• Devon County councillors blast central government over funding cuts, as new budget is scrutinised

    29th January 2015 | News | Claire
  • It was the subject of hopelessly crippled council finances debated at this morning’s Joint Budget Scrutiny committee that was the subject of ire.

    The council has now prepared its budget for 2015/16 and it isn’t pretty. 

    £50 million pounds must be slashed in the next financial year alone, which comes on top of tens of millions of pounds of cuts in the last few years.

    Just about all funding lines have been pared to the bone and beyond.

    Bus services (including at Ottery – blog coming soon) are set to be dramatically reduced, as are lollipop patrols.

    Highways budgets are eviscerated with key gritting routes lost and eight million square metres of grass verge no longer being cut – leaving just one million square metres on junctions that will be mowed.

    Saddest of all, there are huge cuts to children’s services, including child protection, child health and fostering, as well as residential care, learning disability services, education and school transport.

    Risky?  You bet. The slashed budgets are riddled with risk, according to the assessments in today’s budget papers.

    Many councillors, most notably, the leader, Cllr John Hart, were very critical of the government.

    The deputy leader, Cllr John Clatworthy accused Eric Pickles of providing “spin” to the media on council finances.

    Adding that Mr Pickles keeps “banging on” about councils using reserves.

    Devon County Council has reserves of just £14m, which would disappear in a few days, Cllr Clatworthy said.

    Someone suggested that Mr Cameron might like to drop in and listen to our budget before he heads back to London.

    There was the usual argy bargy about whose fault it was that the government is wrecking council budgets. Labour councillors blame the Tories and the Tory councillors blame the former Labour government.

    The local NHS’s appalling financial troubles are putting more pressure on social care budgets, the reports said.  And there are 84,000 carers in Devon – one of the highest proportions of carers in England.

    There is a risk of not enough labour to provide personal care and new legal requirements under the Care Act put councils under further pressure, with more funding likely to be needed to service the Act.

    I asked four questions including what that shortfall was. Answer, we are ok for this year but it may be a problem next year.

    I asked what the take up was for Science Park and SkyPark.  Three businesses have taken up the offer of being based at SkyPark, but officers were more cagey about Science Park, saying that they would update me later.

    Given that most verges from April onwards won’t be cut I proposed that communities be encouraged to take up sowing wildflowers on verges instead, as per my pilot.  The pilot wasn’t perfect I said, but with a bit of tweaking it could work really well and have huge potential to improve biodiversity across Devon. 

    Devon County Council’s budget will be discussed at cabinet on Friday 13 February at 10.30am and then debated at full council on Thursday 19 February, at 2.15pm.  Members of the public are permitted to speak if they register in advance – see rules here – https://new.devon.gov.uk/democracy/guide/public-participation-at-committee-meetings/part-2-public-participation/

    Councillors resolved to send a raft of critical and hard-hitting messages to central government on the impact of the cuts.

    For the WEBCAST of this morning’s meeting, see HERE – http://www.devoncc.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/152090