Friday, 21 June 2013

Eric Pickles valiant fight (to give the Chancellor exactly what he wanted all along)

Local Government Minister Eric Pickles has been explaining how he fought long and hard to restrict cuts to local government grants to 10%. Which is, of course, the number that the Chancellor had in mind all along. I'm guess that when Mr Pickles bought his house he probably came back really proud that he paid exactly the amount it was advertised for.

A 10% cut in government grant for the year 2015/16 was what Cornwall Council had been expecting and planning for. That's not to say it is anything other than bad news. We wish Mr Pickles had fought harder to limit the cuts to local services. The 10% cut means about £20 million more in savings. And that is in addition to the £19 million or so that we had already planned for based on the last round of cuts he handed down.

Cornwall Council's budget is made up of a number of elements. Chief among these are the government grant, council tax, fees and charges, business rates and the New Homes Bonus (linked to the number of new houses built the previous year.) So if the level of grant falls then we have to balance cuts to overall spending with increases in council tax and higher fees and charges.

Wherever possible, we will continue to try to make savings in back office functions - ie not the frontline services that people rely on most. But, to be honest, while there are still some savings that could be made, these are pretty small beer compared with those that have been made over the last 4 years. The whole unitary process - the joining up of seven councils into one - saved more than £160 million and we cannot rely on administrative savings to cope with the newest demands.

Local councils have to produce a balanced budget each year. And we have to plan for the medium and long term, rather than just the coming year. So using up all our reserves hoping that 'something comes along' is just not possible or wise.

So there will need to be cuts to services. But we are determined that we should protect the services for the most vulnerable and those that people most rely on.

How we do this needs to be a conversation with the public of Cornwall and all 123 Cornwall Councillors. The new cabinet are going to be producing a first draft, but this will then be open for suggestions to come from all quarters. I have asked officers to arrange a series of public meetings across Cornwall to discuss the proposals and listen to ideas. I have also arranged for meetings with all the political groups on the council. I don't want any idea to go unheard.


DNP said...

And there was me thinking that you'd already had the budget sorted out - at least that's waht you claimed before the recent election. Are we seeing yet more Lib Dem promises and backtracking? I find your political opportunism quite breathtaking in its hypocrisy.

Alex Folkes said...

Thanks - but we are talking about putting together next year's budget rather than this year.

Council has already decided on this year and the implementation of it has been agreed by the previous administration. I may or may not agree with the detail of each aspect but it would be wrong to spend the whole time unpicking the decisions of the past.

What we are now concentrating on is the next year. We will know the rough outline of the settlement when the chancellor announces the CSR tomorrow. And we will have details in December.

But the precise details of the budget will be a matter for the full council and the people of Cornwall to decide.