Cumbria County Council Budget Consultation 2019

Including the response of Adrian Waite of AWICS

Each year Cumbria County Council consults with residents on its budget and on a proposed Council Tax increase. This year the Council considers that the consultation and the conversation with residents, is more important than ever before.

As well as asking for residents' views on the proposed Council Tax increase, they are using this consultation as an opportunity to talk to residents about the significant financial challenges that all councils are facing and to share that there may be some difficult decisions ahead.

This situation is a result of growing demand for council services, while at the same time the funding from central government continues to reduce significantly. The government's recent Autumn Budget did little to ease the financial burden on local councils.

In this context the Chairman of the Local Government Association, Lord Porter of Spalding CBE, (Conservative) has issued the following warning:

"If government fails to fund local government adequately there is a real risk to the viability of some services, and councils. With the combined increase in demand for services such as adult and children's social care and homelessness support this means councils in England face a black hole of almost £4 billion."

Cumbria County Council states that:

"Cumbria has been resolute in its commitment to address these financial pressures and continues be a financially sustainable organisation, while minimising the impact on front facing services. We have worked closely with communities and partners and we will continue to do so. We will continue to find solutions to balance the budget and protect frontline services wherever possible.

"We want to work with you to create a positive future that is sustainable. A future where the customer is at the very heart of everything that we do and one where we have thriving, sustainable communities. We cannot achieve this alone. We need to work with you and have a new conversation about the future and about the difficult choices that we will face together.

"For the last few years we have worked to our Council Plan, delivering savings that have had minimal impact on front facing services. This is the last year we will be able to achieve savings in this way. If there are no extra funds from government we will have no choice but to start reducing services."

To view the Council's budget consultation, 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 funded adequately.
  • 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 funded adequately.
  • 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 2019/20 and subsequent years.
  • 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 2019/20.
  • 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 Treasury Management.
  • The Council should take advantage of the opportunity to increase Council Tax by 3% rather than 1.99% 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.
  • It is 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 submitting the response, Adrian has been contacted by a County Councillor who wrote:

"Thanks Adrian for your sage comments on the budgets."

To view or download a copy of Adrian's submission, please click here.

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