08:24 Wednesday 4th November 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
DOTTY MCLEOD: Would you pay more council tax if it meant vital services in Cambridgeshire could be protected? That’s the question that some of the councillors debating proposed cuts to social care think you should be considering. They voted in favour of the idea at a committee meeting yesterday. Our political reporter Hannah Olsson joins me now. So Hannah, what’s being proposed and why?
HANNAH OLSSON: Good morning Dotty. As we’ve already been talking about here on the Breakfast Show, Cambridgeshire County Council is facing major holes in their budget next year, and some big changes are being proposed to meet this deficit. The most significant of these arguably is the £10 million that could go from the Council’s care budget, that’s what it uses to help vulnerable people in the county. So it could mean that not everyone who receives care now would continue to do so in the future, and other people will see their support reduced. Yesterday the committee of elected councillors on the Adult Committee that oversees services for vulnerable adults considered this proposal. I was there, and to be frank it was quite depressing, as councillors faced what they described as the impossible task of fulfilling their responsibilities to vulnerable people as well as the budget they were being given. One councillor actually asked whether someone would have to die of neglect before the risk of these cuts was considered too much. Now there were some councillors there who were saying we shouldn’t just accept the budget, and either ask the Government for more money or consider putting up council tax to raise more money locally. And in the end councillors voted six to five to ask the General Purposes Committee to consider a 5% council tax rise. Now this General Purposes Committee is the one that deals with the election and constitutional matters.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK. So this is a proposal that’s been put forward by councillors. It’s not definitely going ahead.
HANNAH OLSSON: No far from it. The Council isn ‘t actually allowed to raise council tax more than 2% without a referendum, and it wouldn’t even get to a referendum without it being voted for by the whole Council. And you can take, by the fact that the committee yesterday was split on whether or not to even proposes this, that not everyone agrees it’s a good idea. But I suspect yesterday’s meeting won’t be the last time we hear this suggested. As far as I know, no other local council has so far held a referendum on council tax, but as councils across the country face increasingly difficult budget decisions, I’m sure it’s not going to be too long. In fact I heard that it’s being discussed in Oxfordshire County Council at the moment.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So the Council needs to save £40 million next year. Would putting council tax up 5% be enough?
HANNAH OLSSON: Well not if they continue with all the services they provide at the moment. When the proposed cuts were announced last week, the Leader of the Council Steve Count explained to me they would actually need to put up council tax by 17.5% next year to meet the savings. That’s an average of around £200 per household. And of course some people might think that it’s actually worth it. There’s also an option of meeting in the middle, so making some savings, and putting council tax up a bit, which is where this 5% would fall. But again to emphasise, this can’t happen without a full referendum of voters here in Cambridgeshire.
DOTTY MCLEOD: OK Hannah. Thank you very much for that update. Hannah Olsson there our political reporter. Lucy Nethsingha is joining me now, who is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council, and a member of the committee that voted for this proposal yesterday, this proposal to see if it might be possible to increase council tax by 5%. Lucy, which way did you vote on this? Do you think it’s a good idea?
LUCY NETHSINGHA: Yes, I definitely think it’s a good idea. It was my group that put forward the proposals to committee yesterday, and I’m delighted that we managed to get that proposal through yesterday. I think that’s a great step in the right direction. I just want to correct something that Hannah said, which is this idea that we definitely would need to have a referendum on a council tax rise above 2%, because the referendum cap is set separately every year. So it would be perfectly possible for the Government to choose to set the cap a bit higher this year, and I just really hope that they will consider that.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Can I read you a couple of texts Lucy that I’ve been sent?
LUCY NETHSINGHA: Yes.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Adrian says: “Pay more council tax? You must be joking. Why should we? Let’s take to the streets and revolt.” Also this morning from Martin: “Dotty pay the council more money? You cannot be serious man to quote Johnny Mac. Councils need to put their own house in order first. Efficiency is what we need, not pen-pushers trying to pass the buck to us.” What do you say to those?
LUCY NETHSINGHA: Well I disagree with them. The Council has put its own house in order. We have made very very significant savings over the past four years, and local government has been one of the most successful branches of government in cutting its spending during this time of austerity. The time has come where we really can’t cut services any more without really putting people at risk. We’re seeing that with the proposal to switch the streetlights off in Cambridge. And the budget we were talking about yesterday was the social care budget. These are the most vulnerable people in our society, and cutting their services absolutely is not what we should be doing at this time. It’s just a horrendous idea. Some of the examples that were given of the ways in which people’s lives would be impacted by these services were horrendous. We were talking about the possible case of a lady who would have to soil herself in bed because we could no longer afford to pay the people who might be able to help her out of bed to go to the toilet at night. Those sorts of cases are just heartbreaking, and we absolutely should do everything we can to make sure that people in those sorts of circumstances are not suffering more than they have to.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Lucy Nethsingha there. Thank you to Lucy who is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cambridgeshire County Council.