09:10 Thursday 6th February 2014
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
[A]NDIE HARPER: Twenty pounds on average per home. That’s the equivalent of what South Cambridgeshire District Council need to save in the next financial year. The Council announced their budget plans yesterday, as they face a further 24% cut in funding from Government, with £300,000 to be saved this year, on top of the £5 million already saved through efficiency measures, which they’ve achieved over the last years. Plans include increasing council tax, and reducing the green bin collections. I’m joined now by the Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Simon Edwards. Simon, good morning to you ..
SIMON EDWARDS: Good morning Andie.
ANDIE HARPER: As I mentioned then, you have made millions of pounds of savings over the last years. How have we ended at the situation where you’ve got to make still more?
SIMON EDWARDS: Well, the Government are reducing the funding for local authorities year on year. We knew this. If they’re going to hit their deficit reduction targets, we knew that we were going to be in the firing line. And true to form, we’re seeing as you say a 24% reduction in our funding. That means we’ve got to find another £300,000 savings next year, rising to £1 million the year after, in the context of already having saved £5 million in the last four years. So it is a really really difficult task for us.
ANDIE HARPER: Now presumably you think all of your services are vital, otherwise you wouldn’t have them there in the first place. So when you are sitting down thinking how do we save £300,000 yet more, where do you actually start?
SIMON EDWARDS: It’s very difficult. We’ve done all the easy wins now. We’ve really got to start looking at some of the services that we provide, and how we can reshape those to try and minimise the impact on residents. But also to save money. In context, we charge in council tax £120 a year for every house. That brings in about £6.9 .. just over £6.9 million. We’re spending £6.1 million on our recycling service alone, just collecting the bins. So it is a very very expensive service. It’s a fantastic service. But we have to be able to try and realign it somehow, just make some savings.
ANDIE HARPER: And so you’ve decided on reducing the green bin collection in the winter months. Us gardeners always have something to put in the bin, but it’s not quite as desperate at this time of the year. So this is one thing that you’ve plumped for.
SIMON EDWARDS: It is. Yes. And we haven’t just picked it out of thin air and said this is what we’re going to do. We’ve looked at it very carefully. And the fact of the matter is Andie that in the summer months everybody puts their green bins out, and they’re pretty much full. Whereas in the winter months only six in ten actually put their bins out. And most of those bins are only half empty, a quarter full sort of thing. So it seems to us to make sense to have a period of time when we actually reduce the collections in that winter period. Now we’re not saying it’s going to be, right, from 1st October we’re going to stop and then 1st January or 1st February we’ll start again. No, it’s going to be flexible, because we all know that we get different climate changes during the winter. Sometimes you have a late winter, sometimes an early winter. We’re not going to stop collecting them fortnightly when the leaves are falling for example, because everybody uses that to put the leaves in. But once the leaves have fallen, and the people stop cutting their grass, it makes sense not to send the truck round when bins aren’t even being put out.
ANDIE HARPER: And how much would that save? And how is it saved? The fact that you just don’t pay the contractors?
SIMON EDWARDS: No. We’re looking at realigning the way the staff work, and putting them on what we call annualised hours. We’re consulting with the staff at the moment on this, to make sure that they’re happy with it. But that basically means that they’ll be working a longer day in the summer, and a shorter day in the winter. And it does allow us to actually reduce the number of crews that we have, and maybe the number of vehicles as well.
ANDIE HARPER: And this is one thing you’re going to be doing. You’re going to also be putting up council tax, aren’t you, albeit at a very low level. Is the Government OK with you doing that?
SIMON EDWARDS: Well again this has been a really difficult year Andie, because the Government have left it so late in telling us what we’re allowed to put our council tax up by. They’ve come out now and said we can only put it up by something less than 2%. A 2% rise for us would be equivalent to £2.40 a year on your council tax bill. So it’s likely that Cabinet will agree a £2,40 a year increase in council tax. That’s in the context of having to save around £20 per Band D home. So we’re looking at £18 of that’s going to come from savings, and £2.40 from an increase in council tax.
ANDIE HARPER: It’s not all bad news, because you are investing money, aren’t you, in a housing company, which you hope will then provide income in future years?
SIMON EDWARDS: Well the fact of the matter Andie is that as I say the Government are reducing their funding to councils year on year. And we’ve modelled our strategy on having no income from the Government at all at the end of our financial year of 2018/19, ’till 2020 effectively we’ll have no income. So we’ve got to replace that income from somewhere. We’ve already formed the housing company. We’ve started off a pilot project, where we’ve invested £7 million to invest in housing. That’s going to produce an income for us. And hopefully by 2020 this is going to be a significant income, which will allow us to actually start reducing council tax in future years. We’ve got to be much more innovative in looking at ways of getting income from sources that isn’t the Government, and that can’t be cut by the Government. Because that really does put us in a difficult position.
ANDIE HARPER: And finally, do you think all this is fair? Or do you think that we in this part of the world sometimes bear the brunt of these cuts?
SIMON EDWARDS: Well it often seems as though it’s not fair. It’s something that has to be done, as I said. But we are in a tremendous position here, because we are one of the few places in the country where we do have good economic growth. We do have a very strong housing market. And there are tremendous opportunities for us to do this sort of thing with the housing company and generate income. They can’t do that in other places. You look at other councils, and with the cuts that they’re facing, they may have no option but to shut up shop and just close themselves down, and let them be taken over by another council. We’re not going to be in that position. We’re going to carry on providing the services that we can, and we’re going to try and get income from other sources, so we’re not so reliant on this fluctuating income from the central government.