Wednesday 23 June 2010

What the Budget Means for Cambridgeshire

One of the announcements in yesterday's budget was a 25% reduction in funding for the majority of Government departments, to be achieved over the next four years.  That is going to have an effect on local Government - although exactly how it will impact on Cambridgeshire we will find out later in the year when the Public Spending Review is published.  

But it is important to point out that the County Council began the process of working towards these sort of cuts a year ago; because we knew that, whatever the colour of Government after the General Election, the writing was on the wall.  So we are well ahead of the game as far as our planning goes.  That is not to say it will not be without pain; Cambridgeshire County Council manages its money well - it is a recognised fact (albeit one which our Lib Dem opposition conveniently prefer to bury its head in the sand about), that means it is impossible to take 25% out of our organisation without pain - but the Conservative administration are working at ways of mitigating this in a number of ways, for example, by trying to work better with other public sector organisations in the County to provide a more joined up approach to what we do (that includes Health, Policing and other Councils as an example) as well as working across borders with other County Councils to see if we can share some of our "back office" tasks" to save money.

My hope is that the Public Spending Review will take into account how efficient Cambridgeshire is.  We deliver our services from a far lower funding base than other authorities; it is one of the reasons why we cannot deliver these cuts without pain.  Our schools are ranked 132nd out of 151 in the level of funding they receive from Government.  However, we continue to strive for more efficiency (a recent positive response to an excellent report by one of our Scrutiny Committees which made recommendations about how we could improve procurement is a great example) .   I hope that the new Government recognise our situation and make sure that those Councils which are demonstrably less efficient are seen to take a larger share of the pain to incentivise them to move towards the sort of efficiency we deliver.  I will, of course, take every opportunity to make that point myself.

It should be pointed out that one of the major failings of the last Government was their view that public services are everything.  They are not.  Good strong public services are important.  They must be able to educate, to protect and to support the needy and the vulnerable - but they cannot do everything and we need to destroy the myth that they can or that they should.  Part of our planning in Cambridgeshire is to make sure we get the decisions right about what we can and should provide for the people we represent.  One of the benefits of the current Government is that it is increasingly looking like we will be in control of deciding what is needed instead of Government deciding for us and adding unnecessary costs as a result.

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