A Boat and The Budget
The second full Council meeting of the year was mainly about a boat and the budget for 2011/12. As always, this meeting concerned discussing the limited amount of business that is not dealt with by the Cabinet. It sometimes (most of the time) feels like dealing with the scraps off the table.
The boat item is for the plan to replace the ship for the Isle of Scily link. Yes, this subject still rumbles on, but maybe it is coming to a conclusion. The Council was asked to support and vote for some of the capital to make this project happen. The other money comes from the European Union and the Dept of Transport. After a few negative comments a vote was taken and was passed. All that is needed now is the final approval from the Government Ministry. This we are told ‘should’ be made at the end of this month.
The budget was the main Agenda item for today. In the current climate it was going to be bad. The simple fact is the Government (let us not forget a Conservative and Liberial Democrate coalition) has cut funding to Cornwall Council to the tune of £170m, with 12% of that coming this year. We can all play the blame game and say it is Labours fault for leaving us in this mess, or the current administration of cutting too harshly, but blaming does not solve the issue of less money.
The real issue is how do we make less money stretch to all services? The answer to that is we can’t. All departments at Cornwall Council have been told to make savings. This has been very hard, and some areas have seen massive budget cuts. One of these areas is Supporting People. This covers around 11,000 people to the tune of £14m. The reduction in this budget is around £5m, or simply 40%.
Much has been made of this percentage and it looks very harsh at face value. You have to though look behind the percentage and the figures as not all areas will see a large cut, as some critical areas will only see a 5% cut. As with all areas, savings can be made. For example a service provided under this title was being provided in the East of Cornwall for around £7, but in the West is was near £64. This cannot be right in anyones book and there must be room for better value without the need to simply remove a service.
I asked a question to the Portfolio Holder, Armand Toms, if with this reduction can you provide the same level of service as what is currently provided? His simple reply was “Yes, I believe with some changes and better implementation this can be achieved to near the current level of service”. I believe him, as this man has real passion and would not say something that he did not believe in.
He mentioned that 57% of those organisation that fall under Supporting People have accepted the proposals. That still leaves 43% that have yet to reach a deal. If they do manage that without a drastic cut to a service then this is good news. If not, well lets hope it does not come to that.
His words carry weight and even though I have concerns on this area I decided to vote in favour of the budget, not because I fully believed in it, but the alternative is far far worse. If you think Cornwall has to make hard choices, but spare a thought for areas like Manchester and Birmingham Councils who like our neighbour in Devon are really up the creek without a paddle.
On the plus side (if you can call it that) there will be no Council Tax increase. Good news? Seems so, but look closer to find that if there was a rise, this extra money would just be taken out of the Formula Grants given to Cornwall Council. It is basically then a numbers game.
The vote on the budget was 63 for, 40 against and 1 abstention. Making 103 out of 123 present at the vote.