County council leader delivers ‘bold’ business plan for Cambridgeshire and claims rural transport is safe in his hands too
12:34 19 February 2013
COUNTY council leader Nick Clarke used his budget speech today to deliver a stinging attack on his political opponents over bus services, rural transport and infrastructure.
Points from speech to Cambridgeshire County Council by leader Nick Clarke
Cllr Clarke outlined some of the council’s progress over the last year.
The council has worked to create the Wisbech 2020 Vision with targets for the future, and it has already commissioned an expert study into the viability of the Wisbech Bramley railway line.
A contract to roll out Super Fast Broadband across Cambridgeshire is due to be signed next month, meaning that at least 90 per cent of homes and businesses will get 24mps, bringing related growth of £500million to the local economy in the following five years.
The council has fought for the upgrading of the A14, “now we have a viable scheme on the table, we have commitment from government and local authorities to that scheme, and we even have the Prime Minister telling us he will do all he can to bring the start date forward.”
He said the guided busway around Cambridge has been a huge success, with the amount of passengers flocking to use the service exceeding expectations.
There has been a 30 per cent rise in apprenticeships across Cambridgeshire this year.
No libraries have been closed. Cllr Clarke said this was “a great success at a time when we are under such huge financial strain.”
He said the council has invested an extra £90million to improve roads, paths and cycleways. “This is yet another example of our bold capital investment in the county’s future.”
More than 1000 older people have been saved from needing intensive support through the re-ablement programme aimed at keeping people health at home. The scheme has saved £2.6million.
The council has launched the new Cambridge and Counties Bank, Cllr Clarke said the “investment from our pension fund is a ground breaking way for supporting local businesses to grow.”
Future plans include:
Cllr Clarke said the council plans to push forward with improvements to the A47 and the A605, working with other councils in the region. Work is in progress to find a solution to the traffic congestion caused by the King’s Dyke crossing at Whittlesey.
The council is investigating proposals to acts as a developer to bring forward the building of affordable homes, and to build a new care home
If planning permission is forthcoming, investment in a new station at Cambridge Science Park will mean the facility opening by December 2015.
“While opposition members will claim that we are simply cutting bus services, what we are actually doing is taking that money and getting more bang for our buck,” said Cllr Clarke.
“We are continuing to invest in the Cambridgeshire Future Transport initiative.
“We are using our resources in a smarter way to help people get about. Rather than investing blindly in bus subsidies that we hoped were OK, we are now actively working with communities to put in the transport solutions that they say are right for them.”
Cllr Clarke accused his opponents of being “city-centric” whilst his Conservative party worked across the county.
“Rather than a token reference to Wisbech train station, we have worked hard with the community in that fantastic town to produce a comprehensive Wisbech 2020 Vision,” he said.
“The vision outlines ambitious, well-thought through, and realistic targets for the future of that town. And let’s not forget that we have already commissioned an expert study into the viability of the Wisbech rail line.
“And we are also working to progress improvements to the A47 and find a solution to the King’s Dyke crossing at Whittlesey.”
His 4,000 word speech unveiled what he termed a “bold” business plan will provide more schools, more jobs, more homes and vital care for older people.
He has proposed a budget with £37million worth of extra savings for 2013-14, and a council tax rise of 1.99 per cent.
He said: “I don’t think any of us can recall a tougher time to be setting the council’s budget, but we have stepped up to the challenge.
“My cabinet has been unflinching in their efforts to drive out savings, protect frontline services, and find innovative new ways to achieve the best for the people of Cambridgeshire.”
Management and corporate costs continue to be slashed, said Cllr Clarke, with the cost of senior managers cut by £625,000 in the last year, and local government shared services have delivered £3.8million of savings.
He said reducing employee costs was a way of protecting frontline services and saving jobs, “so it is something we must do.”
The leader promised to fight for fairer funding for adult social care.
“Unless government announces proper funding, we will continue to have to put up council tax to make sure we do our bit to support those who are most vulnerable.”
Cllr Clarke said the You Choose survey had shown that four out of five people were prepared to pay at least two per cent more council tax to help retain services they value, such as adult social care, children’s services, and transport.
The business plan provides “a blue print for the Cambridgeshire economy to grow,” he said, and for residents to get the services they need.
Key priorities include developing the local economy, helping people live healthy and independent lives, and supporting and protecting vulnerable people.
Cllr Clarke added: “We are proposing a budget designed to protect the vulnerable while boosting jobs and prosperity, despite massive pressures from a fast-growing population and much reduced funding.
“The five year plan includes £1billion of current and future funding to be spent on boosting education, transport links, broadband, business and care, to make sure Cambridgeshire remains prosperous and a great place to live and work.”