Cornwall Council’s Cabinet (new) responsibilities

Let me start of by welcoming Councillor Joyce Duffin to the Cornwall Council Cabinet. I have worked with Joyce for many years and she will be a great asset to the Cabinet.

With a new member to the Cabinet, the Leader has looked at all the current responsibilities of the Cabinet in a sort of two year review. This is wise, as things do change at the Council and the Cabinet needs to respond to this ever changing world.

In this review, there have been a few changes to portfolios. This is not a reflection of the abilities of the Portfolio Holders as the review looked at how the portfolios fit into the new corporate director structures. This is to make sure responsibilities between portfolios and corporate directors are more in line with the new Council structures.

So who is responsible for what? I remain with Children’s Services role, which I am really pleased with. Here other changes are:

IMG_4642.PNG

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet decides its budget for the next four-years

The November meeting of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet met to discuss the Council’s budget for not only next year, but for the next four years too. As I have said before, you cannot lose one-third of the Council’s budget – £196m – and it not affect services. The budget for the next four-years has taken around 5 months to put together and has been a very difficult task due to the sheer scale of having to deal with such a huge reduction.

Before I go on let’s be clear on the reason Cornwall Council – like so many other council’s across the land – are having to set budgets like we are is because of the brutality of the Government’s cuts to council funding. As I said before, how would you deal with having to lose one-third of you household or business income?

It has been a very difficult task with a lot of difficult choices, some too difficult and have not been included. No-one in the Cabinet or the Directors wants to set this difficult budget. But we have to. As to delay or not tackle the issue of less money will result in more money having to be found later. That would result in more service cuts. Even though the Cabinet had to find massive savings, we still wanted to protect certain areas. These areas are services to the vulnerable, roads and the bus network. Even though these areas have been protected, they have not escaped reductions or cuts.

The Cabinet have put together this budget, but all councillors have had the ability to give their views on the budget by means of the PAC process, or put in simpler terms a series of committee meetings. The public too have had their chance to have a say by a series of public consultations. The report on the budget and the business plan is available HERE.

During yesterday’s debate, each Cabinet Member talked about their individual portfolios and the impact this budget will have on their portfolio. Children’s Services will have a 23% reduction in cash terms. This will result in a whole host of reductions or changes to how services are provided. It is hard to list them all in this blog post, but clicking on this LINK and scrolling down to CSF will show you the impact this budget will have on Children’s Services.

After each Cabinet Member had their say, it was the turn of the backbenchers to give their views. These views ranged from against the budget to what choice do we have and but support.  After those who wanted to say something did,  a vote was taken by the Cabinet who unanimously approved the budget. This is not the end of the process, as even though the Cabinet approved the budget, it is the full membership of the Council who have the final say. This debate will take place on the 25th November. It is only at this meeting and vote will we know if we have a four-year budget.

The Cabinet at The Royal Cornwall Show

It was decided for the Cabinet and Cornwall Council to have a very small stand at this years Royal Cornwall Show; where the public could meet the various members of the Cabinet during the shows three days. Fear not, the stand was a table and a couple of chairs, surrounded by two corporate banners. It was important to have a presence, rather than a flashy display.

I volunteered to do the Saturday stint, and was on hand to answer questions and if required, take details for the inquiries to be followed up. It was also good to hear people congratulate the council for jobs well done. It is always good to hear positive feedback as well as the areas we don’t meet the publics expectations.

As a bonus, the weather was good, and there was no requirement for wellies!

20140609-115140-42700505.jpg

All Change for Cornwall Council’s Directors

You would have to had lived on Mars to not know the Council is facing a huge pressure on its budget. £196m is a real game changer, and by 2018 the Council you currently know will change.

The first change is to the Corporate Leadership and Directors. This means that the number of corporate directors (including the role of assistant chief executive) will be reduced from six to three.

