Monday, 30 November 2009

GPF funded billboards

The Notts County UNISON branch are taking their fight against the savage £33m cuts being made by their council right into the community.

GPF funded billboard posters of the image above will be appearing around Nottinghamshire. The current billboard campaign runs at selected locations during the run-up to Christmas. The branch is planning further public campaigning next year. The Council consultation period for the announced cuts is due to end on 22 January 2010.

30 Nov to 13 December:
Carlton: Burton Road (A612), rail bridge, NG4 2QG
Newark: Northern Road near Sleaford Road NG24 2EU
Nottingham: Meadow Lane opp Notts County FC, NG2 3HR

14 Dec to 27 December:
Carlton: Burton Road (A612), rail bridge, NG4 2QG
Nottingham: Meadow Lane opp Notts County FC, NG2 3HR
Mansfield: 37 St Johns St/Quaker way, NG18 1QJ
Mansfield: Kirklington Road opp South Ave, Rainworth, NG21 0JR

28 Dec thru to mid January 2010
Gamston: Morrisons Store, Gamston

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Letter to the Notts County Council Chief Exec about the budget cuts

Last week the UNISON regional office wrote to the Chief Executive at Notts Council to ask some searching questions about the budget cuts. The text of the letter is reproduced in italics below.

UNISON have reviewed the budget proposals contained in the Cabinet report of 18 November 09 we have some questions.

Budget pressures
The 2009/10 budget report to full Council on 25 February 2009 initially identified budget pressures of £11.9m in 2010/11.

However, the 2010/11 budget report to the Cabinet on 18 November 2009 now identifies budget of pressures of £31.1m; an increase of £19.2m.

We have been able to identify that of the additional £19.2m budget pressures, £9m is from the decision to freeze Council Tax. We are puzzled as to where the additional £10.2m in budget pressures has come from in fewer than nine months.

These additional budget pressures over and above the original £11.9m identified in February budget report are not individually identified in November budget report. We believe that identifying the specific additional pressures will assist the council in producing a transparent and balanced budget.

Our question is:
1. Can the council please identify the specific individual additional budget pressures totalling £10.2m over and above the pressures in identified in the February budget report?

Use of reserves
The Statement of Accounts for 2008/09 show that the reserve called “Earmarked for Services” was at £18.4m as of 31 March 09. We believe this is what has also been referred to in other documents as “Departmental Reserves.” Our question is:

2. We understand some of these reserves are for capital projects but we would be grateful if you could confirm what level of these reserves could be used to support revenue expenditure?

On page A29 para 11.3 of the document the February budget report the table shows a projected transfer into the County Fund Balances of £3.7m.

3. Can you confirm if this £3.7m transfer is still intended as part of the 2010/11 budget? If the answer is yes, can you please explain why, given these difficult financial times, that the council has not chosen use this money to support the 2010/11 revenue budget?

We have identified from the Statement of Accounts for 2008/09 the total reserves of the council stand at £150.8m as of 31 March 09 and that the unallocated reserves, aka “County Fund Balances” stand at £24.8m. Our question is:

4. Given the above levels of reserves would you agree that it would not be unreasonable for the council to use, say, £2m a year for the next three years, from the County Fund Balances to help support the revenue budget.

Projected Outturn for 2009/10
We have reviewed the first quarter’s budget monitoring report and we believe the council is projected to under spend by £2.4m in 2009/10. Our questions are:

5. Are we correct that the first quarter’s monitoring report does indeed predict an under spend of £2.4m?

6. Do you have more up to date figures for the projected outturn for 2009/10, if so what is it?

7. Do you accept that any surplus on the 2009/10 budget that is transferred to the County Fund Balances could be used to support future revenue budgets?

