Monday, 1 September 2014

Cornwall Council sets out draft budget proposals

Cornwall Council has today published its proposals for saving £196m over the next four years and is asking members of the public, partner organisations and staff to give their views on the draft budget and come forward with any other ideas for saving money.

The Council's aim is to strengthen its partnerships with the rest of the public and community sector in order to make as many savings as possible without cuts to frontline services. The authority is seeking to devolve at least £34m of services to town and parish councils and to work on integrating services currently run by government departments, the NHS, voluntary and community sectors and Cornwall Council.

The unprecedented scale of the savings required means that all areas of the Council are affected by the draft proposals.  However, rather than simply ‘salami slice’ every service, the authority has developed a four year plan which will help protect the three key priority areas identified by the public and Members during last year’s budget consultation.  These are services for the most vulnerable in society (including vulnerable adults, children, older people and the poorest), public transport, and road repairs and maintenance.

We are determined to focus on what Cornwall will be like in 2019, rather than what we need to cut. Budgetary constraints and the changing nature of Local Government require a different approach and, as we said last year, we want to build a resilient and sustainable Cornwall and not simply reduce the services we provide.

To this end we have worked with Councillors, officers and partners to develop this budget, the Council’s strategy which underpins it, and a Business Plan which will implement it.  Our commitment is to create a leaner, more resourceful organisation that delivers essential council services in the most efficient and effective way. This also means having the courage to make some extremely difficult decisions.

At the same time we have been pressing the Government to change the way local government is funded to give Cornwall a fairer share of the money it allocates to councils to provide services.  We currently receive less than half the money per head of population than that given to Hackney and if we were funded in the same way as an average urban council we would receive an additional £48m a year. We are continuing to have discussions with Ministers over the need to recognise the cost of providing services to people in Cornwall and have recently sent a submission to the Independent Commission set up to look at this issue setting out how we think the system should be reformed.

Over the past few months we have looked closely at everything we do to see how we can protect services by becoming more efficient and changing the way the Council is run.  We started with the money we spend on ourselves and have already identified more than £30 million of savings through a radical restructure of senior management, reducing the use of consultants and agency staff by 59%, and a local pay agreement with staff. This work is continuing, with further savings due to come from ongoing restructuring and the sale of surplus buildings, but the sheer scale of the savings we need to make means we cannot rely on these actions alone.

We are looking to work much more closely with the rest of the public sector and the voluntary and community sector. We will be seeking to integrate our services and to share support functions and buildings wherever possible. But we know that front line services will also be hit and so we have worked with elected members, with partners and with the public to understand where they feel savings can be made and which services should be protected.

However we are also looking to the future and to developing the skills, jobs and infrastructure that Cornwall needs. We persuaded the Government to allow decisions on spending our European funding to be made in Cornwall, and we have seen significant Government investment in our rail, air and road links. We are also investing £50 million in match funding for the next round of the EU convergence programme.

The draft budget proposals include some things which we would want to do regardless of the need to make savings. These include further reducing the number of buildings and working more closely with partners to share costs. Others are savings we would prefer not to have to make and which we know will have a significant impact on the people who use these services. But, faced with the need to save £196m from our budget, we have very little choice.

However even implementing all these proposals will still leave us with a £6 million shortfall and this figure could rise depending on Government funding decisions. We have already ruled out a number of options as unacceptable in the current circumstances and, rather than have to revisit them in the future, are asking people to come forward with any ideas on areas for savings we might have missed or where we could go further than we are currently suggesting.

The draft budget proposals are based around four key areas:
  • Working with staff to reduce the pay bill – including further restructuring and the transfer of staff to new models of delivery and arm’s length companies
  • New models of delivery – including integrating health and social care services; devolving further services to town and parish councils and community and voluntary groups (eg libraries); creating trusts and partnerships to deliver services such as culture and tourism, and seeking external partners for services such as parking.
  • Management improvements – including delivering more services digitally and through the website; reducing administrative costs in areas such as IT and postage; more effective procurement and contract management and sharing buildings with partners and community groups;
  • Increasing income – taking a more commercial approach in areas such as public protection, licensing, planning, and waste.
We recognise that many people will be concerned at the impact of some of these proposals but the stark truth is we cannot protect services and save £196m by continuing in the same way. We have to become more efficient and change the way we run the Council. By doing this we can support key services for vulnerable children and adults, and help people who are struggling to make ends meet by maintaining council tax support.   We will also be supporting the bus network and continuing to fix potholes and maintain our roads.

We now want to hear the views of people in Cornwall on these proposals. We are holding 20 public meetings during October  so people can give us their views on the proposals and any new ideas.

Following today’s publication of the draft budget, the proposals will be considered in detail by the Council’s Portfolio Advisory Committees during September.

As well as the public meetings in October there is also an online form on the website where people can give their views and make any suggestions. - www.cornwall.gov.uk/cornwallbudget . This consultation will close on 29 October.

All the comments and suggestions made by members of the public and partners will then be used to produce a revised draft which will be discussed by the Cabinet on 5 November and then the full Council on 22 November when the final decision will be made.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Labour councillor Michael Bunney resigns

Michael Bunney, the Labour councillor for Mevagissey is resigning from Cornwall Council. His resignation will take effect this Sunday, 31st August.

Cllr Bunney is a teacher and has recently been appointed to a position at a council maintained school in Cornwall. That makes him an employee of the authority and therefore ineligible to be an elected member on the same council. Until now, Cllr Bunney has worked in Devon and so was not barred.

