Unions blast city council as 'short-sighted' as public urged to have their say on budget proposals

A formal consultation process is now under way as Nottingham City Council seeks to make £28 million of savings and balance its 2022-23 budget.

Thursday, 18th November 2021, 5:03 pm

But unions say the areas being proposed for savings badly affect the most disadvantaged communities and called the council’s approach ‘short-sighted’

The authority’s executive board discussed and approved its first stage of consultation proposals this week and the public now has the opportunity to offer its views until January 10.

Councils across the country face financial challenges from rising demand for services and lower levels of grant, as seen in recent authoritative reports from the Local Government Association, Institute for Fiscal Studies and Age Concern.

Nottingham City Council has opened a public consultation on its budget proposals

In Nottingham, the council is now receiving more than £100 million less per year in its main Government grant compared with eight years ago.

The council has made £303 million of budget savings since 2010 and been left £19.4 million out of pocket through not being fully compensated for income lost as a result of tackling Covid.

It means that difficult decisions must be made and proposals formally put forward in this latest budget include reducing play and youth services, saving £615,00; Closing six children’s centres and moving to a hub model of three centres, saving £331,000; Reducing the frequency of some Linkbus services and increasing Medilink fares, saving £371,000; Maintaining one free residential car parking zone permit and introducing an administration charge for second and third parking permits, saving £412,500; Introducing a proposed charge for bulky waste, including discount schemes, saving £80,000.

These along with a number of other proposals would, if agreed, contribute £12.2 million towards the financial gap, with further plans to close the remaining £15.7 million to come forward early in the new year.

The council awaits the announcement of the Government funding settlement and so there is some uncertainty around the medium to long-term funding available.

The proposals which went to the executive board involve a workforce reduction of 91 full-time equivalent posts – 23 of which are vacant posts.

The council is considering a 1.99 per cent basic council tax increase as well as implementing the Government’s one per cent social care precept towards the rising demand of statutory adult care services, which, along with caring for vulnerable children, now accounts for two-thirds of the council’s entire budget.

This means that it is becoming harder for councils to sustain other services that are important to local people, such as tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, parks and keeping streets clean.

The council also reports progress towards finalising a balanced medium term financial plan (MTFP) for the next four years.

This is a vital part of the council’s response to the Non-Statutory Review and its own recovery and improvement plan and underpins all future work to deliver services.

Following feedback from consultation, the full MTFP report will be presented to the executive board in February.

Coun Sam Webster (Lab), portfolio holder for finance, said: “Like other councils across the country, we are facing extremely difficult decisions about the services we provide, unless the Government provides adequate funding in the forthcoming financial settlement.

“It’s important to stress that the proposals we are putting forward are not set in stone and are for genuine consultation over the coming weeks.

"We want to hear the views of local people and how changes will affect them and their communities.

“What is clear is that, as demand for vital statutory services continues to rise, we simply cannot maintain the level of all the services we feel are required for Nottingham.

“Councils of all types are facing the same problems, not least of all because one of the main statutory services we have to provide – care for the elderly – is not being properly funded through national taxation.

"Instead it is being inadequately funded by adding an extra charge to council tax bills – amounting to £211 more on Band D bills over the last six years.

“We have a legal and moral duty to deliver care services to Nottingham’s elderly residents when they need it and we are having to shift resource to cover the rising cost of looking after the growing numbers of children who are in the care of the council.

“Until this and the wider underfunding of councils is addressed, local taxpayers are quite wrongly being made to pay more and getting less.”

But the Unison union says the people who need most support from council services will be among those who suffer the most if the savings being talked about go ahead.

A spokesperson said: “These proposals, such as the proposed closure of six out of nine local authority run children’s centres and the wholescale reduction in play and youth services will decimate early years provision within the city and directly impact on some of the most disadvantaged communities and citizens in Nottingham.

"Unison believes that the approach taken by the council is short sighted and will ultimately lead to longer-term problems and financial pressures when demand on statutory services are likely to increase given the ongoing social and financial impact caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"Unison unreservedly condemn these proposals and calls upon the Labour-led Nottingham City Council to investigate the use of £20 million of capitalisation funding in order to prevent further cuts and defend these vital services.

"Unison calls upon councillors to vote against these and other cuts and also mount a joined-up campaign with other struggling councils to demand fairer funding to local authorities from central Government.”

To take part in the budget consultation, click here.

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