Government confirms final Local Government Finance Settlement 2016/17

The Government has now confirmed its final Local Government finance settlement for 2016/17 with some minor changes to the provisional settlement. In the provisional settlement, Cornwall Council lost a further £6m in funding with some slight-of-hand moving of rural funding into urban areas. Details HERE.

In what could be seen as the Government realising its error, it has increase the pot of money to the Rural Services Delivery Grant (RSG) by £91m over the periods of 2016/17 and 2017/18. For Cornwall Council this equates to a one-off increase in funding of £2.945m in 2016/17 and £1.460m in 2017/18. Allocations for 2018/19 and 2019/20 remain as per the provisional settlement.

Whilst I welcome this slight change of heart, it still means Cornwall Council is still down roughly £1.4m from the previous budget.

financegraph

Furthermore, the New Home Bonus nationally has seen an increase to the final New Homes Bonus allocations increasing the total amount to £1.462bn. This has resulted in a small reduction to the returned New Homes Bonus adjustment grant to a number of authorities.

The bad news is Cornwall Council’s overall NHB allocation reduces by £0.011m in both 2016/17 and 2017/18 and £0.007m in both 2018/19 and 2019/20 compared to the provisional settlement allocations.

Most of the other changes in the final settlement impact on District Council’s apart from the Government will consult on allowing well-performing planning departments to increase their fees in line with inflation at the most, providing that revenue reduces the cross subsidy that the planning function currently gets from Council Tax payers.

 

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet recommends to Full Council a 3.97% raise in Council Tax for 2016/17

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet has today recommended the amount each household will pay in Council Tax for the 2016/17 period. The final approval for the Council’s budget rests with all 123 Cornwall Councillors at a Full Council meeting.

Any reader of this blog will know the austerity imposed on local authorities like Cornwall Council has resulted in services being reduced or stopped. Even with the latest Spending Review, the Government in a rather underhanded way reduced Cornwall Council’s grant by a further £6m.

A slight positive in that Spending Review is local authorities can opt for a four-year funding settlement rather than a yearly one. This gives the Council scope to plan better rather than waiting each year to play the guessing game on how much funding the Council will lose. We will be accepting the Governments offer of a four-year settlement.

Also in that review, the Chancellor introduced a new levy of a 2% increase in Council Tax to be spent on Adult Social Care. My annoyance with this is there is more to social care than adults. Children’s Services pay a large and important part too. Yet, the Government has again forgotten about this very important element in this levy.

As I said the 2% can only be spent on Adult Social Care services. At face value this is good, as more funding will go towards Adult Social Care. However, the £21m this will raise over the next four-years, £16m will go towards implementing the Governments living wage in this sector. I am a firm believer in the minimum wage, but this should be funded correctly by the Government, and not left to local taxation. This also means you end up with a postcode lottery on the amount of money it raises due to the Council Tax base rates which differ between each local authority.

Yet, this will improve this service area not only in wages, but it will protect some of the services. If the social care precept was not added, then these services would be at risk because of the cuts to the Government’s grant.

In the Council’s four-year budget plan, Cornwall Council’s Council Tax rate will raise by 1.97%. This is not because we want to, but because many millions have been taken away by the Government by means of the grant.

The next step, subject to Full Council approval in February, Cornwall Council’s element of the Council Tax (CT is made up of Cornwall Council, Town/Parish Precept and Police) will rise by 3.97%. The true percentage will be higher once you add in the police and town/parish precepts.

The current level of Council Tax for a Band D property is £1,293.92 and will rise to £1,345.29 in 2016/17. This equates to a £51.37 per year, or £4.20 per month, or 98p per week rise on a Band D property if you just include Cornwall Council’s element.

As I said previously, raising taxes is not something we want to do. However, the very fact Cornwall Council has had its budget cut slashed by Government so much, there is little other option but to raise Council Tax.

 

Welfare Reforms and the Bedroom Tax

Usually Cornwall Council is pretty good on briefing its elected members on major changes to funding, or items that will have an impact on the lives of people who we serve. On Monday, there was a  briefing on the Governments Welfare Reforms that will start in April 2013.

My view is any reform to the welfare state has to be for the right reasons, not just reforming the system to save money. That is never a good idea, as it often harms those most in need. Reform should only be carried out to make sure those most in need get the help they require. Granted, it is a difficult balancing act, but as I have just said, a change just to save money is a dangerous way to carry out a reform. More so as this welfare reform is the biggest in 60 years.

The current welfare system has over 30 different kinds of benefits schemes, so I won’t disagree that it  could do with a little streamlining to make it understandable to those administering and using the system. This streamlining is being carried out by the introduction of the Universal Credit (UC). Basically, this is a single means-tested support for working-age people who are in or out-of work.

