Let me start by saying how pleased I am to be standing before you today as Leader of this Council presenting a Budget Plan for success.
Firstly, I would like to offer my thanks to Mark Lloyd and his team of dedicated officers whose hard work has enabled us to present such a strong plan today.
This year, I would also like to extend particular gratitude to my Cabinet, who have engaged with this process and got involved much more than has been the case before. Strong political leadership has certainly defined our planning process this time round.
This is a Plan that reflects the needs and aspirations of our communities.
It is a Plan that does absolutely the right thing for the people of Cambridgeshire.
It doesn’t matter where you live in the County, or what your circumstances are, this Council is working hard for you.
Yes, times are tough, and we are facing some of the biggest challenges that this Council has ever faced.
But this is not a time to be caught in the headlights. This is not a time for gesture politics. This is a time for leadership, a time to invest for economic success, a time to invest in our communities’ future.
Cambridgeshire County Council is being bold. We are taking big decisions and we are working with communities to build a strong future for this county.
We will not sit back and oversee the decline of our road network, we will not idly watch over as our young people see their opportunities for learning and employment dry up before their eyes, we will not flounder helplessly as our social care services are stretched to breaking point.
That is not what the people of Cambridgeshire deserve from us. They deserve much, much more, and that is what they are seeing from us today.
Let me tell you why this plan is good news.
This Plan announces in no uncertain terms that Cambridgeshire is open for business.
We are saying to the people of Cambridgeshire that this Council is working hard for you.
Yes we have had to make big and bold decisions in putting the Plan together. One of those has been to propose a 2.95% rise in Council Tax.
It is a tough decision, which is not ideal, but it is simply the right thing to do for our communities.
I believe that all parties in this chamber today agree on that point.
In fact, it is what communities across the county have told us themselves. The message we have had from Cambridgeshire people was loud and clear – if it protects our essential services, then we are willing to pay a little more Council Tax.
That’s a tough call for households to make in difficult times, but it is the right one.
People recognise the pain that even more drastic cuts to frontline services in future years would bring.
We are already a lean Council. We have a strong track record of efficiency. We have created the biggest local authority shared service arrangement in the country to save Cambridgeshire taxpayers millions of pounds.
This Council is making £540m worth of savings over five years. £50m of new savings last year, and another £43m of further new savings this year. These figures really bring in to sharp focus the transformation we have been through to mitigate the impact of these cuts.
Despite the enormous scale of our budget pressures, we have not raised the bar for eligibility to our social care services, we have not closed libraries, we have protected lollipop ladies and we are making capital investments to stimulate the economy to help create jobs.
Government is quite right to encourage low-tax authorities, but we are already one. That is the fact of the matter.
We are in the bottom handful of counties across the country for Council Tax rates and we are going to stay that way, even with this year’s small increase.
To take the one-off offer from Government on council tax would leave us with a £30m black hole in our budget over the next five years. We just can’t afford that without applying some big cuts to our services.
Government says that we have a “moral duty” to freeze council tax this year. I do not accept that.
I am accountable to the people of Cambridgeshire alone – and as Leader of this Council I need to be able to look them in the eye and tell them that they will be able to access support and protection when they really need it.
I have to be able to look the young person in the eye and tell them that we can keep you safe. I have to be able to look the elderly resident in the eye and tell them that we will give them the support they need to carry on.
Mr Chairman this Plan in not just about us scraping by.
Let me tell you why this Plan is good news for Cambridgeshire.
We are working hard to develop the local economy –the first of our three strategic priorities.
What a great county this is. What potential for growth and success we have on our doorstep, wherever we live in Cambridgeshire.
This budget – with plans to invest heavily in the growth of our economy – is the strongest signal that we can send to say we’re open for business.
A strong local economy is absolutely the right thing for all of our communities. For our young people we want to see great employment opportunities ahead of them, for local businesses that want to expand, and for local people who want to work for the best companies in the world.
It is about making sure that there is equal opportunity no matter where you live in Cambridgeshire.
And actually it is not just about Cambridgeshire. Within this county we have the power to kick start the economic recovery of the whole country. Cambridge itself was recently cited by the Centre for Cities as being a top economic performer in the UK.
We also have an important strategic role to play in developing Cambridgeshire as a place that people want to live and work in.
Let me tell you about some of the things we are doing to make this happen:
We are investing in Super Fast Broadband for the whole of Cambridgeshire. Up to £20m investment from this county council which will bring in much, much bigger sums from the private sector to get the access and connectivity that the county – the whole of the county – needs to thrive.
When it makes sense for us to team up with partners and neighbours then we will do so. Contributions from Peterborough to our Superfast Broadband work will mean that even more communities in and around that city will also get access to world-leading broadband speeds.
Information needs to zip around and through this county for the economy to thrive, but so do people.
That’s why in this budget we are investing an unprecedented additional £90m of capital spend in the maintenance of our roads.
When we asked our communities what they wanted to see from this budget, maintenance of our road networks was a top priority. Across the county people are calling out for better roads, that is what we are working towards with this investment.
