June 22, 2024

South West News

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LIVE: Cornwall Council Cabinet meeting, Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Agenda items outlining the financial challenges facing Cornwall Council, and the steps the authority is taking to tackle them will be discussed when the cabinet meets in Truro today.

The meeting, which will take place at County Hall (Lys Kernow), starting at 10am, will discuss the latest performance report for the council, which shows a reduced forecast overspend for the current financial year.

That figure now stands at £9.4 million, down from September’s forecast of £14.9 million, and continues to be mainly driven by increased costs in children’s social care, school transport and homelessness services.

The cabinet will also discuss the budget for the next financial year, which looks to address those issues with additional funding to cover the rising cost of providing those demand-led services.

Also on the agenda at Wednesday’s meeting will be a refreshed Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2022-26 which has been updated and includes the Council’s decision taken in September 2023 to treat ‘experience of being in children’s social care’ as a protected characteristic.

You can watch the meeting live via our webcast service, or follow the live blog below.

Watch the Webcast

9.30am: Today’s meeting will begin at 10am

10am: The meeting is now underway, and starts with apologies for absence and declarations of interest.  Cllr David Harris is joining the meeting remotely.

10.01am: We now move onto Leader’s annoucements.  Cllr Linda Taylor begins by paying tribute to Cllr Edwina Hannaford, who passed away last week.  She tells the meeting: “We are all richer for having known her, and I know we all feel poorer now for her loss.”

There is a moment of silence.

10.05am: Cllr Taylor goes on to talk about the launch of the public engagement events for the Mid Cornwall Metro scheme.  She says:  “The proposals have the ability to make a real difference to thousands of our residents by better connecting communities to jobs, services, education, and each other, as well as providing economic benefits in allowing quicker, easier and more attractive access for commuters and visitors coming into the area.

“It is projects like this that will make a material difference to people, and ensure we achieve our goal of building a better Cornwall where everyone can start well, live well and age well.”

10.06am: We now move onto public questions. The first is on hydrotherapy provision in leisure centres in Cornwall.

10.09am: The second question refers to issues at a car park in Truro which left drivers stuck in Garras Wharf car park during the evening following an error at a terminal.

10.10am: Cllr Williams-Pears apologises for the incident, and outlines the steps being taken to ensure the issue is not repeated.

10.15am: We now move onto the council performance report.

10.16am: Cllr David Harris, deputy leader and portfolio holder for resources, introduces the report, focused on quarter three of 2023/24.

He says: “You will recall that at the end Quarter 2 we reported a forecast overspend of £14.9m – nearly double the £7.9m forecast at the end of Q1.
“Thanks to focused efforts of the Cabinet and Council Director’s Team we’ve taken a collective One Council responsibility to bring down the forecast overspend, which now stands at £9.4m – a reduction of £5.5m since Q2.
“Whilst this overall reduction is welcomed, it has been achieved by a series of one-off measures – otherwise known as ‘sticking plasters’.”

10.19am: Cllr Harris adds: “We cannot allow the forecast reduction to mask the truth that the costs of providing a number of our statutory services continue to escalate, mainly due to increased demands – as is the case elsewhere in the country.
“This is acutest in the areas of providing Emergency Housing Accommodation, Home to School Transport and Children’s Social Care, which between them require additional funding in the 2024/25 budget of £22m as you will see in the next report on the agenda.
“Therefore, ‘no stone is being left unturned’ in our efforts to reduce costs in all those areas.”

10.24am: The leader, Cllr Linda Taylor, thanks officers for their work to provide an up-to-date picture of the council’s finances.

10.26am: The performance report recommendations are approved.  We now move onto the budget.

10.27am: Cllr Harris introduces the budget and tells the meeting: “The sheer scale of the fiscal challenge facing this Council and every other local authority is huge.
“As I’ve stated publicly and also in my ‘open letter’ to the Secretary of State, I totally agree with the County Councils Network and other representative bodies are screaming, that the sector is teetering on the edge of a ‘financial abyss’ – with some have already tumbled down having issued S114 notices.
“So, whilst I’m pleased that the Secretary of State has listened and responded with additional funding for the sector, an extra £6.5m in our case, we cannot be smug here.
“We are still in a position of having to use reserves to balance next year and the figures for future years are very scary which is why we will continue to press for a long-term settlement that is based on a fairer funding formula; because that is not what we have today.”

