CAMBRIDGESHIRE: Walter's World - response to budget, school meals and music tuition losing money, pa

AS always, the national Budget Day came across like a fourth form pantomime. Lots of selective statistics produced from each side of the Commons Chamber. Words like Golden Rule Prudence and the like were re-introduced defiantly, but without conviction

AS always, the national Budget Day came across like a fourth form pantomime. Lots of selective statistics produced from each side of the Commons Chamber. Words like "Golden Rule" "Prudence" and the like were re-introduced defiantly, but without conviction. Indeed the whole of the Chancellor's speech was delivered with all the fire and passion of the Speaking Clock.

There are no doubts in most people's minds that the government's spending plans are in disarray. In a nutshell, they are already spending some 45 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (a very high figure by recent standards) and they need to find a lot more.

Thus taxes need to be increased. Messrs Darling and Brown have already found "Manna" in the shape of Taxes to Save the Planet and Better our Lives. Every new environmental tax puts more money into the depleted coffers without changing the rates of official income tax. Every increase in the alcohol and tobacco tax also boosts the income. Delaying the increase in fuel duty is not philanthropy; the massive increase in pre-duty price brings in just as much in VAT anyway.

The Adam Smith Institute, whose web site is well worth a visit, calculates what is called Tax Freedom Day each year. It is measure of how many days the average person has to work just to pay his dues to the government - before he can find any money to spend on himself. It takes all the taxes into account, not just Income Tax. In the year 2007, Tax Freedom Day came on 1st June; that is a week later than it was in 2002. Want to bet it will be later still this year?

There is another "Freedom Day" called Debt Freedom Day. That is how many days we have to work just to service our personal debts. That takes 70 days this year. As a measure of how debt prone we are as individuals, last year's measure was 31 days!

If you add the 152 days to reach Tax Freedom to the 70 days for Debt Freedom, it leaves precious few to actually pay for food, utilities and holidays. What a sobering thought; far more sobering, probably, than the rise in alcohol duties!

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Within the County Council's budgeting area, we have run into our own problems with school meals and music tuition. Some years ago the council took the view that it should be possible to provide those services and others at a profit if we charged economic rates. Thus we gave them a special status as "Trading Units"; and separate bank accounts.

However, they have all been losing money for years. If you were to increase the prices to cover the losses, you would lose a lot of custom; then the price would have to increase further; it would be a vicious circle.

The idea of discontinuing (for instance) the school meals service is not attractive. Consequently we have decided to bring these services into the normal budget area; the area where everyone accepts that it costs us money to provide them. We see that as part of our social responsibility.

What a shame that central government cannot take the same view with Post Offices. The services provided by the Post Office could be seen as a national social responsibility. And yet they are closing Post Offices and increasing the charges in the naïve belief that postal deliveries to sparsely populated rural areas could somehow show a profit.

Councillor Sir Peter Brown is leading our campaign against the closures. I hope you will support it as vociferously as possible. Unlike Essex County Council (whose Gross Domestic Product is higher than that of Estonia) we cannot afford to run them ourselves; but, with the right thinking process, central government could treat them like we are treating school meals.


However, we are working with Essex in other areas, to the mutual benefit of both populations. Your County Council and the Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ECDP) have set up a joint project to improve services and support for disabled people in both counties.

A joint bid for funding to the Department of Health has secured £100,000 to cover the costs of a major consultation and involvement process with disability groups in Cambridgeshire. With a bit of luck it will lead to our setting up a similar coalition here as well as Centres for Inclusive Living in both counties.


Meanwhile, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire County Councils have jointly signed a ground-breaking partnership with Fujitsu Services to allow both counties to operate from a single Oracle e-Business Suite (with obvious savings to both counties)

The e-business suite (computerised accounts for non-aficionados) will cover processes such as Human Resources (personnel management to people of my generation), payment of invoices and on-line procurement.

There will be spare capacity in the system, and we are hoping to attract other authorities to join in and reduce our own costs even further. Watch this space.

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