Plugging a £130million gap in the budget while continuing to deliver services is one of the key challenges outlined by the new leader of Nottinghamshire County Council.
Labour’s Alan Rhodes, who took over the role after his party gained control of the authority at the May elections, has described the financial situation facing the authority as ‘very serious’.
“We have never been in this kind of predicament before,” Coun Rhodes said during an interview with the Dispatch last week.
“The financial situation we inherited was pretty serious but the additional 10 per cent in government cuts a month ago just twisted the knife in.
“What I keep saying is that the government doesn’t support local authorities.”
But despite the bleak economic outlook, Coun Rhodes and his deputy, Mansfield councillor Joyce Bosnjak, say that the county council is determined to improve people’s quality of life by ironing out health inequalities and providing specialist homes for the elderly.
Said Coun Bosnjak: “Clearly, our priorities are different from the previous administration.
“We want to do more positive things and it’s about making the best use of the resources we’ve got.
“It’s about providing services but perhaps in a slightly different way. There is a need for us to be more creative for the people who elected us.”
Coun Rhodes also hopes that introducing a living wage of £7.45 for county council employees will help to boost the area’s economy.
He said: “We employ around 10,000 people across Nottinghamshire and around 25 per cent of those people are currently earning less than the living wage.
“Those people are doing important roles like care assistants so we are bringing in the living wage that will give hard-working families an increased income and hopefully retailers will see some benefit.”
He added that although the council could not force the private sector to introduce the living wage, the authority would encourage firms to follow its lead.
Meanwhile, Coun Rhodes, who represents Bassetlaw, has also said that the authority had ‘no plans’ to increase council tax like neighbouring Labour-run Nottingham City Council has done.
However, he added that it is something the authority ‘couldn’t rule it out entirely’.
“We need to look at the government settlement and our ambitions,” he said.
“At this point we are not ruling anything out. We are looking at making the council more cost-effective.
“We are looking at sharing services with other authorities and new ways of delivering services.
“If, at the end of it all, we can’t deliver it, we’ll have to make the decision then.”
Although Labour won control of the county council with just one seat at the election’s in May, Coun Rhodes insists that it won’t cause any lead to stalemates in the decision-making process.
“It is quite challenging but we have got a very good group of councillors who are disciplined. Their attendance has been excellent so far. If we carry on like that we can roll out Labour’s policies in the county.”
• For Coun Rhodes’ take on the financial challenges facing Nottinghamshire County Council in the coming years see his guest column in next week’s Chad.