Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Why Cornwall Council is cutting services in October.

Sorry - this one's a bit of a process story, but it helps to explain just why so many council services are being cut in Cornwall in early autumn.

The Council has been making great play of the fact that it 'went early' with its budget last year and chose to cut deep in the first year to protect budgets in later years. Council Leader Alec Robertson is filling the airwaves with claims that no other local authority is in the same position as we are.

Both the 'go early' and the 'pain now, relief later' strategies are legitimate options - even if they are not the ones you might choose. But the way that they have been handled by the administration in Cornwall leaves a lot to be desired.

The main problem is that, when the budget was voted on back in November, very few of the details were available. The headline figures were there, but not many of the implications. At the time, we made a big issue out of the lack of detail on some budget areas. We were even told that councillors had no right to know the fine details.

The fine details are what has got the council into a mess. Headline restructuring of the environment budget as turned out to mean the proposed closure of 114 public toilets across Cornwall - something that we were not told at the time.

Councillors were not told that there was a huge £2.5 million hole in the bus budget. It was felt to be low risk because we were writing to the Government asking for more money and a cheque was presumably assumed to be in the post by return.

What we did notice was that the budgeted income for car parking was hopelessly optimistic. And so it has proved. How is this gap being plugged? By taking money given by the government to pay for essential road repairs.

These are just a few examples. The proposal from Cllr Robertson is that we repeat the process again this year. I have no problem in theory with an early budget. But it must have been worked out properly this time and not be a repeat of last years rush job. We shall find out on Wednesday and Thursday of next week whether it is or not as backbench councillors get the chance to look at the fine detail.

For the record, the Liberal Democrat group voted against last year's budget.

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