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Mayor James Palmer and Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, launch the new Digital Connectivity Strategy for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough with David Cleevely CBE, Chairman of Raspberry Pi and Vice Chair of CPEIR.

(Back row, left to right) Ian Adkins, Principal of Analysys Mason; Noelle Godfrey, Connecting Cambridgeshire Programme Director; Trevor Linney, Head of Openreach Access Technology Research Lab; Mark Andrews, Enabling Digital Delivery (EDD) Manager; Graham Hughes, Executive Director for Place and Economy at Cambridgeshire County Council. (Front row, left to right) Cllr Steve Count, Leader for Cambridgeshire County Council; James Palmer, Mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough; David Cleevely CBE, Chairman of Raspberry Pi and Vice Chair of CPIER.

Digital connectivity

Ambitious plans to invest £millions in bringing ‘outstanding’ digital connectivity across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to support the region’s rapid economic growth and improve people’s daily lives were launched on Monday 9 July 2018 by Cllr Steve Count and James Palmer, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor.

A new Delivering Digital Connectivity Strategy is being launched with £5.6million investment from the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority to significantly improve mobile, broadband and public WiFi coverage, whilst securing future proof full fibre and 5G networks.

The funding will be used to extend the Connecting Cambridgeshire programme, led by Cambridgeshire County Council, which has already successfully rolled out superfast broadband access to over 96% of the county and is on track to achieve 99% by 2020.

LGA and CCN issue funding warnings to Government

Local authorities have reached the point where relentless financial cutbacks are putting the wellbeing of vulnerable adults and children at risk, Lord Porter, Leader of the Local Government Association (LGA) warned this week.  At the same time, the County Council’s Network (CCN) released new research from the country’s 37 shire counties which warns ‘the worst is yet to come’.

Ahead of this week’s LGA conference in Birmingham, Lord Porter said that after eight years of austerity during which £16bn has been stripped from council budgets in England, councils risked being “damaged beyond recognition” and communities depleted of vital services.

An £8bn black hole in council budgets would open up by 2023 unless ministers stepped in to close the gap between spiralling demand for adult and children’s social care services and shrinking town hall incomes, he said. “We’ve reached a point where councils will no longer be able to support our residents as they expect, including our most vulnerable.” Lord Porter added.

CCN Chairman and Leader of Kent County Council Paul Carter told BBC Radio 4 and The Guardian this week that whilst counties have delivered 'extraordinary' savings during austerity, decisions from next year onwards will be 'truly unpalatable' without new funding.

The County Council's Network research reveals: 

  • A total of 37 county councils and county unitary authorities face a combined funding gap of £3.2bn in the next two years alone, with the majority of these funding pressures due to projected demand for services and inflation.
  • At least £466m of earmarked savings to fill the funding gap above will make further 'visible' reductions in frontline services - services such as adult social care, children's social care, bus services, and road repairs. Councils will have little choice but to raise council tax each year to make up the shortfall.
  • Whilst county leaders believe they will be able to set a balanced budget this year, 36% were either 'not confident' or 'neutral' in doing the same in 2019/20, according to a survey carried out by the CCN. 
  • With no details on long-term funding plans for councils beyond 2020/21, confidence drops dramatically; with just one third (33%) confident they will be able to set a balanced and legal budget that year.

Business rate retention pilot - MPs' support needed

The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) is expected to open the process to bid for next year’s business retention pilots in July – and without our MPs' strong support this county‘s public services could be millions worse off.

Last year MHCLG selected 10 areas across the county to participate in a business rates retention pilot, ahead of plans to move to 75% local retention in April 2020. The Combined Authority, Cambridgeshire County Council and our district councils bid to participate last year but were not successful - leaving us one of only two devolved areas without a pilot.

We estimate last year’s pilot could have been worth as much as £16m on a one-off basis to local public services – £8m for CCC alone which would have been enough to fund 400 social workers or cover the annual cost of around 130 vulnerable children needing our care.

Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, has written to all Cambridgeshire MPs seeking your personal support in this matter.

Fair deal for education

Cambridgeshire is one of the worst funded education authorities in England. The county receives £400 less per child than the average funded authority and £1,600 less per child than Westminster.

The nature of our county means that there are a high number of small, rural schools who have been seriously disadvantaged by the cut in the lump sum allocation for each school from £150,000 to £110,00 resulting from the introduction of a National Funding Formula. This is equivalent to the full costs of about one teacher.

