Susan van de Ven

Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Bassingbourn, Melbourn, Meldreth and Whaddon Learn more

View more tweets

View more tweets

Lib Dem alternative budget proposals

At the Conservative-controlled Cambridgeshire County Council, the Lib Dems form the principal opposition group and every year produce a set of alternative budget proposals.  The 2014 proposals:

Budget Proposals 2014

Despite the very tight financial situation faced by Cambridgeshire County Council, Liberal Democrats wish to see the council become more effective in maintaining basic services, more prudent in its spending, and more proactive in the face of climate change.
This budget shows how that can be achieved by taking a longer-term approach, and providing savings on into the future.
Our key themes in this budget are:
• Protecting vulnerable people and the services they rely on, particularly through preventative services which improve lives and save money in the long run;
• Enabling people to get around by improving the standard of road and pavement repairs; maintaining the gritting of roads, pavements and cycleways; and maintaining rural bus and community transport services;
• Combating congestion and poor air quality by enabling and encouraging travel other than by private car for people for whom this is an option. We would achieve this by preserving concessions on Park and Ride buses; supporting new rail infrastructure including Science Park and Soham Stations, andMarch to Wisbech and Cambridge to Bedford rail links; completing the Chisholm Trail and rolling out safe cycle routes in the city, market towns, between villages and along rural transport corridors, greatly facilitated through the Greater Cambridge City Deal;
• Looking beyond front-line services for economies.

We would seek to achieve savings by:
• Initiating a discussion with other councils in Cambridgeshire about forming unitary authorities to save money and improve accountability for local residents;
• Forming a company to own and manage most of the CountyFarms estate;
• Selling Shire Hall. Is it really more important to have a prestigious, expensive and energy-inefficient headquarters building than to maintain adequate public services?

Vulnerable People

Children’s Centres
The Liberal Democrats believe that proper investment in a child’s early years is critical to their long-term happiness and success. That is why we view the current Conservativeproposals to reduce the services offered by Children’s Centres with great concern.

We accept that there may need to be some restructuring and our alternative proposal does not restore all of the funding being removed. The money we propose to put back in could be used:

a) to invest in volunteering, i.e. funding volunteer groups to provide some of the less specialised provision such as the very popular ‘stay and play’ clubs;
b) to counter-balance what we see is an over-emphasis on vulnerable groups in dense conurbations, leaving the isolated rural deprived at greater risk;
c) to invest in marketing the valuable resources and buildings of the Children’s Centres and in particular working with parish councils;
d) to mitigate the risk of taking out so many management posts in one year.

Service reductions of the severity proposed by the Conservatives risk increasing costs down the line in schools and social services if potential problems are not detected early and appropriate provision made.

Early Help and Preventative Services
The saving in the Conservatives’proposedBusiness Plan is coming from substantial reductions in the services available to children and families who are in need but below the threshold for social care. Work with this group is critically important to preventing families from coming into the social care system. The saving will mean reductions across Enhanced and Preventative Services, and as a result is likely to have an impact on the work of locality teams with young people and families. The work of these teams in supporting families in staying together, and helping parents to provide the best support they can for their children, is a core part of the preventive work done by the council’s Children, Families and Adults department. We believe that reducing this service will not only lead to worse outcomes for Cambridgeshire children, but will also lead to higher costs in the longer term, as families do not receive the support they need when they start to struggle, and then intervention becomes necessary at a later stage and at greater cost.

Learning Disabilities Partnership
We are halving the savings target for reductions in personal budgets. These budgets provide activities for some of the most vulnerable members of our community. The savings will need to come from the “activities” part of the personal budget. The activities which are available to people with Learning Disabilities not only provide important occupation and social contact for the individuals concerned, but it also give their carers a crucial break. While we support the idea of reviewing these packages, as there may be some savings which can be made without reducing the quality of life for Learning Disabled individuals and their carers, we do not wish to force reductions in activity on some of the most vulnerable in society.
There is a corresponding re-instatement of half of the transport budget to enable these clients to get to their activities.

Mental Health Adult Counselling
This is a new initiative, focussed on providing additional support for the parents of children with Special Educational Needs. Anecdotal and academic evidence suggests that this group are particularly vulnerable to stress, depression and other mental health problems. The £20k for the first year is for a study investigating whether this is an unusually vulnerable group, and what could be done to provide additional counselling and support at an early stage. The rationale is again that by providing support for parents early, we can keep more families together, and achieve better outcomes for children.

Community, Arts & Sports Grants
The grants and the officers who manage them are critical to building community capacity and resilience. Whilst this is a very small amount of funding, it levers vastly disproportionate amounts of funding from other agencies for community projects. As such it would be a complete false economy to reduce this grant. Through recent restructuring a number of community services have been brought together, this has brought about additional flexibility of resource.