We note that the projected outturn referred to above was made before the outcome of the 2009/10 NJC pay award which according to the Council will result in a further saving of £1.7m. Our question is:

8. Do you agree that the council has saved £1.7m as outlined above?

We note that the 2009/10 budget includes a £3m provision for ‘contingencies.’ Our question is:

9. What is the projected spend on this contingencies sum?

10. If it is not all spent, does the council accept some of it could be used to support the revenue budget in 2010/11?

Application of the Formula Grant
We understand there is a damping mechanism that applies to central government formula grant that means that the council currently is subject to a “ceiling” which limits the size of the grant payable to the council. We also note that damping mechanism is to be gradually phased out meaning the council should expect growth in formula grant of in excess of £15m in the coming years. However, we note the council has predicted a reduction in the formula grant. Our question is:

11. Do you agree that if the damping mechanism is gradually reduced then the council could expect a growth in formula grant of in excess of £15m in the coming years?

Impact of a Future Conservative Government
We would refer you to the policy statement below contained on page 16 in the Conservative Party document Control Shift – Returning Power to Local Communities; Conservative Party (17 February 2009) (attached):
“………That is why we have announced that, in the first two years of a Conservative government, councils will also have the ability to contract with central government to freeze council tax. Those councils that take up the contract will have to undertake to hold the rate of rise in council tax to 2.5 per cent or less; and central government will correspondingly undertake to make a payment equal to 2.5 per cent of that council’s council tax – so that bills can be frozen in each such council for the two year period.”

Our questions are:

12. Does the council agree that this additional central government grant would amount to an additional £7.5m in the budget for both 2011/12 and 2012/13?

13. Why has the council not taken into account this potential additional grant income in its financial plan for the years 2011/12 and 2012/13?

We will be advising our members that we have raised these questions with the council and we undertake to share any response from the council with them.

More cuts announced - this time in Newark

Newark and Sherwood District Council have just announced they will be cutting £4m over the next few years. An extract of from their website says:

"As part of the budget preparations for 2010/11, the council is looking at making savings of around six per cent. On a net budget of £18million, this is a saving, in one year, of more than £1million. In the next three to four years we will have to shave another £4million off our budget."

Shaving £4m from a budget of £18m means cuts of nearly 25% - there is no doubt everyone will feel the impact of these cuts. On top of these cuts, residents of Newark and Sherwood will also have to deal with the impact of the proposed £33m cuts announced by Nottinghamshire County Council.

More short sighted cuts from a council who took the irresponsible decision to freeze council tax for this financial year.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Northamptonshire County Council announce £100m cuts over 4 years

Another Conservative council in the East Midlands has announced savage cuts. Northamptonshire County Council have said they will be cutting £100m over the next 4 years. This is the largest budget cut announced in the past few months. This looks like another Conservative attempt to bring in David Cameron's "small state."

The "small state" may be a nice soundbite, but the reality is it means cuts in public services that impact on the most vulnerable in our society.

The local UNISON branch will be mounting a vigorous campaign against these unjust cuts.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Letter to David Cameron about Conservative Councils' Inconsistency on Budgets

Pete Challis, a National Officer in the Local Government Service Group has identified that many Conservative Councils have been planning their budgets in a manner inconsistent with national Conservative party policy. In the East Midlands, Notts County Council (who are making £33m of savage cuts) is one of these councils.

So this week, the East Midlands region wrote to David Cameron seeking clarification on Conservative party policy. An extract of the letter is below.

Letter to David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party:

The majority of councils we deal with are Conservative controlled and it has become apparent there are differing approaches to medium term financial planning, especially with respect to projected future formula grant funding in the financial years 2011/12 and 2012/13.

We note that the Conservative Party made the policy statement below, which is on page 16 in the Conservative Party document Control Shift – Returning Power to Local Communities; Conservative Party (17 February 2009)):

“………That is why we have announced that, in the first two years of a Conservative government, councils will also have the ability to contract with central government to freeze council tax. Those councils that take up the contract will have to undertake to hold the rate of rise in council tax to 2.5 per cent or less; and central government will correspondingly undertake to make a payment equal to 2.5 per cent of that council’s council tax – so that bills can be frozen in each such council for the two year period.”

