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Cuts Loom Closer

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3:52pm 14th November 2013

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The axe man is a step closer to Cornish services.

Cornwall is facing two hundred million pounds of cuts over the next five years.

Now officials have backed a budget which will see amongst other things help for the Duchy's most vulnerable cut, traffic wardens privatised and even the cost of dying put up as cremation fees rise.

Council Tax will also be hiked almost two percent.

Alex Folkes is in charge of the purse strings and warns of more tough times to come: "We know that we're going to have to make cuts in the future. That would be the same whatever we did on council tax this year. We think at the moment that those savings that we're going to have to make in the future are as much as about £200 million pounds by the end of five years' time. That's a pretty fundamental change."

He does not think calls for a 6% rise in rates will help: "The government has said any rise above two percent needs to be approved by the people of Cornwall in a referendum and if the people of Cornwall vote no then we have to make an emergency budget and make emergency cuts and the cost of a referendum itself is over half a million pounds."

In a statement the council said: "Since 2010 the Council has been forced to find savings of £170m in its budget as a result of cuts in Government funding.  With a further £38m reduction in funding expected by 2015/2016 and £95m by 2018/2019, the authority has carried out the most extensive public consultation exercise in its history to give local residents, businesses, partners and staff the opportunity to have their say on where they feel cuts and savings could be made and to come forward with suggestions for increasing income."

"I am content that this is the best budget we are able to produce at this time" said Council Leader John Pollard. "It is formulated on the understanding that cuts are required but we are determined to provide the best possible services".  

A major public consultation was held and the council says the majority of responses backed the Cabinet's draft proposals, including a 1.97% increase in Council Tax.  

Some of the ideas, such as closing offices over the Christmas period to save money, are being recommended to the Council to implement right away.  Others, such as cutting the costs of printing and paper are being taken forward through a new document management strategy to be delivered by BT Cornwall.  

A number of suggestions also support proposals which are already being developed by the Council, such as cutting office costs by rationalising the number of buildings and selling off surplus assets; continuing to reduce the use of consultants and agency staff and using technology such as video and audio conferencing to cut down the costs of travelling to meetings.

The revised budget approved by the Cabinet includes other ideas put forward by consultations. These include reducing the proposed cuts to the bus subsidy budget from £1m to £350,000 by extending the repayment of a previous overspend, dimming street lights to save money  and a new savings plans for libraries and one stop shops, including potential reduction in opening hours, additional amalgamation of libraries and one stop shops; charges for credit card and post office / paypoint payments; consideration of alternative library models and increase in use of automated telephone technology.

"I am very pleased that so many people in Cornwall have joined us in addressing the financial challenges we face" said Alex Folkes. "We have been clear that Cornwall Council cannot look the same in five years' time as it does today and we have the chance now to shape the future of the authority."

"There were useful suggestions made at every public meeting, by email and via our online surveys. We are grateful for the support we received for many of our original proposals and have taken on board suggestions to improve the budget.  To my mind, this is how local councils should operate. We should always be in touch with those we represent to make sure we are on the right track."

The draft budget and business plan approved at Thursday's meeting of the Cabinet included the proposal to increase council tax by 1.97%.  This would mean an annual increase of £24.51 for a Band D property - or 47p per week.  This level of increase will not require the Council to hold a referendum.

The recommendation will now be considered at the meeting of the full Council on Tuesday, 26 November.  

This meeting will be webcast.

3:52pm 14th November 2013

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