The aim of the UC is designed to ensure work pays; it will personalise conditions according to people’s capability and circumstances, and is payable in a single monthly payment. A worrying point on the one monthly payment is this will be made to the head of the household. I fear this could lead to further issues.

There is also a cap to how much will be paid. This cap on the amount paid will be no more than the UK average household earnings. From figures I have, the current average wage in the UK is £26, 079 (Cornwall it is £21,258). A question was asked at the briefing was would the amount pay be based on regional pay, the answer was no. The current benefit cap is £35,000. Members were informed that this new cap of the average wage would affect 150 families in Cornwall.

Of course, there are far more details on these changes available via the normal channels, like the council’s One Stop Shop. I am not staying the system will be the Holy Grail of welfare reform, as with any new system there are still many of the actual details to be released, and more strangely still to be agreed. Which brings me on to another point of why do successive Governments roll-out new schemes when the real detail has not been finalised? It is like buying a new pair of shoes and only getting the box, and then you have to wait to see what type of shoe you have brought, and find out if they actually fit!

However, the real snake-in-the-grass in this reform is the changes to Housing Benefit. This has the potential to really hurt the people not only in Cornwall, but the rest of the country, too. Under the new scheme if you live in either social housing (a council house) or private rental and you have a spare bedroom(s), the Government is going to reduce your Housing Benefit.

For example, if you have one spare room, you will see a reduction in payment of 14%. In monetary terms (average rent) this equals to £9.70 per week reduction. For two or more spare bedrooms this reduction goes up to 25%, again in monetary terms this is £18.50 per week.

I think the rationale behind this is to make people downsize houses that are not in full use, and therefore free up some under used housing. However, this only would work if you have a surplus stock of houses so it is easy to downsize when rooms are surplus for one reason or another. In Cornwall there is a critical shortage of social housing (22,000 on the waiting list), so it is very hard to downsize because of the lack of social housing. So you will be penalised for no fault of your own!

From next year, the Government will reduce your Housing Benefit if you have spare rooms; even if you cannot move though no fault of your own. Like the lack of available housing. This is a totally wrong on all levels. These cuts will put on added pressure to find that extra money and will also lead to people struggling to pay their rent; which means someone could lose their home. Under the current rules being homeless for non-payment of rent/mortgage is classed as making yourself homeless. Making yourself homeless means the council has no duty to house you.

The figures of households that will be affected by this change is 1200 for Cornwall Council owned social housing (Cornwall Housing). The actual number of households that will be affected is going to be far, far greater because the other Registered Social Landlords (RSL), which includes Coastline Housing, Penwith Housing etc have yet to tell Cornwall Council their numbers. And you will have to add in all the private rental, too. I was told these details would be available by September. However, figures of 33% of households that could be affected were mentioned at this briefing.

These changes will not only be restricted to RSL housing, as those in private rental, will also be subject to the new rules. That I believe will have a far greater impact on people than first thought.

Cornwall already has  a housing crisis with the lack of affordable rents, this change to the benefits it going to hurt people the benefit system was meant to help.

To add to Cornwall’s concerns is the funding for Cornwall Council council tax support will have a £6m shortful when this new system comes into effect. There is one positive, these changes will not effect pensioners.

Cornwall’s Train Service to be Cut?

The Government has just announced a massive investment in the countries rail network to the tune of £9 billion. You would think this would be good news, but for Cornwall it might not be.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has told Cornwall Council that it plans to cut the three of the nine direct services to and from London.  The DfT has included these reductions in the Invitation to Tenders, which Great Western Rail Franchise is part of. This is a bitter blow to the council who have invested over £35m in the local rail network over the last decade.

Cornwall Council understands the importance of the rail network in Cornwall to both business and leisure. It showed this commitment by helping to meet the cost of upgrading the signalling, station improvements, and other infrastructure improvements. The council has been rewarded for this investment by a reduction to the service.

The council lobbied for a 30 minute mainline service in Cornwall. Sadly this has in reality been turned down as the DfT has said this would be up to the operator and would place no obligation on the operator to do this.

It is not all bad news, as the Truro to Falmouth service will become part of the deal. This is because the service is now financially viable. This means Cornwall Council does not have to subsidise the service anymore. This also means it does not get a share of the profits either!

Let’s hope the serious lobbying to safeguard the current service to MP’s, Member of the House of Lords and other key people by Cornwall Council pay’s off. As if not, the council has given a warning to the DfT it will campaign on all levels to make sure the current service continues.

But will the DfT listen? Answers on a postcard

Street Cleaning in Doubt?