Many Conservative councils are freezing Council Tax over the next three years and some are including in their medium term financial plans the additional payment outlined above. However, there are some Conservative councils, such as Nottinghamshire County Council who are not making any provision for this additional income in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

Given this we have two specific questions:

1. Is it your intention that a future Conservative government will implement the policy outlined above?

2. If the answer to 1 above, is yes, then do you believe that councils such as Nottinghamshire County should include this additional income in their financial plans for 2011/12 and 2012/13?

There is clearly an inconsistent approach on this matter by Conservative councils in this region and it would be helpful to have clarification from your office.

Although the letter refers to Notts County Council, there are many other Conservative councils in the reigon (the rest of the country) that are freezing council tax but have not taken into account this extra government grant (or "cash back" as the Lincolnshire County UNISON branch call it).

When we get a reply from Mr Cameron we will post it up on the blog.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Lincolnshire County UNISON ask some tough questions about the budget

The Linclonshire County UNISON branch recently had a branch committee where two senior finance managers attended to explain the financial situation at the council. Knowing they were coming the branch prepared a number of very interesting questions. The branch had many questions and 16 of key ones are outlined below. Page numbers refer to the 2008/09 Statement of Accounts 2008/09, available on the County Council website here.

Congratulations to the Lincolnshire County branch who have shown they are not prepared to accept cuts without asking some very searching questions of their council. They have performed a public service on behalf the people of Lincolnshire ensuring the report is put under proper scrutiny.


1. General reserves increased by £2m in 08/09 (p20). Was this planned, or a budget underspend, and what are the future expectations for reserves.

2. Earmarked reserves stand at £60m (p55). What is represented by the major additions during 08/09, Other Services (up from £3.5m to £11.2m) and Waste Disposal (up from £6.2m to £14.1)?

3. When is the protocol for each earmarked reserve reviewed, and can we be supplied with copies?

4. Are there any earmarked capital reserves that can now be “unearmarked” due to changed plans and priorities? If so, are there any other earmarked capital reserves that are using revenue funds that could be released by transferring the now freed up capital reserves?


5. The Council is revising its provision for pay inflation in 09/10 down from 2.5% to 0.0%. What will be the budgetary implications of any nationally agreed pay awards next year?

6. Figures for salaries over £50,000 (p30) show an increase from 112 to 162 (excluding schools), or 43%. Is it realistic to accept that level of increase in one year and propose a pay freeze in another?

Consultants and Agency Staff

7. Figures given in response to Unison’s FOI request show a spend in 08/09 of £788,000 on consultants and £3.8m on agency staff. These figures are low in comparison to other authorities – what definition has the county council used, in particular for “consultants”?

8. Are elements of commissioned services that are actually consultancy captured under the correct heading – eg Mouchel consultancy time paid above the core contract?

9. Can the council break down the agency worker and consultant costs in to those incurred on the capital and revue accounts?

10. Can LCC differentiate between its permanent and non-permanent staffing costs, breaking the latter down into agency, fixed-term and consultant?

11. What are the instances of consultants replacing established posts over a period of continuous time, eg Diversity Manager?

12. What approval is required by the Resourcing Board for the engagement of consultants.

Issues for the 2010/2011 budget

13. Implications of 0.0% inflation assumption: are there contracts which have different inflationary increases built in?

14. Capital programme: is any direct contribution from revenue expected, other than debt charges? In respect of these, will refinancing be examined to release revenue benefits?

15. What impact will proposals for residential care of older people have on the budget?

16. Council tax: will the Council provide models showing the implications of different Council Tax increases on services? Suggest at 1%, 2% and 3% council tax increase. Increases in council tax to be shown as an increase per week to each band of household.

Ashfield Council making cuts.... and the local branch ask some searching questions

On 19 November Ashfield District Council Cabinet will be considering a report (and appendix) that proposes budget cuts of over £1m in 2010/11 and nearly another £1m in 2011/12.

