My speech at full council _ Introducing the Business Plan

Introducing the Business Plan

 

Mr. Chairman, it is with great pleasure that I introduce the County Council’s Business Plan for the next five years. 

Colleagues across this Chamber have worked long and hard to produce a Plan that is right for the communities they represent. 

I would like to give special thanks to my Cabinet, to the Chief Executive Mark Lloyd, and his team. 

I don’t think any of us can recall a tougher time to be setting the Council’s budget – but we have stepped up to the challenge.

We have to find around £37m of extra savings this year – which includes around £10m less we are receiving from Government.

That is on top of the £90m we have already saved over the last two years.

My Cabinet, ably supported by their colleagues behind me, have been unflinching in their efforts to drive out savings, protect frontline services and find new ways to achieve the best for the people of Cambridgeshire.

We all know that the future we face is a tough one. Our resources will be stretched even further, but we will do the right thing in these tough times.

We have listened to our communities – and we have put together a plan that will deliver more schools and more jobs for our children. It will deliver more homes for our county’s workforce, and it will deliver vital care for our older people.

This is a bold Plan for the next five years, but let me begin by reflecting on what we have achieved over the last year.

We have much to be proud of.

We said we would demonstrate that Cambridgeshire is open for business and we have done just that.

We have now announced the successful provider to roll out Superfast Broadband across Cambridgeshire. We will be signing the contract in March, which means that soon we will see engineers putting this vital infrastructure in place.

This will mean that at least 90% of homes and businesses getting at least 24mps. We are also expecting close to 100% coverage of at least 2Mbps.

We estimate that the roll-out of the new broadband infrastructure across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will bring related growth of £500 million to the local economy in the five years following its completion – from 2015 to 2020

And of course – this is something that is particularly relevant to our rural communities. Research by Regeneris has shown that for businesses in rural areas, every £1 that the business invests in superfast broadband will create nearly £15 in additional GVA for the UK economy. 

More evidence – if it was needed – that investing in Superfast Broadband has been the right thing for us to do.

It is only because of this Cabinet’s determination that we are where we are today. 

We took the decision to break free of Government’s framework for letting Superfast Broadband contracts because we were ready to go, despite pressure from above to fall in line. 

Because of this strong leadership we are now ahead of the pack – and the people and businesses of Cambridgeshire are the ones that will benefit. 

The same is true of the new Science Park Station in Cambridge which we are investing in.

We decided that it was time to stop talking and start doing.

For decades we have known that a new station in Cambridge will boost the County’s economy, bring better commuting times to our communities, and we have known that there is a solid business case for stumping up the cash to make it happen – but nobody had

That is exactly what we have now done, and only a few weeks ago I accompanied Government’s Rail Minister to a visit to the site where the new station will be built. This is a great example of us putting this county at the top of Government’s agenda.

Assuming that we get the planning permission – we will have built the new Cambridge Science Park station by December 2015 and we’re predicting that our own investment in the scheme will be fully repaid within 15 years.

This is a case of just getting on with what we now is right for Cambridgeshire – when others have been unwilling to take the lead.

Of course there is a difference between taking the lead for something and taking the credit for it. The Lib Dems have been quick to claim the limelight for what this Cabinet has done. I guess that means it must be a good idea.

But let me make it clear – it is this Conservative administration that has taken the bold step to build the second Cambridge train station. Not a minority party.

And we have shown this same tenacity when it has come to improving other much needed transport links, such as upgrading the A14.

We have moved Government from a position – not so long ago – when we had no scheme on the table, and just like the people who get stuck on that road, the A14 upgrade was going nowhere.

Now we have a viable scheme on the table, we have commitment from Government and Local Authorities to that scheme, and we even have the Prime Minister telling us he will do all he can to bring the start date forward – quite a turnaround!

Who could possibly disagree with this key scheme? 

By working in consortium with other councils from the region, we also hope to push forward on other key schemes such as the A47 and the A605.

Of course – this investment in transport infrastructure becomes meaningful for many of our communities when it is coupled with the support we give them to get around. We’re investing heavily in cycling, walking and public transport measures.

 Let’s do some myth-busting here.

While opposition members will claim that we are simply cutting bus services, when what we are actually doing is taking that money and getting more bang for our buck.

