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Lib Dems plan to sell County Farms to protect front line services

January 30, 2014 10:38 AM

A plan to sell Cambridgeshire's County Council-owned tenant farms for around £100m to protect vital front line services has been outlined by the county's Liberal Democrats.

Existing tenants would have protected tenancies as the farms are transferred to a new company and then sold by the council in whole or in part. It is anticipated a potential buyer could be the council's own pension fund.

Some land would be excluded from the transfer if there were a real prospect of it being sold off at significantly above the agricultural value of where it is being used by the county council for other purposes.

On top of the sale price, the move would generate just over £16 million worth of savings for the council in the next four years.

The plan has been put forward as part of the Lib Dems' annual budget proposals which also include selling the county council's energy inefficient headquarters at Shire Hall to raise £7.5 million and cutting £100,000 from its inflated communications' budget.

Money raised would be used for crucial front line services such as work with vulnerable families, children's centres, help for the disabled, transport and concessionary fares, highways maintenance and mental health services.

Over the next two years Lib Dems would invest £1.3m in children's centres, just over £1m in bus subsidies, £400,000 in community transport and £1m in highways and winter maintenance. Services run through the Learning Disability Partnership including transport would receive just over £1.5m.

Cambridgeshire Lib Dem Leader, Maurice Leeke said: "Our budget looks beyond the front line services for savings so that we can protect the vulnerable and the services they rely on, particularly preventative services which improve lives and save money in the long run.

"We want to make sure people can get around by improving roads, pavements and cycleways while maintaining rural bus and community transport services. We also want to preserve concessions on Park and Ride buses, support new rail infrastructure and complete the Chisholm Trail so we can combat congestion and poor air quality.

"We believe that proper investment in a child's early years is critical to their long-term happiness and success. That is why we view the current Conservative proposals to reduce the services offered by Children's Centres with great concern."

They also attacked Conservative plans to cut funding to early help and preventative services which work with families to help them to stay together.

"We believe that reducing this service will not only lead to worse outcomes for Cambridgeshire children, but will also lead to higher costs in the longer term, as families do not receive the support they need when they start to struggle, and then intervention becomes necessary at a later stage and at greater cost.," said Cllr Leeke.

The Lib Dems would also aim to make savings by initiating discussion with other councils across the county about forming unitary authorities to share services.

"This budget shows how savings can be achieved now and into the future by taking a longer-term approach," added Cllr Leeke.