Cornwall’s Labour councillors scored a stunning victory at County Hall yesterday when they secured a 54-53 victory for measures which will boost spending on children’s services by £1 million – without increasing council tax.
Cornwall Liberal Democrats had argued against the proposal. But the Labour idea – taking a tiny amount from the surplus which the Lib Dems had wanted to stash into their £373 million cash reserves – was so obviously sensible that it attracted support from across the council chamber.
Mebyon Kernow and some Independent councillors voted for Labour’s alternative budget. Even the Conservatives backed it.
It is the second time that a Labour idea has outwitted the Lib Dems. Last month a Labour proposal to tackle climate change exposed the Lib Dems as green on the outside, but grey on the inside.
Labour's Jayne Kirkham successfully proposed the extra £1 million for Cornwall's children
Yesterday’s vote was the first time Labour has won a budget motion at a full meeting of Cornwall Council and suggests that with more councillors, Labour will make a radical difference to the way Cornwall is run. Labour is recruiting now for candidates to contest elections in 2021.
The budget amendment tabled by Labour councillor Jayne Kirkham and Dorothy Kirk said: “This proposed alternative budget is for the provision of additional funding of £0.525m in 2019/20 for school nurses/counsellors and children’s mental health provision (equivalent to circa 15 fte), then increasing to circa £1m from 2020/21 (equivalent to circa 27 fte in total).
Labour's Dorothy Kirk backed the winning budget idea
Jayne told councillors: "The fact that both Labour and the Conservatives agree on how crucial mental health support for children is, must tell you something of the glaring urgency of the situation.
"Public Health officers would like a counsellor in every school. Our schools officer said in Scrutiny that she would like a school nurse in every school. Pastoral care in schools has dropped at a time we need it more than ever as non-teaching staff and teaching assistants have been lost to try to cope with cuts to education. There is often no one for our most vulnerable children to go to for support and some care.
"No one to pick up on the problems under the CAMHS threshold before they develop into something bigger. The Childrens and Families department are doing a valiant job with Headstart training, but that is for existing staff who are already trying to do at least one job.
"We are suffering a cut in our Public Health budget from £25.5m to £24.8m next year that will then lose its ringfence. Page 69 of the budget states that it is expected to roll into national business rate retention reforms from 2020/21. That will affect health visitors, sexual health, drugs and alcohol treatment. We are inheriting Public Health Nurses from the NHS, but the first thing we are having to do is to cut the budget. The new Long Term Ten Year NHS Plan is predicated on preventing people getting ill in the first place.
"Prevention is what the Public Health budget is for. It is counter-intuitive to cut it. Particularly for our youngest and most vulnerable residents. There used to be a £2.5 million contingency fund in the revenue budget. That has been removed in this latter version of the budget and put into the General Reserve Fund to cover the s.151 officers’ assessment of risk (most notably and recently £9 million against the risk of a no deal Brexit).
"My budget amendment is funded by money from what would have been that contingency fund and the cashflow around the General Fund Reserve. The s.151 officer’s recommendation in the GFR strategy is that the General Fund Reserve reaches £45 million by the end of the Medium Term financial plan. Even under my proposals the GFR will still be £46.033 million by 2022/3. Well above the s.151 officer’s recommendation. This is not a risky amendment. And the benefits to the health and wellbeing of Cornish children should be disproportionately high."
The Lib Dems are still cutting £77 million from Cornwall’s public services over four years. Despite this, the Lib Dems refused to increase council tax by as much as the government allows and voted down another Labour proposal which would have generated an extra £11 million in revenue and strengthened the council’s ability to defend those most in need.