We had our Full Council meeting at the County Council yesterday. It came as we approach one of the most difficult periods we have faced in recent times because of the serious cuts in funding we face.
So what did I learn? Just that nothing has changed. Our Labour Group Leader remains in total denial and, more importantly, our main opposition, the Lib Dems, seem to be carrying on with their "heads in the sand" approach to tough decisions - despite belonging to a political party that is sharing Government and therefore should have a better understanding of where we are.
We have a long budget process in Cambridgeshire, to summarise it involves a cycle of increasingly adding detail as more information becomes available. It is sort of an evaluate, challenge, evaluate, challenge process. But before the final decision (which is made in Jan/Feb every year) we always get a small period of fiction. That fiction is the Lib Dems alternative budget. Every year they produce it and every year it shows a misunderstanding of a number of issues - one in particular is the approach we take to reserves, where they try and pretend that we have far too much stashed away (despite the Audit Commission saying otherwise), and take money out of reserves as the solution to all our problems. But when their budget is evaluated (it has been through our scrutiny process the last two years) it is proven to be unworkable.
Based on what I saw today we are headed for the same piece of fiction. I got lots of challenge about the IYSS process that is seeing cuts to County Council funding of Youth and Connexions Services. I have posted about that before. I don't mind that challenge and I also know that a number of Councillors, including some of the more responsible Lib Dems, are doing the same sort of work as we are in Whittlesey to try and mitigate the impacts of the County Council's decisions, but in truth none of the senior opposition members offered up any sort of alternative to what we are having to do - just saying we shouldn't do this. It says to me that they haven't learned anything about their failures of the past, or from the opportunities that being a party with a handle on National power provides.