Today Cambridgeshire County Council set its budget, and for the first time in some years there was unanimity across all the groups about the level of council tax rise – the maximum 2.99 per cent increase permitted by Government, on top of the 2 per cent increase allowed for adult social care.
The Conservative group having resisted pleas to raise the cash needed over the last few years, the funding crisis is more acute than it need have been. With (finally) a belated consensus that ‘we can’t go on like this’, the real differences between the political groups at Shire Hall this year were not about the level of council tax, but about what to do with the £7.969M extra to be raised.
Whichever group’s budget was agreed, the council would have to use most of this money to plug the £4.3 million gap in the budget. The Conservative administration’s proposals were that all of the remainder should be put away into reserves.
Two amendments were put forward: one by the Liberal Democrat group and one by the Labour group. Both amendments proposed that the extra tax income should be spent on services rather than salted away – though there were mild differences on the exact direction of the spending.
I seconded the Liberal Democrat amendment. This would have completely reversed the cuts to children’s centres, invested more in adult social care, committed not to implement increased charges for people receiving care, introduced a bus pass for 16-18 year olds to help them get around to college or work or leisure, and spent more on highways and footpath maintenance, local highways improvements, street lighting, and air quality monitoring. We also proposed to save over a quarter of a million pounds by reversing the increase in county councillors’ allowances and by reducing the number of committees.
Our amendment was duly defeated by the ruling Conservative group, with Labour abstaining. Labour’s amendment was then defeated, with my group supporting it on the basis that while we didn’t agree with all the detail it was a jolly sight better than the only remaining alternative. The Conservative budget, unamended, was then put to the vote and was voted through, with all other groups opposing it.
One Conservative councillor accused the Labour amendment of being a ‘tax and spend’ budget. Surely though if there’s one thing worse than a ‘tax and spend’ budget, it’s a ‘tax and don’t spend’ budget, which is what the Conservatives have just imposed?