The Liberal Democrat Group on Warwickshire County Council has released its budget proposals ahead of the Full Council meeting on Thursday 6th February. With the County Council under no overall control since the elections in May 2013, agreement will be needed between at least two of the party groups on the Council before a final budget can command a majority of votes.
The background to this budget and medium term financial plan, covering the four years from 2014/15 to 2017/18, could not have been more difficult, with further drastic cuts in central government funding leading to an overall savings target of £92 million over the four year period. After cuts of £66 million already made by the Conservative-led council over the last three years, there are no easy savings left to be made.
The Lib Dem budget addresses the financial challenge head on, while holding true to the manifesto priorities on which we fought the county elections last May. Our proposals are based on a modest rise of 1.99% over each of the next four years in the level of council tax, equivalent to a rise of 46p a week for a Band D property by 2017/18, to help to protect local public services from the full impact of central government funding cuts.
We plan to invest £2.5 million over two years to re-start the Safer Routes to School programme, and to develop 20 mph School Safety Zones. Lib Dems want to encourage as many children and parents as possible to walk or cycle to school, which is good for health and reduces congestion and air pollution. This will support the reduction in current home to school transport budgets without endangering children’s safety. Crucially, however, Lib Dems pledge to retain school crossing supervisors at all locations where it is not possible to create a safe crossing point by any other means.
We will retain the full current networks of libraries and children’s centres, which we consider vital community assets which should not suffer further cuts and closures. In conjunction with the voluntary sector we will develop a county-wide network of community hubs, to support access to the fullest range of services available and to address causes and effect of poverty in Warwickshire.
We want to accelerate the replacement of street lights with energy-efficient LED bulbs, and plan to invest £1 million in 2014/15 to pump prime an “invest to save” replacement programme, with the savings generated being reinvested back into the programme.
While some savings in the costs of running the county council’s household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) are inevitable, the carefully-costed Lib Dem proposals will retain free access to conveniently located sites for the great majority of residents. We challenge the other political groups to spell out to the public exactly how their much greater cuts will impact on the current nine HWRCs across the county – which will stay open, and which will remain free to use?
Our proposals will commit the council to achieving real savings of £500,000 a year from streamlining and de-layering of management structures.
Cllr Jerry Roodhouse, Lib Dem Group Leader, said:
“The other political groups may talk about cutting management costs, but the Lib Dem budget is the only one which will commit the council to hard financial savings targets. When savings are being forced on vital front-line services for the public, it is essential that the council demonstrates its commitment to streamlining from the top to bottom of the organisation.”
Cllr John Whitehouse, Lib Dem spokesperson for Children & Schools, said:
“We are totally against the plans of the other groups to force further cuts to the county’s funding of children’s centres under the guise of ‘family centres’. While we encourage the use of the centres by health colleagues and other public agencies, this should not be used as an excuse to reduce funding further beyond the £2.3 million cut already in place for 2014/15.
“Massive savings are planned by all the groups in the spiralling costs of home to school transport, including for children with special educational needs, but this must be done sensitively and only after full consultation, and without putting children at risk on their way to and from school. In particular, we reject the plan supported by the other groups to stop funding the costs of school crossing supervisors completely. We have also committed £2.5 million to achieve a step change in safety for children on their way to and from school.”
Highlights of the Lib Dem budget proposals are:-
- Spending allocations of £2.5 million for Safer Routes to School/20 mph school safety zones, £1.0 million for LED streetlights, and £100,000 to set up a network of community hubs.
- Reducing the planned cuts in funding to voluntary organisations.
- Reducing the planned cuts in household waste recycling centres by 50% or more compared with the other groups.
- No cuts in highways maintenance budgets.
- A pledge for no further closures of county libraries. The plans supported by the other political groups will decimate the current network.
- No further cuts to youth services.
- No further cuts to children’s centres funding.
- The funding to retain school crossing supervisors at all locations where it is not possible to create a safe crossing point by any other means.
- Savings of £500,000 a year by streamlining management structures and reducing the size of the Cabinet.