Tough Day to be a Cornwall Councillor
Tough Day to be a Cornwall Councillor yesterday as we sat in the Chamber for almost 6 hours, most of which, depressingly, was dealing with the budget. Under ‘news’ on this site you will find the official Council press release but this is the human side, from me as a Councillor.
I am a bank bencher and whilst I try to keep as informed as possible, I cannot manage to go to County Hall for every meeting to be part of every little discussion of every aspect of the budget. I have been to all the broad briefings and several of the key meetings that I have been aware closely affect my area. Even if I had gone to every meeting possible, I still would not know exactly how things will be affected in St Just and Pendeen because that is not the level of detail we are able to talk about. That will only start emerging now! There is also a matter of trusting your colleagues to get the best deal for Cornwall. Even if I had attended every meeting any part of the budget was discussed at, would I have caused anything to be done differently or would I have understood things better? Each Councillor has a slightly different view on priorities, just the same as people in the community have different views. Officers of the Council give advice, some of which will support what I like and some of which will support what others like. At the end of the day, we have to reach a democratic consensus and decide. We cannot debate for ever!!
There were 4 amendments put forward but none were accepted by the majority of Councillors. The first was to raise Council tax by 6%, which would have meant us having to have a referendum where the rules are set by Mr Pickles, in the Government! Given that he does not want Councils to increase Council tax, the rules are loaded very much against being able to get a ‘yes’ vote and the risks are high, if a referendum is lost. I did not support that one. It was tempting because it could have reduced the cuts a little bit, but if we lost the referendum, the cuts would have been deeper.
The second was to scrap each Councillors’ individual Community Chest fund. Some would be used to create a Network fund that community groups to apply to but most would have been to support the community network and devolution teams that are working with communities and local Councils to try to take over some of the services Cornwall Council can no longer afford to run. They also support community groups find sources of funding for projects and enable Town, Parish and Cornwall Councillors, within an area, to work together for the good of their community. I supported this one.
The third was a motion that I proposed. This was to delay cuts of funding to youth workers and anti-bullying programmes. I and Councillors Hannah Toms (Labour) and Loveday Jenkin (Meybyon Kernow) felt we had to collaborate together to give communities, Town and Parish Councils and the Voluntary Youth sector 6 – 12 months rather than 3 – 6 months to try to plan and adapt to Council funding being withdrawn. This meant that the first year of the budget would not balance and whilst we would have preferred reserves to be used to smooth the delay in this saving, this was not deemed acceptable so we decided to propose a cut to the road maintenance budget. Whilst many were sympathetic to our desire to protect Youth Services a little longer, we did not convince enough Councillors that young people in Cornwall were more important than our roads, even for a year!
The fourth came in 3 parts. The first a technicality of wording over whether the 4 year budget tied the Council to always set Council tax at the maximum allowable without a referendum. As constitutionally we have to set the Council tax level every year, figures beyond 15/16 can only be provisional and will always have to be passed by a vote of Full Council. The 2nd wanted to re-negotiate a recently agreed Collective Agreement with staff to take a further £0.5m out of the pockets of our staff. The final one might have had the most merit but by then Members had lost patience with the mover so it too was defeated. This was to find a way to reduce costs by reviewing the number of Councillors in the Cabinet and the numbers of meetings held. In part, this is already being addressed by our Constitutional Committee and whilst it is attractive to think of reducing the number of Cabinet members, when you look at each job description, it is tough to see how! Also, Councillors are often moaning that most decisions are made by too few as they are delegated to the Cabinet so if we reduce by even one that is even fewer Councillors having a say. I did not support any of these.
Those who want to see the whole debate on the budget will find the webcast on Cornwall Council’s website.