Monday, 10 October 2011

A penny for your thoughts

I'd be disappointed if, as a result of my previous post, some smarty-pants councillor didn't ask how many of Cornwall's journalists had read the budget. And so at the risk of making myself appear to be a smarty-pants too, I have to raise my hand...

One eye-catching piece of information which has escaped the council's official press release concerns council tax:
"The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced on 3 October 2011 that new support for local authorities to help them freeze council tax would be available for 2012/13. However, the release from HM Treasury states that it will be "a one-off grant equivalent to a 2½% council tax increase" that will be payable if council tax is frozen. This means that if the grant is accepted by the authority and council tax frozen the Council will have sufficient funding in 2012/13, but that in 2013/14 there will be a funding shortfall of circa £6m and therefore the council will have to implement service cuts to an equivalent sum or to raise council tax by 5%."
Council tax up 5%? Budget cuts of £6M? Probably not, but it means a political battle with the government to allow George Osborne's conference present to be spread over the four-year council budget, and to escape punitive capping of any subsequent increases in council tax.

The budget also proposes giving £150,000 of council tax payers' cash to the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership "subject to the outcome of the review of the Economic Development Service and Cornwall Development Company not identifying an equal level of savings." Good luck there. I can't wait to see how much money the private sector is putting in to this quango, which of course is meant to be led by the private-sector.

There's a proposal aimed at fixing the entertaining car park farce which was a feature of last year's budget.
"The car park service income budget is reduced by £2.468m with 50% being met corporately and the remainder being met from savings from the Environment, Planning and Economy Directorate budget."

Some parts of the budget take an optimistic view of how the European Union might regard ideas such as the much-trumpeted £700,000 replacement for the Education Maintenance Allowance, or however much it might cost to dual the A30 at Temple.

A traditional, fundamental tenet of all EU funding is that the Euros should not be used for things which domestic governments ought properly to be doing themselves. And so while the European Social Fund, for example, might allow Convergence funds to be used for "skills and training" I will be fascinated to see how Brussels views its use as a replacement for a politically-inspired, and very recent, cut such as the abolition of EMA.

And if dualling the A30 at Temple was as simple as "de-trunking" then I do wonder why it hasn't been done before.

The budget also assumes a small income from solar collectors, of £25,000 rising to £100,000 over three years. Fingers crossed for good weather.

I'm sure that those council staff who lost jobs or saw their working conditions worsened over the past year will be thrilled at news of the 2010/11 £7million budget underspend. The author of the budget report can't quite believe his luck:
"This was a major achievement and was delivered without protest or strike action."
At least the staff can now look forward to incremental pay rises being restored next year, although the long-term future looks slightly less rosy: "In the longer term it is still planned to move towards a contribution related pay scheme for all employees linked to performance with a likely implementation date of 2013/14."

Performance-related pay for all council staff? Or just those on the fourth floor?

You can read the full budget document, and its appendixes, here.

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