Enabling People to Get Around

Highways and Pavement Maintenance
It is estimated that £300million is needed to address the backlog of outstanding repairs to the county’s highways network. This additional funding would reinstate fundsfor road and pavement repairs. We are keen to ensure momentum is not lost on current work arising from the Liberal Democrat motion of July 2013, to tackle highways maintenance in a more strategic and effectivemanner, and also to ensure that the remaining £60million of the council’s prudential borrowing for Highways Maintenance, arising from a Liberal Democrat chairedMember Led Review, is spent effectively. A key area requiring close attention is pavements, particularly in Cambridge but also in market towns and village centres.

Winter Maintenance
We support the initiative to save money by being more efficient in the use of gritting material and planning gritting routes, but we do not agree with a 35% cut in the road-length to be gritted in icy conditions. We would retain the finance to continue with the current level of service.

Bus Subsidies

A decent public transport system is one that allows all residents to access public services and employment, education and training opportunities, so that they can lead independent and productive lives. In a largely rural county this system must assume a level of subsidy to run transport services in more isolated areas, where commercial services are not viable. Some new schemes under the Cambridgeshire Future Transport banner could add to the rural public transport network, however this should supplement rather than wholly replace subsidised buses, many of which provide good value for money. The deployment of bus subsidies should be done, not on the basis of historic leftovers, but rather on a strategic and evidence-based assessment of the county’s transport needs, using the mapping tools that are readily available.

Community Transport

Community transport is indispensible to the wellbeing of thousands of Cambridgeshire’s more isolated and less mobile residents, for whom it provides lifeline access to public services and social contact. The impact of isolation on mortality is now commonly accepted, as is the fact that Community Transport is not viable without grant funding. Since the tightening of NHS patient transport criteria, Community Transport providers are providing more frequent and longer journeys to health services. Against an aging population, Community Transport services must expand rather than contract; survival is not enough. Failure to nurture and develop Community Transport will bring new burdens to the public purse.

Concessionary Fares on Park-and-Ride Buses
Concessionary fare pass-holders using Park-and-Ride buses will already need to absorb new parking charges. Withdrawing concessions on Park-and-Ridebuses would compound any disincentive to using Park and Ride and create new problems, including displaced parking and congestion, that Cambridge can ill-afford.

Railways and other High Quality Passenger Transport

Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned for new railway stations at Chesterton (Cambridge Science Park) and Soham and for the reopening of the March to Wisbech railway line. We support their inclusion in the Council’s plans. We furthermore look forward to the opportunities afforded by the City Deal and the involvement of the Local Enterprise Partnership to introduce more routes. We support a west-bound rail link to Bedford because this will not just connect Cambridge to Oxford but also provide a rail connection between Cambourne and Cambridge. We support other high quality passenger transport proposals both south-bound from Cambridge and along the A10 corridor. However we caution against the presumption in favour of more guided bus routes. Finally we would argue the case for a national realignment of regulations which would enable better bus/rail integration.

Cycling Infrastructure

The completion of the Chisholm Trail as a key link for Cambridge, the expansion of cycling schemes in market towns, and the expanded roll-out and joining up of dedicated cycle routes linking villages and key employment destinations along rural corridors are all necessary in order to realise the potential for modal shift in a county that is ideally suited to cycling as a regular mode of transport. Potential health, economic and environmental benefits are overwhelmingly documented and evidence of suppressed demand is abundantly clear. The expansion of Greater Cambridge requires modal shift to avoid gridlock congestion in the City and South Cambridgeshire, and we welcome the unlocking of necessary funding that the City Deal would facilitate.

Finance and Administration

Renewable Energy and Actions to Reduce the County’s Carbon Footprint

The Liberal Democrats have urged the Council to invest in renewable energy. This is good because it furthers the Council’s climate change agenda and because it is simply a good investment. It will further promote the Cambridgeshire Energy Switch and similar schemes as they provide immediate advantages for residents. Our proposal to sell off Shire Hall is another policy consistent with furthering this Council’s climate change agenda.

Unitary Councils
There are seven principal local authorities in Cambridgeshire, each with its own set of councillors and chief officers; its own headquarters, council chamber and bureaucracy. There are joint meetings, liaison meetings, discussions and negotiations. Outside Peterborough there is confusion about which council does what, who serves on which council, and whom to contact with a query. Within local government the arrangements for joint services and shared services are becoming ever more complicated. Quite simply there is scope for saving money, reducing complexity and improving accountability by amalgamating councils. With the current financial pressures on local government, which show no signs of reducing in the foreseeable future, we cannot ignore the potential for improvements, efficiency and economies that unitary councils for Cambridgeshire could bring.
Cambridgeshire County Council is uniquely placed to open up the debate. We can say from the beginning that this is not an attempt to take over the districts, but to explore whether there can be a shared vision of the way forward. Whilst admitting that we do not have a fixed view of the result in terms of geography or number, we can say that the answer is likely to be greater than one and less than seven.
At this stage the timing and extent of the savings is impossible to quantify, but the more the issue is delayed the longer we will have to wait to see those savings.

