'Disappointing' response as council goes live on webcast
Cornwall Council opened up the debate on plans for £24 million budget cuts to a county-wide online audience.
The authority last night webcast, live from County Hall, the last of 23 consultation events designed to include the public in setting the spending plans for 2014/15.
But despite the Duchy facing the biggest Government grant reductions for decades and the threat of swingeing cuts to services, only 162 people actually viewed the event, an audience that council leader John Pollard declared "disappointing".
However, he said he was "serious about" attempts to widen the debate.
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"We want to communicate with the community, which we are part of and serve," he added.
Mr Pollard, who leads the coalition of Independents and Liberal Democrats, introduced the meeting and described the scale of reductions his cabinet need to make.
"We are dealing huge figures," he told the Truro gathering.
"The are very hard choices ahead and we need to recognise that but if we are going to defend care for the elderly, protect young people and support the elderly – and I do – we need to set a budget that works, though we may need to forgo some services."
The council says it has saved £170 million over the last four years, but will need to save a further £196 million by 2019 to balance the books.
The draft cut of £23.9 million for next year is based on a council tax rise just shy of 2%, thereby avoiding, the need for a costly referendum.
Online viewers e-mailed in questions, including issues such as shared services and cutting senior staff costs.
Chief executive Paul Masters said the scale of the challenge was "enormous", something many people had yet to realise.
Mr Masters, who is said to have seen his pay reduced by 12%, said partnership working was already under way to scale back the £1.1 billion yearly budget, adding that £7.5 million had been saved from staff costs in four years.
Responding to concerns about healthcare, he said the entire system was "inefficient" and needed a budget plan putting in place "otherwise we are going to be dead".
Alex Folkes, the cabinet member for Finance and Resources, said 'salami' slicing of services – where repeated cuts are made across the board – would leave the authority seriously damaged.
He said he wanted to avoid ending up like the Black Knight – the helpless but indomitable character in the comedy Monty Python and the Holy Grail – who wants to continue fighting despite having both his arms and legs cut off.
"Cornwall Council is going to be very different in five years time," Mr Folkes added.
"We need to make sure we are headed in the right direction that means we have got to talk to the people."