This was a depressing Council meeting. The major item on the agenda was the budget and that debate focussed on one particular service - supporting people.
We had the emergency budget back in December and myself and my Lib Dem colleagues made clear our opposition to a number of proposals then. We proposed a range of amendments which were all defeated by the Conservative/Independent coalition. Our concerns over these areas - libraries, adult care and leisure services in particular - remain, but we knew there was no point in trying to resurrect the issues only to be defeated again.
And so we concentrated on the supporting people service, new details of which have been emerging over the past weeks. We asked the Council to reject the budget in order to allow the Cabinet to think again about the proposed cuts.
During the debate we put forward the reasons for a rethink. We aren't opposed to any cuts at all in the service. Providers have indicated that they are able to cope with a 5% (perhaps even a 10%) cut in their funding and yet still provide the same level of service. But we believe that a 40% cut will lead to people being forced out onto the street. Even Eric Pickles is in favour of spending money on Supporting People as for every £1 spent a council will save £5 or £6 down the line. Cornwall Council is in favour of 'invest to save' projects and this looks like a prime example.
The Conservatives and independents raised a number of arguments against our proposal. There was the straw man argument that we would have to cut care for older people as a result when in fact we have argued all along that the money should come from the Council's £127 million of reserves. There was also a rather baffling argument that we must cut now to stop inflation taking its toll on our services. Cabinet Member Armand Toms - someone I really believe cares for the people that Cornwall Council helps - promised a presentation on his plans when they are fully worked out. When pressed, he admitted that if councillors do not like them then there is nothing we can do. Finally, some Tories claimed that we would be seeking to raise council tax to cover the additional costs. The Lib Dems have never proposed this. We know the money can be got from reserves and that there is no point in raising council tax anyway as the Government will simply take an equal amount away from us in grants.
And so the cuts will happen. Whilst apparently 57% of SP providers have already signed up for the cuts, no details were available on the service cuts that will be the inevitable result and nor were there details on what will happen to the people helped by the 43% of providers who have so far not signed up.
All in all, it was a very depressing debate and I worry about the consequences on people who do not have a secure roof over their head.