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OPINION: Expensive mistakes, excuses, and a budget gap ‘of their own creation’

As Conservatives we also believe you need to efficiently utilise the resources you do have

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The Labour and Liberal Democrat administration at Cambridgeshire County Council know the roads are failing but they refuse to do enough about it. Recently, acknowledging their budget falls short of what is needed, whilst laying the blame elsewhere.

But we know residents are tired of them blaming the weather, the lack of money, and the Government.

Residents don’t want to pay around £2,000 a household to hear their excuses; they want action now.

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This is why the Conservatives have put forward plans to rescue their insufficient proposals with a £21.716m investment into highways.

For many years Labour and Lib Dems have repeatedly voted against Conservative proposed increases to the highways budgets, preferring to spend monies elsewhere.

Perhaps one day they will perform a U-turn on their war on motorists, as they have this year with their U turn regarding their disastrous “let weeds grow” policy, and their dangerous proposals to cut winter gritting routes, which we campaigned against.

In this budget, Liberal Democrats and Labour want to impose a maximum tax increase once again, they say “to close a budget gap of £37.1m”. However, a lot of this is of their own creation.

Cost overruns on energy schemes added £9.1m, late delivery meant lost revenue of £11.4m.

Another expensive mistake was their campaign to stay in Shire Hall, scuppering a commercial deal, costing taxpayers tens of millions of pounds.

Their refusal to continue working with Peterborough led to millions spent on increased senior management costs and exit payments to officers.

Labour stated, even if the budget were balanced, they would impose a maximum tax increase.

At a cost of an additional £1.733m a year their decision to voluntarily pay above the National Living wage, is similar to Liberal Democrats policy in South Cambs. Believing taxpayers should pay five days wages for four days work.

Further examples are Government financed schemes were deliberately enhanced as another self-imposed cost of £3.0m to the Cambridgeshire Council Taxpayer.

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Conservatives can easily demonstrate the element of self-reflection missing from Labour and Liberal Democrats narrative over who, and why, the council is now facing such a budget gap.

As Conservatives we also believe you need to efficiently utilise the resources you do have.

For example, we propose to accelerate deployment of Ukraine grant funds. The joint administration currently has £2m languishing in reserves, with no plans for its much-needed use over the next 5 years. Whereas we would help more people and communities earlier when they need it most.

We would also integrate the public health responsibilities into the communities committee’s area of responsibility, enabling a reduction in administrative waste and a much more integrated approach closer to the people.

Highways operations, which includes roads, footpaths, cycleways, verges, drainage, signing and lineage and bridleways, takes our full proposed investment of £21.716m.

Our detailed analysis of the budget plan has identified un-ringfenced reserves of £10.716m, sitting idle with no plans for the next five years, future funding commitments not included of £1.5m, overestimated budgets of £6m and capital receipts, surprisingly not included of £11.4m.

From almost £30m we propose a steady and prudent drawdown of £21.716m to improve our highways, whilst the remaining £8m can be counted on to reduce any risks.

Against our own desires we have been forced to choose not to propose a lower Council Tax, perhaps a forlorn hope of securing support.

This leaves them a clear opportunity to vote to improve our highways and byways and do what residents want.

We hope that concession, may be enough to sway the Labour and Liberal Democrats ultimately in charge of the budget.

Cllr Steve Count is leader of the Conservative opposition on Cambridgeshire County Council

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