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Protecting the most vulnerable and keeping the county moving safely prioritised in Council’s budget proposals

11 December 2023

The impact of inflation, rising demands for services and cuts in government funding forecast for next year will still leave a gap of just over £2m before Cambridgeshire County Council can set a balanced budget for 2024/5, Council members will be told at next week’s Strategy, Resources and Performance (S, R &P) committee on Tuesday, 19 December.

Despite this, the Council’s proposed plans for the coming year include investing £57 million to sustain children’s and adult’s social care services, as well as furthering the Council’s commitment to the Real Living Wage being paid by adult care providers. The Committee will also receive proposals to prioritise £3m from the Council to continue to provide holiday food vouchers for all children eligible for free school meals, despite the government support being likely to end. In addition, £2.2m to deliver other anti-poverty initiatives and £1.3m into more accessible libraries to support vulnerable communities.

The budget proposals also include a prioritised investment of £23m into making highways, footpaths, and cycleways safer – on top of a recently announced government allocation of £2.3m. This will be used to deliver improvements which both repair and prevent potholes, deliver improved drainage schemes, and reinstate cycleway maintenance and weed clearance.

“People need safe routes when they travel around the county, by car, bike or on foot. More than ten years of national underfunding, compounded by problems caused by extreme weather events, are causing our county disproportionate problems, as 37% of our road network is built on peat,” said Cllr Lucy Nethsingha, leader of the Council. “We plan to invest more in this area because people are being affected when we can’t keep up with the increased needs for maintenance,”

“Since the pandemic we have seen an increase of more than 24% in children eligible for free school meals across the county. Just this month we are sending out food vouchers to 22,000 children to make sure that they can continue to have a meal each day during the Christmas holidays,” said Cllr Elisa Meschini, deputy leader of the Council. “We already know and are told repeatedly how vital this support is. Despite the Chancellor’s Autumn statement indicating the funding councils get towards this may stop from April – we plan on continuing to support it.”

The proposed budget also plans to prioritise additional funding for people experiencing mental health issues to prevent them reaching crisis, particularly focussing on younger people aiming to avoid a lifetime of health needs which impacts on their education and employment potential.

“While we are looking at what we invest, we will also be looking to work even more closely with our partners in the combined authority, district councils and the NHS – who also have responsibilities in these areas – to look at how the way we collectively invest in services which support people complements each other. And we will make sure that where we feel we are doing more than our share, that we are vocal about this,” said Cllr Tom Sanderson, Leader of the Independent Group on the council.

In the proposals which Members will discuss for the first time – before a full month of scrutiny in January, including listening to people’s views from an online residents’ survey which will go live following the meeting on December 19th) – they will consider how far proposals link to views expressed in the Council’s first Quality of Life Survey ( by 5,500 residents and its vision to make Cambridgeshire Greener, Fairer and More Caring.

Proposals to be discussed include an increase of council tax by 4.99%, the maximum permitted by Government before a public referendum is needed. A total 2% of this increase is dedicated to adult social care services across the county, enabling the Council to pay the provider workforce the Real Living Wage, helping ensure there is sufficient staffing for care across the County. The Council is also prioritising funds through investment in anti-poverty work to make sure that people who receive council services are receiving all the welfare benefits they are entitled to.

“If we had taken all the council tax we were allowed to raise in the last ten years, when the country was not in the grip of a cost-of-living crisis, we would have an additional £16m in our base budget. So while we didn’t want to propose taking a full increase this year when times are tough, with increases in inflation on things like construction, and added responsibilities passed on to us by Government which are unfunded, we have nowhere else to go, particularly as in the next four years we are also predicting a gap of around £20m each year” Cllr Nethsingha continued.

“But we are also aware of, and will help communicate to eligible people, discounts offered to the most vulnerable across the county. In most of our districts eligible residents can claim up to 100% discount on their council tax. Huntingdonshire has become the latest district to offer this full discount.”

Members will also consider how an estimated £17.6m of identified additional savings will be delivered, 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, over £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, as well as £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.

Debate on what else needs to be done to close the remain financial gap will continue at the meeting and at all the Council’s service committees during January – before S,R &P make a final recommendation on 30 January to Full Council which will agree the budget on 13 February.

The full detail of the Government’s Revenue Support grant for 2024/5 is not set to be announced until the day of the S, R &P committee on 19 December.

You can find copies of all the papers for discussion at next week's S, R &P committee, including the Business and Financial Plan 2024-2029, on our website.