Friday, 7 October 2011

First thoughts on the new Council budget

Last night Cornwall Council published its first draft budget for next year. This morning I was up early to appear on Radio Cornwall debating the proposals with the Council Leader Alec Robertson.

My first thoughts are these. The Conservative led Council is desperately trying to make up for the mistakes they made last year. But in too many cases the damage has already been done and vulnerable local people have suffered severe hardship. They have also failed to go far enough in undoing the damage they have wrought to our services and infrastucture.

The decision to reverse last year's £4m cut in adult care is welcome, but every councillor will know of people in their area who have lost vital care already. And the Conservatives are admitting that next year's care budget will be cut by £4m once again. The admission that they were wrong to try to squeeze so much money out of drivers in their parking budget is also good news - but for some town centre shops and businesses this comes too late and they have already closed down.

Of course there is some good news in these proposals. The dualling of the A30 is something that the Liberal Democrats have been calling for over many years and we hope that the Council now makes it happen. Similarly, we opposed the Conservative cut to the Education Maintenance Allowance and we will work with the Council to introduce a new Cornish scheme. But we worry that it is only funded for two years. If it is to be more than a gimmick then it needs to be made permanent.

The claim by the council to have avoided any cuts to libraries or leisure is simply laughable. Whilst the Conservatives were forced to abort their initial decision to close all but nine library branches in Cornwall, they have still cut hundreds of opening hours. And try telling the people of Camelford or Bude that there have been no cuts to leisure services. The decision to abandon the leisure centre in Camelford and Bude Sea Pool is petty and vindictive and must be reversed.

What is most telling about this budget is what is missing. Despite promises only yesterday by the Cabinet Member for Housing that he was fighting tooth and nail for more money for the supporting people budget, there is nothing here. And there is no action to save the many bus routes under threat across Cornwall because last year's budget simply didn't add up.


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