Cornwall Council – Battle of the Budget

Yesterday’s Council (click HERE for the Agenda) meeting was a mammoth session. It was also one of the most important meetings of this Council since its formation. The main agenda item was the emergency budget that proposed cuts of £170 million over the next four years. Cutting is something no-one likes to do, but the stark reality is that central government is cutting the grants it gives to Local Authorities.

We have repeatedly been told by various financial officers that these cuts are going to be bad and we must address them sooner rather than later. For me, I can understand that logic, especially if waiting will result in more cuts. Again Councillors were told that any delay could result in a further £5.6 million of cuts. I have no reason to doubt those senior professional officers when they say what they do. After all, we as a Council employ them because they are experts in their fields. I don’t think there is a Councillor at Cornwall Council who has the same qualifications, or experience as these senior officers have. So when they say something is bad, then I as a Councillor will listen.

One of the main issues that I do have is the timing of the budget. It has been discussed before the Government announces the actual figure of cuts in real money terms. So yesterday’s budget was on indications, or intentions of the likely cuts; not hard figures. These figures range from 10%-12.8% in first year cuts to the grants. I would have preferred to have waited until these figures were released before discussing this, but that did not happen and was beyond my control.

The budget debate opened with the political group leaders setting out their cases The Leader of the Council got 15 minutes, with the rest of the group leaders getting 10. This in itself took an hour and I have to say it was unnecessary and far too long winded for my liking. I felt that I had heard it many times before and nothing new was said. It was then over to the other Members of the Council to make their points. I stood up and said a few words along the lines of I don’t like to cut and would have preferred to wait. However, I would in principle support this process if I got the reassurance that if the grant cut was lower than expected, then that money is reassigned to those areas that had been cut.

The Liberal Democrats tabled a few amendments to the proposals which can be read HERE. I felt that some of these had merits I would and did support, others I felt had no merit. The amendments that I did support were 9 and 10. All these amendments were close contests and only lost by a few votes. Things got a little heated when I tired to press for a amendment to allow 0.15% (185K) of the reserves to be earmarked to allow more time for certain leisure facilities to be saved. The Chairman had to stand up twice (indicates all talking must stop) and one other Councillor was threatened with removal.

I also seconded Cllr Ferguson’s motion (page 3 of the amendments) to the removal of the ‘Cornwall Sports Village’ AKA Cornwall Stadium because I felt that this should not be in this budget and should be discussed at a later date by the full Council when all the facts were present. This motion was won and had cross party support. The other part of the motion by Cllr Ferguson, which I also seconded, was the reduction of the budget that Cornwall Council spends at the Royal Cornwall Show. This is around £46k, but does not include staffing costs. I wanted to see a reduction because it was hard to justify cutting services when we would still spend a lot on this. I am sad to say this was overwhelmingly defeated. I felt Councillors were more concerned with this, than trying to save various leisure facilities.

Futhermore, I supported one of MK’s amendments (page 5). This I believed was just and right, but I could not support their other amendment because this would have included severance payments for the higher levels.

After four and a half hours of debate a vote was taken on the budget that included all the other amendments that had been carried. This was going to be close as out of a maximum of 123 Councillors only 99 remained. The vote was taken and the budget was carried by 60 votes for, 39 against with one abstention (the Chairman). I voted in favour, because I felt listening to all the debate and taking part in all of the scrutiny meetings that I realised the real danger the Council was in. I had pressed and won on my two redline areas and felt I had achieved what I had set out to do at the beginning of this process. As I said before, if the cuts are lower then I will expect those cuts to be reassigned. If they are not, then there will be hell to pay when we set another budget in January.

5 comments

  • Anonymous

    all talk and little action for the pople of west cornwall, just look after yourself Cllr Wallis.

  • Anonymous

    Cuts of £170 million and you are boasting how you seconded a motion to reduce expenditure of an item that costs £46,000 a year,wow Im so glad I voted for you…

  • Cllr Andrew Wallis

    Dear Anon, No one likes to cut, but the grant formula the govt gives us had bees reduced and they have capped Council Tax. Do you have a better idea, or do you have a money tree in your garden?

    We could have waited and then had to find another £5.6 million in cuts. As I said no one likes to cut, but we like all Councils are in tough times.

  • Anonymous

    Oh dear looks like censorship is on the loose ,lets try again,only a couple of weeks ago you did a "stand up and be counted" post,that sounded great -however when it comes to the vote you vote in favour of the cuts.
    So if youd voted against the cuts would you have kept your committee posts?
    You state you pressed and won on your reline areas,I was under the impression it was the lib dems that presed and won on them
    With cuts of £170 million do you really think its impressive that you seconded a motion to reduce expenditure on an item that costs less than £50,000 a year?
    The people who voted for you expected more,how many letters/ emails did you receive asking you to vote against the cuts?

  • Cllr Andrew Wallis

    Dear Anon, It has nothing to do with censorship. It is simple rules of the blog as to what gets posted.

    The post 'Stand up and be counted' was about the saying on thing, but doing another. It concerned the likelihood of a shared MP with Devon. All six Cornish MPs campaigned against this, but all put one voted in favour. I merely said if you campaign against something then why vote for it? It was nothing to do with the Council's budget.

    My two redlines were the proposed cut in the Post-16 travel and the removal of the travel subsidy along 27 bus routes. I shall take the Post-16 first. I am a member of the Children's School & Families Committee where this function sits. I as a Member of this Committee did propose that this was not included in the proposed cuts. It had the committees full support and was removed from the cuts.

    On the second point, whilst I cannot single handily claim I stopped the cut in the bus subsidy I was though, very vocal and joined with others from all the political groups for this not to be included. I even had a meeting with the Portfolio Holder to express my views. The Portfolio Holder before anyone could propose anything presented a change of policy. This was adopted into the final budget report.

    I also attended all the Scrutiny meetings though-out the process so I can honestly say I did have a very good grasp of what was going on.

    As to the other motions I did seconded. I thought they were valid and would happily do it again. I just one Councillor out of 123, but I do stand up for those who elect me.

    As for letters. I received 7 generic printed letters from various people. These were the same letters that were sent to many other Councillors.

    Maybe you would like to meet me in person, so you can discuss any issues you have? I am always available to talk, but it is hard to discuss any issue when you post anonymous.

    I guess I can say that I do stand up and be counted as my name is displayed on this blog and write about my views, trails and frustrations.

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