Walter's World: Budget cuts

A monthly update on news and views from county council leader Councillor Keith Walters, from Sawtry WE are now in the middle of our budget consultation. It goes on until February 21 and I urge everyone to make their voice heard. I accept that there is no

A monthly update on news and views from county council leader Councillor Keith Walters, from Sawtry

WE are now in the middle of our budget consultation. It goes on until February 21 and I urge everyone to make their voice heard.

I accept that there is not much of a choice. There are three different scales of service cuts, so you are faced with a decision merely about how much you want to be hurt by the budget. If you feel strongly enough, make sure that national government gets to hear what you think.

Cambridgeshire is not alone in facing cuts across the board in its services. The consequences of the settlement were spelled out by the Local Government Association some months ago. The amount of money given to authorities to fund services other than schools would require (on average across the nation) a 10 per cent increase in Council Tax merely to stand still and meet new government legislative requirements.

The Government will not allow authorities to raise their Council Tax by that amount (and we would not want to anyway) so the only choices involve providing you with less service than we did last year.

We are offering the choice of tax rises of four per cent, five per cent or six per cent, with five per cent being our preferred option.

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Contrary to what certain opposition members are saying, the process is not a waste of time. We have not already made our minds up, we are offering you a choice. We need convincing statistics if we are to go to either end of the scale.

We guess that six per cent is a level we could apply without getting capped by central government. If we were going to go for that level, I would not feel very happy quoting a sample size of (say) 1,000 of our 600,000 population and a 51 per cent to 49 per cent split in favour of six per cent. I suspect that we would get rather short shrift from a government which has announced that increases significantly above five per cent will be capped.

Imaginative on rubbish

BETWEEN us, we continue to produce a growing volume of rubbish. The district councils have to collect it and we have to dispose of it.

The Government's landfill tax is increased significantly each year, which adds to the pressure on our budget. The increasing cost of rubbish disposal will eventually make the high cost of using new technology affordable.

A party of us have just returned from Germany where we saw new technologies in action. Before anyone asks, we flew with Ryanair and travelled round by bus, so it actually cost less than making a similar visit to (say) Hampshire.

The first eye-opener was how badly our 39 per cent recycling achievement compares with North Germany, where it is 61 per cent.

They pay separately for rubbish collection in Germany whereas we are not allowed by law to levy a charge.

The Germans can decide what sort of collection they want and how frequent it should be. Those choosing a four-weekly collection and sorting their own rubbish for collection pay the least. The person who wants a weekly collection and does not do his own separation for recycling pays the most. Visits to the household waste recycling centre attracts a charge. The place we saw charged 10 euros per car or less if you separated your own recyclables before going.

Charging here would be relatively simple in administrative terms. Council Tax could be reduced to reflect the removal of the rubbish costs.

There could then be a scale of charges which made no difference in cost to the average house producing the average volume of rubbish. Households that produced less would pay less and those who produced more would pay more.

Only then could we afford some of the technology we saw.

We visited one of the four rubbish-burning power stations generating electricity for Hamburg. It was clean, non-smelly, in town, and had zero noxious chemicals coming out of its chimney.

The emissions are monitored remotely and continuously by their equivalent of the Environment Agency. And are all way below the legal limits.

However, it cost 260 Million Euros to build. The other technologies we saw represented a severe financial challenge but one we will be forced to face as the landfill tax increases.

True grit

AS we await the next instalment of arctic weather from Russia, please spare a thought for our gritting crews and those of the Highways Agency who cover the major trunk routes. As we all lie in bed moaning about the weather, they will be out there trying to ensure that we will be able to get to work in the morning and home again in the evening.

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