We have just had the Government’s budget, which presented a rosy picture of Britain’s economy, and yet the grim reality of its cuts to public services continues to bite.
These cuts have hit Nottinghamshire particularly hard, with only five other councils in the country experiencing larger cuts to their budget than us.
What’s completely unacceptable is that it is the areas of the country with the worst deprivation which are being hit with the biggest cuts (mainly in the North and Midlands). Funding reductions by the Government for services in Nottinghamshire are double those of Surrey and Buckinghamshire.
On top of the swingeing cuts to public services funding, we were faced with a debt of £130 million when I became leader at Nottinghamshire County Council last year.
This combination has left us with no choice but to make significant cuts which have included reductions to services and around 750 job losses, outlined in the February budget.
It was with a heavy heart that colleagues and I agreed to these. None of us wanted to be in this position.
We are still left with a further £70m to save by 2017. I am sorry to say, with no sign of an end to the biggest ever cuts to public spending anytime soon, the future outlook for Nottinghamshire County Council services and those of you who rely on them, continues to look bleak. This will affect all of us in the coming months and years.
So what are we doing and what of the future? We are rising to the challenge and looking for the best way to save money alongside our three key values of treating people fairly, seeking out value for money and working together with communities and organisations.
To this end, we have already introduced a range of measures to improve value for money and have set in play a project to help us determine the best way forward in responding to the budget constraint challenge.
We are also taking positive steps such as the introduction of a Living Wage for all our employees, which was a manifesto promise, and enables people who work for us to earn enough to actually live on. This is an achievement of which I am proud.
So what can you do? In light of the unfair funding cuts to our county, we set up our Fair Deal for Nottinghamshire campaign, which I will deliver to Downing Street in the coming weeks.
We have had about 3,000 signatures so far, but if you too feel you wish to support the call for a fair deal for local services for us all, please add your name to the petition at www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/fairdeal (available to sign online until 31 March) - and let’s tell the Prime Minister that enough is enough.
As you can see, with declining Government funding and increasing demand for services, we have reached a crossroads: the reality is the Council can no longer deliver services in the same way or at the same level as in the past.
What I can assure you though is that we are fighting for a fairer deal for Nottinghamshire and we are working hard to make the right decisions. These are decisions and services I care passionately about, and which I do not take lightly.