Budget cuts to meet needs of older people

CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council is set to increase spending on older people and children from April by diverting money away from other budgets and increasing charges. Faced with a real-terms reduction in central Government grant and growing numbers of older

CAMBRIDGESHIRE County Council is set to increase spending on older people and children from April by diverting money away from other budgets and increasing charges.

Faced with a real-terms reduction in central Government grant and growing numbers of older and younger people in need of council services, the council is set to hack chunks off its transport, environment, community learning, adult support services and planning and development budgets.

Its cabinet is also likely to approve plans to increase charges to social services clients, when it meets on Friday. The budget will need the formal approval of the full council later in February.

Council Tax - the county council's budget swallows three-quarters of what people pay - is almost certain to rise by a fraction less than five per cent, as district councils and the police and fire authorities plump for similar increases in the hope of avoiding capping. Only parish councils can levy whatever takes their fancy on taxpayers without risking Government intervention.

The county's budget is set to increase from £292million in the current year to £315million before the ring-fenced schools budget of £295.5million is added on.

The council put a brave face on trying to gloss over some quite savage cuts.

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"Despite receiving the worst Government settlement in its history, the county council has embarked on an ambitious efficiency and cost-saving programme in order to provide a cash increase of £7.6m (6.6 per cent) in support for older people and a further £6m (8.5 per cent) on services for children and young people," a spokesman said.

"The increase in the council's Government grant settlement of just two per cent was effectively a cut in grant and compared with an average of 5.6 per cent for county councils across England. Neighbouring Suffolk received a 7.3 per cent increase and Norfolk an increase of 9.3 per cent.

"Councillors are planning to bridge their funding gap by increasing Council Tax by five per cent - 90p a week extra for an average property. At present, only two county councils in England (Northamptonshire and Cornwall) have a Council Tax lower than Cambridgeshire's."

But detailed analysis of how that will be achieved show planned cuts in parking enforcement, subsidised bus services, highways staff, the recycling bus service, trading standards, the council's customer service centre in St Ives and school transport budgets - or increased charges - for both mainstream pupils and those considered at risk of social inclusion.

More than £5million is set to be slashed from the £124million adult support services budget, including £2.8million saved by not full inflation-linking increases to independent sector providers. A further £1.4million will come from increased charges to users.

The council's leader, Sawtry Councillor Keith Walters said he saw little prospect of Whitehall increasing its contribution to the country's fastest-growing area.

"All we are asking for is a fair deal. Once again Council Tax payers in Cambridgeshire have lost out to a Government system that subsidises other parts of the country.

"We listened carefully to views expressed in our autumn priorities consultation and people said that we should focus on caring for older people and services for children and young people. We will be putting more money into these areas, but our growing population will soon eat into that cash.

"We have identified a total of £16million of efficiencies and other savings and will be spending significantly less on central office services in order to balance our budget.

"Some of these savings will inevitably impact on services but, if we want to protect priority areas such as support for older people and children, we have no option given our appalling Government grant."

Council spokesmen said many of the budget reductions were genuine savings that would not impact adversely on services.

* Readers will be able to find out just how much Council Tax they will be paying when The Hunts Post publishes the final figures in late February.

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