Council tax could rise after a four year freeze for ratepayers as Newcastle City Council announces a further £90m cut to its budget over the next three years.
Leader of the council Nick Forbes said he couldn’t ‘rule out’ an increase as he looks to save £40m from the next financial year alone as less money comes to Newcastle from Central Government.
Councillor Forbes said the financial year 2015 to 2016 would see the authority facing a series of ‘fiscal cliffs’ as the council struggles to maintain anything but basic services.
The end of certain Sure Start child care services will be announced on Thursday, while the public have been told to expect a dirtier city as the council cuts back on street cleaning.
The Labour leader said: “The Government hasn’t as yet made it clear whether there will be an offer about a council tax freeze but given the dire cuts that we are facing and the need to maintain a decent environment means we can’t rule it out.
“We have frozen the tax for the last four years because we wanted to help people with the cost of living crisis.”
The council’s latest budget cut announcement will go before Cabinet to be discussed by councillors on October 22. Specific services under threat from being axed will be finalised for formal consultation with the public in December, however £5m is already known to be going from the budget for Sure Start centres.
The £90m cut by 2018 is on top of the £151m that has been cut since 2010 which led to some libraries being transferred into community ownership and the City Pool shut down.
Coun. Forbes, said:
“I have warned in the past that government cuts mean that public services in our city are facing a fiscal cliff. Today we are at the very edge of the precipice.
“We have begun a debate with our partners about how we can start to make this happen in many areas – but particularly in health and social care where we need to move resources away from crisis response to those services which help prevent people from coming to harm in the first place.”
He said greater devolution to the North East of England would help combat some of the ‘unpalatable options’ the council is facing, however until that happens there will be cuts to services he knows people cherish.
Further conversations with Sir Len Fenwick, the Chief Executive of Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and other key health agencies will now need to be had as the council aims to devise stronger partnerships on delivering adult social care than ever before.
The Labour representative said: “There’s a willingness from health partners to do things differently.”
The £40m cut in the first year is to cope with the expected expenditure required of the council and a £25m decrease in Central Government’s revenue support grant.
However he said not all councils across the UK have been hit with the same funding reduction and the cut to Newcastle’s budget had been ten times greater than other councils. He said the city being given an ‘unfair’ financial deal is backed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Audit Commission.
Liberal Democrat councillor Anita Lower, leader of the opposition, said:
“You can blame Central Government but no one is saying ‘you must not fund Sure Start’. Central Government is saying here is the money, now you decide what to do with it.
“It’s about being creative and being aware of what’s out there and what needs do the public have and doing your best to provide that. We are at the point now where we know what’s coming from Central Government. Yes it’s tough but that’s what being in charge is about but these are Nick Forbes’ decisions.
“In the last two years we should have been talking more with parents, community groups and the private sector. There’s scope to get money from health, and schools could be doing more. Schools could use the Government’s pupil premium money to work with families or put it into Sure Start type services.”
> “It’s about being creative and being aware of what’s out there and what needs do the public have and doing your best to provide that” = workfare, no doubt. Why pay when you can conscript someone to do it for nothing.
Residents from across the city are invited to have their say on the council’s preparatory budget planning at www.letstalknewcastle.co.uk
Detailed proposals will be published for formal consultation in December 2014. The council will make final decisions on its budget in March 2015.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 15 Oct 2014