Tax cash to be ploughed into social care

Date: Friday 16th February 2018
Hilary Carrick
Hilary Carrick

A PROPOSAL to use £1.13 million in government cash to fund community transport schemes in rural areas across Eden and the rest of Cumbria has been rejected by county councillors.

The proposal was put forward by Hilary Carrick (Con, Penrith North) on Thursday during a debate to decide Cumbria County Council’s budget for the next financial year.

Officers had recommended a general council tax increase of 1.99 per cent for 2018-19 as well as an additional increase to the precept of two per cent for adult social care.

Instead of offering an alternative budget, the Conservatives suggested an amendment which included using the £1.13 million from the recently announced Rural Services Delivery Grant to help develop community transport solutions.

Mrs Carrick described the Tory approach to budgeting as “risk-based” in the face of reduced government funding, and added: “The Conservative Group is fully aware of the challenge we are facing — we don’t underestimate the scale of this challenge.”

Her proposal was voted down in a recorded vote which showed 30 councillors were in favour and 41 against.

At Thursday’s full council meeting, which was held in Kendal, the budget recommendations were introduced by deputy leader Ian Stewart (Lib Dem, Kent Estuary), the cabinet member for finance, who said the proposed 3.99 per cent rise in council tax was lower than that of many other authorities, such as Surrey which had proposed a six per cent hike.

He said there had been extra funding from the Government but it had been only around six per cent of what had been asked for to “bridge the gap”. “No wonder that all authorities who deliver adult and children’s services are having to increase council tax,” he said.

Mr Stewart said that since the 2011-12 budget, savings of almost £215 million had been made.

“If we had not had to reduce our budget by £215 million we could have been in a position to double what we spend on children and families services; health, care and community services; fire and rescue services; and the support members have in working with our communities through local committees,” he said. “That is what the impact of the reduction in revenue budget really means.”

He reminded councillors that, based on what was known about government funding for councils over the next few years, a further £69 million savings in revenue spending would have to be made.

In response, Conservative leader James Airey described it as a budget consisting of proposals which were based around a series of “technical savings and delaying tactics”. “Or to the man in the street — smoke and mirrors which does nothing to drive this council forward but does show what a weak and ineffective administration this county now suffers,” he said.

“An administration that deliberately paints the bleakest picture possible in order to attack the Government.”

He attacked the budget for lacking detail and added that, nationally, the Government was getting the country “back on track” with increased employment and initiatives such as the Northern Powerhouse, Transport for the North and the Borderlands deal.

Mr. Airey highlighted the pressures on adult social care and added: “We have a number of homes that are tired, half empty and not fit for purpose while we drive forward with the build of new care homes which you don’t even know whether you will fill.

“Should we not be putting more effort into supporting assistive technology and extra-care housing, thereby helping residents retain their own front door key and above all retain their dignity?”

Council leader Stewart Young (Lab, Upperby) said he would have liked to have seen “significant proposals” from the Conservatives which outlined how they would spend the money differently.

The recommendations were approved following a second recorded vote which showed 41 for and 31 against the proposed budget. The revenue budget for 2018-19 was set at £370 million with a capital programme of £242 million after identifying £39 million of savings, most of which has come from financial efficiencies.

Taking into account Eden Council’s zero per cent rise, and the police commissioner’s 5.39 per cent increase, this will make a Band D council tax bill in 2018-19 £1,755.62 (exclusive of parish precepts) compared to £1,692.54 the previous year — or £1,170.42 (£1,128.36 last year) on a Band A property.

The county rise factors in a two per cent pay award for staff and a 100 per cent uplift in fees paid to foster carers (costing an additional £1.15 million), as well as extension of a Homestay scheme to support children moving out of care. This is to try to ease a potential £6 million pressure on the overall budget for looked after children.

The capital programme includes investment of £1.766m for each of the next three years (2018-19 to 2020-21) to upgrade street lights to include LED bulbs which results in reduced energy costs for the council.

Specific grants like the dedicated schools grant, free school meals, public health, skills funding and youth offender/domestic violence prevention schemes remain ringfenced.