We are also targeting investment in key infrastructure projects across the county, for example in Ely, where we are ready to invest £28m to develop a solution that 83% of local people want to solve gridlock in the heart of their City and to facilitate additional usage of the rail network for people and freight. We aim to create a proper transport link for road and rail and open up a new gateway to Ely City, as well as unlocking economic value in and around the area affected.
This administration is about action, not rhetoric.
Since 1989 – when some local MPs were still in shorts and school jumpers – this county council has been promoting the idea of a train station in Chesterton. Well we’ve talked about it for long enough now.
With this plan our prudential borrowing will allow this station – that we are now calling the Cambridge Science Park station – to be built. We will deliver a key transport link in the north of Cambridge, and what’s more, this investment is likely to repay itself over the next 5-10 years. This makes complete sense.
Today I am pleased to announce that I now have the letter from Theresa Villiers, Minister of State at the DFT, that she intends to include this new station in future franchise agreements, subject to the normal caveats. Subject to our own formal decision making processes the capital provision within this budget means we can get on with building this long awaited station.
Let me turn to the second of our priorities. We are working hard to support and protect people when they need us the most.
We have a moral and legal duty to protect and support members of our community when they become vulnerable. These are often the most difficult times in people’s lives, times when they need us to be by their side.
This county council is the organisation of last resort to many vulnerable people across Cambridgeshire.
I’m talking about the work this Council does to keep our children and young people safe and happy, the work we do with people of all ages that have physical or mental illness, and the care we often provide later in life.
These are absolutely vital services – and this plan gives communities a strong message, we are still there for you when you need us the most. I will make the point again, because it is so important: despite huge financial pressures we have not raised the bar for those that qualify for our social care.
But we need to work harder than ever to make sure that doesn’t happen. We need to work with communities to transform social care services. The world around us is changing, and we need to keep pace.
That is why we are transforming the way we support our children. Our ‘working for families’ model is a bold step towards better services. 44 social work units are to be established to ensure the best possible service, the best possible support to staff, and most importantly of all, the best possible outcomes for vulnerable children and families.
That is why in this plan we are investing additional money to support carers across Cambridgeshire. These people are the unsung heroes of our communities. We recognise the quality that carers add to countless lives out there, the difference they make. Well we’re not just here to tell carers that they’re doing a great job. We’re investing more in them, meaning that the support they offer can go further and do more to enhance lives across Cambridgeshire.
I have been to visit our Children’s locality teams up in March, I know what a difference it has made to them to be co-located with social workers and other services. We will continue to work in this way to join up services so that they make sense to our communities and so that our resources are used as efficiently as possible.
We are working hard to help people live independent and healthy lives – the third strategic priority that captures what Cambridgeshire County Council is all about.
None of us want to be so vulnerable that we need care from the state do we? We recognise that the best outcome for everybody is for somebody to never need our ‘safety net’ services.
This year we are preparing to take on responsibility for public health in Cambridgeshire. We will use this opportunity to improve the health and wellbeing of our residents.
We have a strong record of working with partners in the health sector and we will build on that to improve outcomes across the county. Last year we began a scheme to focus our support on helping people to do the things that keep them independent after they suffer an injury or illness, what we call re-ablement. This has been a real success story with 60% of those we’ve worked with being saved from needing ongoing care.
Throughout this plan you will see how we are working hard in ways like this to prevent people reaching those critical points in their lives where things take a turn for the worse.
For example, I’ve been to Huntingdon recently to meet with our team that works with young offenders. These teams – which are now working in joined up ways with agencies like the police – have such a crucial role to play at a time in a young person’s life when it is just as possible that the next day they could be at college, or they could be in front of a judge.
Our resources are scarce, but this plan recognises that prevention is the way forward.
We know that Cambridgeshire has some of the biggest health inequalities in the country. How can that be? Well, that cant be good enough for anyone in this council
We are targeting support to those in Cambridgeshire that find themselves suffering from these inequalities. With this plan we will target resource at tackling child poverty across the county.
Again, we are not standing still. Times are tough for all of us but we need to revolutionise our services if they are going to be at all relevant for people out there.
Take our library services for example. A year ago there was talk of closing some of our libraries.
Communities have said they don’t want to lose these services and we have listened. Communities will not be losing their library services, but nor will we sit back and spend money on an out-dated service.
We have launched our 21st Century Library service which not only offers modern ways of accessing services like e-books, but is also part of our programme to develop community hubs – spaces in the heart of a local area that are filled with the advice, support and services that those people need.
Those might not all be county council services, but we are leading the way and bringing our partners on board to offer the right services to communities.
I look forward to our debate on this Plan. We cannot underestimate what an important task we are carrying out today.
Producing this Plan has been a long and extensive process – but it is not one that I, or my colleagues, have shied away from, if you could imagine me doing such a thing.
I can reassure you that the Cabinet has been in the driving seat from the very start.
For the first time ever this year it was Cabinet Members that presented the Plan to colleagues, not officers.
We have listened to our communities and reflected their priorities in this budget.
I urge each and every one of you here today to do the right thing.
Listen to what the people of Cambridgeshire want.
Work with our communities to build a strong future
Make this the best county in the country
By backing this plan you back Cambridgeshire. You back our economy, and you back a strong future for all our communities.