CAMBRIDGE City Council’s executive councillors will discuss final proposals to set a balanced budget next week.
The updated General Fund Budget Setting Report (BSR), published today, will be considered by the council’s Executive on 9 February and, if approved, be recommended to a meeting of the Full Council on 23 February.
The BSR sets out how the council will address the major financial challenges it faces following 12 years of reduced government funding, the effects of the pandemic, rising inflation and costs, plus increased demand from Cambridge’s growing population.
The report makes a number of changes to earlier proposals that were subject to public consultation in December and January which led to 248 responses.
These changes, which take account of feedback in the consultation, are possible in part due to more funding than expected being allocated to councils across the country in the national local government financial settlement, published on 19 December. The provisional settlement for Cambridge provides £1.9m more funding than previously assumed.
In order to balance its budget in the next five years, the council needs to find a further £11.1m in savings – around 60% of its current annual net spending.
Key changes in the revised BSR are:
- Removal of a proposal to stop subsidies for three current bus services provided by bus companies from 2024 onwards
- Removal of a proposal to close Quayside toilets. Proposals to close other underused public toilets (including full closure of Mill Road and Chesterton Road facilities and weekend-only opening of public toilets at Chesterton Recreation Ground, Cherry Hinton High Street, Coleridge Recreation Ground, Romsey Recreation Ground and Victoria Avenue) are retained.
Cllr Mike Davey, Executive Councillor for Finance, Resources and Transformation, said: “Thank you to everyone who took part in our budget consultation. The responses we received have been helpful in shaping our revised budget proposals.
“Clearly, we are still looking at a difficult budgetary situation which means we must face up to hard decisions that include scaling back some services or providing them in different ways.
“However, given the consultation feedback alongside a slightly better national financial deal than expected for all councils, we have been able to reconsider our earlier proposals.
“In launching the consultation, we were keen to hear from residents before making any final proposals.
“Although we have to make some difficult financial decisions, on balance we wish to reinstate the bus subsidies and to keep the Quayside toilets open.”
Cllr Davey added: “We remain focused on targeting our precious resources on those things that make the most difference and achieve our vision for the city.
“In practice this means protecting, as far as we can, services for people on low incomes and the most vulnerable during this cost of living crisis.
“That is why we must sadly continue with a number of unpalatable savings proposals that include cancelling The Big Weekend. While we would prefer not to do this, it was clear in the consultation that there was some support for doing so and in making all of these proposals we must be realistic about our finances and priorities.”
The BSR retains several key proposals put forward last year that reflect the challenging position facing the council including:
- Providing financial support to low-income households who experience a gap between the level of benefits they receive and the cost of renting their homes
- Carrying out an expert assessment of how the council can reduce carbon emissions from its fleet of vehicles in a coordinated and planned way
- Providing a fund to enable the council to respond to needs that emerge during the course of the year for people in poverty
- Converting up to 20 refuse trucks to run on hydrotreated vegetable oil, to help reduce the council’s carbon emissions, as an interim measure until more electric or hydrogen-powered trucks are purchased
- Providing mentoring, coaching, training and skills support for young people looking for work, training or further education
- Continuing to employ additional youth liaison staff to respond to anti-social behaviour and safeguarding issues
- Carrying out essential repairs to Jesus Green riverbank to prevent it from subsiding and to make it safer
- Cancelling The Big Weekend which provides a free summer festival for residents and visitors, in its current form, for this and future years
- Reviewing resources for public art delivery
- Reducing the budget allocated for taxi cards, which help disabled people on low incomes to pay for taxis, so that it is in line with the current actual level of demand for taxi cards
- Continuing for one more year not to recruit to vacant posts in street cleaning and grounds maintenance teams, prioritising work within available resources
- Deleting a public realm enforcement officer post
In parallel, the council is implementing its transformation programme, Our Cambridge, which aims to create a more modern and community-focused council delivering services through better use of technology and new ways of working. The programme will also contribute to the required savings.
As part of Our Cambridge, the council will work more closely with charities, businesses and other public sector organisations, to find new ways to share resources and work together, using lessons learned in recent years, including during the pandemic.
In a further strand of Our Cambridge, councillors considered proposals for a restructured senior management team at Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 30 January.
Consultation on the restructure took place last year and all staff had the chance to put forward their thoughts and opinions before Christmas. Feedback from that consultation shaped the updated proposals put forward to councillors.
Restructuring will ensure the council can successfully implement its transformation programme, becoming more agile and resilient in adapting to the needs of residents. It will also contribute to the council’s savings requirement; if councillors approve the proposals at Full Council on 2 March, the restructure will generate ongoing savings of £300k per year.
Responses to the BSR consultation were reported to councillors at Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on 30 January and helped to inform the council’s approach to budget choices and service priorities.