Thursday, 13 October 2011

Council budget - not papering over the cracks

Yesterday Cornwall Council's cabinet 'debated' the first draft of their budget for the next financial year. I use inverted commas because it was hardly a debate. And the first evidence has emerged that new service cuts are included in the plans.

After a very brief initial welcome by the Leader and Finance cabinet members, the bulk of the presentation was made by an officer - the Director of Finance. I was a bit surprised by this. Nobody is pretending that officers haven't been involved in preparing the budget, but the decisions about where to prioritise spending should have been taken by the politicians - the cabinet members. Having the presentation made by the officer made it quite clear that this was not the case.

Inevitably we got a powerpoint slide show. But instead of dry as dust figures, the slides laid into other councils across the UK which, it was claimed, faced much worse positions. I'm not sure it is right to criticise the likes of Plymouth, Shropshire, Manchester and Westminster (three of which are Conservative run). The elected politicians there made their choices and will face the consequences. And it's not as if Cornwall Council got everything right. They still managed to 'forget' about a £2.5 million hole in their bus budget and set an unrealistic (by £2 million) budget for car park income.

The text for the disparaging slides said "Aren't you glad you are not here..." Well at least if we were in Plymouth we could ask for the £50,000 back that Alec Robertson gave to their failed World Cup bid.

I've given my initial thoughts on the budget here. We need a lot more details in order to understand some of the spending plans such as the new EMA system, how the additional £3m for adult care will save more than £4m the following year and so on.

But one piece of information that did slip out was that, in order to cover part of the shortfall in parking income, the Council will be raiding the special grant given to us by the Government for road repairs after the damage caused by the ice over the last two winters.

This would be fine if all of our roads had been repaired. But we have been told that this programme is currently running with a waiting list of a year. And if more money is slashed from it then that waiting time can only increase.

So, far from the 'no new cuts' mantra being spouted by the Leader, it appears that one new service cut has already revealed itself and, if they run true to form, many others will emerge as the budget process continues.

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