CAMBRIDGE City Council has published its proposals for setting a balanced budget for 2023-24 in order to continue providing essential services for the city in the face of serious financial challenges.
The council’s draft General Fund Budget Setting Report (BSR), sets out how the council will continue to work towards its vison of ‘One Cambridge – Fair for All’ through supporting residents and providing quality services.
At the same time the council has a pressing need to 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.
Cambridge residents will be able to comment on the budget proposals from mid-December if the council’s Executive approves a consultation when it meets on 8 December.
In order to balance its budget in the next five years, the council needs to find £11.5m in savings – around 60% of its current net spending. It is hoped that by transforming the way it provides services, the council will be able to achieve a proportion of these required savings, but others will need to be found elsewhere.
The new draft budget sets out proposals to continue emphasising the council’s overall vision, while finding new ways to provide services and make essential savings in its four priority areas:
- Leading Cambridge’s response to the climate and biodiversity emergencies and creating a net zero council by 2030
- Tackling poverty and inequality, and helping people in the greatest need
- Building a new generation of council and affordable homes and reducing homelessness
- Modernising the council to lead a greener city that is fair for all
Among the key proposals in the report for the next financial year, which reflect some of the difficult choices being made while remaining committed to these priority areas, are:
- 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 currently provides a free summer festival for residents and visitors
- Reviewing resources for public art delivery
- Removing subsidies for three current bus services provided by bus companies, from 2024 onwards. This could potentially lead to reduced operating hours and locations on the Citi 2 and Citi 3 route and the withdrawal of Citi 114 services on Saturdays, subject to bus operator decisions. However, any such change could potentially be compensated for by increased bus provision from 2024 onwards as part of the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s Making Connections proposals, if those proposals are implemented
- Reducing the budget allocated for taxi-cards, which help disabled people on low incomes to pay for taxis, so that is in line with the current actual level of demand for taxi cards
- Closing some underused public toilets (including full closure of Mill Road, Quayside 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)
- Continue 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 developing 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. As part of the ‘Our Cambridge’ programme the council will also 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.
Cllr Mike Davey, Executive Councillor for Finance, Resources and Transformation, said: “The dire economic situation we’re presented with, like that facing other councils, is exceptionally challenging – which means we have to make some difficult decisions including potentially scaling back some services or providing them differently, so we can concentrate our reduced resources on the things that make the most difference.
“Despite a range of significant factors which make financial planning a real challenge, we have produced a draft budget which we think will ensure that the council continues to provide good quality services, supports people who most need support and leads the city’s response to climate change.
“We will also look to use reserves, which the council has carefully accrued, as far as possible to protect support services for those on low incomes and the most vulnerable during this unprecedented cost of living crisis, in line with our priorities and vision.
“I’d urge everyone to look out for further details of the consultation on our budget proposals and to let us know what they think of them, and what their priorities would be for how the council provides services in the future.”
If the consultation is approved, responses received will be summarised and reported to councillors in January 2023 to inform the council's thinking on its budget choices and service priorities. The draft budget will be discussed at the council’s Strategy and Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting on 30 January 2023 and at a meeting of the council’s Executive on 9 February 2023. The budget will then be discussed and decided at a meeting of the full Council on 23 February 2023.