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The Comedy of Errors

Nottingham Council Tax to Rise in the Face of Government Cuts

14 January 16 words: Bridie Squires
"Over half the money the council spends is on adult social care and these tax increases, set against massive budget slashes, will not generate an adequate amount to bridge the gap"
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image: Wikipedia

I won’t lie to you. I’m not the sharpest screwdriver in the toolbox when it comes to number crunching, but seeing as our city’s council budget affects us all in one way or another, I thought it might be interesting to get down and see what the craic is.

The overarching issue that came up in the meeting was the fact that Central Government is now paying much less to fund day-to-day services, and it is predicted that this will continue to be the case until the Revenue Support Grant is eventually phased out completely. This means the money will be coming out of the pockets of local residents and businesses through Council Tax and business rate income.

With 80% of Nottingham properties falling into the lower Council Tax bands (A or B), and with our city’s low business rates, we are put at a disadvantage to other cities in the UK who might benefit from high property worth and large businesses.

Nottingham City Council needs to make £20million in savings next year, and that’s after already having saved £152million over the last five years. With the demand for key services continuing to rise, Nottingham City Council is going to have to continue being very creative in the ways it sustains the services we use every day.

This year, the support grant is £74million, next year it will be £59million, and it is estimated to be somewhere around £29million by 2020. This all points to the fact that the people and businesses will pay more, while the Government pays less.

There is firstly set to be a 1.95% increase in Council Tax, and a further 2% rise for a “Social Care precept”, as levied by the Chancellor. This additional 2% is to contribute to the adult social care shortfall and will generate £1.8million.

Over half the money the council spends is on adult social care and these tax increases, set against massive budget slashes, will not generate an adequate amount to bridge the gap – an extra £4.7million is needed to upkeep services, never mind the extra services which are predicted to be imperative.

Given that the amount of people over the age of 65 is set to increase by 3% by 2019, the number of children in care has increased by 8.7% since 2012, and the extra 4,500 children estimated to be in schools by 2019 (a 12% increase), it will be difficult for Nottingham City Council to keep services as they are now, says Cllr Jon Collins.

 2015/16 spending looks like this:

£89million on elderly and vulnerable people
£44million on child protection services (it costs £30,000 per child in care, per year)
£16million on public transport
£9million on crime
£7million on street cleaning
£5million on street lighting
£4million on bins
£4million on job creation
£3million on parks and spaces

There was some talk on the different ways the council are going to raise income and keep services afloat, for example there is a new coffee shop in Nottingham Central Library to help sustain that.

Day care fees will be increased from £12 to £15 a day, now falling in line with national guidelines, and the subsidy will be removed for new self-funders of residential day care.

Street lights on residential streets are going to be dimmed, making annual savings of £123,000 – at least we’ll be able to see the stars better, eh?

Non-city residents with concessionary passes will be subject to an additional £3 fee when using the Park and Ride buses and sites.

Sports and culture is being reviewed in terms of fees and charges, saving £178,000.

Some services will be commercialised, like waste and skip hire, saving £250,000

But it’s not all doom and gloom, according to Collins. We’ve got a new skills hub, new tram lines, and the not-for-profit RobinHoodenergy – one of the cheapest energy providers in the country and, if you’re on the metre, it is the cheapest – has been launched by Nottingham City Council, alongside the Oyster-style travel card, the Robin Hood card. Apparently this thing will calculate the cheapest travel fares for you, and in the near future will even refund you the difference if you’ve overpaid, so it seems worth grabbing. Plus, Nottingham City Council are still committed to building more council houses. Needs must.

In terms of the police, £12million will need to be saved next year, meaning staffing slashes on all levels and a redistribution of coppers on the streets, taking them away from low-crime areas and putting more in high-crime areas, and by entering a strategic alliance with Leicestershire and Northamptonshire in April.

Questions were opened up, which lead to a discussion about other ways the Council could potentially save money – by potentially buying energy from themselves, as well as with joint commissioning of adult care, health care, and potentially children’s care. This could mean joint assessments. The idea of integration was generally a welcome idea, but the question was raised as to whether this was an integration agenda or a money-saving agenda.

Other points raised included the closure of the Asian Women’s Refuge in the face of increased domestic violence levels and it was highlighted that these services have not been abolished, but reallocated to Sanctuary.

There was some concern over new commissioning structures affecting the voluntary sector, and Collins maintained that the Council will continue its attempts in advantaging the voluntary sector, having protected its funding since 2010. He also says he is committed to protecting the Refugee Forum in the face of current circumstances. However, some institutions such as The Indian Community Centre and the Pakistan Centre have been reviewed as self-sustainable and will therefore lose funding.

The subject of apprenticeships was brought up in terms of the frustratingly inefficient processes involved in recruitment, and Collins said that these are still being run at a national level – if we are successful in our bid for devolution, it would give us greater control of how apprenticeships are run.

Overall, it was a well-chaired and insightful meeting, if not a little terrifying. The Government’s Revenue Support Grant being cut so dramatically means potential changes in many areas that aren’t always going to be favourable. It means being without funding, yet decisions still being made at a national level. Collins seems realistic about the impending struggle, but still determined to carry on being creative in the ways the Council maintains these crucial day-to-day services.

However, he did iterate that although increased business rates might sound attractive, in the face of the huge cuts it is more of a dampening process that will benefit the wealthy south, leaving places like the Midlands to feel the pinch.

The One Nottingham Budget Consultation Meeting took place at Nottingham Central Library on Wednesday 13 January

One Nottingham website
Read the budget proposals in full here

We'd love to hear your thoughts on the council's approach and what impact you think this will have on Notts. Comment below...

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