Friday, 15 February 2013

The Lib Dem and Tory alternative budgets

The ruling administration at Cornwall Council has outlined their budget. As a response to yet more cuts from central government their response is to both raise council tax and cut services. There's less money so they're spending less and asking for more, its a terrible situation from my recollection the recession didn't start from Cornish schools overspending, or Cormac fixing too many potholes or Cornwall having too many libraries. But alas the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition sees funding the Royal Family, Trident replacement, a high speed railway to better connect the capital and shielding Whitehall budgets as the important things to fund. Local government here as elsewhere has had drastic cuts local government is at the forefront of recession. It may have been bailing out the banks that caused the government's financial woes but rest assured your local social workers, fire fighters, teachers, road cleaners, librarians etc are bearing the brunt. This is the reason Mebyon Kernow has called for those Conservative and Liberal Democrat councilors in protest as Dick Cole explained on his blog:

"Coalition cuts to local government are disproportionate and are undermining the ability of councils to provide public services. It is also shameful that the cuts, such as the localisation of council tax benefit, are increasingly likely to fall on the less-well-off.

But if they are serious stopping these truly damaging cuts, Conservative and Liberal Democrat councillors should send a strong message to the Coalition by resigning from their respective parties." link here

Now rather than resign, the local branch of the Conservatives and simultaneously the local branch of the Lib Dems in the form of Fiona Ferguson, Mike Eathorne Gibbons for the Cons and Alex Folkes for the Dems have pledged seperately to look at the figures and find alternative budgets. Ambitious people as they are and loyal to their parties they're keen to make the funding cuts from Westminster look more reasonable and set themselves the challenge of freezing council tax (rather than the 1.97% rise) and protecting services.

I watch with interest and if they can achieve this feat well done to them. However I'm sceptical and I think they have set the bar too high. Notwithstanding finding a gold mine or finding a forest of money trees on council land. Any alternatives are going to hurt, there's a chance savings might be made and the present Tory-Indy coalition has been negiligent in finding savings, a eventuality I imagine  Alex Folkes is banking on, for the Tories to reveal this would smack of incompetence and that will not be good at the ballot box in May for the Tories and I doubt they're foolish enough to not resist this coming out.

More likely is cuts to services, i could well imagine Fiona suggesting that  the beach cleaning budget be slashed or killed completely. This will result in dirty beaches and ultimately Cornwall will lose our few blue flag beaches. The capital budget may well be raided or indeed the reserves both attractive options, no spending on infastructure may well be acceptable to some as might spending the rainy day money. Although neither is a long term solution, when more cuts come and they will what next year and the years after, what then? 

Besides which Cornwall's infastructure needs investement for growth. And rainy day money is good for when it rains and ironically it may well be rain that causes the council to spend it. We've seen bad floods over the last few years, if bridges or roads collapse this is the very fund that will pay to replace these.

Other suggestions include one made by Labour's Jude Robinson of closing rural schools and investing instead in urban ones. I don't think that needs comment or rebuttal its an awful idea. There might be suggestions to close libraries, schools, fire stations, council offices but unless Fiona, Mike or Alex has forgotten about the elections in May I doubt they'll have closing services as front page on election leaflets.

Which brings me to consultants and temps no one really knows what they do outside of the council. A prime target no doubt but politically hard for any of our intrepid trio. The Tories have spent a fortune on them but so did the last County Council run by the Liberal Democrats. Its a long held tradition between the two parties  They might gamble on revealing this but its gone on so long I really doubt the consultants can all be fired and whatever it is they do reallocated in time for the budget deadline in less than two weeks, without adversely effecting services. Don't get me wrong its an ongoing scandal but fixing something this endemic will take time.

I watch with great interest and I wish them all well in their quest but I sincerely doubt the cuts to Cornwall Council services can be halted at the same time as council tax is frozen. And I find myself pondering why didn't these three identify savings in last years budget or the year before? Might we be in a better situation now? Might I suggest an election every year so we see councilors expending the energy on the budget year in year out rather than savingheir efforts for when the ballot box looms so large.

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