Nick Clarke On The Cambridgeshire County Budget – Election Year 2013

tetris17:17 Monday 21st January 2013
Drive BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[C]HRIS MANN: Cambridgeshire County Council has unveiled its proposed new budget for the next financial year. If it’s approved, council tax will go up by 1.99%, 99 jobs will go, and there’ll be £32 million worth of savings. Here with the headlines, joining me in the studio, is our reporter Govinda Gill. Govinda, tell us about the money.
GOVINDA GILL: OK. Yes Chris. I should start by saying that this is a budget proposal, and will be discussed at a Cabinet meeting on January 29th, and could come into force from the next financial year. So the County Council’s budget is £1 billion this year to cover current and future spending, and from that the Cabinet need to make £32 million worth of savings this year. In terms of the money the Council gets from the Government, there’s been a £10.3 drop in that funding, and if this budget is approved when it is discussed at the Cabinet meeting on 29th January, then as you said council tax could go up by 1.99%.
CHRIS MANN: Give us the headline on cuts.
GOVINDA GILL: Well, the priority for the Council is savings this year, and so essentially they’re doing more with less to avoid cuts. And the Council isn’t ruling out cuts next year, and the economic development may be something they have to scale back in the future.
CHRIS MANN: And the priorities?
GOVINDA GILL: The big priorities for the Council this year will be public health. They’re taking on more of the public health role and focusing on three main priorities, which are adult social care, safeguarding children, and helping vulnerable people. And they’ve got some big news as well.
CHRIS MANN: Yes, we heard that in our bulletin. Tell us about that.
GOVINDA GILL: Yes. So the big news for County Council, they are planning on building a new council-run care home. It currently runs no care homes, and this would of course be a return to policy from a number of years back. The Council wants to become a housing developer too, but they are the main big newses for the Council budget.
CHRIS MANN: Thank you Govinda Gill. Well the Council leader is Nick Clarke, and he joined me earlier. First I asked him why the council tax (rise) of close to 2% was necessary. (TAPE)
NICK CLARKE: That this is the fastest growing county in the country, and we’re having to fund not only the normal adult social care demographic time bomb that everyone else is having to deal with, we’re also needing to fund and continue to fund the growth.
CHRIS MANN: If you’re asking people to pay more, they’ll want a guarantee you’re not going to cut their services. Can you give them that?
NICK CLARKE: No of course not. The shortfall that we have at the moment is £37 million. We expect to mitigate £5 million of that through our council tax. We still have to find £32 million of savings.
CHRIS MANN: So what services are you going to cut? Is the local bus transport going to go back on?
NICK CLARKE: Well we don’t intend cutting services per se in terms of public transport. We are sticking with exactly the same budget we had last year. Going to continue to work to provide local transport to keep the people of Cambridgeshire moving.
CHRIS MANN: One of the other proposals that you have is to get rid of 99 full time posts, or they’re under reviews, so they could be moved. But potentially you’re going to cut them from your overall staffing. Why is that?
NICK CLARKE: Some of this will be about some posts collapsing, going. In other cases we will need to make savings in management. So we’re taking out over £600,000 of top management, reducing Heads of Service in departments like environment, transport and the economy to meet those needs.
CHRIS MANN: As well as cutting jobs or posts, you’re also talking about opting out of the National Pay Bargaining. Does this mean that you’re going to take on your own employees and their unions? Is there a fight coming?
NICK CLARKE: I don’t think there’s a fight coming at all. What we’re putting into our budget is a requirement for £250,000 of savings this year, and £1 million of savings year on year for the next four years, out of staff costs. We’ll be expecting to work with our unions, with our staff, to understand how we may achieve that. But this is a real world that we live in. The private sector has been under the cosh for some time. We must do exactly the same thing within this county council. We have to operate in a business-like way, to make sure we get the very best value for the people of Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: When you’re making decisions on what’s going to be cut, what’s going to go, what you’re going to spend the money on, what are your priorities? What cannot suffer, as far as you’re concerned?
NICK CLARKE: Well there aren’t any sacred cows at all unfortunately. But of course we have some statutory duties we must perform. This budget is balanced to protect the vulnerable and to stimulate the economy.
CHRIS MANN: Let’s go back to the fact that you’re going to charge people more next year. This is from April 5th, you’re putting council tax up by close to 2%. Your own Government says you shouldn’t be doing this. What are you going to tell them when they ring up and say Nick, what’s going on here?
NICK CLARKE: Well the reality is they probably will ring up and ask that very question. But I’ll give the same answer that I gave to Ministers recently,(which) is that Cambridgeshire is in an unique position. It has all the stresses and strains and costs and problems that all other councils face up and down the country. But in addition to that, we are the fastest growing county in the country. And if we wish to continue generating the jobs, the economic well being, for our young people, for people in work, then we need to invest in that growth as well. And we’re talking about a modest 1.99%. Without that of course we would have to cut services much more radically than we’re proposing at the moment. And that doesn’t seem right for the people of Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: Times are tough, as you’ve explained. The budget is very tight. But you’re proposing building a new care home on behalf of the County Council. Why would you do that?
NICK CLARKE: Well we’re looking at all ways of reducing our costs, as you would expect, and generating revenue. So at the moment, in the south of the county, care home provision is very expensive. And 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. But we’re doing more than that. We’re also expecting and hoping to become developers in our own right, and we’re looking at a project to see whether we can build houses, not just for social housing, not just for rental, but also to sell on, so that we can retain more of the value of our land .. and we own an awful lot of land .. retain more of that for the people of Cambridgeshire.
CHRIS MANN: The squeeze is on, as your budget shows. Do you think it’s going to get worse in years to come?
NICK CLARKE: Absolutely! I have grave concerns about moving forward for the next two, three and four years. What we’re trying to do locally is to deal with what is a national structural failure in funding for adult social care.
CHRIS MANN: This is an election year of course. May 2nd, all of you, every county councillor will be up for re-election. Is this a budget with one eye on that election?
NICK CLARKE: Well I don’t think it is for one moment. This is about … those that know me … a practical pragmatic approach to the financial straits we find ourselves in. If this was politically driven I wouldn’t put the council tax up.
CHRIS MANN: Well you’re proposing pain for your ratepayers. Are you going to be proposing more increases for your councillors’ allowances?
NICK CLARKE: An old political chestnut, this one. Remember, we don’t set our own allowances. It’s an independent board. But there’s no provision for additional allowances. There’s no intention to do that. What is important is that we’re going to be reducing the cost of supporting members, and taking money out of Members’ Services to do that. And we’re seeking to make sure that our corporate centre is much leaner. And we hope to take about £1 million out on top of the savings we’ve already made in the corporate centre, and through our local government shared service with Northamptonshire.
CHRIS MANN: What’s the biggest challenge for 2013 in your view?
NICK CLARKE: Oh, managing the adult social care budget. We celebrate people getting older. That’s tremendous. And I’m starting to declare an interest myself these days. It’s a variable. It’s a demand-led service. People get older. And as they get older and become ill or need support, those needs are very very complex. In the past we have been helped out during this process through reserves. Well we’re now saying, if it looks like it should be spent, or could be spent, on adult social care, let’s see it up front.
CHRIS MANN: Nick Clarke, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council.