Again I would love to say that everything changed and all services would remain the same. Sadly not. In fact my fear that the first years cuts (as I posted yesterday) would be more than 10% were almost confirmed by the Deputy Leader, Jim Currie. Jim was standing in for the Leader as he was away dealing with the flooding crisis. I have a horrible feeling that the 12.7% is going to be the bench mark.
There was a spat over who said what and when at the Scrutiny Meeting over Camelford Leisure Centre. It turns out that this was not for full funding for a year, but only £50k This is roughly 45% of the budget it takes to run it. I am sure this issue is not going away and those local Members will be lobbying for this before the 30th November.
A really interesting part in the Agenda was on page 53 of the report. This little beauty was called ‘Cornwall Sports Village’. I asked the question of what this means and is this just another name for the Cornwall Stadium. The answer was yes, this could include the stadium (although also not ruled out). So under a different title that could have been easily missed by others was the possible inclusion of a stadium that was listed in new capital funding schemes. It makes you wonder why they did not just say stadium complex, but then again that would have included the word stadium.
I also found out what the Medical Innovation Centre was for. This was to encourage key and sought after professional medical personal into Cornwall. I was told that the reason as to why the Council is doing this is because of funding and assets from the former RDA. I still wonder why the Council has to get involved with this, and not leave it to the NCH. At the end of the day if the money does not comes from within Cornwall Councils budget then, who really cares if someone else pays for it.
The budget recommendations presented today were voted and passed by the Cabinet. It will be now presented to the full Council meeting on the 30th November for the final say. It is going to be lively meeting, with the different groups and people arguing for their parties and the areas they represent.
Day 4 always had the potential to be the stumbling point of the whole scrutiny process of the budget. The reason is the Communities OSC has most of the really contentious issues that face cuts. These included the fire service, swimming pools, leisure centres, libraries, One Stop Shops (OSS) and customer services. All these areas faced cuts in their budgets and potential closures of buildings. Click HERE for the full Agenda
From the start it lived up to that potential when the localism part, which includes the OSS was pulled from this committee. The committee was told that this was now going to be scrutinised by the Corporate Resources OSC. This upset Members because for the last 18 months the Communities OSC had carried out most of the scrutiny work. When probed on who authorised this, no senior Officer, or Cabinet Member was able to say who. Just the line of “it was discussed at a previous meeting” When press further the reaction was more akin to everyone look down at their shoes.
First up to be discussed was the fire service. Great pains were made that there would be no cut to frontline fire fighters, and all cuts would come at what was said to be ‘back office staff and civilianise specific uniformed managers. It was mentioned that the Camborne fire station could be combined with the Redruth in a new station that would cover both areas better. No formal decision was made and it was unlikely to be made before 2013/14. It was also mentioned that there is a possibility that Cornwall’s fire service could find itself merged with other fire services. I asked for more clarification on this matter and was told this would mostly be in the area of HQ and other administrative areas. Again, no final decision has been made, but it was a possibility in the future.
On the leisure centre front another ‘rabbit out of the hat’ moment happened. The Portfolio Holder made a statement that the Camelford Sports Centre was going to be reviewed again. In other words it has had a stay of execution until other avenues have been fully explored with the groups involved in that centre. This decision was made seconds before the start of the meeting by the Portfolio Holder and Leader of the Council. The other centres that the Council owns are most likely going to end up in trust status. I do believe this is the right direction to take and will safeguard their long term future. All that needs to be worked out it what ‘model’ of trust is used. I got the feeling that an ‘in-house’ option was the likely outcome. Yet again, no formal decision has been taken.
The most explosive issue on the whole day was on the issue of libraries. It has been no secret that some could close. The proposal was for a £250k saving in 2011-12 and a further £475k 2012-13. No getting away from it that this meant closures and combining others with the OSS. The problem, which the committee pointed out repeatedly, was that there were no details as to how this was going to be implemented. I have to say a lot ‘key words’ and other council speak was used, but no detail on where and who would be effected. This really annoyed a lot of the committee. They felt how you can scrutinise something to make sure it is right, when you are not given the details. I come to the conclusion that they don’t know, or are too scared to tell because of the backlash to closing them. I feel that it’s the later which is true.
