General – Questions and Answers
Council Tax increase
How can increasing council tax mean that Cambridgeshire residents are better off?
Let me make this clear. I believe in the Government’s policy of keeping taxes low. But Cambridgeshire is already a low tax authority which has a below the national average funding.
This year’s “Pickles Promise” asks councils to set a zero Council Tax increase and in return the Government would give a one off payment that equates to a 2.5 council tax increase. The net effect of this is that our budgets are held at 10/11 levels while inflation and demand for services increases. This means when the one off payment runs out the Council would have to find that money as well as finding ways to meet any other increases creating a massive ongoing funding gap and potentially much higher Council Tax rises.
The financial black hole it would create would be around £30 million over the next 5 years.
We have decided it is better to take the longer view on any increase in council tax from this year to avoid a situation where individuals, families and communities would face a huge hike in Council Tax next year. And it also means that services are protected from the worst effects of cuts.
Ministers have said councils have a “moral duty” not to increase Council Tax.Our moral duty here in Cambridgeshire is to do what is right for our residents. Our residents told us they would be prepared to pay a little more to stave off the most severe cuts, and we have listened to them.
We believe it is better to have a small increase this year, rather than accept the money and have to plug the black hole of tens of millions in our budget next year with an unacceptably high hike in Council Tax, or even extensive cuts to services. Short term gain would only equal long-term pain.
Our Council Tax in Cambridgeshire is one of the lowest set by a County Council in the country and will remain so.
But despite the council tax increase, you are still making cuts to services
The increase helps us to deal with the worst effects of cuts, but yes, we still need to make savings – this year the budget takes us two years into a five year plan to save £540 million.
While demand for our services rise and therefore the cost increases our grant from Government over the last two years has reduced by nearly 25 per cent. In a nutshell there is more demand for services which due to inflation are more costly while Government funding continues to go down.
Much of our thinking in terms of where we make reductions was influenced by our public consultation – which also influenced where we propose to invest in services and infrastructure.
Our budget contains £43m in savings this year. The proposals include £630 million of capital investment over the next five years to make sure Cambridgeshire is open for business and to support prosperity, jobs, education, transport and economic growth.
Will the Council Tax rise hurt already hard-pressed families?
We know that family finances are a struggle – but during our consultation residents told us they would be prepared to pay slightly more to preserve essential services.
We are doing what is right for Cambridgeshire.
I want to be able to look someone in the eye whose loved one is in desperate need of our services and be able to tell them that we are continuing to fund adult social care – that is in everyone’s interests and is what people told us when we consulted them.
The Council Tax increase will yield £8 million – couldn’t you have found this in savings?
It is vital we don’t allow a situation to develop where we have a short fall in our budget because of an increase in underlying costs – including demand pressures and inflation. Especially as this short fall would continue to grow.
This year (12/13), the Council is facing inflation pressures of £10 million (not including pay, which has been frozen).
The additional costs of demand for services and demographic pressures (principally our ageing population) impact to the tune of £18m.
So, the ongoing pressures are clear.
The Liberal Democrats say you are doing what they said in last year’s alternative budget.
We did not need to do it last year as the offer from government went onto our base grant. This offer wont which is what creates the blackhole.
You say you are investing in services and infrastructure but wouldn’t residents prefer you not to be cutting existing services?
The Council needs to make £540M in savings between 11/12 and 15/16. This is due to reduced funding from Government and to meet the pressures of more demand for services and inflation.
In 12/13, we plan to make savings of £43 million, but we will be investing capital investment and funding of £147 million, including prudential borrowing of £47 million.
It is clear from consultation that residents value services such as highways and there will be investment in maintaining the existing roads network as well as investment in our roads infrastructure to enable growth.
What are you investing in adult social care and what savings are you making?
The total adult social care spend is £189 m, or 40% of the Council’s budget.
There are huge challenges – growth in demand, changes within the healthcare system – but also opportunities, including transforming day care, prevention and reablement.
We need to make savings and work more efficiently – so we will invest in prevention and reablement, invest in community hubs, and keep a close eye on high-cost placements.
