Joint administration unveils proposals for a ‘just transition’ to a greener, fairer, more caring Cambridgeshire
Cambridgeshire County Council’s Joint Administration proposes to set up a £14 million fund over the next five years to tackle inequality, improve lives, and care for the environment.
The council’s strategy and resources committee will next Thursday (27) consider proposals for a ‘Just Transition Fund’, as part of plans to deliver on a proposed new vision and ambitions which also include a set of new priorities for the council.
In its first year, if agreed, the Just Transition fund will fund schemes that:
Increase flood prevention, continuing a recent rapid increase in gully clearing
Help tackle climate change
Widen opportunities for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
Increase Independent Living Services
Expand direct payments and individual service funds – where adults assessed as needing support can choose and manage their own care services
Expand the ‘Care Together’ programme, providing care services close to where people live
It will then make recommendations to the committee, to be put forward for discussion by full council as it sets the council’s budget for 2022/23 on February 8th.
The council consulted residents at the end of last year about spending priorities. It visited a representative sample of residents at home, and launched an online survey.
Both showed firm public support for helping people live more independently, tackling inequality, and responding to the climate crisis. This is in line with the Joint Administration’s priorities as set out in the Joint Administration Agreement.
“Before we can do any of this we must first balance the budget – not just for the coming year but for the next four. When we took control of the council in May last year, we were left with a potential budget gap of £86m by 2027 if we don’t take action now,” said Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, council leader and chair of strategy and resources committee. “We invited in an independent and cross-party team of local government experts in July to review the Council when we took office. They highlighted this as an issue ‘of significant magnitude’ for us.”
The Joint Administration proposes to raise the county council share of council tax by 4.99 per cent. That will mean an extra charge of £1.04 per week for a Band B, and £1.19 for a Band C household. More than half of all homes in Cambridgeshire are in these two bands. The local government experts who visited in summer highlighted that historic decisions not to raise council tax in previous years have led to significant ongoing lost income to support local services.
The council’s countywide survey showed 58 per cent of the representative survey, and 60.8 per cent of those responding online, supported some level of council tax increase. There was a mixed reaction to how much this should be.
“We completely understand that people who are struggling now due to the pandemic will find any increase difficult. The whole country faces increases in energy bills, national insurance or a loss of universal credit. Our business plans include direct support for those most in need. If we take steps now to close the budget gap we were left with, we can also protect essential services that vulnerable groups need and use most in the years to come.” Cllr Nethsingha.
“It has been acknowledged even by the current chair of the Local Government Association that to keep providing services at pre pandemic levels every council will have to raise council tax by the maximum in the next financial year,” she added.
“We can’t wait, we need to act now. This council has lobbied for many years for fair and realistic funding for our growing county. The Government has continued to ignore Cambridgeshire. If we are to continue to provide the services that our users rely on and deserve, and tackle issues that are important to Cambridgeshire people, such as the climate emergency and the recovery from the pandemic, we need to put our house in order now,” said Cllr Elisa Meschini, deputy council leader and the committee's vice-chair.
“Our plans offer a safety net for the most vulnerable, like the Household Support Fund - now made available to all 39,000 Cambridgeshire people on universal credit. As well as supplementing the income of everyone on Universal Credit by £20 we intend to continue to fund free school meals to eligible children throughout school holidays. We have more to come if our proposals are agreed”.
If Cambridgeshire received the same level of funding as the average county council, it would have received an extra £23m for 2022/23.
Instead, the Government has announced that a review of local government funding expected in in 2020, has been postponed for at least another year and is now not expected until 2023/4.
The current funding baselines for local authorities in England are based on an assessment of their relative needs and resources (the Relative Needs Formula, or RNF). This has not been reviewed since 2013/14. It takes no account of Cambridgeshire’s 27 per cent increase in people aged 65+ in the past 10 years, compared to the national average of an 19 per cent increase.