By cutting County Hall waste, Devon Lib Dems find more cash for Special Educational Needs, rural bus services, mental health services for young people, highways and helping young people get to college.
In its budget proposals for the coming financial year (2019/20), the Liberal Democrat Group on Devon County Council has found more than £2.4 million to invest in front-line services, largely by identifying more ways to save money at County Hall.
This money would be used to:
• Invest £500,000 in much-needed rural bus services
• Bolster education and services for children with special educational needs by another £1 million
• Provide a special fund of £500,000 to tackle highways drainage problems
• Provide a hardship fund of £60,000 to help young people in Post-16 education get to college
• Invest an extra £400,000 in mental health services for children and young people
The Liberal Democrats also demand that the County Council lobbies Government to end the loophole that allows owners of second homes and holiday homes to switch from paying Council Tax to Business Rates. They also call on Government to give local councils the power to charge 200% Council Tax on second and holiday homes. In the South Hams alone, this could generate an additional £10 million for front line public services, they say.
Cllr Alan Connett, Leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats at Devon County Council, said: "The Prime Minister promised an end to austerity. The truth is that here in Devon we continue to be short-changed by this Government."
He added: "In the past year alone we have lost 525 Teachers and Teaching Assistants. Instead of more money for schools, we are getting less."
Devon school children now get £294 a year LESS than the national average. "That gap has got bigger, despite all the lobbying from Conservative County Hall and Members of Parliament," said Cllr Connett. "Previously, the underfunding was £265 per child. Devon is being short changed and so are its children."
"One of the biggest areas of concern is for children with special educational needs", said Cllr Connett. "The County Council has been criticised again by Ofsted – this time over its special educational needs services. The truth is Devon is being squeezed of funding while money is going to other areas of the country."
The Liberal Democrats say better efficiency and cost cutting at County Hall would free up vital cash to put into frontline services and support rural communities.
Chopping budget allocations for hiring expensive consultants and stand-in managers, as well as cutting back on car allowances and mileage payments and room hire costs, would all contribute towards savings for much-needed services.
"Devon Lib Dem councillors were surprised again this year that Devon County Council is spending over £480,000 a year on car allowances for staff and last year spent nearly £7.5 million on agency and temporary staff and a further £500,000 on hiring twelve consultants," said Cllr Connett.
"While County Hall Conservatives weep their crocodile tears about cuts to services, we have again shown that there are savings to be made. This money could be used for important services for children with special educational needs, mental health services, rural buses and to help fix our roads."
Kirsten Johnson, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for North Devon said: "I am pleased to see that Liberal Democrats at Devon County Council are standing up for rural bus services, more funding for special education needs and an extra £400,000 investment in mental health provision for our young people. Lib Dems are also proposing a hardship fund of £60,000 to help support young people in Post-16 education get to college. This would help many young people in North Devon."
Devon County Council meets on Thursday (21 February) to set its budget and Council Tax for the financial year from 1 April. The Conservative-run council is proposing to increase Council Tax by 3.99%, or £53.10 a year, for a band-D property.