The local UNISON branch have been scrutinising the report and will be raising the following questions:

1. We note that "Contributions to Specific Reserves" are £0.548 million each year from 2010/11 (except for 2011/12) to 2014/15. We would ask request members ask what these amounts are earmarked for and whether there is scope to reduce these contributions to make available further sums to retain existing services.

2. Similarly the "General Reserve" from 2012/13 is set at staying at £3.207 million from then & for future years. We believe it is right that the authority should have such a reserve set at a minimum level of about 10% of expenditure. We believe therefore that there is scope to reduce the reserve to £2 million which would allow another £1.2 million to be used to maintain existing services. Indeed the report at section 9 reports the decision of Cabinet in August to set a minimum level for the General Reserve at £2.5 million, so even on this basis another £0.7 million could be used to maintain existing services.

3. Much is rightly made of the impact of the current recession, but we believe account should be taken in the MTFS of the recession ending and an economic improvement showing at least for the last two years 2013/14 and 2014/15 in the MTFS. We believe factoring in of increased income (e.g. from planning applications) & revenue contributions from capital sales that are likely to have developed by then could also give the council more scope to have further funds available for maintaining services by these years.

Excellent work from the branch demonstrating that the situation is not as dire as the report suggests.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Derbyshire County Council cutting £6m

A Cabinet report at Derbyshire County Council in September identified that the council planned to make savings of £6.1m in 2010/11. Contrast this with Notts County Council who are cutting £33m from the budget in 2010/11.

Both councils were Labour controlled for over 15 years until the elections in June 2009, when the Conservatives took control in both councils. Both councils are very similar sizes. One is cutting £6.1m and the other is cutting five times more.

Why the difference?

Heather Wakefield's blog - Unkind Cuts

Heather Wakefield, UNISON's National Secretary for Local Government has written about the "unkind cuts" many councils are inflicting across the country. You can find it here

Heather argues that it is the most vulnerable in our communities that are being made to pay for the ludicrous decision many councils have taken to freeze council tax. She also gives her own take on what is happening in Nottinghamshire.

One paragraph of her piece gives some really interesting information about council reserves. It is reproduced below.

"Even more interesting is the fact that in every year from 2003/04 to 2007/08, English councils have budgeted on the basis that they will need to draw on their reserves in order to balance their books. However, when the outturn figures have been published, they have actually added to them – as we’ve seen above. In 2007/08, councils in England forecast a reduction of £890m in reserves, but in fact, they increased them by £1.5bn."

Some councils may have real fiancial problems, but many of them have been building up reserves for years and they have no need to cut vital services, other than for idealogical reasons. The East Midlands region of UNISON has been collating information on council reserves and we will be publishing our findings soon - and in many cases we've identified that councils have high levels of reserves.

Watch this space.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Mansfield District Council budget deficit

Mansfield District Council have just announced a budget deficit of £700,000. Whilst not of the same scale as Notts County Council, for a small council this is a worrying amount. One small positive thing, is unlike Notts County Council, Mansfield are not being financially irresponsible and not raising Council Tax; a 3% rise is proposed.

For more info on the story click here.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

A warning of what to expect if Cameron is elected

Nottinghamshire County Council recently announced savage budget cuts of £33m for 2010/11. Below is a column by Ravi Subramanian, UNISON (East Midlands) Regional Head of Local Government published in The Nottingham Evening Post on 10 November.

The mark of a civilised society is how it treats the vulnerable. Recent budget proposals from Notts County Council seem to show they have turned their back on this idea. UNISON will be working with community groups to fight these cuts and we are currently analysing the proposals in detail. One key fact is that many of the cuts stem from the political decision to freeze council tax. In the Post on Saturday the council's leader Coun Kay Cutts said the reason to freeze council tax was because "many older people are on fixed incomes"; it implied she is tying to protect them from increased costs.