The Cambridgeshire Schools Forum is calling on the Secretary of State for Education to increase funding for all the county's early years, primary, secondary and special schools. It's asking parents, students, school staff and others who care about our schools to show their support for our campaign by signing and sharing the Government petition

CPIER interim report - CCC response

Cambridgeshire County Council has welcomed publication of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Independent Economic Review interim report, but wants to see more explicit support for businesses included, and for it to widen its considerations to beyond the city of Cambridge.

In its feedback to the report, which you can see in full on the CPIER website, the council says whilst there are many positive aspects to the report, such as the outlined approach to the Industrial Strategy, there are a number of areas which could benefit from further scrutiny in the final version of the review including:

Geography

The three-area characterisation appears to be more of an interesting observation regarding travel to work patterns than a meaningful factor in future policy design. 

Doubling GVA

It is important to set ambitious growth targets. However, there are few explicit references to any other objectives. 

Productivity and the future of work

There is very little mention of supporting businesses to improve productivity despite this being an important factor in doubling GVA, increasing competitiveness and resilience, and improving wages. The majority of references to productivity are in relation to the impact of health on productivity. Likewise, there appears to be a lack of consideration or analysis of the potential opportunities and challenges posed by the growth of automation and AI on the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough business base and workforce. This new era will result in a seismic shift in our economy and, in the long run (but within the scope of this Review given the target year for the doubling of GVA), will have a bigger impact than Brexit.  

The Council goes on to comment that the interim report’s  initial conclusion is very brief and seems to focus exclusively on the challenges to the Cambridge area with a nod to the fact that other areas will need to be considered. 

Structural changes aimed at improving children's outcomes

The rising number of children in care is an issue which affects many local authorities, but in Cambridgeshire in particular it is as a direct result of being one of the fastest growing counties in the UK. Currently the 700 children in our system at any one time costs this authority in the region of £22.3m a year – and is unsustainable within the resources available to us.

To meet this challenge we are proposing changes to our system which could help us to move more in line with authorities able to maintain lower numbers than us. If we do manage to bring our numbers in line with our statistical neighbours, by more focused intervention and innovative approaches, a reduction of around 90 children in our care would not just save us £2.9m a year but help more children maintain settled childhoods.

Our intention remains to do all we can to attempt to improve outcomes for the children in our care, despite the pressures we face as the third worst funded shire county in the UK. If our funding position was improved, we could do more across the authority in terms of prevention, which ultimately could lead to less funding being required in the longer term. However, as always, the precarious financial balance of today's needs must be weighed against tomorrow's outcomes.

Recommendations for change agreed by the Children and Young People’s Committee will include some structural changes, including:

  • Moving resources from the MASH (Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub) to support increased screening by the Council's Contact Centre in St Ives, allowing the MASH to focus on more complex cases.
  • Adopting a single children's information system within the MASH. Cambridgeshire and Peterborough councils currently operate different children's information systems which limits the potential for joint working.
  • Moving to a structure of teams that includes a dedicated management role. Removing the need for Consultant Social Workers to both manage staff as well as a high volume of cases themselves. Instead, we will be creating a dedicated team manager position.
  • Developing specialist teams within each district. The current scope of work can lead to certain groups of children - notably children in care and children in need - being given a lower priority as workers struggle to manage competing demands.
  • Moving the work of current First Response Team to district-based assessment teams.
  • Developing a countywide specialist service for children in care of all ages, young people leaving care and asylum seeking young people.
  • Developing a separate service responsible for fostering, the Hub and edge of care and supervised contact services.
  • Developing case-holding alternatively qualified roles - our approach to dealing with a national shortage of qualified social workers. These pressures mean that while w need to do all we can to recruit permanent social worker roles, we also need to consider alternative approaches. 

These recommendations are informed by two external reviews of our services -  a peer review of the MASH and an in-depth analysis of the likely causes behind our growing population of children in care from Oxford Brookes University and an Ofsted focused visit concentrated on children in need and child protection which took place in March 2018.

Bus routes get temporary reprieve

An important rural bus route temporarily reprieved after Cambridgeshire County Council stepped in back in April 2018 has now been saved until the end of the financial year, along with three others, pending a more far reaching review by James Palmer, Mayor for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

Stagecoach announced that service 46, between Wisbech and March, would be withdrawn at the end of April 2018. Cambridgeshire County Councillors agreed in late March to fund a replacement bus service in the short term, at a cost of £36,000, and pledged that this support would stay in place until 25 August 2018.

