Budget black hole ‘challenging’ for county council as it looks to balance the books

The council chamber at Shire Hall, Cambridge, home to Cambridgeshire County Council.

The council chamber at Shire Hall, Cambridge, home to Cambridgeshire County Council. - Credit: Archant

A £37.5 million shortfall in funding means Cambridgeshire County Council is looking to “transform” the way it works to save cash.

The authority is going in to its autumn budget round trying to bridge the budget gap by finding £31.5 million of the money through “investing” in its services to deliver better outcomes and reducing demand.

It also wants to invest in commercial operations with a good financial return, transform the way it works to improve how it manages its business, people and money and to scrutinise contracts to make sure they offer the best value for money.

The authority has already made cuts of £215 million over the past six years and expects to make further savings of £100 million in the coming five years because of pressure on its budgets.

Councillor Roger Hickford, deputy leader of the Conservative-controlled council, said: “It is difficult, it is challenging, but we are transforming our business in order to deliver on our responsibilities to the people of Cambridgeshire.

“We are becoming ever more entrepreneurial as a council, investing in opportunities which will both improve the county and create a gain for us to invest in our services.”

Cllr Hickford added: “One example of this is developing housing projects on land we own, creating more housing in Cambridgeshire and generating £7.2 million in income to protect our frontline services.

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“One of the first of these initiatives, 350 homes in Burwell, got the development green light last month.”

The £37.5 million gap is the shortfall between the money the council gets from the Government, council tax, business rates and income it makes and the amount it has to spend on services.

It said there would be extra pressures because of predicted changes to rules surrounding the Dedicated Schools Grant, a sharp increase in the number of older people needing care, increasing numbers of children needing home to school transport and more vulnerable children needing protection.

Cllr Hickford said: “Last year this council approved a five-year business case to invest almost £2 million from our transformation fund into a suite of technological approaches which are already delivering savings as well as improved outcomes, such as improving the application process and delivery of blue badges to people who need to keep independent.”

Cllr Hickford added: “We are also looking to the future and working with the county’s MPs and the national body, the County Councils Network, to take a strong message to Government that historic underfunding of large rural counties cannot continue, with our Fairdeal4Cambs campaign.”