From our District Councillor
As I'm sure James will report, the County Council has been instructed to increase its proposed budget for schools for 2004/05 by the Secretary of State for Education. If the County Council increases its share of the tax to do this, their budget might get capped by the Deputy Prime Minister. Secondly, the Police Authority is also considering setting a budget which might get capped. This could cause problems for East Cambs, as we send out the bills. If capping happens, East Cambs would end up having to rebill (at the capped authority's expense) probably in the early summer. This would slow down our collection rates with a direct reduction in interest earned. In any event, whichever authority nominally bears the cost of any rebilling, it will be the local council tax payer who pays.
The District Council's offices at "The Grange" in Ely are really not adequate. There is too little space and there are so many different levels that it is difficult for anyone with mobility problems to get around the office. So we have started to look at ways of addressing these problems. Because the options involved buying or renting, it was decided last year to hold the discussions in confidential session. I felt this was wrong, and said so at the time, because I thought we should discuss the general principles in the open so that we could have wide public consultation.
At the Policy and Resources Committee in February, the 9 members of the committee discussed the conclusions of the review in open session. They agreed, by 5 votes to 4, to move the offices to rented offices on Lancaster Way Business Park, near Witchford and demolish the existing offices. I asked that the decision should be referred to full council and that there should be consultation with the public, staff and our partners, such as the parish councils, before the decision was made. Unfortunately this request was voted down by 5 votes to 4. So negotiations on the lease will be finalised and full council will be asked simply to consider the "financial implications" before the lease is signed.
The decision was taken because the figures presented showed that the rental option was cheaper than staying in premises which we own, despite an annual rent of £430,000 increasing every 5 years. I believe the figures are misleading and that if corrected there is little financial difference between the two options in the first 5 years and that the rental option will cost at least £300,000 more each year after that than the option to stay put. I regret that 5 of my colleagues on the committee were in such a rush to push the council down this route when the business case made was so clearly inadequate and when there has been no public consultation.