County Farms
County Farms were established after the First World War to provide job opportunities and housing for “heroes”. There have been many changes since then. Cambridgeshire’s County Farms estate currently provides a business opportunity for over 200 tenants and the net income from the estate is budgeted at about £2.8million. There is also a fairly steady stream of capital receipts from the sale of buildings and land from the estate.
The estate does however tie up a lot of capital which could be used to pay off some of the council’s debt, producing a much larger saving than the income from the rents.
The proposal is that a company should be set up to take over the ownership of most of the estate. The land excluded from the transfer would be where there was a real prospect of it being sold at significantly above the agricultural value, or where it is being used, or there are plans for it to be used, by the county council for other purposes. The existing tenants on the land transferred to the farms company would have protected agricultural tenancies so that they could continue farming as at present.
The farms company would be an attractive investment having a proven long-term income stream, backed by a very tangible asset – the land itself. The farms company could be sold by the council as a whole, or in part. A potential buyer could be the council’s pension fund. It is difficult to be sure of a price for the farms company but it is estimated at about £100million.
To allow for the time to set up the company and arrange the flotation of the company a sale date of 31 December 2014 has been assumed. The revenue effects would be as follows:

County Farms 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
£000s £000s £000s £000s
Flotation of Estate at £100m Interest (4.3%) 1075 4128 3956 3784
MRP (4%) 4000 4000 4000
Remove Investment Scheme Interest (4.3%) 43 77 112 146
MRP (4%) 200 200 200
Revenue Impact of Reduced Borrowing 1118 8405 8268 8130
Less Farms Revenue Surplus -711 -2920 -2995 -3070
Net Revenue Saving 407 5485 5273 5060

Sale of Shire Hall
Shire Hall is an elegant 1930s building. It is showing its age. Its poor energy rating is well known and the building is expensive to heat and maintain. Access for disabled people is inadequate to say the least.
The reduction in the number of staff employed by the Council means that fewer offices are needed. We propose that the Council should sell Shire Hall, and the Octagon building attached to it, to someone who can afford to do the work necessary to bring it up to standard.
Work is already in hand to identify where the staff and meeting space in the building could be accommodated. The loss of the council chamber is an opportunity for the six meetings a year of the full council to be held in different parts of Cambridgeshire – helping all councillors and senior officers to get around and relate to more of the county. A lease-back agreement for the bottom of the Octagon where the computer mainframe is housed would mean that it could remain there until it is replaced.
We are aware that other proposals for the Shire Hall campus are being considered. Those should be considered alongside this proposal to compare the relative financial benefits, taking into account the cost of necessary improvements to the old building if the intention is to retain it.
The figures below assume a sale date of 30/9/15 with a net sale value of £7.5million.

Sale of Shire Hall at £7.5m 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
£000s £000s £000s £000s
Interest (4.3%) 162 323 310
MRP (4%) 300 300
Running Costs 400 800 800
Removal Costs -50
Net Revenue Saving 0 512 1423 1410

Open Source Software
Open Source software is what the internet runs on, what the most successful IT businesses are running on, and Liberal Democrats understand that and believe in its key principles. We will install an open source by default culture across the Council, and aim to bring all IT expenditure into the IT department, where it can be most efficiently allocated. This will save the Council about £80k per year.

Communications
We propose a further reduction in staff in the Communications Team.

Slippage on Capital Schemes
Cambridgeshire has a very large capital programme including many new schools and school extensions as well as other buildings, roads and rail-related projects. Inevitably there are delays in constructing these schemes caused by a variety of factors from the planning process to the weather. The current forecast for this year is that over £40million of work will slip into next financial year. This is contributing to a saving of £2million in interest rates. It is not the intention to deliberately delay any schemes, but, in line with experience over many years, we are estimating that the interest saving as a result of slippage will continue to be at least £1million per year.

General Reserve
The overall effect of these changes will be to add just over £1million less to the General Reserve in 2014/15, but to replace that amount, with interest, in 2015/16.

Liberal Democrat Budget Proposals
2014/15 2015/16
Revenue Changes 000s 000s

LDP Calculator A/R.6.107 650 650
LDP Transport A/R.6.108 140 140
Children’s Centres A/R.6.504 625 755
Early Help A/R.6.508 1,500
Highways Maintenance B/R.6.107 196 196
Winter Maintenance B/R.6.132 600
Arts and Sports Grants B/R.6.141 20
Community Grants B/R.6.143 40
Bus Subsidies B/R.6.204 873 873
Community Transport B/R.6.207 150 263
P&R Concessionary Fares B/R.7.024 300
Mental Health Adult Counselling 20 100
Communications C/R.6.301 -100 -100
Open Source Software -80 -80

Revenue Changes Sub Total 2474 5257

Capital Changes

County Farms -407 -5485
Shire Hall -512
Slippage on Capital Schemes -1000 -1000

Capital Changes Sub Total -1407 -6997

Changes Sub Total 1067 -1740
Interest @ 4.3% 46
General Reserve -1113 1113

Overall Saving 0 -627