Bulwell MP joins calls for Government to step in and help 'bankrupt' Nottingham City Council

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Bulwell MP Alex Norris has joined fellow Labour MPs from Nottingham in urged the Government to come to the city council’s aid after it was forced to effectively declare ‘bankruptcy’.

But Conservatives have called for Government-appointed commissioners to be brought in to take over the running of the authority.

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The in-year deficit is £23m, which the council says is due to soaring costs including social care spending, combined with years of Government cuts to its funding.

Bulwell MP Alex Norris has joined fellow Nottingham Labour MPs in calling on the Government to help Nottingham City Council. Photo: London Portrait Photoqrapher-DAVBulwell MP Alex Norris has joined fellow Nottingham Labour MPs in calling on the Government to help Nottingham City Council. Photo: London Portrait Photoqrapher-DAV
Bulwell MP Alex Norris has joined fellow Nottingham Labour MPs in calling on the Government to help Nottingham City Council. Photo: London Portrait Photoqrapher-DAV

Mr Norris, and fellow Nottingham Labour MPs Nadia Whittome and Lilian Greenwood issued a joint statement saying: “We urge the Government to provide our city council with the funding it requires to be financially sustainable and deliver the services that our constituents rely on.

“Our constituents should not be made to suffer forced cuts for local services at a time when they face the biggest drop in living standards since records began.

“We will be working with councillors to mitigate the impact that this development has had on residents, and in Parliament fighting for proper reform of the social care system, real action to tackle homelessness and funding for local services.”

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A letter to city council partners, signed by both chief executive Mel Barrett and council leader Coun David Mellen (Lab), outlines the current budget pressures but also confirms the financial impact of the council’s previous financial failings is linked to the timing of the notice being issued.

The collapse of council-owned Robin Hood Energy in 2020 left the council with a bill totalling up to £38m, and and misspending of other funds was linked to the timing of the notice.

It was also found to have misspent money from the Housing Revenue Account, which is a fund collected from council housing rent. The cost of correcting this totals up to £51m.

This led to a Government-appointed improvement board, which is still in post, monitoring the council’s financial performance.

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The letter from Coun Mellen and Mr Barrett states: “While not the cause of the council’s overspend in the current year, the situation in Nottingham is further compounded by the use of significant financial reserves to cover the historic losses of the council’s arm length company Robin Hood Energy which ceased trading in 2020.

“The council has also needed to make good Housing Revenue Account funds historically unlawfully used to support the council’s General Fund for several years from 2014-15 to 2019-20.

“This means that we have less reserves available to smooth the current financial pressures experienced compared to others.”

Posting on X, formerly Twitter, Coun Ben Bradley MP (Con), the leader of Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “This is very sad news for the city, though not unexpected after many recent stories about financial issues.

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"Unfortunately it will be local residents that will see the impact.

“Projects like the Broadmarsh or the Island Quarter must be able to be fully delivered or the city and its economy will suffer further, and local residents, in turn.

“The Government has given me reassurance that this situation will not impact on our major devolution investment.”

But Newark MP Robert Jenrick (Con), called for the Government to step in, saying: “Labour leadership have proven themselves utterly unfit to govern this great city.

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“Their breathtaking waste and incompetence have let residents down for long enough.

Coun Andrew Rule, an Independent city councillor , said: “It is important to remember that this is the second Section 114 notice that has been issued since the Improvement Board has been in post.

“The first one related to the discovery of past unlawful spending of the council’s housing revenue account.

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"The fact it was related to past spending seemed the to be the main justification for avoiding the appointment of commissioners previously.

“It’s hard to see how, given this latest Section 114 relates very much to the here and now, how the appointment of commissioners will be avoided.”

Unison, the UK’s largest union, said the Government must fix the ‘broken’ funding for local authorities.

Rachel Hodson, the East Midlands head of local government, said: “However well prepared council staff were for this inevitable announcement, it won’t stop hundreds of workers panicking about losing their jobs and paying the bills.

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"The fact that this has happened so close to Christmas only makes this news worse.

“Unison is committed to working with the council leadership to deal with the impact of the Section 114 notice being issued and will support council workers in any way possible.”

Coun Cheryl Barnard (Lab), who represents Bulwell Forest, said: “Adult social care, children’s social care and homelessness are the three drivers.

“We’ve kept our levels for children in care stable, but the costs are just going up and up.

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“The children coming into care are older children with complex needs so it is more likely they are going into residential care.

“Most of it is private providers and they’re able to name their price so we’re looking at increases of over 80 per cent in the last few years.

“We’ve been trying to balance the budget this year in terms of overspend.

“We’re not bankrupt, we’ve got assets, we’ve got money to pay staff but we’re overspent this year.”

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A spokesperson for the Government’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We used our statutory powers to intervene at Nottingham City Council last year over serious governance and financial issues and have been clear that improvements must be made.

“We have expressed concern over the lack of urgency demonstrated by the council in addressing these challenges.

"Ministers have been clear that the onus is on the council to deliver the necessary improvements to the board’s satisfaction.

“We are assessing the situation and will consider whether further action is necessary.”