Nottinghamshire County Council agrees ‘historic budget’

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Councillors have agreed a further £20m in savings and income generation proposals when setting Nottinghamshire County Council’s budget for 2016/17 at a meeting of the Full Council yesterday.

It is the first time in the Council’s history that councillors from all the main political groups were involved in developing the proposals from the outset of the budget setting process.

The savings outlined will ensure that the Council can proceed with a balanced budget for 2016/17, but the Leader of the County Council, Councillor Alan Rhodes, has warned that huge challenges still remain.

With Government grant funding for Council services projected to carry on falling, while demand for social care services to the elderly, people with disabilities and children set to continue rising, savings of more than £50m still need to be found over the next four years.

Councillor Rhodes said: “Despite our budget reducing by £212m since 2010, the extreme, on-going financial difficulties meant we were facing a tipping point in the County Council’s history and we needed to adopt a radical approach to how we developed our savings. It demanded a different type of politics that put our residents ahead of any personal or political differences.

“The historic cross-party approach to this year’s budget proved that we work best when we work together and we were able to reach agreement on all the savings proposals, the level of financial pressures facing the Council and the need to increase Council Tax by 1.99%.”

However, Councillor Rhodes acknowledged the disagreement in the cross-party budget group over the need to accept an offer from the Government to introduce a social care precept - the equivalent of a 2% increase in Council Tax - to raise money specifically to meet the spiraling cost of social care.

He said: “Unfortunately, a fundamental difference in opinion between the Conservative and Labour and Liberal Democrat groups over the introduction of Chancellor George Osborne’s social care levy, meant that we weren’t quite able to see the joint-budget process through to the very end. But ultimately, the majority of councillors agreed with the position of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and a number of Independent councillors that the financial position the Council has been put in by the Government meant that we had been left with no choice other than to introduce the levy.”

In Nottinghamshire, the social care levy will raise an estimated £6m towards the £219m needed to provide social care services in 2016/17, costing the average Council Tax payer in the county around 40p per week.

In total, the amount spent on social care in Nottinghamshire next year will increase by around £13m, still £9m short of the amount required to keep services at current levels because of increased demand and new costs pressures, such as the new National Living Wage.

Councillor Rhodes said: “No one likes an increase in household expenditure, but I believe most people will recognise the position we are in and realise we have no choice. It comes as no surprise that nationally, nine out of ten councils, of all political persuasions, have indicated they will have no option other than to implement the social care levy.

“The social care levy stops well short of properly addressing the funding crisis faced in Nottinghamshire, especially in light of the 30% cut in the Government’s grant for Council services for 2016/17, but at least it goes some way towards helping the people in our communities in the greatest need.

“Our social care services care for many of our most vulnerable residents and their families. It lies at the very heart of our values to protect those that cannot help themselves - principles that I feel most of our residents would agree with.”

Despite the financial challenges, Councillor Rhodes highlighted some of the Council’s achievements over the last 12 months, including:

- The construction of new Extra Care housing to help older people live independently for longer

- Working with the NHS to improved discharge times from hospitals

- The creation of 3,000 new school places at Nottinghamshire schools

- Signing an agreement with the RSPB to build a new Visitor Centre at Sherwood Forest

- Pre-empting a devolution deal for Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire by securing investment in the Midland Mainline electrification

- Providing 60,000 homes and businesses with access to fibre broadband as part of the Better Broadband for Nottinghamshire scheme

- Starting work on the £13m Hucknall Town Centre improvement scheme

The budget proposals were agreed on a vote, with 39 councillors in favour and 26 against.

Further information about the Council’s budget is available at www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/budget