We are continuing to invest in the Cambridgeshire Future Transport initiative. We are using our resources in a smarter way to help people get about. Rather than investing blindly in bus subsidies that we hoped were OK, we are now actively working with communities to put in the transport solutions that they say are right for them.

Next month, for example, we will launch a community designed service in Whittlesford. This will provide a regular & integrated service to that community – and it represents a saving of around £180,000 for the taxpayers of Cambridgeshire.

Over the last year we have also launched the new Cambridge & Counties Bank. 

This investment from our pension fund is a ground-breaking way for supporting local businesses to grow as well as getting a strong return for our pension-holders. Up and down the country, other local authorities are now looking at how they might follow our lead in establishing a bank like ours, which provides loans to help local businesses to expand, which in turns boosts jobs in our county.

Leaders of councils across the country have asked me – through the LGA – to brief them on what we’ve done with our bank.

This year we have also seen the impact of one of this Council’s most significant investments in recent times. The magnificent guided busway is now up and running with huge success. We have seen passengers flock to the busway, exceeding our expectations.

 We are proud of the fact that the magnificent busway is now open – and we remain confident that we will get back the money we are owed, including the interest and our legal costs.

But more than that – this piece of key infrastructure will allow us to get going on other key schemes like the new town of Northstowe. 

Our Business Plan says that one of our three key priorities is developing the local economy for the benefit of all. And we have been true to those words.

Unlike the Members opposite me – we are not City-centric in our plans. Rather than a token reference to Wisbech train station, we have worked hard with the community in that fantastic town to produce a comprehensive Wisbech 2020 Vision that outlines ambitious, well-thought through, and realistic targets for the future of that town. And let’s not forget that we have already commissioned an expert study into the viability of the Wisbech rail line.

 As I said before, we are also working to progress improvements to the A47 and find a solution to the King’s Dyke crossing at Whittlesey.

 Across the whole of Cambridgeshire we have done our bit to bring about a sharp uptake in the amount of new Apprenticeships.

 Over the last academic year we saw around 30% more apprenticeships. That is 4,180 apprenticeships started in Cambridgeshire – something which is good news to people like me who have seen their children trying their best to find their way into a career.

Over the last year we also said we would invest in the services that our communities valued most – like our libraries.

No libraries in Cambridgeshire have been closed. Just as our communities told us they wanted. I count that as a great success at a time when we are under such huge financial strain.

We have invested an extra £90m in infrastructure to better service our roads, paths and cycleways – helping people in this county to get around. Let me just make this point clearly – that is £90m on top of our existing budget. Over the last 12 months, that meant we spent an extra £12.5m on this county’s highways.

This is yet another example of our bold capital investment in the county’s future.

 And of course – most significantly of all, we have spent the last year protecting and supporting vulnerable people in Cambridgeshire – something which is close to all our hearts.

Over the last year we have put real energy behind our efforts to keep people healthy at home, and this is showing very positive signs of success. The re-ablement programme over the last year has saved over 1000 older people from needing intensive support, improving their quality of life, at the same time as saving £2.6m.

We have also launched the Community Navigator scheme – where we are working with the Care Network to make sure that those in our communities that need support know where they can go to get it, keeping them connected with their communities rather than becoming isolated.

And we are proud of all that we have done to ensure that our young people transferring into adult social care are supported well through this transition – a time in their life which is just so important for them. This year the parent support organisation Pinpoint gave our transitions team an award for their excellent work in this area.

Over the last 12 months our understanding of the country’s economic position has shifted somewhat – the national growth we had hoped for has been slower than we expected.

It looks like the UK will narrowly avoid entering into a triple-dip recession this quarter. This is obviously good news, but it does remind us how slow and slippery this path to economic recovery is turning out to be.

But in Cambridgeshire we do have a resilient economy which gives us much to be positive about. Cambridge continues to lead the way as the best place in the UK to do business.

Just last week, Santander named Cambridge as one of the top three cities in the UK for business competitiveness.

The Centre for Cities told us recently that there are more patents registered in Cambridge than there are in the UK’s next 10 cities combined.

And of course we now have the country’s flagship Enterprise Zone at Alconbury, in Huntingdonshire. The first business has moved in there – and it is yet another jewel in the great county’s economy.