The recommendations from this committee are:
- Re-examination of proposed cuts to the library service before Council make the decision due to lack of detail from Cabinet
- Remove the cut of 5% to the Community Safety Budget
- Closer working with Devon and Cornwall Police
The final day is tomorrow and anything could happen between now and then.
Environment and Economy OSC was at the crease for day 3 of the 5 day scrutiny process. This was likely to be lively due to the number of items that were proposed for cuts.(Click here for the Agenda) The big one for me and many other Councillors was the removal of the evening and Saturday bus services along 27 routes (click here to refresh yourself on those routes). This would have a devastating impact on those areas that would suddenly post 6-7pm find they have no bus service.
The cutting of these routes was for me one of those red-line areas that I could not support and along with others had campaigned behind the scenes to stop this cut. This service cut would have a massive impact on those who I serve. At the end of the day we as Cornwall Councillors do have a strategic role to play for the whole of Cornwall, but you must never forget who elects you to that position and how you must first and foremost defend their interests. That is sometimes a hard juggling act to do without dropping the ball once or twice.
So today I was ready for the fight to protect these to routes with a series of questions and arguments to save them. Before I did get the chance to speak, the Portfolio Holder, Graeme Hicks, handed out another proposal. On this proposal it removed the cutting of these routes by ‘adjusting’ some other figures. The room was silenced. A Member said to Graeme “you certainly pulled that one out of the hat”. Indeed he had, and it is a credit to him that he did rethink his original plan.
I do think that this plan was changed because of the pressure and campaigning behind the scenes (and quite openly) by me and many other back-bench Councillors that this area was a step too far and could not go ahead. Many times people have complained (myself included) that it’s hard to change decisions by Cabinet. Today was a victory for back-bench Councillors applying pressure to the Cabinet Member for a change. Credit again should go to the Cabinet Member for listening and getting his officers to come up with a revised plan that keeps the bus routes.
Other points that were clarified today is there would be no cutting of the budget for lifeguard cover at Cornwall’s beaches. The park and ride in Truro would rise in price from £1.20 to £1.50. It was feared that this could rise to over £2, but the officers said this was not the case. Also not all recycling banks would be removed, buy only those that are not cost effective or are close to larger sites. In the report it said they would be all removed.
A note of caution, this was not a final decision on keeping the routes or the other matters. As they still has to go though the final Cabinet recommendations (which they would be now mad to change) It is then for full Council to vote yes or no on this budget. I do think if these issues stay out from being cut, then a few more Councillors might now put up their hand to support the budget. I guess for that we will have to wait till the 30th of November to see.
Up to bat on the second day of the scrutiny process was the Health and Adults OSC. Some may say this is the area that is most heavily cut, but I will leave that up to you to decide. The Adults side of the directorate has had a rough ride over the last few years and last year was one of the areas that had a large overspend.
The Agenda for today’s proceeding is HERE. As you can see from the report there are many areas that are facing cuts or realignment of budgets. I would like to say that the committee did in fact find other ways of saving certain areas, but sadly they could not. One reason for this is that they (the committee) were told to protect one part; they had to find the shortfall from other parts of the directorate. You could argue that before they started they had one hand tied behind their backs.
Without listing all the areas that face reductions it would be easier to click This Link and see them all listed. The two main areas that will have most impact in this directorate are the removal of the £4m uplift for the first year (increased budget) and the reduction of the Area Based Grant of around 30%, which in real terms equates to £6.35m in savings. As I said before nothing did change save for 3 comments which were made by the committee for Cabinet to take into account before they make their final recommendations to full council. These are:
- Committee raised concerns over the numbers of variables in the budget and how it has been decided
- Concerns about the impact of the removal of the Area Based Grant and the compounding impact on the vulnerable people and this was not clear form the original document
- Any extra funding especially from the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) is considered for the Health and Adult Directorate.
All 3 of these points were voted on and passed by a majority. Point 1: 11 for, 2 against. Point 2: 10 for, 3 against and Point 3 was unanimous. I am not part of this committee, so I did not have any formal vote on the proceeding.