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Cambridgeshire County Council leader warns of ‘stark choices’ ahead as demand sees budget gap grow

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Increased demand for services this year has seen Cambridgeshire County Council’s current budget gap leap to £5.2 million – with a predicted additional £20.7m to find in 2019/2.

Council leader Steve Count. (4142072)
Council leader Steve Count. (4142072)

In a report on the Council’s current financial situation, members next week (September 20) general purposes committee will hear that this year’s widening gap is due to the local impact of a national increase in demand for children’s and adults services - with predictions of increased numbers made earlier in the year already outstripped.

Members will hear that the council has clear plans in place to manage the growing levels of demand and is moving at pace to deliver them, but because of the nature of the work some of the investment made now could take up to three years to deliver the most noticeable effect.

Work is also continuing to increase and boost the income the council makes from its commercial activities, which will see £4million returned to the council this year, £10 million next, and more in future years.

However Cambridgeshire County Council leader Councillor Steve Count has warned of stark choices ahead.

“We must balance our budget this year, and next while our ambitious plans continue to take hold. But without taking serious action now our situation looks dire," he said.

“A benchmarking report by Grant Thornton in January 2018 showed that we were already using funding we do have efficiently, and work by Cap Gemini has demonstrated that although our spend per head on Adult Social Care is one of the lowest in the Country we maintain good outcomes.

“However, this is not a sustainable position and we expect to be at the bottom of the national table for money available to spend on Adult Social Care in 19/20 – and so there is no doubt that outcomes for some of our most vulnerable citizens will suffer if the future funding issue is not addressed.

“I believe that cutting back on prevention and transformation work – the very things that have allowed us to manage our situation so well for so long - is counter-productive in the long term but may have to be considered.

“We can’t resolve this situation without help as we need to fix the problem long term. Additional Government funding is needed to fix the underlying issues, rather than temporary measures we can take which just temporarily alleviate the pain.” he added.

The council has already raised its historical underfunding issues with all Cambridgeshire MPs, through a national consultation on the government’s funding formula and direct with Ministers at the MHCLG and through its Fairdeal4Cambs campaign, highlighting:

Government funding (RSG) to Cambridgeshire County Council has fallen by £50m in the past four years, from £53m a year in 2014/5 to just £3m this year

This sum is set to go negative next year – meaning Cambridgeshire will have to send £7m of Cambridgeshire tax payers money back to government to spend elsewhere in the UK

Cambridgeshire was the only Combined Authority area last year not to be given a business rate retention pilot project – costing the council an estimated £8m

During the autumn Cambridgeshire County Council plans to continue: Raising its situation at the highest levels of government, with Cambridgeshire MPs.

Working with the County Council’s Network to continue campaigning on the general underfunding of County Councils across the UK.

Developing a business rates retention pilot bid with the Combined Authority and districts.

Looking at all planned spending, and considering further reductions or postponements.

Considering all external contracts due to come up for renegotiation to look for further savings and freezing all non-essential vacancies

Suggestions for further changes to meet the current in-year budget gap, as well as balancing next year’s budget, go before members in October and November – with a period of consultation on the council’s business planning for 2019/20 starting from early October with options discussed by local residents in community groups, face to face and as part of an online survey.

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