Detailed role profiles are under development and will be a matter for formal consultation, but the broad areas of accountability for the three corporate director roles are:

Economy and the environment
Localism, business management, organisational development, community safety and protection
Education, social care and health

The new structure has been discussed with and is supported by the Cabinet. The new CEO has acted swiftly and I fully support this.

Once the appointments to the new roles are made, there will be a review of the shape and structure of services within the new directorates. This will be done in consultation with employees and their representatives.

This is the first step in a process of moving to a new shape of organisation that will be able to deliver services with less money.

Is a bigger Bodmin office the right move?

Now I have recovered from the mammoth Cabinet meeting of some 25 items, many of which were complex, I can blog as to why I voted against the bigger Bodmin offices. Before I do, I will say that out of the 25 items, only three of those decisions did not have unanimous support from the Cabinet. So this post is not a disagreement with my Cabinet colleagues, but coming to a different conclusion.

In theory, I have no objection to a bigger office in Bodmin or anywhere else as long as it is strategically right. The last administration did come to the conclusion that to help deal with the massive budget pressures, the Council cannot afford all the buildings the Council occupies now or previously.

This leads me on to the overall office rationalisation of reducing the number of main offices the Council occupies. Let’s face it; the Council is going to struggle to fund the existing accommodation without having to take the savings from other parts of the Council. This will no-doubt affect front-line services.

By building a bigger office in Bodmin, we could reduce the number of other offices and benefit from the savings. However, when this is suggested or god-forbid implemented it is met with opposition; as national and local politicians often want a council office in their location. So office rationalisation often fails to be implemented as well as it can be. Looking at this from a purely financial angle, if we built a bigger office, the Council could save £750,000 per year, and reduce a further £1.7 million in maintenance. Tough choices, yes, but if cannot make them, how will we be able to deal with the massive cuts of £196m in the next five years?

Of course this will not be popular, but which is more popular: the ability of providing front-line services, or having lots of buildings in different locations which do not provide front-line provision. My answer is providing front-line services. Hence why did not think the recommendations went far enough in trying to save money in office accommodation and making sure we provide the services to people, especially to the most vulnerable.

The other reason I was did not agree with the recommendation is why are we building a larger office for BT? This ‘preferred’ tenant has given nothing more than a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ of actually becoming tenants. This has me very worried, we all know BT are a very sharp corporate body who would only become tenants if it suited them, not the Council’s requirement to service the load repayments.

Furthermore, BT has not signed a pre-let agreement which would give some security of actually taking up the tenancy. This is despite BT being asked for some sort of pre-let. Are your alarm bells ringing? For me, yes they are. As what will happen If BT do not become our tenant? Then what? That answer is the Council would have to fill it some how.

So go big, which will save money, this will allow the Council the best chance to provide services. BUT before you build, have your tenant(s) signed up the best you can, or else you will end up trying to fill a large building on the hoof. This course of action never works.

Out of the 10 Cabinet Members, only six voted for the recommendations set out in the report. However, this is now a Cabinet decision and we as a Cabinet all get behind it

Council Tax set to rise by 1.97%

Yesterday, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet approved the budget for 2014/15. This is subject to the final approval of Full Council, who have the final say on the budget.  Contained within the overall budget, is a recommendation for a rise in Council Tax of 1.97%. This however, is only one possible increase in the Council Tax bill.  As the Council Tax bill is made up of three parts: Cornwall Council, the parish/town council precept and Devon and Cornwall Police. This will more than likely result in a higher increase in bills than 1.97%.

No-one likes to raise tax unnecessary, but in Cornwall Council’s case, it has little option. This is due to the stinging cuts to the Councils grant, and with the added restraint of a cap on the limit Council Tax can go up without a referendum. It is a bleak picture, as the Council is having to find £196m in savings on top of the £170m reduction in the last four years.

The big question is how do we deal with the cuts and at the same time deal with a greater demand on our services? And for that question to be answered, we need the public to engage – and vice-versa – with the Council on how best we do that. This process of better engagement started this year, with more public consultation events than ever before, and by using different ways of engaging with people. Like You Choose. It is paramount we as a Cabinet and Council must build on this for the following years budget setting.

