Leader Steve Count explains why his Conservative controlled Cambridgeshire County Council is putting up council tax by 2.9 per cent

County council leader Steve Count shared his delight with the opening of the solar farm at Soham. Th

County council leader Steve Count shared his delight with the opening of the solar farm at Soham. The project is expected to make big money for the county council. - Credit: Archant

Today’s meeting of the general purposes committee of Cambridgeshire County Council is preparing the coming year’s budget. The Tory controlled council will approve a rise of 2.9 per cent. Here the leader explains why.

Today we will propose a 2.99 per cent Council Tax increase to protect vital services and put our finances on a firm footing

At present we receive £75m less in Government funding than an average London Borough and £13.7m less than an average county council.

We are the third lowest funded county council in the country. If the outdated and broken funding formula had been rectified by now or if transitional funding was appropriately maintained, we would not need to consider whether to increase Council Tax in Cambridgeshire.

At today’s (Jan 23rd) GPC meeting we will ask members to agree a proposal which would add £1.14 per week to an average households’ council tax bill, to protect vital services and keep Cambridgeshire County Council on a sound financial footing.

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Despite investing in a range of innovative and ambitious transformation and efficiency plans, without which the situation could have been much worse, the County Council is still projecting a budget gap for 2018/19 of £4.3m. This is despite having already included the 2% Adult Social Care Precept and as there are further substantial gaps forecast for the next 4 years, we reluctantly therefore must recommend an additional 2.99% council tax increase in its 2018/19 budget.

Cambridgeshire County Council is;

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A council concentrating on delivering for the long term –by being financially stable, not by cutting services

We are proud of our record since taking back control. For example, we have refused to re-visit reductions in winter gritting, we have increased spending by £2m on repairing potholes, we have plans to increase library provision, our children centre proposals increased spending on the front line and are focused on those areas which needed the services the most.

There is always more we could do if finances were unlimited, but they are not.

A council that has already delivered many efficiencies and will continue to strive for more, but this must be driven from a stable financial position

In recent times we have kept a general reserve at 3 per cent of the overall budget (despite an opposition that sometimes wanted to increase and sometimes wanted to spend it), which is around £16M. There is no doubt this is extremely low, for example our demand led services account for more than 75 per cent of our budget, just a 5% increase in demand would increase an unexpected pressure of £10M.

We are a proven very low-cost council so further efficiencies will be harder to find and cannot match the speed of future funding requirements

Despite opposition often hampering our efforts to improve efficiency, we have focussed on this in recent years. Now we see in an independent report from Grant Thornton

https://tinyurl.com/CCC-GT-Benchm has proven our costs to be “Very Low”. Something we in the Conservative group have been driving forward. Not resting on our laurels we have stretched our plans for commercialisation and investment to return more than £301m over the medium to longer term.

A council that has and will continue to invest in imaginative and innovative schemes by retaining the Transformation Fund to support long term and sustainable transformation

Since our introduction of the transformation fund we have already invested £8m which will return £40m to reduce the cost of services.

We also created a £1m fund which parishes can bid for to deliver and improve services.

Over the next five years we have plans to invest a further £319m in transformation and investments to return £620M over the medium to long term. This is on top of the fact that Grant Thornton has already evaluated our income generation per head as “High”.

A council that is nationally at the front of public sector reform and intend to maintain that drive

We as Conservatives have led on and are proud of being the forerunner in the country with our shared back office services, a shared chief executive, an increasing number of shared senior positions and posts with Peterborough, we are continuing to look to bring forward further shared working opportunities; where they drive down costs, increase capacity and resilience and improve outcomes for our residents.

A council that works with our communities and assists our partners, such as the NHS – acting together to address our challenges and priorities

We have seen a sharp rise in delayed transfer of care cases from 100 per week in January 2017 to 150 a week in December. Reductions in length of stay in hospital for older people (from 8.1 days in April to 5.6 days in October) mean older people are leaving hospital in higher numbers, more quickly and in a more fragile state. This increases capacity in our hospitals but creates significant pressure on our social care budgets.

Despite these pressures, we as Conservatives continue to use our resources to the absolute maximum to support the NHS as we explore a wide range of opportunities for more integrated, collaborative and effective working across health and social care services.

A council that will continue to fight for a funding system that is fair to the residents of Cambridgeshire and doesn’t penalise them for being at the forefront of delivering economic growth

Cambridgeshire is a great place to call home, which is why so many people want to live here. Yet the success of the economy is also placing unprecedented demands on our services.

In 2018/19 our changes to demography, pressures and inflation account for an additional £31m burden on our already stretched budgets.

Running alongside the actions to improve efficiency, the council is pioneering new and ambitious projects aimed at supporting more vulnerable people directly in their communities.

Radical and ambitious plans include our Neighbourhood Cares pilot, which is testing a very different, highly localised way of supporting people with adult social care needs, embedding support from within the community, to plan and deliver support on a community wide basis. We also created a new £1m fund which parishes can bid for to deliver and improve services. Conservative ideas and Conservative led alongside our officers. In children’s services we are working hard to support families at an earlier stage, to stop needs escalating to a point where children must be taken into care.

We are also encouraging more people to become foster carers.

Smaller but important transformations include increasing automation which has cut the waiting time and costs of delivering blue badges for people with disabilities – helping them remain more independent. Campaigns to recruit supported lodgings providers for teenagers leaving care or shared lives providers opening their homes to offer respite for adults with learning disabilities are delivering good results.

The council has also maximised opportunities to increase income – launching its own housing company – projected to be worth £7m a year when fully operational, and investing in energy schemes, like the Soham Solar farm, which is already returning more than £1m a year to support frontline services.

Our Conservative motion to look at the business case to relocate from Shire Hall also looks as if it could deliver significant savings to the authority.

While the council awaits final plans from other precepting authorities e.g. district/City councils, Police and Fire – the proposed Adult Social Care Precept increase of 2% and the Council Tax increase of 2.99 per cent will add £23.76 annually (46p weekly) and £35.64 annually (68p weekly) respectively to a Band D property.

We recognise that for some, this increase will be difficult and unwelcome news; we are ready to support residents who may need help to ensure they are receiving any financial support that may be available to them.

As a Conservative led authority we strive to keep taxation low, but we are also financially competent and able to take tough decisions that go against our natural DNA, but only when all other intelligent and acceptable options have been exhausted.

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