Cambridge City Council Budget Labour First Response

09:35 Thursday 6th January 2011 Mid-Morning Show BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY HARPER: New solar panels, a new electric van, and better telecommunications, that’s what Cambridge City Council will be spending its money on in the next twelve months. But they’ll also be cutting 41 jobs as well. The Council published its new Budget last night, and earlier Sue Dougan spoke to Sian Reid, who is the Liberal Democrat Leader of Cambridge City Council. (TAPE)

SIAN REID: Well this is a real win-win for us, because not only do we cut carbon, which is one of our objectives, but we also save money on this. We’re taking advantage of feed-in tariff deals from the Government, and this will mean that we save quite a bit of money in the long term.
SUE DOUGAN: And in fact there are quite a lot of environmental measures you’re taking this year, is that right?
SIAN REID: Yes. We’ve got a new electric van, which will save us on courier costs. Yes, there are lots of other things too, things like tackle environmental crime, look after our parks and open spaces better.
SUE DOUGAN: That all sounds good so far, but what about the 41 job cuts that will happen. Where are they likely to be?
SIAN REID: Well we’ve been cutting jobs for the last two or three years in the Council, round about 40 or 50 a year. You know our policy is to start at the top in the Council, and to start with senior directors, and really work our way down. And not to cut jobs on the front line, but to cut jobs managerially, or in the back-offices, by working smarter newer ways.
ANDY HARPER: Councillor Sian Reid talking to Sue Dougan earlier. Well joining me is the Leader of the Labour opposition on Cambridge City Council, Lewis Herbert. Lewis good morning to you.
LEWIS HERBERT: Good morning.
ANDY HARPER: So Sian said a win-win situation in the outset of her conversation with Sue there. Do you agree?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well it sounded complacent to me. I mean this isn’t like any other year. Everything isn’t fine. The Government’s cut our funding by nearly three million in one year, over 25% if you take the direct grants as well as the formula by which they share money about. So there’s quite a lot hidden that the Leader of the Council chose not to tell you this morning.
ANDY HARPER: So, what is hidden? Because I think what is obvious as ever that it’s jobs that go first, isn’t it, and that seems to me to be whenever funding is cut, rather than being constructive and creative, it’s jobs that go.
LEWIS HERBERT: Well we change arrangements every year. So she put a figure down, Councillor Sian Reid put a figure down of 41 job cuts. Now we make changes every year. It’s possible that in some other years there have been 40 jobs deleted, but there’s never been a position where those jobs haven’t been re-created as something else. So this year we lose far more jobs as a City Council, and I’m sure it’s going to be as bad or worse at the County, than any year. And those jobs deliver services. So it isn’t fair to say that these cuts can be made without any damage to services. So there will be reductions in services. We’re losing, for instance, staffing resource in areas like community safety, which is vital work with the local police.
ANDY HARPER: Do you think that the sort of things that she has espoused there, saying new solar panels and electric van etcetera, better telecommunications, would they be top of your list?
LEWIS HERBERT: We’ll be coming up with our proposals. The Budget only came out yesterday night, so we burnt the midnight oil. There’s a whole bunch of issues we’ll have a look at. The other hidden cut she wouldn’t talk about was the fact that the City won’t be as green or as safe or as good a place for housing, because hidden in the Budget we discovered is large cuts in capital. What happens is the councillors use money from parking and from council tax and the Government, to fund capital projects. So for instance we currently this year have a programme of about one point eight million pounds of local schemes, of road crossings, shop forecourts, various measures to make the area safer and better. And that’s down to two hundred thousand next year. So she didn’t talk about one point six million cut there. It’s not surprising. She’s part of the Coalition with the Conservative Government nationally, and she wanted to put a brave face on it. But there are big cuts this year, and next year we understand they’re going to have to look for three million pounds in cuts. Some of them, we will support. If there’s efficiency savings, and there’s always efficiency savings in councils, we’ll look to support them. But we don’t want to see cuts to voluntary sector funding, and we don’t want to see damaging cuts.
ANDY HARPER: They are also going to cut back on the money given to the Corn Exchange for example. Does that mean maybe the arts will suffer, Cambridge renown really for the sort of things it offers people across the spectrum?
LEWIS HERBERT: Well there’s a third of a million cut there. I think, we think, the Corn Exchange can be run better, so some of that won’t show up as a cut. But we will be looking hard to ensure that there isn’t a cut in the range of programming. It needs to provide better service, so that basically everybody in Cambridge or the Cambridge area goes there once a year. If we’re not able to provide that range of programming that attracts people, then it really isn’t working. So it’s a mixture. Some people don’t think we should be spending money on some of that. We certainly have been spending a lot on that, and we have to look at priorities. We’re also concerned about housing and benefits, people who rely on benefits, and there’s some big issues there. The housing rents are going to go up by 7.45%, which is double inflation, for some of the lower income families in the city who rent housing from the Council. And that isn’t fair, particularly as a lot of people aren’t getting a payrise this year.
ANDY HARPER: Well it’s been good to talk to you Lewis. As you say, very early days. This only came onto your desk yesterday.
LEWIS HERBERT: Yes. Seven o’clock last night, so thanks Andy. I’m sure we’ll be coming back on some of the issues. Councty Council, watch out for what’s happening at the County Council to social, welfare and to schools. There’s some big issues going to arise there.
ANDY HARPER: And we will keep our eye on it, and we’ll talk to you again no doubt in the not too distant future. Lewis, thanks for joining us this morning.