But what is clear to me is that most people are now talking about the ‘decade of austerity’ for the public sector. It is going to be tough for some time.

Government is committed to investing in the key infrastructure that we need to help business – and we are pleased to be playing our part in that here in Cambridgeshire – I’ve spoken about it already, but we have made the A14 Government’s number one priority.

In recent months we have also had it confirmed that Cambridgeshire is the fastest growing county in the country. Between the 2001 and 2011 censuses our population grew by 12%. We should celebrate this, but of course it does bring challenges for us too.

Of course there have been recent announcements about the funding of social care – my view on these would be that they go some way to reassuring people that their care will be covered in later life, but they do not address our fundamental issue of how that care will be paid for.

The Prime Minister has also made significant comments about our relationship with the European Union, and I know that many of many of my colleagues here are supportive of this tougher stance.

It can only be right that more of the revenues we generate in this great country are kept here for the benefit of our citizens.

Given that national picture, let me now describe how this Business Plan provides a blueprint for the Cambridgeshire economy to grow, and the people of Cambridgeshire to get the services they need.

Our key priorities for the people of Cambridgeshire remain:

  • Developing the local economy for the benefit of all
  • Helping people live healthy and independent lives
  • Supporting and protecting vulnerable people.

We consulted more people than ever in putting this plan together – and they told us that these are still the priorities we should be focusing on.

We are proposing a budget designed to protect the vulnerable while boosting jobs and prosperity, despite massive pressures from a fast-growing population and much-reduced funding.

The five year plan includes £1 billion of current and future funding to be spent on boosting education, transport links, broadband, business and care to make sure Cambridgeshire remains prosperous and a great place to live and work.

Why can’t this be the very best county in the country?

We intend to meet this challenge through groundbreaking ideas such as investigating proposals to act as a developer to bring forward the building of homes, making the most of some of the County Council’s land holdings while securing much needed new and affordable homes.

We are also looking at proposals to build a new care home.

Where we are being priced out of the care market – we know that we need to act to be able to provide what our residents need – that is why we are exploring the way in which we could invest in running our own care home.

These initiatives demonstrate perfectly the new attitude that this council now has.

We are ready and willing to be bold in doing what it right for the people of Cambridgeshire.

We have proven that we will think in different ways and innovate to make this the best county in the country.

And quite rightly, Cambridgeshire is hitting the national spotlight for the new attitude we are exhibiting.

But it is not just our pro-growth policies which are getting Cambridgeshire noticed. It is also the way we work hard to help those that need our support

Here in Cambridgeshire we have been recognised for the way we are working with judges and other stakeholders in the county to bring down the time it takes for us to place children with adoptive parents. 

It is just so important that we reduce this delay for the kids as much as possible – and I’m happy that in Cambridgeshire we are currently in the top 4 places in the country on this measure. 14 and half months is a long time – and we will work to bring that down further still – but it is much better than the national average of 21 months.

It is clear that we are helping to shape national policy in key strategic areas.

When Treasury colleagues came to talk to us about the A14 recently they made it very clear that the model they are developing to upgrade the A14 is one that they are interested in applying to other key roads up and down the country.

The business plan also sees the integration of public heath into the authority as part of the Council’s commitment to improving the health and quality of life for Cambridgeshire communities. This is really important for us over the next five years – our formal role in public health links closely to our focus on prevention, so we are keeping people fit and healthy so they don’t need intensive care.

Over coming years residents will also be able to do much more online, saving money and making it easier to access Council services. 

This council will be going digital by default – reflecting the changing ways in which our communities are connecting and doing business.

Have no doubt – people in Cambridgeshire who don’t use the internet will continue to access our services. But for those that do, we will move with the times. 

Management and corporate costs continue to be slashed. The cost of the Council’s senior managers has reduced by £625,000 in the last financial year, and LGSS has already delivered £3.8m of savings to back office functions.

At the same time the Council is proposing reducing management costs, sharing services with partners and looking at smarter ways to deliver services and make taxpayers’ money go further.

As we strive to do all we can to protect frontline services – we must look at driving down every cost we can. We have already saved millions of pounds through joining our back office services with other councils, and we will continue to save even more.

