Cornwall Council has agreed to save £196m over the next four years, which includes 400 council job losses—but it comes with a council tax rise of just under 2 per cent in order not to trigger a referendum. So good and bad news coming from Cornwall, but what is unusual is that it asked the public—the taxpayer—for advice on what it should cut.
“I do so with some pride in what we have managed to achieve in appalling circumstances but with no joy, no pleasure and a great deal of reluctance,” said Council leader John Pollard, proposing the budget, but said it was “good planning, it is good budgeting, it is good realism and good housekeeping.”
“We are not convinced that some of these cuts are achievable,” countered the opposition council leader, who abstained from supporting the savings. She referred specifically to the council still pressing on with the construction of new offices in Bodmin. “We do not approve of pulling out of services like public toilets when you are building offices.”
Other opposition councillors wanted to see a rise of 6 per cent in council tax to negate the budget cuts. When the council asked local taxpayers about the budget proposals, they got a pretty clear view of what their spending priorities should be.
“There were also calls for the Council to do more to generate income,” said a council spokesperson, “manage contracts more efficiently and identify further efficiencies in areas such as management and staffing to help protect front line services where possible. All these areas are included in the revised budget proposals, which identify £29m to be delivered from income generation opportunities, and £31m savings to come from the Council’s pay bill.”
“We have considered all the responses and have made a number of changes to the original proposals as a result of this feedback,” said council leader Pollard. “We have not been able to take every suggestion on board but, where this has not been possible, we have explained the reasons for this decision.”
This includes cutting funding to voluntary and community organisations by £400,000 by reducing duplication and operating costs by sharing staff and buildings, and developing a new way of commissioning services. An additional £1.7m saving from the pay bill will come as a result of a “collective agreement in relation to contribution related pay.”
But some of this looks like smoke and mirrors as a cut in the local budget is met by more taxpayers’ money coming from central government. “Increasing savings from the Transport and Waste budget by £324,000 in 2017/2018,” says their report, “will be delivered by savings from the development of an integrated transport network for Cornwall and improvements from investment from the Government’s Growth Deal.”
With such obtuse statements it is difficult to tell whether the taxpayer will win or lose from this deal.
Tim Newark is the Grassroots Co-ordinator in the South West for the TaxPayers' Alliance