Cambridgeshire’s budget gap leaps to £5 million due to increased demand for services

Cllr Steve Count
Cllr Steve Count
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Increased demand for services this year has seen Cambridgeshire County Council’s current budget gap leap to £5.2 million – with a predicted additional £20.7 million to find in 2019/20.

In a report on the council’s current financial situation members of the council’s General Purposes Committee will hear that this year’s widening gap is due to the local impact of a national increase in demand for children’s and adults services - with predictions of increased numbers made earlier in the year already outstripped.

Members will also hear that the council’s plans to tackle the growing levels of demand could take up to three years to deliver the most noticeable effect.

Work is also continuing to boost the income the council makes from its commercial activities, which will see £4 million returned to the authority this year, £10 million the next, and more in future years.

Council leader Cllr Steve Count said: “We must balance our budget this year and next while our ambitious plans continue to take hold. But without taking serious action now our situation looks dire,” he said.

“A benchmarking report by Grant Thornton in January 2018 showed that we were already using funding we do have efficiently, and work by Cap Gemini has demonstrated that although our spend per head on adult social care is one of the lowest in the country, we maintain good outcomes.

“However, this is not a sustainable position and we expect to be at the bottom of the national table for money available to spend on adult social care in 19/20 – and so there is no doubt that outcomes for some of our most vulnerable citizens will suffer if the future funding issue is not addressed.

“I believe that cutting back on prevention and transformation work – the very things that have allowed us to manage our situation so well for so long - is counterproductive in the long term but may have to be considered.

“We can’t resolve this situation without help as we need to fix the problem long term. Additional government funding is needed to fix the underlying issues, rather than temporary measures we can take which just temporarily alleviate the pain.”

The council has already raised its historical underfunding issues with all Cambridgeshire MPs through a national consultation on the Government’s funding formula, and directly with ministers, highlighting:

. Government funding (RSG) to Cambridgeshire County Council has fallen by £50 million in the past four years, from £53 million a year in 2014/5 to just £3 million this year.

. This sum is set to go negative next year – meaning £7 million of Cambridgeshire taxpayers’ money will be sent back to the Government to spend elsewhere in the UK.

. Cambridgeshire was the only combined authority area last year not to be given a business rates retention pilot project – costing the council an estimated £8 million.

Suggestions for further changes to meet the current in-year budget gap, as well as balancing next year’s budget, will go before councillors in October and November committees – with a period of consultation on the council’s business planning for 2019/20 starting from early October.