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Labour battered and bruised after one year in charge at Nottinghamshire County Council

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  • by Kevin Rogers kev.rogers@jpress.co.uk @SYTKevinRogers
 

It is a year since the Labour administration was elected to hold the reins of power at Nottingham County Council, in an era of unprecedented change.

This year the council has had to make £80 million savings and has lost 750 posts. It faces finding another £77 million in cuts this coming financial year.

Labour Leader Alan Rhodes says he is proud of the progress his administration has made over the past 12 months but warns of more difficult decisions to come.

He is launching a new council report Redefining Your Council promising a four-year radical overhaul of the way the council operates.

Coun Rhodes said: “We’ve got through our first 12 months - slightly battered and bruised. It’s been a difficult period in some respects but we always knew it was going to be.

“We inherited a financial mess and a council in crisis, with a £30 million hole in the budget and then further reductions from Government funding a few weeks after our election.

“We were elected with a majority of one which always makes it challenging.”

He said the toughest thing had been the decisions made following the Budget consultations: “We made more than £80 million savings and unfortunately had to delete 750 posts which for us with our values was a very tough choice to make.”

Services across the board are to be affected, including bus services, libraries and adult and child services. Council tax was increased by 1.99 per cent.

He said there had been an imperative to put the council back on a secure financial footing, to protect front line services:

He apologised for decisions affecting older people, day care, young people and youth services: “They were very difficult decisions for us and I certainly apologise about having to make them. We knew we had no alternative.”

It is likely the council will provide fewer services directly in the future.

Some of the council’s functions may be provided by volunteers, mutual companies charitable trusts or commissioned from the private or public sector.

Libraries and youth services in some rural communities could be run by volunteers. Highways could outsource street lighting operations to an outside company.

Coun Rhodes said: “We are clustering our childrens’ centres working much more closely with each other. We recognise some youth services are having to be cut and we want community volunteers to come forward.”

Despite already making over £100m in savings over the last three years because of Government funding cuts, the council still needs to bridge a further £77m funding gap by 2017/8.

Coun Rhodes said money was still being invested in priority areas.

Jobs, skills and training are a priority, with £1 million as part of the Budget to enable employers to set on apprentices.

The council was building extra care housing facilities across the county for elderly residents. In Mansfield one is planned on Brownlow Road and Bould Street.

A 20mph speed limit outside all schools was starting to be rolled out.

He said he was most proud of introducing the living wage to 2,500 employees.

A council tax rise was introduced this year for the first time in four years. Coun Rhodes said the previous freeze had cost 2,500 jobs, adding: “I don’t want this administration to be defined by cuts, closures and redundancies as the previous one was.”

“Many of those will still be unemployed and services were sacrificed at the same time. People value their services. They told us that in the massive Budget consultation.”

Ashfield Liberal Democrat Councillor Jason Zadrozny described the administration as the most “self serving” he had seen.

He said: “The only changes I can see they have done is to help councillors. The things they have been saying about the cost of living sound pretty hollow when they put up the Council Tax.

“They turned down a £3.14 million Government grant to not raise it.

“They spent £86,000 on Ipads for councillors, increased wages for certain councillors and increased political staffing.

“All that in the context of 800 job losses and millions of pounds worth of service cuts It looks bad and shows the council is not on peoples’ sides.

He said the opposition would have reorganised the services that people valued and put money back into social care and childrens’ services.

Council Tax would have been frozen and they would have taken the grants from the Government.

There were also services done very well by the Council it could charge and trade for: “Under the Conservative council meals on wheels were really good and we used to sell that service to Warwickshire County Council, said Coun Zadrozny. “This council stopped doing that and now we have to raise money when it used to be subsidised.

“The living wage is costing an extra £4 million a year. It is great for the lowest paid who are already above minimum wage. But what they are watching is one out of three of their friends made redundant. “It is done with the best of intentions, but they’ve not though out the implications.”

 

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