When he was elected in May 2013, Michael Bunney won 30% of the vote. In second place was UKIP with 28% and the Conservatives came third on 24%. The Liberal Democrats won 14% and the Greens 5%. A by-election will be held this autumn.

Congratulations to Michael on his new job and sorry to see him go.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Local MP pushing for Launceston Medical Centre expansion

North Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat MP Dan Rogerson has written to NHS England urging them to approve the expansion of Launceston Medical Centre without further delay.
 
The centre’s plans to expand to meet demand from people in and around the town are ready to go to the next stage, but things cannot progress until NHS England publish new guidelines covering the expansion of surgeries.
 
In a letter to Dan Rogerson in early July, NHS England pledged to be able to assess the Centre’s application to expand within a few weeks, but the necessary NHS guidelines have still not been published, despite a delay of more than a year.
 
Dan Rogerson has written to NHS England to demand urgent action. Surgeries across Cornwall and the rest of the country are facing the same predicament so Dan has also asked Government Health Minister Lord Frederick Howe to look at the situation.
 
Dan Rogerson said:
 
“It is clear that Launceston needs NHS approval and quickly. The Medical Centre has plans in place but we are still waiting for NHS England to publish its new guidelines and decide whether or not to give the go ahead and agree to the expanded GP service. The NHS’s delay in publishing its new guidelines is also hitting several other doctors’ surgeries across North Cornwall who have ambitions to expand or secure new premises.”
 
Launceston Medical Centre is the only GPs surgery in the town and serves an area of approximately a 10 mile radius from the town.  The Practice currently has 17,600 registered patients and the list is growing each year – in the last 12 months more than 300 extra patients joined.
 
Peter Harper, Launceston Medical Centre’s business manager explained:
 
“From 1st October this year, to meet the demands of our patient list, we will have 11 GP’s working out of 9 GP consulting rooms at the Medical Centre– we are desperate for additional internal space to enable us to provide the service our patients need.

“Virtually every month we have chased the NHS Local Area Team to see if we can submit expansion plans, only to be told each time that the guidelines for new premises have still not been finalised. Without this initial approval it is not worth starting work on detailed plans.”
 
Liberal Democrat Cornwall Councillor for Launceston South, Jade Farrington, added:
 
“With plans coming forward for much-needed affordable and open market housing for Launceston, the need to expand the medical centre is growing. This should tip the balance in Launceston’s favour and help prove the town needs to be at the top of the queue for NHS approval of our medical centre's expansion plans.”

Monday, 18 August 2014

Costa Coffee given Launceston go ahead

Costa Coffee have been given permission by Cornwall Council to open in the town square in Launceston. The decision was taken this afternoon by the council's planning committee.

The application was for change of use permission to allow the company to open at 24 Broad Street, a building formally known as the Health Counter and previously occupied by both Boots and Day Lewis pharmacies.

The move was opposed by many in the town including the owners and operators of a number of existing coffee shops. However the committee decided that there were not sufficient planning grounds to deny the application which will fill an empty shop and create 10 full time equivalent jobs.

This was always going to be a balanced decision, but I was disappointed that the company had failed to give any commitments to the level of community contributions which might be provided.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Plymouth introduce fines for too much rubbish

Plymouth City Council is apparently introducing a system of fines for householders who fill their bins too full or put out too much rubbish. They become the latest council to say that if you cannot close the lid on your wheelie bin (all households have them in the city) then it will either not be collected or you will be fined. The council also say that they will not collect bags of rubbish put out alongside the wheelie bin.

Here in Cornwall our attitude is that so long as you put out your rubbish at the right time and make sure it is in sensible containers like tied up bags or sealed boxes, we will collect it. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Season ticket price cuts raises additional £74,000 for Cornwall Council

A scheme that I have championed to cut the cost of parking season tickets across Cornwall has resulted in additional profits of more than £74,000 for the council - as well as happier local residents and drivers.

The previous situation was that motorists were being charged a lot for season tickets. They might be getting a discount on the daily pay and display rate, but that discount wasn't a lot. And the attitude of the previous, Conservative-led, administration seemed to be that regular price rises would automatically be paid by drivers.

And so commuters voted with their feet and abandoned car parks in favour of parking in residential streets. This led to lots of annoyance for local residents who couldn't park near their own homes.

So we piloted a lower cost season ticket in Launceston with a price cut from £470 to £200. When added to a bit of local marketing, the number being sold rose from less than 30 to more than 130.

Following that success, the scheme has been rolled out across Cornwall with similar positive results. An additional £74,000 has been brought into council coffers and that money will help protect a wide range of council services from some of the cuts that are being forced on us.

Launceston £1 parking deal extended until March 2015

Launceston's £1 all day Saturday parking deal has been extended at least until the end of March 2015, thanks to work by the town's Liberal Democrat councillors and local businesses.

Cornwall Council first ran the deal - which allows drivers to park in one of the Cornwall Council owned car parks all day on a Saturday for just £1 - for three months from April to June. That was extended by a month, but the authority has now confirmed that the deal will run until the end of the financial year at least.

This is great news for the town and for local businesses. We have shown that a special deal like this can attract more people into our town which benefits local shops and traders. At the same time, the council isn't missing out on income because many more people are using the car parks.

This was a key Lib Dem commitment from our election last year. Sensible offers and price cuts could benefit the town and preserve the income stream that the council relies on. I'm delighted this scheme will continue until the end of the financial year and I hope it will be made permanent after that.