Each year Cumbria County Council consults on its budget. They want to hear people's views on some of the tough decisions they will need to make. This is important as these decisions may impact on residents, their families and their friends.
The consultation provides an opportunity for residents to review and comment on the Council's overall approach to meeting the budget challenges ahead and proposed council tax increase.
The Council states that many of this year's savings proposals can be achieved within existing council policies and procedures as they do not impact on front facing services and do not require wider public consultation. These include a range of financial management savings and further improvements to the council's contracts and contract management arrangements.
There are a small number of savings that are being proposed that will require specific consultation. The Council intends to do this in a timely manner directly with any customers and stakeholders who are affected and their feedback will then be used to help shape and inform any final decisions.
The Council's closing date for this consultation is 5pm on Monday 8 January 2018.
To view the Council's consultation documents please click HERE
Adrian Waite has responded to the consultation in his capacity as a resident of Cumbria and as Managing Director of ‘AWICS'. His principal conclusions are as follows:
- The financial management of Adult Social Care should be reviewed as it is likely that the potential for savings may have been exhausted. There is a need to ensure that the Adult Social care services that the Council provides are protected as much as possible.
- The financial management of Children’s services should be reviewed as it is likely that the potential for savings may have been exhausted. There is a need to ensure that the Children’s services that the Council provides are protected as much as possible.
- It is possible that the Council’s central budgets contain what accountants call ‘padding’, ‘budget slack’ or ‘over budgeting’. I think there may be a missed opportunity to allocate resources to front-line services I would therefore suggest that central budgets are reviewed to ensure that they are set at an appropriate level in future.
- The timeliness of budget monitoring reports should be considered including the possibility of making reports within a month of the quarter end so that if any decisions are required they can be taken promptly.
- It is stated that a programme of service reviews will be planned on a rolling basis throughout the Council and this would appear to me to be a good approach. This approach was adopted successfully by Impact Housing Association when I was Chair. I would suggest that the approach to this should be to focus all resources on delivery of services to service-users, to adopt a ‘bottom-up’ rather than a ‘top-down’ approach and to reduce layers of management.
- It may be worthwhile considering whether it would be appropriate to make further reductions in earmarked reserves in 2018/19.
- Aspects of the Capital Programme that should be reviewed include project management, government grants and other contributions, prudential borrowing, capital receipts and asset management.
- Aspects of Risk Management that should be considered include inflation and Treasury Management.
- Following the announcement of the Local Government Finance settlement for 2018/19 in December 2017, the Council should take advantage of the opportunity to increase Council Tax by 3% rather than 2% without holding a referendum (see above).
- The Council should also consider holding a referendum on the option of increasing Council Tax to the level that would be required to fund Adult Social Care, Children’s services and other services adequately. I would vote in favour of such a proposal.
- The Council has received adverse local government finance settlements in recent years and it is therefore important that the Council engages fully with the Fair Funding Review when appropriate to ensure that its outcome is at best beneficial for the Council and at worst no more adverse than the current position.
- The Council should prioritise the devolution issue and should aspire to the level of devolution that has been achieved by the Scottish Government, as this is the most comprehensive model of devolution that has yet to be achieved in the United Kingdom.
Since my response went online I have been contacted by Cumbria County Councillors whose comments include:
- Thank you, Adrian, that is most helpful
- Thanks, some good points here especially on Adult Social Care
To view a full copy of Adrian Waite's response to Cumbria County Council's consultation on their draft budget for 2018/19, please click HERE