Cambridgeshire County Council to axe 300 jobs

THREE hundred county council jobs are set to be axed over the next two years and some services will be cut back as Cambridgeshire tries to plug a five-year �87million net funding gap. Without Council Tax increases, the black hole would be �113million, but

THREE hundred county council jobs are set to be axed over the next two years and some services will be cut back as Cambridgeshire tries to plug a five-year �87million net funding gap.

Without Council Tax increases, the black hole would be �113million, but the council plans to increase its precept by three per cent in each of the next two years and 2.5 per cent thereafter.

What happens after 2011/12 is anyone's guess, but CCC finance chiefs' reading of the political and economic runes indicates councils will struggle to meet ends meet for at least the next five years. There has been no commitment to any level of Whitehall funding after April 2012.

Cambridgeshire reckons inflationary pressures will add �48million to its (�337million for 2010/11) annual non-schools budget over five years, with the demands of a growing population adding a further �55million, at the same time as central Government funding is also reduced in real terms.

Some further efficiency savings have been identified - Cambridgeshire is already one of the lowest-taxed local authority areas in England - but the council will now start to target services at the neediest, removing some across-the-board services from less vulnerable residents.

The �300million schools budget, which is ring-fenced and spent by governing bodies, is immune from what council leader Jill Tuck described today (Wednesday) as "the worst budget crisis I can ever recall".

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And it's all the fault of the reckless and greedy bankers who gave us the recession and an overwhelming national public deficit currently estimated at �180billion this year.

"Ultimately, public services are having to shoulder a heavy burden for the Government's bailing out of the banks," said Councillor John Reynolds, cabinet member for resources. "The public have had to tighten their belts and so must councils.

"But, as well as becoming leaner, we have to do all we can to protect essential services."

Final details of the cuts will not be known until the county's budget is set next month, but the cabinet will be looking at a range of options next week.

What looks certain is a reduction in the current 6,500 non-school employees, who provide social services, educational support, highways, museums, libraries and other services. The council hopes to avoid compulsory redundancies.

Cuts will see 'smarter' working in all departments, some sharing of 'back-office' services with other authorities and some service cuts, though politicians are determined to minimise the effect on front-line services.

New clients in need of adult social services are likely to find fewer resources available to them, and children's services will be targeted at those in greatest need, including young people looked after by the county council.

CCC will particularly target expenditure on cared-for children placed outside the county to meet their educational needs at far greater cost than if they were supported by foster parents in Cambridgeshire - yet a Government-funded multi-disciplinary team set up last autumn to achieve just that is among those faced with the axe.

Mobile libraries may go out less frequently, but readers may be allowed to borrow more books at a time to compensate for not seeing their librarians so often.

And the council hopes to drive down the amounts it pays third parties for helping to look after social services clients, at a saving of more than �3.5million.

"The economy looks as bleak as it did after World War II, but we are trying to avoid short-termism," finance chief Nick Dawe said.

It is not all bad news, however. The draft budget to be considered by cabinet next week includes an additional �3million over three years on the �20million annual road maintenance budget to sort out potholes caused by recent cold, wet weather, as well as �16million extra for additional primary school places.

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