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“At present we receive £75m less in Government funding than an average London Borough and £13.7m less than an average County Council. We are the third lowest funded County Council in the Country. If the outdated and broken funding formula had been rectified by now or if transitional funding was appropriately maintained, we would not need to consider whether to increase Council Tax in Cambridgeshire.” Cllr Steve Count, leader of Cambridgeshire County Council speaking at today’s General Purposes Committee.

At today’s (Jan 23rd) GPC meeting Members agreed a proposal which would add £1.14 per week to an average households’ council tax bill, to protect vital services and keep Cambridgeshire County Council on a sound financial footing.

Members heard that despite investing in a range of innovative and ambitious transformation and efficiency plans, without which the situation could have been much worse, the County Council was still projecting a budget gap for 2018/19 of £4.3m.This is despite having already included the 2% Adult Social Care Precept and as there are further substantial gaps forecast for the next four years, Members reluctantly recommended an additional 2.99% council tax increase in its 2018/19 budget.

In outlining the proposal that will be put to Full Council on February 6 for approval, Councillor Count stated that Cambridgeshire County Council is; 

•  A council concentrating on delivering for the long term –by being financially stable, not by cutting services

“We are proud of our record since taking back control. For example, we have refused to re-visit reductions in winter gritting, we have increased spending by £2m on repairing potholes, we have plans to increase library provision, our children centre proposals increased spending on the front line and are focused on those areas which needed the services the most. There is always more we could do if finances were unlimited, but they are not.”

•  A council that has already delivered many efficiencies and will continue to strive for more but this must be driven from a stable financial position

“In recent times we have kept a general reserve at 3% of the overall budget, around £16m. This was set at the lowest prudent level possible however as demand led services account for more than 75% of our budget, just a 5% increase in demand would create a pressure of £10m.”

•  A proven very low cost council so further efficiencies will be harder to find and cannot match the speed of future funding requirements

“We have looked at our efficiency where an independent report from Grant Thornton has proven our costs to be “Very Low”. We have stretched our plans for commercialisation and investment to return more than £301m over the medium to longer term.”

•  A council that has and will continue to invest in imaginative and innovative schemes by retaining the Transformation Fund to support long-term and sustainable transformation

“Since our introduction of the transformation fund, we have already invested £8m which will return £40m to reduce the cost of services. We also created a £1m fund which parishes can bid for to deliver and improve services. Over the next five years we have plans to invest a further £319m in transformation and investments to return £620m over the medium to long term. This is on top of the fact that Grant Thornton has already evaluated our income generation per head as “High”.”

• A council that is nationally at the front of public sector reform and intend to maintain that drive

“While we can already be proud of being the forerunner in the country with our shared back office services, a shared chief executive, an increasing number of shared senior positions and posts with Peterborough, we are continuing to look to bring forward further shared working opportunities; where they drive down costs, increase capacity and resilience and improve outcomes for our residents.”

• A council that works with our communities and assists our partners, such as the NHS - acting together to address our challenges and priorities

“We have seen greater pressures in adult social care. In January 2017 there were 100 hospital contacts per week which rose to 150 a week in December. Reductions in length of stay in hospital for older people (from 8.1 days in April to 5.6 days in October) mean older people are leaving hospital in higher numbers, more quickly and in a more fragile state. This increases capacity in our hospitals but creates significant pressure on our social care budgets. Despite these pressures, we will continue to use our resources to the absolute maximum to support the NHS as we explore a wide range of opportunities for more integrated, collaborative and effective working across health and social care services."

•  A council that will continue to fight for a funding system that is fair to the residents of Cambridgeshire and doesn’t penalise them for being at the forefront of delivering economic growth

“Cambridgeshire is a great place to call home, which is why so many people want to live here. Yet the success of the economy, one of the reasons for driving the growth, is also placing unprecedented demands on our services. In 2018/19 our changes to demography, pressures and inflation account for an additional £31m burden on our already stretched budgets”

Running alongside the actions to improve efficiency, the council is pioneering new and ambitious projects aimed at supporting more vulnerable people directly in their communities.

Radical and ambitious plans include our Neighbourhood Cares pilot, which is testing a very different, highly localised way of supporting people with adult social care needs, embedding support from within the community, to plan and deliver support on a community-wide basis.  In children’s services we are working hard to support families at an earlier stage, to stop needs escalating to a point where children have to be taken into care. We are also encouraging more people to become foster carers. We also created a £1m fund which parishes can bid for to deliver and improve services.

More automation has cut the waiting time and costs of delivering blue badges for people with disabilities – helping them remain more independent. Campaigns to recruit supported lodgings providers for teenagers leaving care or shared lives providers opening their homes to offer respite for adults with learning disabilities are delivering good results.

The council has also maximised opportunities to increase income – launching its own housing company – estimated to be worth £6m a year when fully operational,  and investing in energy schemes, like the Soham Solar farm, which is already returning more than £1m a year to support frontline services.

While the council awaits final plans from other precepting authorities –e.g. district/City councils, Police and Fire - the proposed Adult Social Care Precept increase of 2% and the Council Tax increase of 2.99% will add £23.76 annually (46p weekly) and £35.64 annually (68p weekly) respectively to a Band D property.

“We recognise that for some, this increase will be difficult and unwelcome news; we are ready to support residents who may need help to ensure they are receiving any financial support that may be available to them,” Cllr Count concluded.

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