CAMBRIDGE City Council’s budget for 2021-22 sets out its commitment to tackling poverty and inequality, leading Cambridge’s response to the climate change emergency and continuing to provide quality services for residents while transforming the council. This comes despite the ongoing costs and challenges of protecting the city through the coronavirus pandemic.
The General Fund Budget Setting Report (BSR), which is published today, highlights how the council will continue to fund services to Cambridge despite the profound financial effects of the pandemic and reduction in government grants from £5m in 2013 to nil by 2019.
So far the total estimated cost of the pandemic on the council has been £16.6m, most significantly due to increased spending on housing and providing accommodation for former rough sleepers, alongside reduced income from car parking and from Cambridge Live events.
This has only partially been mitigated by government grants totalling £8.3m, with the remaining sum to be covered by £2.1m of council reserves, and £6.2m through identifying savings.
The new budget is once again framed by the council’s vision of creating ‘One Cambridge – Fair for All’, with the BSR setting out in detail how it will allocate resources and fund priorities through a range of new and continued spending plans targeting three core priorities for residents:
A. Tackling poverty and inequality, and helping people in greatest need:
1. Maintaining a full Council Tax Reduction Scheme for residents on lowest incomes and funding staff and voluntary agencies to help residents maximise income from benefits;
2. The council’s £900,000 grant pot will be maintained and enhanced to help fund organisations targeting Cambridge’s most vulnerable residents and groups;
3. Continuing to fund cultural activities which promote community cohesion including free events like the Big Weekend and Bonfire Night, and making improvements to promote the safety of events at the Corn Exchange;
4. Helping support inclusivity and loneliness by investing in services for children, young people and families, including free play activities and holiday meals;
5. Enhancing work with the Community Food Hub to deliver significant quantities of unused and donated food to voluntary groups, building on their tremendous work during the pandemic.
6. Delivering more affordable new homes to address the housing crisis in Cambridge and developing new proposals for 1000 new council homes beyond 2022, including ‘passivhaus’ homes, in addition to the current programme to build 500 new council homes. The majority of the council’s proposed spending on managing and maintaining council housing is contained within the separate Housing Revenue Account budget setting report, published here.
7. Further reducing and preventing homelessness and rough sleeping including by developing permanent, self-contained ‘Housing First’ housing, supported independent housing and providing ongoing support for those with complex needs.
B. Action on climate change, biodiversity and the environment:
8. Following its declaration of a Climate Emergency, the council will take a lead in reducing carbon emissions and increasing biodiversity, and supporting the Cambridgeshire Climate Commission;
9. Investing further in energy efficiency and generation projects, and researching the possibilities of further large-scale investment in solar panel and renewable energy building on successful work which has cut council emissions by 25% since 2015;
10. Managing streets and open spaces for the benefit of wildlife and people, and ensuring biodiversity is taken into account in all development and management;
11. Proceeding with plans, deferred due to coronavirus, to double wildflower meadows and plant 2,000 new trees in the next three years;
12. Installing new electric vehicle charging points in city car parks, working with the county council to develop on-street charging points, and replacing council vehicles with electric versions where possible;
13. Committing to spend over £300,000 on carbon reduction measures at council swimming pools, starting to replace the waste fleet with electric vehicles and exploring possibilities for hydrogen-powered vehicles.
C. Delivering quality services within financial constraints while transforming the council:
14. Due to reduced funding and the impact of the pandemic the council faces unprecedented challenges, with its spending power set to be reduced by more than 40% in the next three years. The council is transforming the way it operates, including by investment in ICT and digital technology to modernise services and deliver savings and will continue to do so at greater scale and pace – using council reserves if necessary, while setting the council on a financially secure footing.
Cllr Mike Davey, Executive Councillor for Finance and Resources, said: “The unprecedented challenges facing the city and the council in the last year – not least the £16.6m cost of the pandemic, made all the more difficult by only receiving £8.3m from central government – make it more important than ever that we have produced a budget focusing on those members of our community in most need.
“It’s important to remember that as a result of the pandemic there are 2000 more Universal Credit claimants in this city, so the impact, both financially and socially, will be ongoing throughout 2021. But this budget will also prioritise tackling the climate crisis and ensuring the council is financially secure for the future.
“Since 2014 we have prudently invested an additional £50m of the council’s reserves to bring economic benefit to the council and Cambridge’s residents and which has helped us weather the pandemic and plan for the effects of the government’s mismanagement of Brexit.
“We now plan to develop our investments to help the city economy further, produce vital income and further address the pressing need to cut emissions and combat climate change, including committing to using a percentage of our reserves specifically for innovative ‘green’ investments.”
The full detail of the General Fund Budget Setting Report will be considered by Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee on Monday 8 February and by full Council on Thursday 25 February.