Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Cornwall Cabinet debates cuts

This morning, the Council's Cabinet agreed a set of proposed cuts that will see most of our libraries and One Stop Shops close, an end to 27 rural bus services and more than £4 million cut from the budget that helps the most vulnerable adults.

The budget meeting went roughly as expected in that councillors from across the political spectrum lined up to criticise the cuts but the Cabinet voted them through in any case. It is now up to backbench and opposition councillors to secure the 62 votes that any changes need in order to reverse individual cuts.

Every speaker at today's meeting accepted the need for savings to be made. Some questioned why they had to be made as quickly as is being proposed but no-one took the Ed Balls line of sticking their head in the sand and hoping that a magic pot of money would save us from any need to cut our spending.

The debate came over where the cuts need to be made. As is currently proposed the majority will come from adult care, libraries, leisure and rural and school transport. Different councillors sought to suggest other areas that could be cut instead but each of these was batted away by the administration which nodded through the cuts package unanimously.

There were a couple of interesting points however. Cllr Joan Symons, the Cabinet member for Leisure, has agreed to meet with representatives of the Camelford Leisure Centre Campaign. Apparently, the reason she refused to attend the meeting last night was because she feared for her personal safety. I think this was a ridiculous excuse. Councillors from the scrutiny committees held a series of public meetings across Cornwall and, whilst they faced some tough questions, there was never any thought of violence. When I got the chance to have my say I made it clear that I thought Joan had bottled her responsibilities. I am very glad that she has now changed her mind - even if her language about the prospects for saving the leisure centre is still not as hopeful as it might be.

I also asked about the survey work that was undertaken asking the public where they thought the cuts should fall. I pointed out that the Leader had claimed that leisure was top of the public's list - whereas it is actually at number ten and four of the areas above it have no cuts planned. Cllr Robertson stuck to his guns in claiming that leisure was still 'up there' and he refused to be drawn on the lack of cuts to other areas.

Finally, I said that the Council should be looking at its capital programme for cuts as well. It is all very well proclaiming the need to build for the future, but we also need to build strong communities and if we destroy these communities by taking away their libraries, leisure centres and one stop shops then there will be little point in new capital buildings.

After the meeting I took part in a panel discussion for Radio Cornwall with Conservative Steve Double, Indy Group Leader Neil Burden, MK's Andrew Long and Indy Andrew Wallis.

This afternoon I had a meeting with my Lib Dem shadow cabinet colleagues to agree our plan of action to reverse the unacceptable cuts to frontline services.

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