I made the proposal at today’s joint budget scrutiny meeting, which saw all four scrutiny committees come together to scrutinise the budget, which is set to have £28m shaved off it by central government.
I said (among other things) that if enough MPs actually voted against the settlement central government might think twice about imposing such draconian cuts, which affect the most vulnerable in society.
It comes on top of £174m of funding cuts since 2010.
This year’s cuts will mean the removal of funding for the arts, school crossing patrols and many many other cuts within services, which will mean a poorer service for vulnerable people.
The tenor and tone of today’s meeting from all parties was total exasperation, anger and frustration with central government – firstly for providing news of the final financial settlement so late as to be almost impossible to set a budget within the required timetable. The public health budget isn’t even available.
Voicing his own frustration, Conservative deputy leader, Cllr John Clatworthy said of the delay “It’s really not good enough.” And referring to the areas (most) where Devon is hugely underfunded compared with other parts of the country, Cllr Clatworthy pointed the finger at local MPs saying: “MPs are the guys who should be doing something about this.”
Leader, Cllr John Hart said “This has been the most difficult budget so far. We still don’t know what the final settlement will be. If it is lower, it will have to come out of our reserves.”
The council’s reserves are among the smallest in the country and would last for just a few days if relied on for austerity funding cuts.
Cllr Sara Randall Johnson – chair of people’s scrutiny said: “The people’s department (social services etc) is very very fragile. Just a small number of adults or children would topple that budget.”
And speaking generally about the people’s budget, she said: “The risks are massive…”
A briefing to all Devon MPs described the scale of the proposed funding cuts as “unprecedented.”
Chief executive, Phil Norrey, pointed out that this was the last budget of the first stage of austerity and next year the council would be not only planning for three years, but would be looking at the complete removal of the government grant, to be replaced with by a new distribution of business rates.
Devon County Council will have to rely on business rates and council tax income only in the coming years. John Hart commented that he was sceptical that any redistribution of business rates would see Devon better off.
The joint scrutiny committees voted in favour of the the proposed budget and in favour of the increase in council tax of four per cent, on the basis that there was simply no other choice given the unprecedented government funding cuts.
The criticism of central government’s cuts as well as the tardy financial settlement was powerfully made throughout each recommendation.
Devon MPs are set to receive the minute this afternoon, urging them to speak and vote against the huge funding cuts.
Here’s the webcast – http://www.devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/195910 (my speech is at 57 minutes)