Cuts to council services over the price of a chocolate bar
Tuesday’s Budget meeting was always going to be long and heated. As I have said previously, it was the battle of the 0% budgets and the Cabinet preferred option of the 1.97% increase, or to put it into monetary terms the increase to the Council Tax bill would be 42 pence per week on a Band D property, or 10p on a Band A.
Let’s be clear, no-one likes to raise Council Tax unnecessary. That is a fact. But for the last two years Cornish residents have had a 0% increase in the Cornwall Council part of the Council Tax bill. However, the £170 million and counting cuts to the grant settlements from Government can only be absorbed so far. In the end you run out of areas to streamline, or the favourite in local government circles, restructuring. That means Council Tax has to be raised if people want services to remain.
What actually happened shocked even me for the blatant disregard for setting a Budget that will protect deliverable services. Instead we got headline catching bullet points. That if you look behind them will result in service provision being reduced, and in some cased stopped. No spin, that’s the harsh reality. That is the bases of both amendments.
In a turn of events that no-one expected, least of all the Lib Dems, a great majority of the Conservatives instead of voting against the Lib Dem amendment, voted for it. This was carried and that made it the substantive motion. The Cons, then withdrew their amendment (after lunch officially). This left only one option on the table.
You cannot help but think the Lib Dems were out-manoeuvred by the Cons in the vote. Especially as the Con amendment had the unworkable tag from the S151 officer. So it had little if any chance of getting approved. And as it is so close to an election, the two big parties could not be seen to lose the advantage to each other. Furthermore, and confirmed by two of the four group leaders, there was common ground to support the 1.97% Budget but one group leader would not. Guess who? Yes, the Cons group leader.
Before the final vote on the substantive motion (the amendment, now formally adopted.) was taken, the interim CEO, Paul Masters also spelt out the impact on staffing levels and therefore service provision this substantive motion would have. This will be at least (I would say more) 135 jobs lost, which will be made up of full, part, agency and temporary staff. With no staff, there will be no service to provide. There is also the redundancy costs which unsurprisingly have not been factored in, and now will have to be found from somewhere. Yes, you’ve guessed it, more cuts.
The S151 Officer made it perfectly clear to all those present that a pro-rata cut would be applied to all Directorates if the amendment was carried. These details and impact was also read out before the vote, just to make sure everyone knew what they were about to vote on. You’ll be surprised how often people do not understand, or get confused on what they are voting for. You only got to watch the webcast to see. (Well you could have, but that will be gone under the cuts!).
As you can see, £0.8 million from Adult Social Care, £0.7 million for Children’s, £0.3 million from Shared Services which includes call centres and libraries and £0.4 million from Localism, Strategy and Communications. For the latter, this cut would completely stop certain functions.
The vote was finally taken and 52 Councillors voted for, with 49 against the substantive motion. There were also 3 abstentions. For the record, I voted against the substantive motion.
What the residents of Cornwall ended up with from the decision, is pretty looking headlines for the forthcoming elections. It looks very nice Lib Dem/Conservatives gave you a 0% increase, so vote for us. But get beyond the election, these very same people will be wondering how their pretty headlines will actually deliver services. The truth is they will not.
It is well recorded that I have never been a fan of the JV, but this budget has almost certainly killed off that process and if the reduced figures are actually true on the savings, including the ‘created’ jobs, these have now all but gone. So much so, the Cabinet meeting set for today, which included the final decision on the JV, and the issuing of the Invite to Tender has now been postponed until a later date.
For less than a price of a (weekly) chocolate bar, these services and functions could have been saved. But I guess having a good election leaflet is better than doing what’s right for Cornwall.
Staff who work so hard delivering services must feel so undervalued. I spoke to many staff who all wondered if they had a job after today’s vote. Some were in tears. Others just could not believe what had happened. It may have been forgotten by some Councillors, but staff are also residents, who can vote and their families vote will no doubt be very tempted to put an X in a different box in May. Especially after Tuesday and setting a Budget on political grounds, rather than what is good for Cornwall.
However, the most unsettling part of the day, was when Councillors were gleefully smiling that the motion they supported was carried. It was sickening to watch and I was ashamed to be in the council chamber with them.
Furthermore, and more bizarrely, the very same people who were saying we must protect the council tax payers, and without any irony, were proposing a £2.30 odd increase per week in council house rents. You really could not make it up
And later today, the Corporate Leadership Team will be having an emergency meeting to discuss the massive impacts this Budget will have on services. This is on top of an email sent this morning by Cllr Toms, the Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care on the dire consequences that will have to be actioned with almost immediate effect just to balance the books.