"Whoever you are, the county council will almost certainly play some role in your everyday life"
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This time of year is always one of the busiest in local government. Through December, January and February we have to set the budget for the coming financial year. And, unlike national Government, we have to set a balanced budget by law with everything completed by the end of February.
Devon County Council is responsible for some 800,000 residents in an area that includes the city of Exeter, big towns like Exmouth, market towns like Honiton, villages and hamlets as well as two coastlines, two national parks and five areas of outstanding natural beauty.
We're responsible for social care for a large elderly population and younger vulnerable adults, public health, education, child welfare, more miles of roads than Belgium, strategic planning, trading standards, registering births, deaths and marriages and, indirectly, libraries and youth services. The list is almost endless.
That's what makes my job so fascinating. Whoever you are, the county council will almost certainly play some role in your everyday life and that's without mentioning Covid-19 and the extra help and support for which we have been responsible. For example, more than 34,000 people in Devon are classed as extremely clinically vulnerable and, working with our partners and community groups, we have supported them as they have had to shield through lockdown.
Now all these services have to be paid for. Our income comes from a number of sources - government grants, business rates, charges for services and, of course, your council tax.
And as politicians we have to tread a very fine line of making sure we have enough income to provide these vital services while not asking you to pay more council tax than is absolutely necessary. Obviously everyone will have a different view on that but it is always at the forefront of my calculations.
Last week the Cabinet met to approve our target budget for 2021/22. We'd already set a preliminary target before Christmas but since then we've had more information on our funding streams
That meant we were able to invest a little more and so our plan is to spend just under £578.5 million on the services I listed above in the 2021/22 financial year.
That includes £282 million on adult social care, £158 million on children's services, just under £40 million on communities, public health, environment and prosperity and £57.5 million on highways, infrastructure development and waste.
Add that to the £500 million we oversee in the schools’ budget and the near £200 million in our capital programme and you will see Devon has a turnover above £1.3 billion.
Now there’s quite a way to go before the county council meets on February 18 to set our final budget.
Since I took over this job I’ve tried to do as many public consultations on the budget as possible.
When we were dealing with the austerity agenda, we held public meetings across the county in town and village halls and asked people where they wanted money to be spent and where they would accept savings.
That gave me a fascinating insight into people’s thinking. You would be surprised at the considerable consensus there was and I have tried to reflect that in a very simple mantra of protecting the old, the young and the vulnerable.
For the last couple of years we have actually been able to put more money into our vital services to reflect the big increase in demand we are experiencing.
And there are meetings with groups representing business, the unions and older people as well as the county’s scrutiny committees before we finally put the budget to bed.