[C]HRIS MANN: Cambridgeshire County Council is to face its toughest financial year yet, according to its Leader Martin Curtis. He’s been giving a briefing to journalists this afternoon, ahead of next year’s budget negotiations. Well our reporter Henrietta McMicking was there to meet him and hear what he had to say, and she joins me now. Hello there.
HENRIETTA MCMICKING: Hi Chris. So the purpose of today’s briefing was to explain that the Council believes that very tough decisions are going to have to be made in the coming year, if they’re going to make their proposed cuts. They have said that they want the current net operating budget of £490 million to be cut by £33 million in the current financial year. Now as well as the Council Leader Martin Curtis, I was also speaking to the Chief Executive Mark Lloyd, and he outlined to me the extent of the budget cuts that they’re facing, not just this year, but the wider picture going back the last three years, and going forward for the next five.
MARK LLOYD: Over the last three years the County Council has worked incredibly hard to make savings totalling £124 million. That includes the year that we’re in right now. And looking across the next five years, we think we need to make another £159 million worth of savings. That’s an awfully big hill to climb.
CHRIS MANN: Cambridgeshire County Council Chief Executive Mark Lloyd. Now they had some very big announcements to make about jobs and services as well Henrietta.
HENRIETTA MCMICKING: Yes. The Conservative Council Leader Martin Curtis was in no doubt that the cuts will have an impact onjobs and services. Yesterday in his blog he confirmed that the Council will not cut Council workers’ pay, but he said that in order to make these cuts, hundreds, yes hundreds of jobs are likely to go.
MARTIN CURTIS: Inevitably we are going to lose and have to lose jobs as a result of what we’ve got to do for next year. We can’t take £33 million out of our budget without it affecting people. The reality is we’ve done a lot of the tough stuff as well. We’ve done all the things Government asked us to do, in terms of sharing services with other councils, in terms of working better with our buildings. We’ve done a lot of the easy things. The reality is what’s happening next year is going to be the toughest we’ve ever been, because we’ve done the easy things. And that is going to mean unfortunately losing staff.
CHRIS MANN: Martin Curtis of course, who took over as Leader after those elections in May. So it’s his first big budget as Leader. Now what did he have to say about services?
HENRIETTA MCMICKING: Well he said that the Council’s priorities are adult social care and vulnerable children and wider children’s services, and these are what voters’ and the people of Cambridgeshire’s priorities are too. But they’re also the County’s greatest spends. Martin confirmed that the cuts will impact these areas, as well as things that are alos popular, such as highways. Interestingly the leadership of the Council are laying the responsibility for the cuts and their extent and their weight at the hands of national government. They think that the Coalition have overburdened the local authorities, who are being cut to the bone. Council CEO Mark Lloyd said that despite Cambridgeshire generating large amounts of growth, all this income is going to central government coffers, and none is being returned to the Council. And this is something they’re looking to change.
MARK LLOYD: People buy houses, they pay stamp duty. People pay VAT. They pay income tax. Businesses grow and they pay the business rates, and they pay their Corporation Tax. All of that money goes to central government. And one of the key things that we want to try and argue with central government in the future is some of that growth dividend that we’ve helped to facilitate should come back to us here in Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: Well Henrietta, a slight problem for Martin Curtis here, because of course he’s the leader of the administration. He’s a Conservative. And he’s effectively criticising a Conservative led Coalition Government.
HENRIETTA MCMICKING: Yes. I put it to him, and Martin said that he’s writing to the Prime Minister to voice his concerns, and when lobbying for Cambridgeshire, he is not afraid to take on the Conservatives in central government. And while he shares their aspirations for a smaller state, and less local government waste, it should not be small for small’s sake. He said that his current priority is to the people of Cambridgeshire, rather than the Conservative Party.
MARTIN CURTIS: There’s no politician can sell his soul just to his party. The reality is I’m elected as Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council to speak up for Cambridgeshire people. And I have to do that. And if that causes a bit of upset in the Party, so be it. But it does need to be done, and it does need to be said.
CHRIS MANN: So some blunt talking today Henrietta, and clearly a lot of plans need to be made. What’s the time frame for all this?
HENRIETTA MCMICKING: Well, exactly how the cuts will ultimately fall will take place in the Council chamber in the early months of next year. And these are likely to be more fraught because of the change after last May’s election as you said, from being a Tory run administration to being one of no overall control. So Martin Curtis is going to have to get all the co-operation of the different parties. So with £159 million worth of savings scheduled for the next five years, what will this ultimately mean for Cambridgeshire? Well Chief Exec Mark Lloyd says it’s likely to look a very different place in the future.
MARK LLOYD: I hope Cambridgeshire, the county, will continue to thrive. I care with the whole of my heart that this county thrives. The Council that I run I think will continue to look different as it has each and every year since austerity started to bite. It will be a leaner council. It will do fewer things.
CHRIS MANN: Henrietta McMicking there with that report, talking to Chief Executive Mark Lloyd and the Leader of the County Council Martin Curtis.