Cornwall Council Budget Scrutiny – Day 4
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.