The Prime Minister has been accused of ‘living in a parallel universe’ after announcing that councils in the North East could make more cuts.
In an interview with us, Conservative leader David Cameron has said that more budget reductions would be imposed – whichever party won the next election.
He insists that councils could make further savings without damaging services, however leader of Newcastle City Council, Nick Forbes has said cuts in the North East had already been “savage and brutal”.
Coun Forbes said:
“The Prime Minister is living in a parallel universe The disproportionate cuts his Government have made to northern councils like Newcastle have gone far beyond anything that could reasonably be met through efficiencies – they have been savage and brutal.
“I’d like the Prime Minister to visit Newcastle so he can see for himself the devastating impact of his policies on the most vulnerable in our society – but we’re not his kind of people up here so I doubt he’ll come anywhere near.”
However Mr Cameron said that local councils can continue ‘to find efficiencies’.
“I think local government has done brilliantly at being more efficient.
“And I think when you look at councils’ finances they can continue to find efficiencies by continuing to work together and sharing chief executives, sharing finance teams, sharing back office costs.
“Most councils have seen a large increase in their reserves over the last four or five years, so they do have financial capacity.
“And just like any business you don’t make efficiencies and then say, right, that’s it, I’ve finished.
“Businesses are always asking, how do I get more efficient next year than last year?
“So I think there is still more efficiency to be delivered.”
The comments came despite claims by local authorities in the North East that they have already been cut to the bone.
For example, Newcastle City Council has set out plans for £40million of cuts in 2015 to 2016, on top of £100m saved from budgets since 2012. The measures will lead to the loss of a further 260 jobs.
Coun Forbes said:
“Newcastle City Council has had to cope with budget losses of more than 40% over six years and has lost 2,200 staff since 2010 – the equivalent of the closure of Virgin Money HQ, or Fenwicks department store, or the shutdown of the entire offshore sector on the North bank of the Tyne.
“If this was the private sector there would be a national task force in place to deal with this scale of job losses but we’ve had to deal with this challenge without any assistance from Government.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Mar 2015
Picking up litter in the street is now the task of residents as the council says it can no longer afford to sweep up all of the city’s rubbish.
The call for people to pitch in and do their bit for the community came from Labour city councillor Hazel Stephenson as she claimed today’s generation were more likely to drop crisp packets, wrappers and cans.
The council said the people of Newcastle needed to prepare themselves for a much dirtier city as the authority attempts to shave £90m from its budget over the next three years.
Coun Stephenson, city council cabinet member for communities and neighbourhoods, said:
“The council does not drop litter. The council does not fly tip. People drop litter. People fly tip.
“People need to take responsibility for their area. The council cannot continue to do it all.”
A reduction in council services, including fewer small street bins, is a fact that people will have to accept, according to Coun Stephenson.
“The reality is front line services are being cut and we are losing a lot of services that people take for granted.
“I am not saying that people need to replace core council services. What I am saying is that we all need to work together,”
said Coun Stephenson, who was addressing the council’s cabinet as they discussed draft proposals for the 2015-2016 budget.
She used the area of Benwell as an example of families cooperating to improve their community.
“Residents put up little notes in the streets, reminding people of the simple things that they can do to make a difference.
“Warnings against dropping litter in the road and letting your dog foul in public had a big impact.
“It seems common sense but people sometimes need reminding. Those little letters made a big difference.”
She went on to suggest littering was a generational issue.
“People are changing. Years ago this problem was not there. It is cultural and differs across generation.
“When I was younger dropping litter was unthinkable. For some people today, sadly, it is not.”
The councillor did however praise the work of some schools :
“Some schools do a great job of encouraging their students to take a greater responsibility with regards to litter.
“Making the younger generation aware of the problems that are caused by rubbish in our streets is a great way of changing attitudes.”
Newcastle City Council director of communities Mick Murphy said:
“People need to show more commitment and community spirit. It is a common sense thing.
“Think about what happens to your waste once you have thrown it away. Someone has to pick it up after you.”
So far £151m has been cut from the council budget since 2010 which led to some libraries being transferred into community ownership and the City Pool closing.
Coun Forbes said the financial year 2015 to 2016 would see the authority facing a series of ‘fiscal cliffs’ and plans are in motion to transfer city parks to civic trusts, reduce the number of small litter bins and redevelop Sure Start services.
Unison is also warning that up to 400 council jobs could go over the next three years.
Source – Sunday Sun, 02 Nov 2014
Newcastle is being held back by the Government’s tight hold on local authority purse strings, it has been claimed.
