Meldreth Parish Council, January 2018, County Councillor Report
A very happy new year to everyone!
County Council Finances: The County Council’s finances for the current year continue to worsen. The People & Communities Directorate is now projected to be £5.562M overspent compared to November’s projection of £4.388M. The Economy Transport & Environment Directorate is now expecting to have balanced its spending by the end of the year, but is currently overspent by £1.6M on waste services, though this is likely to be partly offset by underspends in some other areas such as concessionary bus fares and street lighting. The street lighting underspend of £384,000 is useful financially, but is in fact penalties clawed back from the contractor for poor performance.
Budget preparations: County Council committees have been reviewing initial proposals for cutting spending and increasing income. It appears that one set of proposals, for raising more charges on adults receiving social care, is already likely to be shelved. The council needs to cut £37.9M from its budget for next year, in addition to addressing the current level of overspending. Committees have received proposals for achieving these reductions, but even if all these were to be agreed, £2.738M of savings are still to be identified.
Meanwhile, in a comparison with 26 other similar English counties, Cambridgeshire stands out for its two years’ council tax freeze (probably now headed for a third). This has had a cumulative impact on base council tax and makes pressures on funding public services that bit more challenging. Just before Christmas Government signalled that a general council tax rise of 3% would be permitted, without a referendum.
Shire Hall move: A County Council working party is still working on proposals to move the council’s HQ out of Shire Hall in Cambridge which is expensive to maintain. Options it is developing for alternative new premises are Alconbury and Northstowe. With the new Mayor having proposed to review local government arrangements in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, however, it is not clear that there will continue to be a County Council.
Bus consultation extension: As you know the County Council has been running a consultation on the 127/128 bus; this has now been extended to the end of January. The proposed changes, which include amalgamating the two routes and bringing Bassingbourn and Meldreth circuits into one, come at the initiative of the operator, and the consultation is being supported by the Cam Vale Bus User Group.
If Meldreth Parish Council would like to ensure that a PC representative attends these meetings, that might be useful, given the changing landscape and the fundamental importance of the bus service for residents of Meldreth who have no other means of transport and can’t manage the station steps. The December meeting was attended by the chair of Whaddon Parish Council and three Bassingbourn Parish Councillors. The next meeting is likely to be in February, in Bassingbourn.
Community Rail Partnership Project Officer post: The paid post to which Meldreth, Melbourn, Shepreth and Foxton solar funds and parish councils, together with Govia Thameslink Railway, contributed equal amounts (£700 each) is now advertised on the SCDC website. SCDC has topped up the fund for a two-year part time post (two lots of £5K over two years), and is providing temporary administrative support including payroll. A ‘Meldreth, Melbourn, Shepreth and Foxton Community Interest Company’ has now been established to provide legal and financial accountability for the CRP’s new venture, given that it is holding public money. The CIC has three Directors: one is Chair of Foxton Parish Council Finance Committee, one is Chair of Governors at Melbourn Primary School and one is Chair of Melbourn Village College Finance Committee. The original parish contributions were aimed at supporting a six-month paid post on fewer hours so this has turned out to be a much more significant post that we’d hoped for. A repeat request for financial support for year two will be made to the Meldreth Futures group in the near future.
Children’s Centre service changes: I continue to ask the County Council for details of changes that local families can expect from April 1st when the £900K reduction is spending takes effect. To date I have no meaningful information to convey to you. I have arranged to meet officers at the end of this month, and would be glad to take any questions you may have. Philippa has gained the benefit of first-hand knowledge of the fall-out of these cuts on Home-Start.
Network Rail Public Inquiry: It was good to be able to participate in the Inquiry, together with Roger James and a couple of other local residents. I had to give apologies for the December Full Council meeting which took place on the same day. Collectively a strong case was made from local perspectives against closing the level crossing. It’s worth keeping in mind that Network Rail intend to close ALL level crossings by 2030 (I must double check that date – but thereabouts. Apart from losing an earring, the lasting impressions from the day include the startling unpleasantness of the barrister acting for Network Rail, and what must have amounted to massive bill to the taxpayer for the cost of the inquiry. A huge space in the Hallmark Hotel in Bar Hill was rented out for several weeks, and many highly experienced council officers were made to spend a huge amount of valuable time just waiting to be called, and therefore unable to carry out their ordinary work. I intend to submit an FOI request on the cost of the Inquiry, after the result is known – we now wait for the Secretary of State to a formal decision.
Recycling – visit to Waterbeach Waste Management Park: As you know, the District Council is responsible for collecting waste and the County Council for disposing of it. Over the Christmas period questions came in from residents concerned about the end of the paper caddy in our blue bins, and we can do about plastic consumption – inspired and distressed by David Attenborough’s Blue Planet TV show. You may also have read that China and Hong Kong have announced (also inspired by David Attenborough) that UK plastic waste will no longer be received for recycling there – posing a massive immediate challenge in Cambridgeshire and elsewhere. Our waste is disposed of at the 165 hectare ‘Waste Management Park’ just north of Waterbeach, on a County Council contract with Amey. To find out more about the current state of recycling and what we can all do to make a positive difference, I’ve liaised with the Park to arrange two open-day visits: 15 February (half-term), either 10-12AM or 2-4PM; and 27 February, 10-12AM. I’ll put more details in Meldreth Matters.
Be a Councillor?: I’ve circulated my invitation to neighbouring parish councils and all district council colleagues, and have had many positive responses. This will take place on 3 February, 3-5PM, at the Elin Way community room.