Council braced for savage cuts

dave's_xmas_card08:19 Wednesday 16th December 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Yesterday Cambridgeshire County Council had their last Full Council meeting of 2015, and they came close to voting for a letter being written to the Prime Minister about the funding cuts. Our political reporter Hannah Olsson was there. A bit of a difficult end of year for the County Council Hannah.
HANNAH OLSSON: Yes morning Dotty. Yes the Council needs to save £100 million over the next five years, because it says it’s expecting to get less money from the Government, whilst the number of people living in Cambridgeshire continues to rise. Now last month they told us how their proposals were going to work for doing this. It included big cuts to care, as well as services including gritting, libraries, even lollipop ladies. Now so far all of the discussions about the proposals have been in the individual committees. So there’s a Children’s committee, a Transport committee, and the idea being that the focus of these is on detailed decisions and discussions rather than party politics. But that all seemed to go out the window in yesterday’s Full Council meeting. One of the Labour councillors, Jocelynne Scutt, suggested the Council write to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, to tell them the effects the cuts would have here in Cambridgeshire. And this prompted a lively debate about austerity, with political colours on full show in the Council Chamber. Here’s LibDem councillor Lucy Nethsingha, followed by Conservative councillor James Palmer and Labour’s Ashley Walsh.

LUCY NETHSINGHA: The time has come when we should not be looking to austerity. We should be looking to invest in infrastructure, in order to support growth.
JAMES PALMER: Until we get our house in order, until we run the most efficient, the most sensible council that we can, we cannot stand up and blame Government.
ASHLEY WALSH: I remember spending the last year of the Labour Government being told by the Conservatives that they supported every single one of our spending commitments. George Osborne came out just before the 2007 election and said, we support every single penny that the Labour Government has spent.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Ooh listen to that desk-thumping Hannah.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Getting rowdy.
HANNAH OLSSON: Exactly. At one point I felt I needed to check I was actually still in a Cambridgeshire County Council meeting, not in the House of Commons. Eventually a vote was taken on whether the Council should write to the Government, and it was close, with 25 councillors saying they supported the idea, and 31 voting against it.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So come the new year, are we expecting cuts to still be all over the agenda?
HANNAH OLSSON: Yes, so councils are expecting to find out exactly how much money they’ll be getting from the Government tomorrow we’re hearing. They already know to expect cuts of between 20% and 30% as we’ve been talking about, and they have best and worst case scenarios. But they can’t come up with a detailed budget until they have that figure. So the first thing council officers will be doing in the New Year is crunching the numbers and working out what it means for Cambridgeshire. It will then be down to the councillors to decide exactly where the axe will fall to make the budget add up. Now I’ve been sat in committee meetings over the last month or so where councillors have been saying some cuts like mobile libraries must be saved. But of course the savings have got to fall somewhere, so I’m expecting the debates to get increasingly heated as we approach the deadline for the budget to be balanced in February. .. We’ve got the final Full Peterborough City Council meeting of the year tomorrow, so I’m wondering if we’re going to be treated to another fine performance by the councillors there.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Hannah Olsson, our Political Reporter, thank you very much.