Council leader says he will put people before party as he tackles PM over local government cuts

Election of Chairman and Leader for Cambridgeshire County Council. Cllr Martin Curtis.

Election of Chairman and Leader for Cambridgeshire County Council. Cllr Martin Curtis. - Credit: Archant

County council leader Martin Curtis pledged to put people before party as he prepared to write to Prime Minister David Cameron about the scale of cuts to local government.

As Cambridgeshire steered down the barrel at further savings of £159m over the next five years- on top of £124m saved in the past three years- Mr Curtis felt cuts were being “too heavily weighted on local government”.

He said: “They can’t keep slamming the council again and again and again.

“I am prepared to put my party colours aside and do what is right for Cambridgeshire and the people I represent.”

The Whittlesey councillor, leader of the minority Conservative administration at Shire Hall, was in uncompromising mood as he did the rounds of local media to explain why he felt enough was enough.

“Inevitably we are going to lose and have to lose jobs as a result of what we’ve got to do for next year,” he said. The council needs extra savings next year alone of £33m.

“We can’t take that sort of money out of our budget without it affecting people,” said Mr Curtis. “We’ve done all the things Government asked us to do in terms of sharing services with other councils and of making better use of our buildings.

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“But the reality is next year is going to be the toughest we’ve ever seen because we’ve done the easy things already. Unfortunately that is going to mean losing staff.”

Mark Lloyd, the council’s chief executive, described the potential £159m of extra savings as an “awfully big hill to climb”.

He told the BBC “People buy houses, they pay stamp duty, VAT and income tax. “Businesses grow and pay the businesses rates and they pay Corporation tax. All of that money goes to central government.

“One of the key things that we want to try and argue with central government in the future is some of hat growth dividend that’s helped to facilitate should come back to us here in Cambridgeshire.”

He added: “I hope Cambridgeshire, the county, will continue to thrive. I care with the whole of my heart that the county thrives. The council that I run I think will continue to look different as it has each and every year since austerity started to bite. It will be a leaner council. It will do fewer things.”

Non-statutory services provided by the county council could be wiped out in five years as a result of the cuts, Mr Curtis warned.

That could mean highways maintenance and public transport being among those services affected unless the public, through the council’s current round of consultations, persuaded the council to amend their priorities.

A referendum on raising Council Tax above two per cent to reduce the savings required is unlikely to happen as Mr Curtis said as the £500,000 cost prohibits the move.

He did however add he would consider the position should every council in the county decide on a move, though he admitted it would not be likely to be organised for next year.

Job losses at the council would be in their hundreds after a pay survey amongst workers revealed they were against a pay cut, Mr Curtis said.

Selling the council’s estate was ruled out as a way of generating cash in the short term as the sites generate income.

He said the council was still committed to its capital spending programme meaning the A14 contribution, Cambridge Science Park railway station and King’s Dyke crossing would still go ahead, as a way to drive the economy in Cambridgeshire.

He told Radio Cambridgeshire: “There’s no politician can sell his soul just to his party. The reality is I’m elected as Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council to speak up for Cambridgeshire people. And I have to do that. And if that causes a bit of upset in the Party, so be it. But it does need to be done, and it does need to be said.”

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