Friday, 8 November 2013

Council budget - we listened

Regular readers will know that I have recently spent six weeks going round Cornwall talking to as many people as possible about Cornwall Council's draft budget proposals. The authority needs to save £23.9 million next year and as much as £196 million over the next five years. Faced with this challenge, we wanted to understand the views of local people.

Now we have published our updated budget proposals for next year and we have taken account of much of what people have been saying to us. We said all along that what we published on September 2nd was a first draft and that we would make changes if a good case were made and I'm delighted that we have done so. Many further suggestions are things that we cannot do next year, but we can build into our thinking for future years.

The biggest change we have made is to reduce the cut we had proposed making to bus services. This was actually something we inherited from the previous administration. In fact the council will be putting £415,000 more into buses next year compared with this - that's £1.415 million more than in our original proposals. However, due to government funding changes, it looks like there will still be less money going into buses next year.

That is why we want to try to do more still. The hunt is on for more savings and efficiencies that we can make elsewhere and I hope that we can put a little bit more money into buses next year, but until we can confirm everything I don't want to put a figure on this aspiration.

Another point that was raised by many people was that of free bus passes for older people. Radio Cornwall has got very excited on this idea. These passes are given out regardless of means so rich pensioners have them as well as poor. It was suggested that those who could afford to pay are asked to do so.

Legally we cannot force people to pay or means test passes. Nor are we allowed to ask for donations. But what we are looking at is a voluntary scheme whereby people who feel they can afford to pay occasionally are encouraged to do so by keeping their pass in their pocket. But we have to make sure that those who cannot afford to pay and rely on their pass to get about do not feel embarrassed or pressurised into paying. It is a careful balance and we won't launch a scheme until we are confident that it will work.

Another issue frequently mentioned was that of street lighting and could we dim them to save money. This is something the council has already done a lot of. Changing from orange to white street lights has meant we now have low energy bulbs which save a lot of money. But we can also alter the power settings on each light individually to dim them and save a bit more money. This is something that the council has already done but we are committed to keeping under review and doing more of in consultation with local communities.

You can find all the details of the updated budget proposals on the council budget page, including the changes we have made following the consultation. We have also published all the detailed suggestions made by public and staff through the budget consultation.

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