Wednesday 19 February 2014

Leader's Speech from February Budget Meeting






This Conservative Group have never hidden from or denied the tough financial challenges faced by this council, nor have we shirked the responsibility of dealing with them. It is worth reminding this council that over the last three years we have successfully dealt with savings of around £124m.


Those savings have been needed because of a combination of reductions in Government grant, caused by Labour's overspending and because of a growing county and an ageing population. The census proved that Cambridgeshire is the fastest growing County in the country. Let me set this into context. Between 2011 and 2021 the number of over 90s in Cambridgeshire is forecast to increase by 73%. Think about what that means for the amount of Adult Social Care we are going to have to provide?


But we have not been complacent.


  • Our reablement agenda has saved some £5.4m over the last three years - remember that was an agenda that many in this chamber were sceptical about.


  • Another success is in our traded services where, for example, Cambridgeshire Catering and Cleaning Services and Groomfields were costing us money in 2010/2011 but are now bringing in revenue.


  • If we had not done the work we have to prevent the need for children to go into care (bucking the National trend) or in being more efficient around placements we could buck the National trend we would not have saved the £6m we have in recent years.



  • we have slashed the number of Heads of Service by a third,
  • saved £391k from changes to trading Standards,
  • delivered over £2.3m worth of efficiencies from the Highway Services contract
  • and saved nearly £1/2m from closing the Environment and Climate Change office.


I could go on and on, especially as I am allowed to speak for as long as I want today. But it's alright - I won't.


But before I talk about this year I do want to talk about how we have reduced waste:


  • The cost of our Leadership team has come down by 25%,
  • we have cut £1.3m from our mileage bill and, despite having taken on Public Health and and brought some CCS staff back in house, we are working cut that bill further.


Last week I published this County Council's progress on DCLG's proposed 50 ways to save on my blog - that in itself is unique, but actually when you see what our progress and status is, it is pretty remarkable.


  • It demonstrates that we are leading the way in shared services ,
  • improving procurement (for example saving over £600k in the last two years from retendering the Cambridgeshire Community Network contract or saving £420k on our e-business suite through a joint procurement contract with Northamptonshire
  • We are saving through rationalising our estate and sharing property with our partners, such as through our Community Hub projects.
  • and we are reducing absenteeism and sickness where our levels are well below public sector averages.


The reason I have mentioned these few examples is to highlight the point I have made a number of times over the last year, I have said that as far as savings go, we have taken the low hanging fruit. Of course, we should always try to be more efficient, but we are going to have to take tough decisions, we are going to have to cut services and we are going to have to do things that our residents find difficult and, more importantly, we are going to have to front it and stop pretending that there are easy alternatives. As we move into a committee system, that denial will slow this council down and halt the progress we are making.


This budget recognises our current situation and recognises where we are, no denial but an honest response to a difficult position. None of us would choose to make cuts to children's centres, no-one wants to cut winter gritting, no one wants to remove the funding from the Cromwell museum - but the reality is that despite our undoubted efficiency we have a savings target of £149m over the next 4 years.


I have said we must always try to be more efficient. That is why a large part of our children's centre savings will come from streamlining management. But there is more - in adult social care we need to continuously test how much more innovative we can be with assistive technology, to see if technology can enhance the great work our Community Navigators scheme is doing to reduce isolation.


I know some in here are obsessed with unitaries, I will have more to say about that later today, but the reality is that there are more savings to be gained from working better with the rest of the public sector in Cambridgeshire. We need to seize the opportunity that the Better Care Fund provides, but also to use initiatives like the Transformation Challenge Awards to bid for funding to allow us to realise the ambition identified at the last Full council to make Cambridgeshire the National Leader in delivering the Rewiring Public Services agenda.


We also need to continue to be ambitious around the way we make money from our assets. Marketing castle Court and becoming landlord are but two examples of the progress we are making on revenue raising schemes. Making our assets work for us is the right way forward, selling off the family silver as a sticking plaster most certainly is not.


I want to talk now about why I believe a Council tax increase is the right decision. My conservative colleagues and I do not take any decision to increase Council Tax lightly. But this is not just about slashing public spending. When I look at the current situation, I glance back at some of the tough decisions that were made Nationally in the 90s. Part of the reason for he disastrous election result of 97 was because public services had been slashed too far - Conservatives were criticised for poor investment in the Health Service and in schools in particular, something the current Government is recognising.


As our economy picks up, the focus will swing back to levels of service provision. Let's be blunt, our Social Care functions for both adults and children are core services that people care about. So, whilst it is true that we have a duty to the Council Tax payer, we also have a duty to the most vulnerable in Cambridgeshire, to do everything we can to maintain those core services whilst the Government does what it can to sort our National finances out. It is a balance between services and taxation levels, it is not just about taxation.


Our Council Tax levels are not high, in fact they are just under average for a Shire County, but there are only two County Councils with a higher proportion of savings to make over the next two years. That is why I believe a Council Tax increase is justified. Yes, it's a difficult decision - but we should not shy away from difficult, especially when there are people needing our care.


Those stats around Council Tax are backed up by some analysis done by the LGA recently which showed that our savings targets and our very low level of reserves mean that our current financial position is one of the most challenging in the country. But they also showed that going forwards, the difficult decisions we have made around Council Tax and our economy mean that our future is more rosie.


I want to finish by talking about the future. The next few years are going to be tough, please don't doubt it. However, my group is determined that we must remain ambitious for our County. Councils are now rewarded financially for economic growth. Not enough - and we need to try and improve that, but Business Rates Retention, in particular, is a bold initiative from Government that has the potential to make a real difference in the future and we should be in no doubt that Cambridgeshire's economic potential is huge.


Please let's not pretend otherwise, our challenging capital programme is challenging because of the pressure on school places. But we do also have ambitious infrastructure ambitions.


A significant part of that is the City Deal. A successful City Deal will transform the Greater Cambridge economy and can make Cambridge a genuine world economic powerhouse. If Government offer the right deal, we should take it, but only if it is the right deal. But we have a duty to make sure that deal benefits the whole of Cambridgeshire, that is why the City Deal must sit alongside projects like Wisbech to March rail, the Ely Southern Bypass, the A14 upgrade and Kings Dyke Crossing - as well as, of course, Superfast Broadband as a driver to widen The spread of the Greater Cambridge Economy and increase the travel to work area, so every single one of our residents can benefit from the potential of our economy.


Chairman, members. This budget is not an easy one. But it is the right one. It makes the necessary difficult decisions that show we are facing up to our financial challenges, but it retains our ambition for our County and its residents and does everything it can to protect services to our most vulnerable.

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