This ensured a continuous service during the critical school exam period particularly for students travelling to Neale-Wade Academy in March. The further three routes that are run by Whippet who have recently announced their termination serve the following areas:

  • 196 - Waterbeach - Horningsea - Fen Ditton - Cambridge
  • 31 - Barley - Fowlmere - Thriplow - Newton - Hauxton - Stapleford - Cambridge
  • 75 - Wrestlingworth - Croydon - Arrington - Wimpole - Orwell - Barrington - Haslingfield - Harlton - Barton - Cambridge

Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council said: “I am delighted that the Mayor has agreed to take over funding these four routes to the end of the financial year. This will be a huge relief to people in local areas who depend on them.  While I have been pressing for this to happen, I am aware that we need to find a more permanent solution to the issue of funding vital links to rural communities which are seen as uneconomic by commercial companies. I will be working closely with the Mayor, from my position within the Combined Authority, to urgently review the future of a further 19 services that are under threat and which are currently being supported by the County Council out of its own finite and hard pressed resources.”

Dates for your diary

Cllr Steve Count, Leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, and Chief Executive Gillian Beasley will be hosting the next Cambridgeshire MPs' briefing update meetings after PMQs on:

  • Wednesday 5 September 2018, 1.30pm, Portcullis House (room number to be confirmed)
  • Wednesday 21 November 2018, 1.30pm, Portcullis House (room number to be confirmed)

Reminders will be sent nearer the time. For further information, please contact our Executive Officer George Hakes by email at [email protected]

In brief

Soham library engagement

Work is continuing on the Library Service transformation programme with the development of the Soham pilot. Through a series of engagement sessions, the pilot aims at working with the community to develop an individual plan for the future of the library.

Happy Hands in Fenland

Families in Friday Bridge are flocking to new family fun sessions delivered for the first time in the village as part of the redesigned Child and Family Centre offer. The Happy Hands programme is helping families in rural villages in Fenland to access activities, information and services and is designed to move to different locations. It is part of Cambridgeshire County Council's new refreshed and redesigned Child and Family Centres and Zones launched on 1 April 2018 to better meet the needs of a growing and rural county with activities and events taking place in a range of new locations and an extended focus on families with children of all ages.

Future work on Ely Underpass

Following the opening of the Ely Southern Bypass, the existing level crossing on Station Road will be closed to all traffic. The two-way traffic using the existing underpass at the low railway bridge will be single-file (one way at a time) and controlled with traffic lights, allowing significant improvements for pedestrians and cyclists to be made.

Countywide projects receive innovation funding

Seven new local projects which will improve the lives of people in Cambridgeshire have been given the green light, thanks to the County Council's Innovate and Cultivate Fund including East Leightonstone Parish Council for 'Thrive Huntingdon' to support their existing youth outreach project to expand into new high needs areas, with plans including opening additional youth cafes.

The fund is worth up to one million pounds and aims to invest in local community projects that help deliver the council's priorities for children, families, vulnerable adults and older people. 

Applications and information are available on the Cambridgeshire Community Foundation website

Cambridgeshire Archives Centre, Ely

Work on the new centre is now underway. Our contractor is on site and handover of the completed building is currently anticipated for June 2019. The archive and registration records will then be moved in.

EastNet contract award

MLL Telecom, a leading provider of secure managed network services for the UK public sector, has been awarded the EastNet contract to deliver a new Wide Area Network (WAN) solution and centralised services to Cambridgeshire County Council and the wider community served by EastNet.

Updates

LGA research 'debunks' inefficient services myth

Wildly different spending levels in children’s services owe more to local demographic factors than to inefficiency or political decision, says an independent report for the Local Government Association.

Councils in 'worrying financial position' say MPs

Local councils face a funding gap of £5bn by 2020 because of "complacent" government ministers' failure to plan for the future, an influential committee of MPs has warned. In a damning report, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said government-imposed budget cuts of almost 50% in the last seven years have left a number of councils under "enormous pressure" and "in a worrying financial position."

Council at risk of bankruptcy calls for funding fix

Somerset County Council has called on ministers to fix a “broken” system of council funding after it emerged its deteriorating finances mean it is at serious risk of going bust.

Rural areas face 'perfect storm'

Cllr Mark Hawthorne, Chairman of the LGA’s People and Places Board, said: “Rural areas face a perfect storm, unless the Government can give non-metropolitan England the powers and resources it needs, it will be left behind."

Don’t forget to visit our news pagelike us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to keep up-to-date with the latest announcements.

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