We all know Cornwall Council is under extreme pressure to save money. The Council is looking into various areas where it could save money. This is to be welcomed as long as it does not affect the service which has seen a budget cut. One of the latest areas that is ear-marked for change is street cleaning.
Street cleaning like waste collection is a fundamental service provided by Cornwall Council. It should carry out this duty to the highest standard. It is what people expect from paying their Council Tax.

A proposal that is being banded around is to carryout only a very basic street clean. But, if a town or parish require a top-up or a premium clean it will have to pay extra for it. It reminds me of the options at a car-wash. The very basic service barely cleans your car, but the super-duper (and costly) option makes your car look like new.

This proposal is just plan wrong. It will lead to a two-tier system where the larger town could have the means to pay for it, but the smaller towns will struggle to precept the money for any ‘extras’. Furthermore, it will look to the public like a double taxation.
I hope that before anyone is even thinking of introducing this all town and parishes must be consulted for their views. The town and parish views are important because they will be the ones who will have to deal with the fallout if this proposal comes into force.

Cornwall Council Budget – Ouch!

A few hours ago the emergency budget for Cornwall Council was released to the general public. As many will know this information was already in the public domain, but I as a Councillor could not comment on it because it was still marked ‘confidential’. So what has changed from that draft info to today’s report? I would say nothing that I could make out. I can honestly say it is going to be bad, but what alternative is there?

Current Recommendations for Service Cuts 2010-11


Communities

  • Removal of funding for Fire Service Support and Improvement Team (£250k)
  • Reduction in subsidy to Leisure Services (500k)
  • Reduction in leisure provision (220k)
  • Emergency Planning (50k)
  • Removal of a number of OSS shops (250k)
  • Rationalisation of Libraries (250k)
  • Libraries and One Stop Shops 0.000 (475k)
  • Reduction in culture budget (50k)

Environment Planning and Economy

  •  Review Beach Water Safety, toilet provision and cleaning for non owned beaches (100k)
  •  Transportation, Waste and Environment Client reorganisation (800k)
  •  Part removal of Bus subsidy (50k)
  • Removal of support to evening and Sunday bus services (500k)
  • Truro park & ride (250k)
  • Transport Studies (300k)
  • Part removal of Bus subsidy (100k)
  • Removal of Post-16 Transport subsidy (Budget held by Children’s) (500k) (500k 2nd year)
  • Newquay Airport – increased income and car park charges (75k)
  • Waste – removal of all recycling banks (168k)
  • Waste Education (200k)
  • Removal of travel awareness budget (300k)
  • Traffic management (125k)
  • Road safety Education (100k)
  • Further reductions in Cornwall Development Company contract (150k) (200k)

Children’s

  •  Connexions services further reduction over the 25% (400k)
  •  Additional grant cuts on top of 24% abg and connexions (800k)

Chief Executives

  • Publicity and photography (16k)
  • Stop Council newspaper column (50k)

Adults
  • Removal of uplift for Adult Social Care (£4m)

Total Cabinet Recommendations on Potential Service Cuts £10.554 million. As you can see these cuts are really going to hurt services that we provide.

Leisure seems to take a hit with the closure and/or removal of funding for Budehaven, Camelford Leisure Centres and Hayle outdoor pool.  Jubilee Pool, Penzance transferred to a non-council organisation, or if not, I guess it will close. The remaining centres that are under the councils control could be placed into a Trust, but as yet I have not seen any details on how that would work. Would the Council owned centre in Helston be allowed to become a trust on its own or with other centres. Helston’s centre is the only one in the west that is still under council control. Most of the council owned ones are in the North of the County

The Libraries and One Stop Shops (OSS) have been targeted as well. It looks from the report that some will be merged together and those who are not well used will closed. This could be up to 20 Libraries and 10 OSS. I shall be eagerly waiting for the model on what qualifies to stay or goes. Helston’s Library has recently been refurbished, so I would hope that is safe. Otherwise it would be a criminal waste of money to refurbish, but then close it.

A shocking and brutal cut that will have impact on people’s lives is the removal of all subsidies for evening bus services. At present this service carries around 460,000 people a year. 27 bus routes could be removed. This will really hurt rural areas that rely on bus services. This is one area I will really struggle to support when it’s time to vote. After my recent brush with public transport the service is bad enough already. This would make it worse.

Post-16 travel subsidy is also likely to go. This again is an area that I will struggle to support. Its all well and good saying colleges will pick up the slack because they need students or else they don’t get funding, but colleges are facing cuts as well. It will be down to the families to find the money. For those on low incomes this would be unaffordable and it would result in a drop in those attending college.

These are just some of the areas that are going to be cut, or removed. For the full report please click HERE and the Agenda click HERE.

