I have just seen the detail of the Lib Dems alternative budget in Cambridgeshire
One of the tricks in the budget is to take out a cash grant that we are giving to the new St Neots secondary schools federation and deferring the payment over three years. By doing this, they hold back St Neots by delaying the solution to their problems despite this they would still have to make the savings they are deferring in a few years time; they are deferring the solution to St Neots' problems so they can defer the inevitable budget issues in the County Council. The Lib Dems opposed and called-in the creation of the federation of schools in St Neots (which is making really good progress) and now they are denying them funding? What have they got against schools in St Neots?
They have built in additional savings from an assumption that they can decrease reliance on taxis for Home to School transport and from reviewing bus routes to schools. There are already savings built into the proposed Budget for Full Council and they have not articulated any rationale behind what they have proposed (in fact "we can do better" is pretty much the only rationale behind all of it). As an answer to the fact that they are double-counting savings already in the budget, it just cannot wash.
They have also gone one step further than us in taking further savings from business mileage. It is really easy to say "we can do better than they are proposing" in this area - it is much harder to deliver. We are already proposing savings from mileage in Children's Services. But even that is a quandary. Much of our mileage comes from social workers visiting families in various locations - often at home. We cannot stop them doing this and, indeed, part of the pretext that the Munro review of Social Care is based on is ensuring that social workers spend more time in front of families - which will increase mileage. I suspect the Lib Dems haven't even thought about this (in fact I know they haven't). They talk about increasing video conferencing (which needs big capital investment) but actually there is much work going on to increase the amount of telephone conferencing - in fact I took part in a telephone conference last week.
These are just the children's services issues in their budget. I am pretty sure that the other portfolio holders can pick holes elsewhere, but I want to talk about another aspect of their proposed cuts, which is to decimate the County Councils central communications department to just one. This is really easy proposal to make - it's a great headline. But it won't work, they could never deliver it. Communications Departments do much, much more than just press releases. As an example, our head of Comms co-ordinated and wrote the proposal for Cambridgeshire's bid to have the olympic torch relay in the County - it was a superb document that was lauded by the media and which we hope will bring a result for the County, our communications department have also co-ordinated media activity around our serious case reviews - a tough task given that they involve the whole public sector in Cambridgeshire (and sometimes beyond). Communications departments do much, much more than just press releases - they are extremely important. Of course, like every other area of the Council, we need to review and cut unnecessary cost - but the decimation they are talking about will harm the people of Cambridgeshire, but the Lib Dems have their eyes closed to the reality because it doesn't suit their argument.
Nationally the Lib Dems have been found wanting because in opposition they promised the world and then proved totally unable to live up to key promises in Government. They are adopting the same patterns of behaviour in opposition in Cambridgeshire. No doubt about it - it's just that they will never have to deliver it.