So we are striking the same kind of balance in terms of savings and investment as elsewhere in the budget.
Why are you getting rid of subsidised bus services and what are you replacing them with?
More than 80 per cent of bus services across Cambridgeshire are commercial services provided by bus operators. The Council spends around £2.7 million on services that are not commercially viable. We believe that there is a better way to provide more targeted local transport solutions.
We propose to phase out subsidies over three years but invest £1.5 million into community transport and other local transport schemes in place of bus subsidies. There is no doubt in my mind how valuable local transport is but subsidised services are often a very blunt instrument and can lead tax payers money being spent on large vehicles with few passengers.
Communities will be consulted and where possible new transport proposals put in place. This could see vehicles being used for a range of trips and community groups rather than travelling to a rigid timetable or destinations.
Why are you investing vast sums in things like superfast broadband instead of cutting less in other areas (such as adult social care)?</strong>
We are investing in Cambridgeshire’s future growth so that the County is open for business and we can recreate the “Cambridge” effect of being insulated from economic downturns through the County.
So we are investing in superfast broadband to bring it to areas where the private sector’s investment doesn’t reach, and in infrastructure projects such as Chesterton Station and the Ely Southern Crossing, as well as new settlements like Northstowe.
A potential investment of £20m in superfast broadband could yield many million more in benefits to businesses and communities in the medium term.
We will also be investing with our partners in helping people develop new skills through promoting apprenticeships.
Helping businesses leads to job creation and economic growth which in turn improves the quality of life and aspirations of our communities.
There is a difference between money we spend on day to day activities and the money we spend on capital projects. We can borrow for capital projects but not to balance the books for the day to day activities. This means the £20m we are borrowing for superfast broadband could not be used for adult social care.
Children’s services are a priority for you but you are still making savings of £10m this year?
Investing in the future is a strong theme within Children’s Services. So we will be enhancing the schools building programme to create extra places, expanding support to families and facilities for children and families through children’s centres.
As in all areas of Council business we are having to use limited resources more effectively. So we will have a different strategy for placing looked-after children, new approaches to supporting children with special educational needs, and redesigning how we deliver social care with an emphasis on prevention, but also working through localities.
Why have you made provision in the budget for extra member allowances.
By law we must review the allowances members get paid. The Council has already written to Government asking that the system to be looked at so councils do not have to do this. And a fairer system put in place. An independent panel will carry out the review and make recommendations which will be debated and voted on by Full Council.
We have no idea what this panel will find but it is prudent to make allowances in the budget rather than then have to make further savings if the recommendation was accepted.
I have made it clear that my group will have a completely free vote on the issue.
Will libraries be hit buy cuts?
Libraries are becoming more efficient and there will be savings as a result but we are securing library services by transforming them so they are fit for the 21st century – for example, sharing buildings or having library services as part of a community, and sharing back office services with other counties (eg Suffolk).
Are you going to be reducing the number of managers?
We are already a lean authority but as the council restructures there will be opportunities for us to reduce our management costs. All of our senior management costs are available on the internet.
For example our shared services agreement with Northamptonshire has banked £11 million to date.
In this budget a restructure of how we deliver environmental services, such as highways, will save us a round £1 million.
We are looking at every suggestion to reduce costs while protecting frontline services. Pay has already been frozen and we are reducing management costs.
Are you confident you can deliver all these major schemes especially when you had trouble delivering the Busway?
I have complete confidence in our ability to deliver a better Cambridgeshire. Every day this council is providing high quality services. The range of projects and schemes we deliver is staggering. From the point you walk out of your door in the morning you will have used a service either provided by us or a project delivered by us. One of the best things about being Leader has been getting an insight into the full picture of the positive impact this Council is having on Cambridgeshire’s communities.
Let’s take one major example to illustrate my point – the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) initiative has been huge for this county. This massive initiative has been led by Cambridgeshire County Council and the results are there to be seen. Anybody that has witnessed the £33m investment in Thomas Clarkson Community College will know exactly what I mean.
The Busway is tremendously successful having seen more than a million trips on it already.