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Consultation begins on Cambridgeshire budget proposals ahead of ‘toughest year’ for local councils

19 December 2023

Consultation is to begin on Cambridgeshire County Council’s proposals for its 2024/5 budget. In what is being called ‘the toughest year to set a balanced council budget’ the council is looking to support vulnerable people and improve highways maintenance, while still seeking to bridge a remaining £2m gap.

Members heard that the provisional one-year Local Government Financial Settlement announced last night, did not compensate for the levels of demand and inflation that the Council is faced with, particularly in areas such as Children’s Social Care, Home to School Transport and provision for children and young people with Special Educational Needs or Disabilities. Members noted that all local authorities faced significant financial uncertainties as a consequence.

“The road is running out, even for well managed and financially prudent councils such as ours,” said Cambridgeshire’s Chief executive Stephen Moir, as he and Michael Hudson, the Council’s Executive Director for Finance and Resources presented the proposals for discussion.

Members of the Strategy, Resources and Performance Committee agreed to debate the proposals put forward today (19 December), at all the council’s January service committees, as well as launching an online public survey ( and seeking views of Town and Parish Councils, public sector authorities, business leaders and, most importantly, from residents.

The Committee heard that the draft proposals had been shaped by views gathered in the council’s first Quality of Life Survey (Quality of life survey 2023 - Cambridgeshire County Council) conducted with 5,500 residents during the summer on how the council could deliver its vision to make Cambridgeshire Greener, Fairer and More Caring.

The proposals focus on sustaining social services, continuing to provide free school meal vouchers for eligible children during holidays, progressing the council’s commitment to pay the real living wage to people providing adult social care, and prioritising highways and cycleways maintenance across the county. However, even with a proposed council tax rise of 4.99% – 2% of which will be dedicated to adult social care services – the combination of demand for services, inflation and the ending of some government grants will still leave a £2m gap in the 2024/5 budget.

Included in the proposals for the coming year are for the council to:

  • Invest £57 million to sustain children’s and adult social care services.
  • Further the Council’s commitment to the Real Living Wage, which has increased to £12ph outside London, to take account of the Government uplift of the legally enforceable Living Wage, being paid by adult care providers.
  • Prioritise £3m to continue to provide holiday food vouchers for all children eligible for free school meals, despite the government support being likely to end in the next financial year.
  • Invest £2.2m to deliver other anti-poverty initiatives – such as support to make sure that vulnerable people are claiming all the welfare benefits that they are entitled to.
  • Put £1.3m into delivering more accessible libraries to support vulnerable communities.
  • Prioritise investment of £23m into making highways, footpaths, and cycleways safer – on top of a recently announced government allocation of £2.3m. This will be to deliver improvements which both repair and prevent potholes, deliver improved drainage schemes, and reinstate cycleway maintenance and weed clearance.
  • Put additional funding into schemes for people experiencing mental health issues to prevent them reaching crisis, particularly focussing on younger people.

“I echo our officer’s views about how difficult it has been to draw this proposed budget together in the toughest year for council finances that I can remember.” said Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of the council, who offered her thanks to all staff who had worked hard to develop the draft budget proposals as well as those who continue to provide support to some of the most vulnerable people in Cambridgeshire. “Levels of demand and inflation have been higher this year than had been anticipated, and if they continue in this vein in future years, we are going to face serious problems.” she added.

The proposals include an increase of council tax by 4.99%, the maximum permitted by Government before a public referendum is needed – with a total of 2% of this increase dedicated to adult social care services across the county, and £17.6m of identified additional savings – from areas such as:

  • moving to LED streetlights which are set to deliver £1m in energy savings each year.
  • £1.5m across the next three years from rationalising the council’s office accommodation.
  • more than £2m from reviewing the highest cost children’s placement costs, and home to school transport routes – to bring children closer to home and reduce travel time.
  • £0.5m from driving down the amount of bad debt.
  • reviews of income raised by permits and parking charges are also proposed to raise just under £1m.

“No one in this council wants to put council tax up.“ said Cllr Nethsingha. “But we have legal duties and moral responsibilities for people in this county. We were promised a fair funding review for local authorities by the Government – it hasn’t happened. We were promised social care reforms that would fix the challenges in the sector by the Government – it hasn’t happened. I am so fed up with being promised jam tomorrow by the Government. We have to make sure we are being responsible and making prudent decisions for the long term.”

The views of all committees, those drawn from the online survey which is open until midday on Tuesday, 16 January and meetings with groups including Town and Parish Councils, business leaders and trade unions, will be combined before the S, R &P committee makes a final recommendation at its meeting on 30 January to Full Council, which then meets to debate and agree the Council’s budget on 13 February.