Autumn Term, New Council Budget Setting Rounds, More Conundrums to Solve

Autumn Term, New Council Budget setting rounds, more conundrums to solve with less money and more demands on services.

Sue James, Cornwall Cabinet Member

St Just-in-Penwith Councillor, Sue James. Cabinet Member for Environment & Public Protection

I think it is worth reminding people of the words of the Deputy Leader of the Council when we set the budget last year, as they sum up the context for Councils Nationally. I’m sure many reading this will be aware of the many Councils (and interestingly Conservative led Councils) are in trouble and cannot balance their budgets.

Last April Cornwall Council confirmed it was facing a budget gap of £75 million meaning more savings or income needs to be found over the next four years.

Deputy Leader of Cornwall Council Julian German commented then that uncertainties around Brexit, social care funding and welfare reforms all add to a complex picture and I don’t think any of that has imporved.

He went on to say: “Like other local authorities across the country, Cornwall Council is facing less funding from central Government, as well as increased pressure as a result of rising demand for services (particularly adult social care). This means that despite the £300 million savings we have already made, we still have considerable savings to find in the years to come.

“The main grant we receive from central government will be significantly reduced by 2019/20, so we need to find additional ways to fund services. At the same time, demand for our services continues to rise year on year, particularly those services for vulnerable children and adults.

“Cornwall Council provides a huge range of essential services to the people of Cornwall. When times are tough, it is more important than ever to spend resources wisely.

“Each year we prioritise spending on services that make sure children and young people get the best start in life, that communities feel the benefit of economic growth and that support vulnerable residents to live independently.

“To continue to do this we need to make difficult decisions about council tax and we have to look at reducing (or charging more) for many services.

So, when you read those headlines, particularly on-line to get you to click through, just remember that context. Since 2010, Nationally austerity has been the answer to the previous financial crash. Councils are now expected to fund local services through Council tax, business rates (but we lack big businesses able to pay) and charges. Adult Social Care is a service where demand is expected to explode over the next decade and funding this service locally is going to be tough unless we stop providing any services that are not a legal requirement. So, when mourning reduced grass cutting, cursing pot holes and weeds, think whether it is better we try our utmost to meet the needs of our elderly residents, our vulnerable adults with learning difficulties and our children at risk or harm or neglect (and those cases are rising through poverty) or make the parks and verges look like manicured lawns and perfect roads to drive on?

I won’t go on about the budget but take it from me, every decision to cut, change or charge for a cherished service is taken with a heavy heart and is taken because the Government has decided not to fund Council Services from National taxation, which is the fairer and simpler form of taxation to re-distribute wealth, in my opinion.

If you want to look at the numbers for yourself, ready for the next round of budget conversations then click on the link: Current 4 year Budget

Within my Cabinet responsibilities, I have no funds allocated for toilets so, if local Town and Parish Councils choose not to continue providing those services, I cannot bail them out! In terms of parks, cemeteries and open spaces, the budget has reduced so much and I’m not going to be able to argue for more given the pressures on our Children’s and Adults Services so, if communities want a better service they need to tell their local councils that they want to work with them and take them on. I am going to have to argue to protect our Fire Service from further cuts as they will struggle to keep people safe if we reduce funding further. We are going to expand the Tri-Service Officer posts placed in communities with a front line role for the Police, Ambulance Service and Fire. We currently have 3 in Cornwall and this will rise to 9 plus a supervisor/ co-ordinator of the team.

The other big area for me is waste and recycling. We are in the throws of negotiating for our next doorstep collection contract to start in 2020. Whilst a few cling to the past many want to move faster to increase recycling. Better still, many have the appetite to eliminate single use plastic and unnecessary plastic packaging. So, when setting a contract fit for future years, it is tough guessing what will be right. The budget pressures will also come into it as I am going to struggle to get an uplift for waste even though we want and expect more to be collected from our doorsteps for free. So, I aspire to have a weekly recycling doorstep collection, adding in cartons and food waste but that will require all residents to reduce their residual waste and accept it being collected less frequently. It is interesting that we are only just contemplating fortnightly black bag collections at a time that many councils are moving to 3 weekly or monthly!

I’ll aim to make my next post very local to St Just and Pendeen … promise!