The argument was made by Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes at its annual ‘State of the City’ event.
He called on the Coalition to adopt a much more radical approach to local authority finances to enable the city to become more economically viable and compete “on a level playing field”.
Coun Forbes said: “In England 95% of all taxes raised in the city go back to the Government, and most of the funding that comes back to us does so with strings attached.
“This is stifling local innovation and hampering the ability of local decision makers to purse local priorities.”
He was joined at the event by a panel of experts in a public debate on the matter including representatives of the Thinking Cities campaign, an independent body calling for more power to be devolved to local authorities.
They say unemployment, poverty, housing and economic growth can all be helped positively in this way.
Coun Forbes acknowledged there had been some movement in this direction by the Government through its Local Growth Fund and City Deals initiatives.
But he added: “While these are welcome developments, we should remember that local growth pot of around £2bn is a drop in the ocean compared to Lord Heseltine’s original recommendation of £70bn be devolved from Whitehall to local areas to get the economy moving.”
The City Deal allows Newcastle to borrow to fund development and use the additional business rates by the investment to pay the loan back.
“This releases £92m to invest in our city’s future, generating a massive £1bn return and 13,000 jobs over the nest 25 years,” he said.
Coun Forbes cited the work on the Stephenson Quarter, Science City and the Central Station, as examples of the city deal’s benefit. It has also led to transport improvements around Newcastle including improvements to key junctions on the A1.
However, compared to other cities around the globe, Government policy is still “centralist”, Coun Forbes said, with German cities controlling six times more of the taxes raised than the UK, while in the US and Canada it is seven times and 10 times the amount respectively.
Coun Forbes: “Greater freedom to decide how to spend the money generated in cities, such as property taxes, would help the Core Cities meet their target of outperforming the national economy and becoming financially self sustaining.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 30 July 2014
Newcastle City Council it to slash its budget by £40m as a new set of cuts is drawn up to meet the Government’s deficit reduction plan.
The multi-million pound cuts will result in another round of staff redundancies, services being further cut and some mothballed.
The council is already in the middle of implementing a £38m cuts package for this year.
But council leader Nick Forbes and chief executive Pat Ritchie took the rare step of outlining the financial plans for 2015/16, which will have to be formally ratified in March next year.
Coun Forbes said: “Normally we wouldn’t get into budget conversation until much later but we’re doing a lot of early thinking because of the scale of the challenge we are facing.
“We want to have an honest conversation with people in the city about the impact of austerity cuts and what they mean for the services they enjoy and have come to rely on.”
Coun Forbes and Ms Ritchie would not specifically identify how many jobs would go and which services were under direct threat, with firm plans not likely to be announced until the autumn, after consultation with staff and council partners on how best to proceed.
But in a grim warning of what was to come, Coun Forbes said that so far the council has only achieved 40% of the budget savings required by the Government.
“The level of cuts are so severe that there are no areas we’re not looking at and trying to find alternative ways of funding,” he said. “The pace and scale is so great the council will have to do less in the future.”
He added: “The challenge is the council has statutory obligations and can’t simply stop, for example, looking after children at risk of sex or violent abuse or caring for old people in their own homes. We have a legal obligation to fund concessionary travel so our strategy is partly to work with other partners to reduce cost pressures.”
While not giving specifics, Coun Forbes hinted at some areas that were in the spotlight, saying: “If we don’t have an indication of a change of heart by later this year, many services aimed at supporting children and families as well as the help that keeps older people out of hospital are likely to be at risk.”
Street cleaning and environmental services are another area under the microscope, and the council leader said: “Unless we can change the behaviour of the minority of people who drop litter, fly tip and allow dogs to foul pavements, the council won’t have the resources to clean this up in the future. There is no doubt our city will get dirtier as a result.”
Coun Forbes added: “We will be straining every sinew to protect job numbers but there will inevitably be some redundancies. We will endeavour for them to be voluntary but we have no figures in mind yet. We will mothball some services with the intention of growing them again in future years. Austerity will pass. There is a growing clamour from local government to the present government for change.
“We hold onto the hope a future Government would take a different approach. But the next two or three years are going to be extremely tough for every council.”
Coun Forbes said there won’t be the repeat of two years ago when the council talked of a 100% cuts in arts funding then made a U-turn to 50% and set up a culture investment fund.
Coun Forbes said: “It was controversial at the time, in the long term it will be seen as the step which protected arts from continued cuts.”
But he said that if the scale of cuts continues, there are projections that by 2018 the council will not be able to fulfil its legal obligations in funding services and that it would become “unviable”.
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 June 2014