After sixteen months of meeting online (and a couple of meetings at the County Showground) I have finally returned to meetings at County Hall. Wednesday’s Scrutiny Committee was mostly devoted to looking at the County Council’s finances.
I asked what planning the administration is doing to cope with increased demand for services after the pandemic. I asked about the levels of debt the council is carrying (close to £780million). And I asked about the risks presented by ‘pressures’ on the budget from things like the government promising workers pay increases without funding the council to pay for them.
We are still a long way from the end of tough times for the council’s finances. It is clear that saving money is still the top consideration driving decisions – Green Party councillor Jamie Osborn asked about the use of community finance schemes and was effectively told they would not be considered because they were too expensive to run regardless of the benefits they might have as a way of funding projects.
I also raised my concern that relying on ‘transformation plans’ to deliver huge cuts to funding of services for children is doomed to failure because the assumptions underpinning it are wrong. That is an issue that’s not going away.
You can watch the meeting online here.