Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Notts County Council cuts have nothing to do with money

We've reported previously about the savage £33m cuts proposed by Notts County Council and we've always maintained that the Tory run council's assertion that they do not have the money and need to make £33m of cuts was a false assertion.

We've been working closely with colleagues at the national office to unpick the council's budget proposals and analyse the council's accounts. We've also asked some searching questions of the council. Today, Ravi Subramanian, UNISON's Regional Head of Local Government, had an article published in the Nottingham Evening Post which demolished the council's position that they don't have the money. His article identified over £24m of "easy money" for the council - and it hinted that there could be more money that could be identified. The text of the article is reproduced below.

On 25 February, Tory run Notts County Council will take the final decision on the 2010/11 budget. We’ve done a lot of work looking at the council’s accounts and we’ve asked questions in three separate letters to the Chief Executive. He’s only replied to one letter but even still, we can make some sensible suggestions on how the council can save money and protect services.

The consultation closes on 22 January and UNISON will provide a formal response. In the meantime we’d like to share some of our suggestions with Post readers.

Here is a quick reminder of some of the council’s proposals. Over 400 jobs will go; day care transport costs will go up £1.85 a day, meal costs will go up £1.60 a day and a day care which is currently free, will go up to £4 a day.

Services like welfare rights are being slashed and the county contact centres are being closed. Also a “home place parking levy” of £50 for residential parking is being brought in.

All of this because the Tory council claim there is a £33m gap in their budget. It’s not really the job of a trade union to find budget savings for them, but if they can’t do it, we will. Below are our suggestions.

Firstly raising council tax by a modest 3 per cent will raise £9m. The weekly cost would be 46p for a band A house rising to £1.37 for a Band H house. Many vulnerable people will be forced to pay over £10 a week with the current proposals. Surely less than the price of a cup of coffee is not a lot to ask to protect them?

Secondly, there is a predicted under spend this year of £10.4m. Astonishingly, whilst claiming a lack of money, the council have decided to put £5.4m of this under spend into reserves. They should use all of the £10.4m under spend to protect vital services.

Thirdly, the council has reserves of over £150m of which £24m are unallocated. Reserves are there to help in hard times. In a recession public services are needed more, not less. The council should use £2m of reserves to help in these difficult times.

Fourthly, the council spent over £19m on agency workers last year; the highest spend of all East Midlands councils. If they implement proper management measures they could easily save 10 per cent, which comes to £1.9m.

Fifthly, the council’s predictions assume there will be no increase council tax base, i.e. the increase in revenue because of newly built homes. Growth of new homes has slowed dramatically, but it has not stopped. Using nationally available figures we predict a modest growth in the tax base of 0.5 per cent. This gives an additional £1.5m.

Sixthly, the council created extra cabinet posts after the June elections. The council should scrap these unnecessary extra posts. Also the council recently advertised for a “spin doctor”, sorry, that should be “Service Director of Communications”. They should not appoint to this post while they are making budget cuts. These two items would save over £130,000.

The above items come to over £24m. We are still working on our proposals and we believe we can identify at least another £3m, especially if the Chief Executive actually replies to our two outstanding letters.

The council say they don’t have enough money and the cuts are necessary. We’ve done the work for them and shown how to save at least £24m, perhaps more. This may not be the full £33m, but it will go a long way to protecting services.

The council has the chance to reverse the majority of the proposed cuts. On 25 February they will either seize this opportunity, or they will show their cuts are not about money, but about a Tory political agenda to slash services in pursuit of David Cameron’s desire for a “small state.”

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