All these areas will go though the Scrutiny process first. This could allow those back-bench Councillors to make changes to what is proposed. Even if some are changed, we still have to find other areas to cut to make up the shortfall.

Tough times ahead

Now no one can be under any illusion that Cornwall Council faces a difficult few years. Its got to save £100 million over that period. The trick is how to do that without effecting services. We are told that we have made savings post the formation of the Unitary Council. But, you have to ask yourself where these extra savings will come from if we are indeed running a tight ship that has been previously claimed.

A figure of 2000 jobs to go has been banded about. Sure that is possible, but it’s not a certainty that number of jobs will indeed go. How can you cut jobs and it not effect services, or cut services and not affect jobs? No matter what is decided someone; something is going to be affected. 

The Government is undertaking a wholesale spending review, and that is not going to be completed until October. Until that has been completed we really don’t have definitive figures. Once those have been released Cornwall Council will then hold its own Budget to reflect those cuts and changes. A more important issue that needs to be address is the staff moral. With many rumours flying around it will be hard for people to be positive and not worry about their futures. Some may jump ship before, and with a recruiting freeze that could affect services too.

One things is for sure is that we must not say “we are doomed” like a certain Private Fraser would say in a tight spot. What we must do is to make sure what ever happens that we are still able to provide the service that people expect and require.

Once upon a time…..

Once upon a time at a Council Kingdom near you, there was a meeting. This meeting was not going to be good for some. They were all given an envelope. It’s rumoured to contain two different types of letter. One will tell them that their job is safe, the other will say it could be under a review, as the Kingdom needs to save money.

A far fetched story? You would hope so…

CCTV and the costs

The other day I attended an inquiry day set-up by Cornwall Council. This was on the cost and effectiveness of CCTV in Cornwall. To be honest, I have got accustomed to seeing these cameras in various locations around our towns. I thought overall they are a good thing if they reduce crime and make people feel more safe. I am not one of those who believes its a infringement on our civil liberties being watched by these cameras.

In Cornwall there are 4 CCTV systems covering 14 towns with 161 cameras in total. Two of the systems are operated in-house with the other two are outsourced. The four systems are run and controlled at Truro, Liskeard (in house) and Hayle and Newquay (outsourced).

Currently these systems cost £984,000 to run and operate. This is broken down by the following. Maintenance £147,000, Monitoring £600,000, Transmission £163,000, Other £74,000 .

This is funded via £833,000 by Cornwall Council, £151,000 by various Town Councils. The most surprising aspect of this is that the Police make no financial contribution to the running cost  except that they allow two of the systems to use the Police Stations rent free.

Now to the point of the Police funding, or lack of it. This raised everyone’s eyebrows to say the least. Surely the main beneficiaries to this system are the police. In fact, an independent report by Deloittee Consulting said that the use of CCTV equated to having another 29 Officers on the beat. The answer from the Police representative said we had no statutory duties to fund CCTV.  A question later to the consultant about do the Police fund CCTV schemes in other Authorities was answered yes, either fully, partly or as in Cornwall’s case, not at all.

As for why we are having the inquiry on CCTV is party due to the cost, including the value of money to Cornwall Council. There is also a claim from various investigations that there is limited, if any, evidence of public realm CCTV actually reducing crime based on national evidence. Now this is not to say it does not, or it can be used to prevent crime as in stopping incidents escalating because it’s been caught early and dealt with. Not to mention that it gives the public a peace of mind.

We are also at a point that capital investment is required to replace ageing equipment estimated at £500k plus £100k per annum. Could this and the running costs more effectively used funding other crime prevention and reduction schemes? What must also be looked at is if the Police and/or other parties will agree to fund revenue and capital costs. If not, one of the proposals on the table is to simply flick the switch to off.

What is going to happen now is various avenues and questions raised at this first day will be brought back to be thrashed out before the findings and recommendations are presented to the OSC, who will then report to Cabinet for a final decision.

I got the feeling from the Police that they were unhappy/unlikely to agree to fund CCTV fully or partly. The question is, can the Council afford to pay for this service?

The Cuts at Cornwall Council

Yesterday we had our first Budget under the new Coalition Government. Depending on your political view point you agree, disagree, or you just want to know how much money you might lose once you made sense of all the figures.

Cornwall Council has already been informed by the Government of further cuts.  These amount to £13.668 million in Government grants, and include both capitol and revenue grants. That’s quite a chunk of money to lose in anyone’s books

It could get worse. We could expect a further 20%-25%  in grant cuts as announced yesterday in the Budget.  That’s not to mention the spending reviews taking place by the Government of  Isle of Scilly Link, Building Schools for Future and road improvements over at Camborne/Pool. It is worrying to say the least.

Tough times are indeed ahead.

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