Call for ‘urgent action’ to address funding shortfall at Cambridgeshire County Council

Shire Hall Cambridge.

Shire Hall Cambridge. - Credit: Archant

The situation will be “dire” unless action is taken to tackle Cambridgeshire County Council’s growing hole in its budget, with fears for the impact on vulnerable people and children in the county.

Cambridgeshire County Council leader Steve Count

Cambridgeshire County Council leader Steve Count - Credit: Archant

Cambridgeshire County Council’s current budget gap has risen to £5.2 million – with a predicted additional £20.7million to find in 2019 -2020. The “shocking” figures are in a report which will go before the council’s general purposes committee on Thursday.

The gap in funding is being put down to increased demand for services, and there are calls for central government to intervene and offer more funding for local authorities.

County council leader, Councillor Steve Count said the situation looks “dire” unless urgent action is taken. He said the budget needed to be balanced to make sure the most vulnerable were not let down.

“We must balance our budget this year, and next while our ambitious plans continue to take hold,” said Cllr Count. “But without taking serious action now our situation looks dire.”

Cllr Count said a report by consultants Grant Thornton in January 2018 suggests the council is using existing funding efficiently, and work by another consultancy group, Cap Gemini, has demonstrated that, while the council’s spend per head on adult social care is one of the lowest in the country, they “maintain good outcomes”.

Cllr Count agreed, however, that this is “not a sustainable position” and said he expected Cambridgeshire to be at the bottom of the national table for money available to spend on adult social care in 2019- 2020.

Most Read

“There is no doubt that outcomes for some of our most vulnerable citizens will suffer if the future funding issue is not addressed,” said Cllr Count. “Additional Government funding is needed to fix the underlying issues, rather than temporary measures we can take which just temporarily alleviate the pain.”

Lucy Nethsingha, Lib Dem leader at the county council said this is a “pretty shocking admission by the leader of the Council of the dreadful position facing the most vulnerable in Cambridgeshire”. She said the decision not to increase council tax for many years had led to the situation.

Cllr Nethsingha said: “A considerable portion of the blame for this position must lie with the current leadership at the council.

“For four of the last five years the council set a zero per cent council tax rate, in stark contrast to the vast majority of county councils across England. This was grossly irresponsible, as the opposition (Lib Dem, Labour and Independent) have pointed out year after year.

“The Conservative administration’s total failure in recent years to make realistic provision for future rising numbers of vulnerable adults and children has left Cambridgeshire residents facing severe hardship.”

Cllr Nethsingha said missed budgets on projects like the Ely by-pass had left Cambridgeshire residents “picking up millions of pounds of overspending”.

“We are seeing services for the most vulnerable reduced to the bare minimum, children’s services cut to the bone, our roads in tatters,” Cllr Nethsingha added. “This Conservative administration has failed the people of Cambridgeshire on so many levels, it is time they were thrown out, as is happening to their colleagues in Northamptonshire.”

Labour leader Joan Whitehead said this was a national problem, and said demand led services like child care and adult social care could not be ignored by the council. She said Cambridgeshire was “not teetering on the edge” like some councils, and that there was money in reserves. She said council tax could also be about to be increased.

“The most difficult areas for the county council are adult social care and children’s services,” said Cllr Whitehead. “The issue is a national one, it is not just Cambridgeshire County Council. I have said it so many times, you cannot leave children in situations where they could be in danger. It is an issue with demand led services which put pressure on the budget.”

Cllr Whitehead said the pressures on services where demand is increasing means cuts have to be made in other budgets.

“You can choose not to widen the A428,” said Cllr Whitehead. “But you cannot choose not to help a child in danger.”

Cllr Whitehead joined calls for more funding from central government, and said austerity is “not working”. She said she understood that council tax could rise in the coming budget by 1.99 per cent in order to meet some of the shortfall.