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
PROTESTERS who gathered outside Sunderland civic centre have said £35million budget cuts will be the final nail in the coffin for city residents.
A group from North East People’s Assembly met to lobby councillors ahead of the annual budget-setting meeting yesterday, during which the multimillion pound cuts for 2014/15 were given the green light.
Carrying placards in the shape of coffin lids to signify each public service, which they say will suffer because of the cuts, the group handed out leaflets.
Among the protesters was Sunderland University chaplain Chris Howson.
He said: “The coffins represents the killing off of council services. We wanted to make a point as the councillors went in.”
Despite huge division in political opinion, all 53 councillors who attended the meeting – just over two- thirds of the 74 current elected members – voted through the motion presented by council leader Paul Watson.
One of them, Southwick Councillor Rosalind Copeland, attended the lobby in Park Lane before the meeting, supporting the demonstrators.
Pointing out that she was not there to criticise the council, but to defend what it is legally-bound to do in the face of Government cuts, Coun Copeland said: “I am here to defend my council and the decision my council will have to make – the agony we are facing as councillors.
“As council members, we are having to do things we don’t want to do. The Coalition is pilfering the working class. It is not this Labour group at fault.”
> The revolution will not begin in Sunderland…official.
To streamline finances, the council is focusing on three approaches; recommissioning services, reprioritising spending and exploring alternative ways to deliver services.
This includes reviewing car-parking charges, pest control and burial and cremation fees as well as reducing the authority’s fleet of bin wagons and the introduction of a four-day working week for recycling staff.
At the meeting, Coun Watson said: “Two years ago I said we were experiencing the most difficult economic period in living memory. This position has not changed. Even more pressure has been put on the council, with further reductions in public sector finances.”
He added: “The council has risen to the challenge and has managed these considerable risks.”
Opposition leader Robert Oliver agreed that the budget was “realistic”, and that while the Tory group welcomed the council tax freeze for a fourth consecutive year, the Labour administration should not complain about cuts, which he claimed had arisen as a result of lost revenue.
He said: “The workforce has been reduced and services have improved so it’s a case of go figure.
> And Sunderland is the 5th worst place in the UK to find work. Go figure that. Reducing the workforce might save money, but it also means more people unemployed. More chasing a pitiful few jobs. More coming under the frankly vile regime in the Jobcentres.
“The leader of the council has given us a slightly two-faced speech. You can’t complain about cuts which could have been avoided if there had been a council tax increase.”
On top of the £35million slashed from the coming year’s budget, the authority will have to find an identical amount to cut the following year.
Coun Watson says some of the savings are being mitigated by “hundreds of milllions” worth of capital investment planned until 2018.
Source – Sunderland Echo, 06 March 2014