The budget itself is largely the same as was agreed by the council back in November. Two significant changes, however, are:
- the new duty to provide free childcare for two year olds in lower income families - the cost of about £1.8 million will be met by a government grant. This is very welcome but the temptation will be for the council to seek to commit less than the full amount to childcare and save some for the general pot
- a saving of virtually £8 million through the strong performance of the collection fund in the last two years. This is the money collected in historic debts and the intention is to use this money to bed in the council tax freeze that the Liberal Democrats proposed in November.
But the support for a council tax freeze was hardly overwhelming from the Cabinet. Cllr Currie said he was only supporting it because of the collection fund money and Cllr Burden refused to vote for the budget package because he does not support the freeze.
During the debate Cllr Currie said that he wanted to be thought of like former Prime Minister Gordon Brown. What I think he meant was that 'prudence' is his watchword. I'm not sure that he's ready for all the other comparisons.
The housing investment strategy is welcome, but it is wrong that it has taken three years to come to fruition - three years in which Cornwall has failed to build enough affordable homes for local families to rent. There isn't a lot of detail in the paper - which was stuck on as appendix four to the budget rather than being considered in its own right.
In particular, what is missing is a commitment to make sure developers pull their weight and don't shrink from providing the affordable homes that we need. Portfolio holder Mark Kaczmarek gave a pretty negative answer when asked to take this on board and, when asked to commit some of the council's additional money to new house building he refused to do so.
The whole debate moves on to next Tuesday when the vote will be taken and council tax set for the coming year.