But if these older people use council services they could be paying more in council charges. Daycare transport costs are going up £1.85 a day, meal costs are up £1.60 a day and there will be a £4 daily charge for daycare which was previously free. This means some older people could easily be paying £5 per day more in charges. Freezing council tax puts the burden of the cuts on them.

The original financial plan assumed a 3% increase in council tax, raising an additional £9m. Surely those in a Band H house in, say, affluent Normanton-on-the-Wolds, could afford an extra £1.37 a week to help out the most vulnerable? The cost to a Band A household would be just 46p a week.

In a recession, public services are needed more, not less.Yes this needs to be paid for, but less than the price of a cup of coffee a week is not a lot to ask.

The cabinet report outlining the cuts is over 50 pages and space means I can't go into detail about all the proposals, which include closing recycling centres in Stapleford, Sutton and Gedling; shutting four day centres; increasing community care charges by over 30%; and introducing charges for residential parking. However, it is worth looking in detail at two areas just to illustrate how ridiculous the proposals are.

Firstly, welfare rights provision will be slashed by a third. It doesn't take a genius to work out in a recession there will be increased demand for this service, so why is it being cut?

Secondly, the recent damning Ofsted report into children's services exposed the high caseloads of social workers. The council say they are investing extra money in this area, which we welcome, but how will the recently announced cuts to terms and conditions help to retain existing staff, let alone attract new staff? Surely it is better that the council attracts and directly employs suitably qualified staff, rather than use expensive consultant social workers, as they are currently proposing. It makes no sense.

If the council wants to make savings it could do something about the £19m a year it spends on agency workers – the highest figure for any East Midlands council. They could easily save 10%, which would release nearly £2m.

While the leadership of the council spend their time changing the carpets, uprooting war memorials, removing stained glass windows and creating extra costly cabinet posts, UNISON members are working hard providing home care, helping teach our children and providing meals for older people. Our members are rightly angry that as they toil away to provide valuable services to our communities.

This Conservative council has created a budget problem so that it can move towards the "small state" David Cameron desires. A small state may be a good soundbite, but the reality is the most vulnerable are left to suffer. What is happening at County Hall should serve as a warning of what to expect if David Cameron is elected Prime Minister.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Lincolnshire County Council turns its back on council run care homes

Lincolnshire County Council recently announced plans that mean there will soon by no council run care homes in Lincolnshire. Under the plans, the eight remaining council run homes, would be closed and private voluntary sector homes would be provided instead.

The local UNISON branch criticised the plans saying the county council is shirking its responsibilities and the proposals would make private care the only option for the elderly. Commenting on the proposals, John Sharman, Lincolnshire County UNISON Branch Secretary:

"Over a period of years the county council has divested itself of all direct care provision. "We will certainly be getting involved in the consultation period and putting forward the views of our members."

Where would you prefer your relatives to be looked after - in a council run care home with well trained, well motivated staff with good supervision; or in a privately run home that exists primarily to make a profit?

Friday, 6 November 2009

That leaked Notts County Council Budget Cuts Report

Here is a link to the leaked Notts County Council budget cuts report.

It is frightening how savage these cuts are - there can be no doubt that the most vulnerable in our society will be hardest hit. A measure of a civilised society is how we look after the most vulnerable in our communities. It is clear that the Tories have no desire to create a civilised society. Go to page 22 onwards to see the details of the cuts.

All of this from a Tory administration, who, as one of their first acts when coming into power, was to create extra Cabinet posts for themselves, all at an extra cost to the taxpayer of over £140,000. Now they've feathered their own nest, some of the other things they are proposing to do are:

- increase community care charges from £8.80 to £12.00 per hour
- increase the cost of meals in residential and day care services by over 50%
- increase home to day care transport charges for service users by 86%
- reduce welfare rights provision by 33%

This is just a small snapshot of their budget proposals and of course this is this will hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

While she was dreaming up these savage cuts over the past few months, Tory leader, Kay Cutts was enjoying the benefit of a £11,000 refurbishment of the ruling group's corridor including a new wooden floor in her office to replace a carpet that was reportedly only a year old.

