CAMBRIDGESHIRE could face a public sector cash crisis that means services have to survive in five years time on a 35 per cent lower budget than now, the county council warned this week. The council assumes that cash from central Government will not rise

CAMBRIDGESHIRE could face a public sector cash crisis that means services have to survive in five years' time on a 35 per cent lower budget than now, the county council warned this week.

The council assumes that cash from central Government will not rise in real terms over the next five years, leaving CCC with a £113million black hole to fund services.

It has now started an intensive process of trying to identify where it, the county's five district councils, the NHS and other organisations that rely on Whitehall funding can remove duplication and slim down their combined cost-base. Between them, they spend around £2billion of our money every year.

Around half of the county council's spending goes on schools - but their budgets are ring-fenced and excluded from these gloomy calculations.

What makes the problem worse is first that Cambridgeshire is already quite efficient in public spending terms - it is given a four-out-of-four rating for use of resources by the watchdog body, the Audit Commission - and secondly that it has already delivered some of the synergies it is now looking for. Health and social services budgets for 'older people' were combined four years ago and have been successfully operated as a single unit by NHS Cambridgeshire, the primary care trust, since then.

Moreover, Cambridgeshire is the fastest-growing area in the country, so resources will become increasingly stretched as the same amount of cash has to cover a rapidly-increasing - and aging - population, with less money spent on each adult and child.