 

 

The Second Town and Parish Council Summit

On Saturday, Cornwall Councils Cabinet hosted the second town and parish council summit at Kingsley Village.

The event had a reasonable turn out of around 90 people from 50 councils. It would have been nice to seem more representation from the 218 odd town and parish councils in Cornwall. But it is not that easy to find a suitable date or location that pleases all.

The town and parish council were given a budget briefing on the current position and the difficulties for the budget in the next four years.

Questions were asked by the representatives of the town and parish councils; many of the budget, plus others on the individual areas of the representatives. There were the usual questions on planning, the incinerator, car parking, buses and decisions Cornwall Council had previously made.

Sadly only one question was on the Portfolio I cover. But at least it was better than none!

20130922-125504.jpg

I hope the Councillors and clerks from the town and parish councils in attendance got the message Cornwall Council really wants to work with the town and parish councils. However, we know we are not always going to agree on every idea or request. But we must find solutions together because the future of local government will be very different from where it currently is now.

The First Week as a Portfolio Holder

The first week as Portfolio Holder has passed at a blistering pace. I am still chuffed to bits on having the Children and Young People portfolio, and I am looking forward to meeting everyone who contributes to this directorate. I am not one who just sits at County Hall, and will be looking forward to actually meeting the people who are in the field making sure our young people get the right service.

I have also been made very welcome in the role and everyone has been extremely helpful in bring me up to speed on current situations. More in-depth briefings will be happening in the next few weeks, so there will be a lot to take on.

It has been a good start.

Childrens Porfolio and other positions

The discussion of which Cabinet portfolio is assigned to who has taken place today at County Hall. I am very pleased to say I have been given the Childrens Portfolio. This is an area I really wanted, as I have for the last four years been involved in scrutiny and policy development for this portfolio.

The main areas this portfolio covers are:

  • Education and Schools
  • Safeguarding Children
  • Family Services
  • Integrated Youth Services
  • Individual Needs and Disability Services
  • Carers Board

There is a lot to do, but I am really looking to continuing to work within this area. The next few weeks will be taken up with bringing me up to speed on the various areas.

For those worried about the local divisional role I carry out, do not worry, as I will still give the same level of dedication I have given to date. The local role is to me as important as the Cabinet role.

The other portfolio positions are:

  • Devolution and Localism – Jeremy Rowe
  • Health and Adults – Judith Haycock
  • Homes and Communities – Geoff Brown
  • Transport and Waste – Bert Biscoe
  • Environment, Heritage and Planning – Edwina Hannaford
  • Economy and Culture – Julian German
  • Partnerships – Adam Paynter
  • Finance and Resources – Alex Folkes

Cornwall Councils New Cabinet

Today I was made a Cabinet Member at Cornwall Council as one of the Independent Group nominations to the Cabinet. No portfolio has yet been assigned, as that will be confirmed tomorrow afternoon. There are a few areas I am very interested in, but these are just expressions of interest and it will be up to the Leader to assign the portfolio.

Congratulations should also go to my fellow Cabinet Members; John Pollard (leader), Jeremy Rowe (dep leader), Julian German, Geoff Brown, Edwina Hannaford, Alex Folkes, Adam Paynter, Bert Biscoe and Judith Haycock. I am looking forward to working with all of them.

The work is going to be hard as there are tough times ahead. Also the Council will be working under a new governance model which will require a lot more co-operation between the portfolio holders and the portfolio advisory committees (PAC). I also look forward to working with the wider membership of the council, officers and the public. These will be key to pushing Cornwall Council forward.

For those who think I will be suddenly change from poacher to gamekeeper fear not. I will still be tweeting and blogging. I hope using both these platforms I will bring a greater understanding as to how the council works and my new role. if needs be, I will be there to highlight concerns I have publicly.

More tomorrow!

1 2 3 6