Read the Agenda papers

10.33am: Cllr Harris concludes: “In conclusion, while we are in better position than many councils, there is no room to be smug or complacent.
“As I’ve flagged numerous times, unless there is a fundamental shift in how we are financed, not least in fairer funding formula, it is only a matter of time before we are teetering on the edge of the same financial abyss that other councils are faced with today.
“But before setting out the recommendations I really want to make it clear that the significant increase in the proposed revenue and capital budgets represents a huge investment in delivering the Council’s mission of working together for a carbon neutral Cornwall, where everyone can start well, live well and age well.”

10.46am: Cllr Barbara Ellenbroek, portfolio holder for children’s services, is now speaking on the budget, and tells the meeting that children’s services are facing huge financial pressures, and require a large financial uplift for next year, with increasing costs in areas including looked after children and agency residential placements.  

10.48am: Cllr Andy Virr, portfolio holder for adults, is now talking about the extra costs being faced by Adult Social Care, and observes that many of the challenges faced by the council are in looking after the most vulnerable people in our communities.

10.50am: Cllr Virr reflects on the changing demographics of Cornwall, and how that is increasing the demand on the services provided by Adult Social Care.

10.52am: Cllr Olly Monk, portfolio holder for housing, explains to the meeting the challenges that are being faced in providing temporary and emergency accommodation, and tells cabinet that future demand is uncertain.

10.58am: The budget is approved by Cabinet, and will now go to Full Council for final approval.

11.01am: We now move onto the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry – Future Financing and 2024/25 Revenue Budget and Capital Programme, which includes proposed toll increased put forward by the Tamar Bridge and Torpoint Ferry Joint Committee.

11.03am: Cllr Williams-Pears, portfolio holder for transport, explains that traffic levels are still only running at 90% of pre-pandemic levels, leading to financial challenges, while both Cornwall Council and Plymouth City Council do not have the ability to offer further financial support.

11.04am: The proposals will see tolls for cars rise to £3 for cash payments and £1.50 for TAG users.

11.05am: Cllr Louise Gardner seconds the proposals, and says that every effort has been made to find an alternative to raising the tolls.

11.06am: Councillors are now able to ask questions.  Cllr Hilary Frank asks if the Cabinet is aware of the local MP’s opposition to the tolls rising.  Cllr Taylor says she will look into it.

11.14am: The recommendations are carried

11.16am: The next item on the agenda is the Housing Revenue Account Business Plan, Medium Term Budget and Rent Setting for 2024-2025.  Cllr Olly Monk, portfolio holder for housing, is introducing.

11.16am: The meeting is adjourned temporarily while an issue with the livestream is resolved.

11.27am: The meeting is back underway.  Cllr Monk is finishing introducing the housing plans.

Read the Agenda papers

11.47am: The next item on the agenda is the Investment in Housing Enabling paper. The report seeks to set out a package of interventions to assist housing delivery across Cornwall through both Council and Registered Provider partnerships in delivering affordable homes, public private partnering in unlocking sites, and positioning the Council to secure further central government grant.

Watch the Webcast

12.15pm.  The paper is approved.  The next agenda item is the Placement Sufficiency Strategy: Better Homes for Children, Young People and Families in Cornwall. This paper aims to ensure children and young people have the right home for them by increasing the number of local homes within Cornwall for our children and young people. This will allow them to remain in their own communities, maintain education, and build trusted relationships. This will be achieved by working with other departments within Cornwall Council (such as housing and planning) and with external providers to create an innovative and vibrant market that meets the needs of children and young people in Cornwall.

12.24pm: That is approved. The next item for discussion is the Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS). The looks at the 2023 inspection of the fire service in Cornwall, and the steps being taken to address issues raised.

12.46pm: The recommendation is carried.  Next on the agenda is the Public Sector Equality Duty Return (Annual Review) 2023 and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2022-26. This annual report makes sure that equality issues are actively considered in order to remove or minimise disadvantage and to meet the needs of, and encourage greater participation in public life by, those with protected characteristics.
The wider strategy for 2022-26 looks at how the council will continue to strive to create an inclusive environment where everyone is given an equal opportunity to start well, live well and age well.

12.53pm: The recommendations are carried.  The final item on the agenda is the A39 Atlantic Highway: Camelford bypass – submission of Outline Business Case addendum. These papers outline the revised costs for the scheme, which have risen since it was originally submitted in 2021, and confirms the business case for the project.

12.56pm: Cllr Williams-Pears emphasises that the addendum does not commit the council to any extra spending.

1.06pm: The recommendations are approved.  That concludes today’s meeting.