volunteer involvement, working more closely with other counties, management structure changes and possibly as a last resort the conversion of some libraries into library access points as we have in Fulbourn. No single measure will give the savings of over £2 million in the next three years so a joined up radical rethink of the service is required.
Schools: There are a number of things going on that might affect our primary schools, including a new school in the city, additional reception classes at city primary schools and of course managing the impact of the economic downturn. There currently exists a “Heads” forum and I am promoting the creation of a chair of governors equivalent. This might enable co-ordinated responses on matters that affect all the schools as well as a way of sharing best practice. Antony Sharpe (Chair of Governors Teversham primary school) has agreed to make contact with the other chairs of governors to see if this is feasible.
Cabinet Assistants: Four new posts of cabinet assistants have been created to help cabinet members. I have been asked to assist the cabinet members for corporate services. This does not cost the council anything and has no allowance attached. It will make me very busy.