We know where her priorities lie.

Notts County protest against the attack on terms and conditions

Yesterday, at 12:30 there was a protest lead by UNISON against the savage and unjustified cuts on the terms and conditions of Notts County Council staff. Hundreds of people turned up to tell the council what they thought. The Nottingham Evening Post has a story about the protest here. It was great to see so many different people from all over the county prepared to speak up and speak out; some had travelled over 20 miles in their lunch break to make their voice heard. By the time protesters had got to County Hall, the Evening Post had published leaked details of the brutal cuts to services. These are services that are need now more than ever by some of the most vulnerable in our community.

Labour and Lib Dem County Councillors gave speeches supporting the protesters (pictured is Labour Group Deputy Leader, Joyce Bosniak addressing the protesters). Tory County Councllors were nowhere to be seen, apparently they were enjoying their lunch in County Hall. Not one Tory Councty Councillor was prepared to show their face - instead they sent Chief Executive, Mick Burrows, out to do their dirty work and try to justify this unfair attack on hard working council staff.

UNISON NEC member and Nottinghamshire County UNISON joint branch secretary, Chris Tansley, said that the actions of the Tories, who took control in June, should serve as a warning to UNISON members elsewhere:

“We are finding out the hard way what a Tory government would be like. We have a new Tory leader here called Kay Cutts who is really living up to her name. Under her leadership they are cutting staff redundancy entitlements to pave the way to axing over 470 posts. Staff are having their mileage rates cut, annual leave reduced and losing agreed pay protections.

Not content with that the Tories are attacking services to their own community by selling off all the elderly persons homes, closing a quarter of the day centres, reducing benefits advice and even shutting the facilities for buying a cup of tea in Sherwood forest. Robin Hood would be appalled! The substantial increase to the costs for home care, meals on wheels and transport to the remaining day centres will mean that the elderly and disabled will only get the service they can afford.

It's the same Ryanair approach to Council Services that the Tories in Barnet are pushing ahead with and that Cameron is so impressed with. We're determined that UNISON will lead the way in campaigning against these draconian attacks on jobs and services. We’re also pleased that the Labour Councillors have signed up to our Million Voices campaign and look forward to working with them to fight these proposals."

Monday, 2 November 2009

Victory for transparency

We've got our first victory in our campaign for greater transparency on Chief Executives' pay (see the post immediately below for details of our campaign). According to the Northampton Chronicle here, Northampton Borough Council have agreed to publish the Chief Executive's pay of £138,000 as a "result of a pressure camapign by union bosses."

We congratulate them for their openess and let's hope the other 19 councils who did not give us the information on exactly what their Chief Excutive was paid follow suit.

Remember we want to know, not just their salary, but details of any bonuses, allowances or other perks they receive.

Chief Exectives' Pay - End the Veil of Secrecy

UNISON (East Midlands) has called for the pay and benefits of Council Chief Executives to be published annually on council websites. This call follows our Freedom of Information requests sent to all 45 local authorities in the East Midlands. Only 25 councils were prepared to disclose actual pay; the others only gave salary ranges but no information on bonuses, expenses or other rewards.

We know Chief Executives provide crucial leadership to councils charged with delivering essential services to communities. Yet, whilst there is always transparency on the pay levels of care staff and social workers, there seems to be a cloak of secrecy when it comes to the highest paid. That isn’t fair, and council chiefs should be prepared to be open about their pay.

We’ve seen the MPs’ expenses scandal and the outrageous bonuses of greedy bankers who caused this financial crisis; it’s simply time for councils to be totally open about the money spent on their senior staff. If 25 councils are happy to provide the information to UNISON all councils should follow this good practice.

If you want to see the pay rates that were provided to UNISON click here. When you look at these rates of pay bear in mind that across England and Wales, 54 per cent of council staff earn less than £16,950 per annum.