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Cambridge City Council aims to fight poverty, climate change and crime

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Reducing poverty, tackling climate change, and addressing community safety are all priorities as the city council looks to agree a budget for the coming year.

Lewis Herbert plans for 2020 in the Committe Room of the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell. (26081897)
Lewis Herbert plans for 2020 in the Committe Room of the Guildhall. Picture: Keith Heppell. (26081897)

There are also proposals in Cambridge City Council’s 2019-20 budget to invest in housing, install new electric vehicle charging points and fund a community food hub.

The authority is hoping to make savings of almost £1million to its annual budget of about £20m.

It will be the second year the Labour-run city council has had to do without its core government grant funding, which declined from £5.6m six years ago to zero in April 2019.

Government funding under the New Homes Bonus is also projected to be cut from £5m per year to zero by 2023. The council will, instead, have to fund services through business rates, paid services, and council tax, which is likely to go up by 2.5 per cent.

Set in the context of its vision for ‘One Cambridge – Fair for All’, the budget proposals outline how the council will allocate resources and fund its priorities.

The full detail of the general fund budget-setting report will be considered by the city council’s strategy and resources scrutiny committee on February 3, before going to the full council for approval.

An “alternative budget” from the Liberal Democrats is expected in the coming weeks.

The annual budget report also describes how the council will work to identify savings, enhance income and work more efficiently, establishing an expanded transformation team to review services, develop new technological solutions and improve ways of working, given the challenge to deliver future services despite further expected cuts in national funding.

Here are some of the things that could be in store:

Council tax going up

In the absence of the core government funding, council tax for the city council is likely to go up by 2.5 per cent. This will mean an increase of £5 from £197.50 to £202.50 for band D households for the city council portion of the bill, and proportionately for other bands.

The council will maintain its council tax reduction scheme for residents on the lowest incomes and people leaving care, and funding staff and partners to help residents maximise income from benefits and advise people worst affected by Universal Credit.

Council leader Cllr Lewis Herbert said: “When people are leaving care it’s a very vulnerable time, so irrespective of their income we want to give people a low cost.”

The final Band D bill for city taxpayers also includes county council, police and fire precepts.

Action on climate change

Following its declaration of a Climate Emergency, the council will take a lead in reducing carbon emissions and increasing biodiversity, including £20,000 extra funding to encourage organisations and households on ways they can work towards net-zero emissions.

It has also pledged money towards a planned 2020 Cambridgeshire-wide Climate Commission.

Cllr Herbert said: “The value for us of that [the commission] is that a lot of the problems are shared from Peterborough through to Cambridge. It would be far better if we all worked together, including the county council and the mayor so we address things on a bigger geography.”

The budget also sets out plans to plant at least 2,000 new trees in the next three years, including £200,000 over two years extra funding for tree pits in pavements and public spaces.

It will also set aside £100,000 to install new electric vehicle charging points in city car parks, work with the county council to develop on-street charging – and replace council vehicles with electric versions, where possible, at a cost of £400,000.

Cllr Herbert added: “We are going to be significantly increasing the number of electric charging points next year.

“We’re looking to do a deal with the people who put in electric charging into car parks in other cities.

“It’s much easier to do it in our car parks so that we can control it and it’s not going to be subject to vandalism.”

Reducing homelessness

The council will work directly and with voluntary sector partners – including the It Takes a City scheme and its development partner Hill, who are committed to providing homes for homeless people across the UK, to reduce and prevent homelessness and rough sleeping, developing expanded provision of permanent, self-contained ‘Housing First’ homes and support for people in them.

Tackling community safety

The council is pledging £45,000 this year and next year to fund a youth liaison officer to address child criminal exploitation and serious violent crime. The role will involve gathering intelligence, looking at positive activities, raising awareness and coordinating work between partner agencies.

Cllr Herbert said: “We recognise that there are quite a lot of vulnerable young people and there have been quite a lot of teenagers sucked in by the county lines gangs.

“We’re certainly going to put the focus with the police in a couple of parts of the city.”

The council will also look to upgrade CCTV and fund brighter streetlights through the night.

Continuing work

  • Earmarking £30 million to develop existing commercial properties to provide new and upgraded business premises plus 65 additional new homes;
  • Redeveloping Park Street car park into a new underground car and cycle park with aparthotel above;
  • Continuing the housing investment programme, building more than 900 homes in the city including more than 500 council homes;
  • Exploring mechanisms for increasing the supply of properties at less than market rents;

Cllr Richard Robertson, executive councillor for finance and resources, said: “The government’s continued cuts to funding mean it is vital that we continue to target four resident priorities including to support those most in need, run the council as efficiently as possible and develop ways to increase our income and make us less reliant on government funding while protecting our services.

“Since 2014 we have invested an additional £50m of council reserves, which had previously been earning near nil in low interest bank accounts, in commercial property and elsewhere, enabling us to build new housing and protect and enhance services.

“We now plan to create more resources for further reinvestment to help the local economy, address inequality and to make vital progress on cutting emissions and tackling climate change.”

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