County Council budget day – is local politics on the decline?

Today, Cambridgeshire County Council sets it’s budget for the coming year and looks forward to the medium term.

Just a few years ago this was the time that extra government money could be allocated to pet projects, new schemes and extra activities that local councillors would decide were good for the communities.

There are two sets of services. Compulsory, those that must be carried out because the law says so and discretionary, where there is some latitude for service reduction or removal.

The core compulsory activities used to be fully funded but since the recession it is very different. Government funding has reduced sharply and a cap applied to council tax resulting in less money. On top of that demands have increased as the ageing population has increased.

So frontline services have had to be cut, back office services amalgamated and little or no new activities started. The role of the councillor has shifted from spending additional money to making cuts, year after year after year.

It is reaching a point where politics won’t matter. If there is only sufficient money to carry out the compulsory services then the element of choice disappears.

Opposition parties have probably finally reached that conclusion as well, with the possible exception of UKIP who have yet to reach the maturity of other parties.

You might hear minor political scuffles today over fringe and very marginal activities but I suspect that they will be based on uncosted proposals.

Everyone wants to support important services but if there isn’t the money it can’t be done, what ever other parties claim.

So, it seems, that local politics has moved from policy to finance. Who do you trust to make the most effective cuts to preserve services for as long as possible?

For most councillors, now is not an easy or enjoyable time to be a councillor. The public need to encourage and help them. It is a thankless task, for little financial reward and one that is still important unless we want officers to run everything.

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