I READ Martin Brown s letter (February 7) with interest and resignation. I have never described this year s rise as only five per cent. Indeed, as those who have attended our public consultation meetings on the subject (Mr Brown did not) will testify, I
I READ Martin Brown's letter (February 7) with interest and resignation.
I have never described this year's rise as "only" five per cent. Indeed, as those who have attended our public consultation meetings on the subject (Mr Brown did not) will testify, I always point to the pressure on OAPs as the reason that I would not want the rise to be higher even if the Government had not announced that it would cap rises in excess of five per cent.
On the subject of capping, Mr Brown sings the praises of HDC as if they would never impose the sort of rises that we do, but did not HDC get capped within the last couple of years for imposing a rise of the order of 15 per cent in one year?
Can I also point to where we stand relative to other councils? This year we were the third lowest chargers out of 34 counties - the two below us, by the way, did not include Somerset, from whence Mr Brown came. And the last time I saw the figures, we were the lowest in revenue spending per head of population.
Meanwhile, all counties are complaining about being under-funded because of the pressures on adult social care. Our Government grant has increased by 2.9 per cent. The county average increase is four per cent and the increase across the board for local authorities is 4.9 per cent. Norfolk has had an 8.5 per cent increase and Suffolk 5.3 per cent.
This brings me to inflation, which Mr Brown describes as "hovering around three per cent".
The state pension will go up by 3.6 per cent in April to reflect the inflation measure used for that purpose as measured last September. This month's corresponding figure is 4.4 per cent. The other inflation measure, which spent a lot of time around the 2.5 per cent mark, is now at three per cent, threatening the Governor of the Bank of England with having to write and explain himself to Gordon Brown. Those changes might suggest "hovering" to Martin Brown, but not to me.
Meanwhile we are having to increase our budget for gas by 75 per cent and electricity (including street lights) by 40 per cent this year. I know that is a lot worse than the household increases, but it reflects having to renew what was a very favourable five-year contract.
Incidentally, wholesale gas prices have gone down by 60 per cent over the past six months, but not their retail derivatives. Those and other inflation figures peculiar to local government, rather than a Tesco shopping basket, give us an overall inflation rate of 4.9 per cent on our budget (only 2.5 per cent is included for pay.)
Finally, as every year, can I urge Martin Brown to put his name forward as a councillor. He could then show us all where we are going wrong and save all of Cambridgeshire a lot of money.
Of course, if he really thought the officers ran the whole shooting match rather than councillors, he would not claim how easy it would be for me to get your Council Tax down to around £700.
Neither could we hold our present plans on track if changing a light bulb were really the way he describes. I will do him the courtesy of accepting that as a touch of humour.
Councillor KEITH WALTERS, Leader, Cambridgeshire County Council, Shire Hall, Cambridge