Kilian Bourke’s Response To The Cambridgeshire County Budget – Election Year 2013

pieces17:18 Tuesday 22nd January 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: A rise in council tax, a loss of 99 jobs, and the opening of a council-run care home – these are just some of the things included in Cambridgeshire County Council’s budget proposals. £32 million worth of savings need to be made, and will be discussed at a Cabinet meeting next week. The Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council is Nick Clarke for the Conservative Party. He explains why the authority may build its own care home. (TAPE)
NICK CLARKE: The reality is that the private nursing homes can get more money for private individuals than they can from us. And we look after the most vulnerable. So we’re hoping to build a care home that will provide some additional capacity, which means that we can control our costs, which will then reinvested in .. in .. for .. for elderly people. (LIVE)
CHRIS MANN: That’s Nick Clarke, Leader of the County Council, talking on this programme at this time last night. Well Kilian Bourke is the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire, the official opposition. He joins me this evening. Kilian, hello to you.
KILIAN BOURKE: Evening Chris.
CHRIS MANN: Your reaction to the proposals in the budget made by the Conservatives?
KILIAN BOURKE: Well it’s a mixed bag. We will support, the Liberal Democrats will support, some of the capital programme, the projects we’ve campaigned for for a long time, like the railway station by Chesterton Sidings, and also like the long-overdue investment in our roads and pavements. But in terms of the Council’s Core Responsibilities, it’s actually quite a bleak outlook. My impression, having had just a day to look at the figures, is that the Guided Busway and the spending that that’s requiring and all sorts of costs, is exerting an additional pressure on Cambridgeshire County Council’s finances, on top of what’s already a bleak national outlook. So they’re having to make additional cuts to mental health, to care packages for the elderly, and to rural bus services.
CHRIS MANN: When I asked Nick Clarke what his priority was, he said it was adult social care. The budget for that is almost crippling the County Council. Would you agree that’s a priority? It’s a responsibility they have to make. And is he right to think about building the Council’s own care home?
KILIAN BOURKE: It’s a big priority. We need to .. protecting the vulnerable , and people who really need help, is the Core Responsibility of the County Council. And investing in a new care home, personally I think it makes sense. We need to look at the detail. However, I don’t think it should distract from the bigger picture, because that’s a drop in the ocean of the Council’s budget. And there are much bigger things going on.
CHRIS MANN: What would your priority be?
KILIAN BOURKE: I wouldn’t pick one simple specific issue. More generally ..
CHRIS MANN: Give us three or four then.
KILIAN BOURKE: It’s about making Cambridgeshire a better place to live, and everything else follows from that. So you’re going to provide better basic services. Roads and pavements have been allowed to fall apart in this county. We would make it easier for people to get around, by reversing the 100% cut to our bus services. And we would value our environment locally and globally. And I think the reason for Cambridge’s and Cambridgeshire’s economic success, it’s not simply the University, or a narrow economistic sort of approach to the economy. It’s that this is such a great place to live, and people come here and they stay here. And that’s what we need to foster.
CHRIS MANN: Ok. He said he’s going to put council tax up by 1.99% Any choice there?
KILIAN BOURKE: Look at the amount of money that’s being spent servicing the debt on the Guided Busway alone. Of course you don’t. No, I don’t believe Cambridgeshire has any choice in the matter, when you’re facing that additional burden, when the Guided Busway debt is exerting an extra pressure on front line Council services. It’s a choice between cutting services or increasing council tax.
CHRIS MANN: He’s talking about cutting up to 100 jobs, and also changing the pay structure for some of the Council employees, to cut their packages. Do you agree with those sort of savings?
KILIAN BOURKE: My concern about the cuts being proposed for staff pay packages and national bargaining agreements, exiting that, is that it will be the lowest paid staff that would be hurt. And that’s what we would want to avoid at all costs. There’s also a certain irony in that staff, through national pay agreements, have faced a three year wage freeze, whereas just one year ago the Conservative administration tried to give themselves a 25% pay rise. And that’s I think typical of ..
CHRIS MANN: I asked him about that. He said that’s not the Conservatives, or any of the councillors. That was an independent body. He said that they’re going to do more with less. Do you agree with that?
KILIAN BOURKE: I think on the one hand to an extent you need to do more with less. The difficulty of course is that Cambridgeshire had even less because of the additional burdens it’s facing, due to local decisions. At the same time I would say that if you continue asking for more with less, and more with less again and again, eventually you ask for everything with nothing. And some front line services are really hanging on by a shoestring.
CHRIS MANN: Kilian Bourke, thank you for joining me. The Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire, the official opposition, with his response to the proposed budget which was outlined yesterday.