Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Cornwall Council budget

Yesterday’s debate on the budget was remarkably muted. The Council voted by 94 votes to twelve to take a one-off grant from Eric Pickles / the Coalition and freeze council rates for one year. There were six absentions.

MK members at the meeting voted against the budget and voted not to accept Pickles’ “bribe” offer.

My statement on behalf of the Mebyon Kernow group was short, as the arguments had been rehearsed at the November Council meeting when a provisional budget was set.

I reaffirmed MK’s criticism of how this Council approaches the setting of its budget, and how there had not been adequate scrutiny of the individual parts of the budget. It remains our view that, in many areas, the budgets are too tight and services under unacceptable pressure.

We did welcome the fact the Cabinet has made some changes, including finding more resources for concessionary fares and, in the short-term, public conveniences. But I expressed our anger that, when similar suggestions had been promoted by non-Cabinet members in recent months, such arguments had been squashed by the administration.

The MK members voted against the so-called “grant” to freeze council tax. This is not because we want to put council tax up for our local residents, but because the so-called “grant” is not a gift.

In fact, it is a cynical ploy. Pickles has slashed funding to local government, and is deliberately stifling our ability to fund local services by, in effect, forcing Councils not to raise council tax this year. This reduces the “base budget” for future years and will also create a massive blackhole for next year, and future years, which could lead to a massive future council tax increase or yet more cuts.

This part of yesterday’s meeting descended into farce, with both the Conservatives trying to claim credit for the freeze, while the report expressed concern at the Council’s ability to balance its finances in future.

It was our view that the “grant” for 2012-2013 represents a false economy – unless, of course, the Government pledges increased funding in future years, to bridge any funding gaps. And that is the message that should have been going to central government.

MK did however welcome the proposed four-year investment programme for housing, which would specifically deliver affordable housing, including council housing, support for the improvement of housing for the vulnerable, including park homes.

We have many questions about the detail of the proposals, and could not reconcile all the targets within the present document; there remains uncertainty about some of the implications, for example, but it is a step forward. It could also have a positive impact on other areas such as the emerging Core Strategy (more comment on this to follow in the future).

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