Councillors have approved a landmark budget for Nottinghamshire, which is set to usher in a new era for the county council.
Delivering details of the authority’s spending plans, council leader, Councillor Alan Rhodes said that unprecedented Government funding cuts had made it the toughest budget the Council had ever had to set and that he deeply regretted the £83m in savings they had been forced to put forward.
And looking forward, with more than £70m in cuts still to be made and no sign of an end to the relentless austerity on local services, Councillor Rhodes added that fundamental change to what Nottinghamshire County Council does - and how it does it – is the only way forward for the authority.
He said: “I’ve commissioned the Chief Executive to come up with detailed plans to redefine the way we operate – in other words, a blueprint for this Council’s future. The scope of this piece of work is ambitious. It will reinforce our values and principles, set out our minimum service offer and how we will review every aspect of the Council to ensure that we are making the best use of resources to meet the needs of local people.
“These are difficult times, the like of which no-one working in local government has ever experienced before. But out of these difficulties, out of the age of austerity, we have to seek opportunities. And there are opportunities to look again at what we do and why we do it.
“We must ask ourselves whether we are the best people to do some things and if so whether we can do it differently. How we can work collectively for the people we represent. It can’t all be about cuts and doom and gloom, there has to be aspiration, there has to be ambition.”
The Full Council agreed the budget proposals by 34 votes to 30 late yesterday afternoon (Thursday 27 February).
Key decisions approved in the budget included:
Final approval for more than 120 budget proposals, with savings totalling approximately £83m, affecting all Council services, over the next three years
More than 70 of the 120 proposals deliver efficiency savings through new ways of working, such as sharing services with other authorities, staff reorganisation, greater use of technology and LED street lighting
Changes to a number of proposals, including funding for homeless services and continued funding for transport for older people and people with disabilities
The loss of approximately 750 jobs, 269 of which are currently vacant
Reinvestment of £57m of the savings to meet increasing demand for some services, predominantly elderly care and children in care
A Council Tax increase of 1.99% - equivalent to 38p per week to the average household in Notts – to raise go towards protecting frontline services
The use of a further £8.4m in reserves, predominantly to fund infrastructure projects such as widening of the A453, which will reduce the need for borrowing
A £107m capital programme, including the construction of new school buildings, a new bus station in Worksop new gritters, the Nottinghamshire Broadband project and Hucknall Town Centre improvements
The reduction in spending represents more than half the £154m in cuts the Council is being forced to make by 2016/17.
Nevertheless, the Council’s budget still protects services to vulnerable people as far as possible and delivers fairness in difficult times.
Councillor Rhodes added: “We’ve tried to protect vulnerable people from the worst impact of the cuts. The public response to our consultation – the biggest we’ve ever undertaken – supported this view.
“However, the majority of the County Council’s work is protecting and caring for the most vulnerable people in our communities, so it is inevitable that even they will be affected by the scale of the Government cuts being imposed on funding for local services, which is extremely regrettable.
“Despite the restrictions, we’ve still been able to produce a budget which delivers on our promises. In the next 12 months we are investing an extra £57m to meet demand for services to older people and safeguard children, we are introducing 20mph zones outside schools, pay a Living Wage to our lowest paid workers like school crossing patrols and school cooks, building Extra Care Housing for older people to retain their independence and switching the street lights back on using high-efficiency, LED technology.”