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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Cumbria council agrees cost-cutting budget

Cumbria County Council has formally agreed its budget for the next financial year.

County council budge meeting protest photo
Protestors outside today's meeting

Related: £24m Cumbria budget cuts agreed

It includes cuts to bus subsidies and the introduction of on-street and residents' parking charges.

It will save £24.4 million while delivering a fourth consecutive freeze of the county council’s share of council tax.

Following final confirmation of the county council’s grant settlement, members today agreed to allocate additional one-off funding in 2014/15 to adoption services, special educational needs, repairs to storm damaged roads and extra support for schools.

The additional funding totals £2.460m, of which £564,000 will be used for special educational needs reforms, £404,000 for adoption services, £500,000 to help support school improvements and £992,000 for repairs to storm-damaged roads.

The meeting also approved a new Council Plan which sets out the priorities the authority will focus on over the next three years. It includes commitments on a Living Wage, schools, care services, flooding and other activities.

A senior councillor had described the financial situation facing Cumbria County Council as "grim".

Deputy leader Jo Stephenson made the comment as the debate got underway on the draft budget, which had been agreed last month by the cabinet.

Mr Stephenson said local government was bearing the largest part of the burden as the Government tries to balance the nation's books.

He added front line services would not be stopped overnight if cuts were made to them.

“The county council needs to save another £88m between 2014/15 and 2016/17 – this is on top of the £88m which the council has already saved since 2010/11. This equates to roughly £769 for every household in Cumbria.

“The final government settlement has given us some leeway to invest in services for some of our most vulnerable children and school improvement while at the same time repairing storm-damaged roads.

"But this is one-off money and we can’t escape the fact that even more difficult decisions will need to be taken next year," said Mr Stephenson.

The debate was stalled when the opposition Conservative group put forward an alternative budget.

Among other things, it proposed shutting care homes, children's centres and axing school clothing grants. Subsidised bus services and post 16 transport would have remained in place and on-street parking charges would not have been introduced. Charges for room hire in county council-owned buildings, or permits for skips on the highway, would have gone up by five per cent.

The full council had been asked to formally ratify a raft of proposals aimed at slashing the council's 2014-15 budget.

Members had this morning been confronted by protestors from various unions and the Carlisle Socialist Party outside the meeting at County Hall, Kendal.

Graham Higginson, of the Socialist Party, urged councillors to "stand up for Cumbria." And Debbie Hamilton, Cumbria Unison representative, described the proposed austerity cuts as "absolutely appalling".

Council leader Stewart Young said: "The Government is trying to create the impression this council can make £80m of cuts - on top of the £88m we have already found - without it affecting front line services."

He warned later there were indications that austerity may continue "beyond the current spending horizon" of three years taking the authority into "uncharted territory" financially.

A contentious issue had been proposed changes to the fire service.

The cabinet said a proposal to remove second fire engines from stations in Penrith, Whitehaven, Workington, Maryport and Kendal should not go ahead.

Coun John Mallinson asked this morning: "How on earth did you get to the stage where you were going to withdraw pumps when management savings could have been made instead?"

That brought this response from Mr Stephenson: "The proposal to do this was always going to be contentious. That's no surprise. Nothing is certain in life, and alternative savings emerged."

  • Members were told the repair bill for Cumbria's storm-damaged roads could hit £2m by the end of this week - with more bad weather expected.
  • The council's plan for the next three years, including support for the vulnerable, tackling poverty and working with communities, has been passed. But it is attacked by opposition Conservatives as "dishonest" and a "comic book" - sparking outrage from the Lib/Lab coalition.
  • The meeting has been told that Gill Rigg, whose father ran a bakery in Kendal, is the new boss of Cumbria's children's services board. Chief executive Diane Wood said Ms Rigg will help improve the children's services department and the authority was "very lucky to have her services."
  • A Public Health England survey that named Cumbria as the fattest area of England should be taken with a "pinch of salt", the meeting heard. Wigton's Roger Liddle told councillors the study only consisted of a phone call to 1,000 of 500,000 Cumbrian residents.

Related: £24m Cumbria budget cuts agreed

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