There’s no prizes for running out of money

strategic prioritiesBut that’s what the Tories at the County Council seem to be doing. It’s budget time and there’s a £4.3 million hole despite a pre-emptive squeeze on service budgets.

It’s not yet the time to set the budget, that comes at the Full Council meeting next month, but it’s the last chance that the General Purposes Committee gets to look at it and that’s Tuesday of this week. Click here to read the papers in full.

The projected hole is getting bigger, up from £2.7 million in December, because of ‘Additional People and Communities Pressures’. This means that it’s costing us more to look after adults who need social care support and that the looked after children budget is increasingly out of control.

These ‘pressures’ have knock on effects. The first is a significant contributor to the adverse A&E performance at Addenbrooke’s this winter. And the second is necessitating savings in other budgets like the one for Children’s Centres which is being cut across the County.

The papers for Tuesday’s meeting talk about several options to plug the gap:

  • increase the ‘adult social care precept’ to 3% from 2%. But this will force a reduction of the following year’s precept to 1% so it’s just postponing the problem.
  • use money from the ‘minimum revenue provision’ fund. This is a largely technical fix and would only address the problem in the current year.
  • use money from the general reserve. This would also only address the problem in the current year.
  • cut services. This would save money in subsequent years of course and the papers suggest ‘some examples of areas that could be reduced could be:
    • Highway Maintenance
    • Libraries
    • Early Years Provision
    • Gritting
    • Street Lighting
    • Bus Subsidies’
  • raise council tax. The current working assumption is not to raise council tax but this year it’s possible to raise it by 2.99% which would yield £7.5 million for this year (and all future years).

Staggeringly the papers cite ‘contrary to position in 2017-18 MTFS agreed by Council in February’ as being a disadvantage of raising Council Tax. Since when should your financial strategy dictate how you implement your business plan? Surely finance is a part of the ‘how’ and not the sine qua non.

It’s not going to be a pretty budget season. Even if the Tories bend to the inevitable and increase council tax I expect them nonetheless to continue their drive to cut services. I can’t imagine that accords with the wishes of most of the electorate. I can’t imagine that they expect the council to fill fewer potholes, to provide less support for children and young families, or to increase queues at A&E.

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