Of course, one of the most significant costs we have is our employees. Whilst I believe – from meeting many of our teams – that they are doing a brilliant job, it is right for the people of Cambridgeshire – vulnerable people that are dependent on our care and support – that we look at ways in which we can drive down costs there too.

Let me be clear – finding savings against our employee costs is a way for us to protect frontline services and save jobs. So it is something we must do. 

But taking greater local control over our terms and conditions is not just about driving out savings. It is also about giving ourselves greater freedom and flexibility to recruit to key posts within our organisation – like social workers.

We are not pretending that this budget will be easy or painless – that is unrealistic. But we have inherited a situation from the Labour Government where all the money has been spent.

When I went to visit the Regional Fire Control Centre in Waterbeach which was built by the Labour Government I was astounded – this is a fortress of a building that is still in its bubble-wrap. It hasn’t been used. Across the country these control centres cost £450m – and that was money down the drain. I shudder to think what great things we could do with our chunk of that £450m today. 

This Business Plan focuses on the schemes that are going to have true benefits for our communities, and the services that they most need from us.

Of course, one of the biggest duties of support we have is for adult social care.

Funding adult social care is a national problem that needs a national solution and Cambridgeshire is leading that charge. 

These are our mums, dads, and grandparents who have cared for us and in some cases have fought for our freedoms.

While we are the organisation of last resort for people – I will continue to fight for fairer funding, so we can provide the care that our communities deserve.

We are doing what we can locally – we are working much more closely with health partners to use re-ablement initiatives and looking at making sure people who are in hospital have a seamless transistion home with a care package in place. This saves money and more importantly gives people their dignity and independence

 Unless Government announces proper funding, we will continue to have to put up Council Tax to make sure we do our bit to support those who are most vulnerable I will not look someone who has served their country in the eye and tell them I have to let them down just to follow the guidelines of national politicians.

The results of our You Choose survey showed that people understood that savings needed to be made. But it also showed four out of five people were prepared to pay at least 2 per cent more Council Tax to help retain services they value, such as adult social care, children’s services and keeping Cambridgeshire moving.

That is why this Budget proposes a 1.99% rise in Council Tax for 2013/14. I don’t need to remind you that this is a below-inflation rise.

The savings target we have to achieve in 2013/14 is £37m. Putting up Council Tax helps us with this, but it only brings the target down to £32m.

Even with the 1.99% we still have a huge amount to do to make our budget balance.

When I talk about that target of £37m – I want to make it clear that is not £37m being wiped from last year’s budget. In basic terms our funding from Government reduced by about £10m, but it is the increasing costs of what we need to provide that generate that £37m figure.

Inflation means that we pay more to provide services, and the changes to our demography mean that we are providing services to more people, or people’s needs for services are becoming more demanding.

Remember – we are the fastest growing county in the country.

Yes there is an ‘offer’ on the table from Government. But accepting this and freezing Council Tax over the next two years would leave a £38 million hole to fill over the same period.

I need not remind you, that when we talk about a £38m hole – we are talking about services for the people of Cambridgeshire.

Government’s policy is absolutely right for Councils that have a high tax-base, but we don’t.

We are in the unique, and enviable, position of having huge potential for economic growth – and we are making a conscious decision to invest in that growth. 

Last year when I was giving this speech I spoke about my desire to wake the “sleeping tiger” that I saw Cambridgeshire as.

Considering where we are now – I believe that the tiger is alive and kicking.

I believe that over the last 12 months we have seen Cambridgeshire leap into the spotlight for the great work that we are doing here.

Up and down the country Government Ministers are talking about us as a success story, they are telling others about the great things happening in Cambridgeshire.

Quite rightly this county is getting a reputation for being bold, for investing in growth, and for innovation.

I am not saying that we can take our feet off the gas – we can’t – but I am saying that we should be proud of what we have achieved for the people of this great county.

Last year we received much praise for the way in which elected Members on Cabinet were leading the budget process from the front. This year has been even better.

This is the right plan to give our residents the support and care they need now. 

This is the right plan to help our local businesses to grow, and to attract more businesses to our county.

This is the right plan to give our children opportunities and prospects for the future.

Put simply – this is the right plan for Cambridgeshire.

 

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