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16 February 2016, 16:30 | Updated: 16 February 2016, 16:38
Cornwall Council says it has 'set a budget which will protect front line services from the impact of further Government cuts, provide an additional £27m for supporting vulnerable people and invest more than £850m in schemes to improve road, rail and bus services, create jobs and build new affordable homes for local people over the next four years.'
Introducing the budget and business plan at today’s meeting of the Council, Council Leader John Pollard said that the authority was continuing to face significant financial pressures as a result of cuts in Government funding. Adding that Cornwall’s finances were incredibly well run, Mr Pollard said the budget would ensure that the Council would balance its books:
“The Council has been fiscally prudent and we have a resilient forward plan. We do have to cope with the cuts in funding from central government , but by doing things in a different way in co-operation with our partners, we have the opportunity to build a different Cornwall. Today’s Budget proposals maintain our four year strategy to best serve the public we represent.”
The Council says 'the aim of the budget is to deliver the priorities identified in the Council’s Strategy to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, protect essential services such as public transport and road maintenance, and invest in new homes and infrastructure, at the same time as delivering the £40m savings forced on the authority as a result of reductions in the grant from the Government. Last year the Council set a four year budget and business plan which included a 1.97% increase in the Cornwall Council element of council tax for 2016/2017. This increase would have meant a 49 pence a week increase (£25 a year) for a Band D property. Since then the Government has suggested councils raise council tax by a further 2% to help fund the pressures facing adult social care services.'
Introducing the “Social Care Precept” in Cornwall will increase overall spending on adult social care services from the current level of £116m a year to £143m by 2019/20 (a 23% increase). The 2% council tax increase, which means an additional 50 pence per week increase for a Band D property, provides an extra £4.7m for adult social care in 2016/2017.
Other proposals approved by Members at today’s meeting include a £1m one off investment to help support the transformation of one stop shops and libraries, and £855m capital investment in schemes to improve transport links, including the A30 at Temple, to build new homes and help grow the local economy.
The Council had previously been facing an additional £6m cut in its grant following the Government’s decision to redistribute funding from rural to urban areas. However, following representations from a number of rural authorities, including Cornwall Council, over the past two weeks, the Government announced it was providing more money for rural areas. As a result the Council will receive an additional £2.9m one off funding in 2016/17. The Council says 'While this funding has been welcomed, it does not reduce the overall level of Government funding cuts in the long term which, together with increasing pressures on key services, means the authority needs to save £103m over the next four years.'
The budget approved today includes taking £12m from the Council’s general reserves to help cushion the impact of the additional cuts and protect front line services from further reductions. Adam Paynter, the Cabinet Member for Resources and Deputy Leader of the Council, said:
“We are using reserves to smooth the budget and prevent the need to make further cuts in essential services. We are also using the new powers granted by the Government to raise council tax by 2% to provide much needed money for our adult social care services to support vulnerable people in Cornwall. Despite the one off additional funding announced by the Government we are still facing significant financial pressures. We are, however, in a much stronger position than many other authorities thanks to our budget planning over the past few years. We have worked hard to become more efficient and effective by restructuring the council and delivering services in different ways. We are also working with town and parish councils, local residents and the voluntary and community sector to give communities more say in the running of their local services. The additional powers and freedoms we have been given under the Devolution Deal means we will have much greater control over how public monies are spent in Cornwall. As a result we have been able to set a budget which will protect front line services at the same time as working with partners to provide investment of up to a £1billion from public, private and European funding to improve Cornwall’s housing, transport, environment, culture and the economy over the next five years.”
The overall budget set today also includes the precepts set by Town and Parish Councils in Cornwall. The Town and Parish Council precepts for 2016/2017 total £18,549,999, with an average Band D property charge of £101.62.
Adam Paynter said: “Many Town and Parish Councils across Cornwall are going through a period of transformation and are raising their precepts to support the delivery of an ambitious range of services and projects for their local communities in their own right. Over 60 communities either have or are currently developing their Neighbourhood plans, with many also developing Community Emergency Plans. Cornwall Council is also working with councils across Cornwall to support their plans for greater devolved powers and Town and Parish Councils are delivering some exciting and ground breaking local projects, ranging from providing community transport to low-carbon initiatives and from running a community shop to working with young people”.
The budget also includes the precept recommended by the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime Commissioner. The total police precept of £99,338,238 results in a Band D charge of £172.84. This 1.99% increase is below the 2% threshold for a referendum set by the Government.