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.

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