New research confirms that Government cuts have been disproportionately harsh for Nottingham but that the City Council has coped well so far in handling the savings needed to balance its budgets.
But the council is warning that it has now done all it can to cushion frontline services from the impact of the Government’s austerity measures.
‘Responding to Austerity’ is a report by University of Nottingham politics and international relations doctoral student Alison Gardner, which analyses the way the City Council has responded to the cuts to its Government funding since 2010. The research was undertaken as part of a three year PhD studentship, funded by the University of Nottingham. It outlines how the austerity programme kicked in during a recession which hit Nottingham harder than comparable cities, and was applied by the Government in an uneven way, with areas of deprivation experiencing deeper cuts and more severely affected by the Government’s welfare reform programme.
The research points to a number of factors which together make up a ‘Nottingham Way’ of dealing with the cuts, including:
- Taking a relatively incremental approach, avoiding radical cuts to services, using the mantra of ‘before you cut, can you reorganise?’
- Maximising on political stability to forge ahead with bold long-term policy decisions which helped to increase income and investment, such as developing the tram network and introducing the workplace parking levy
- Choosing to take a position of ‘we will manage, despite the cuts,’ with the expressed intention of building confidence among staff, partners and the wider city
- Maintaining many frontline services, although sometimes at a lower level than before 2010
- Achieving a high proportion of savings so far through back office reductions, including deleting vacant posts and reducing the number of managers, as well as redesigning services such as welfare rights and advice services, investing in early intervention, and generating income
- Protecting some universal services vulnerable in other parts of the country, such as leisure events and street cleanliness
- Generating income through land and property assets, such as developing the district heating system to form an innovative energy company
- Embracing commercialism while retaining an emphasis on social responsibility, using strong in-house services to underpin competitive bids for other public sector contracts
- Implementing substantial changes to staff terms and conditions to minimise the need for redundancies
- Improving joint working with partners, particularly in the housing and faith sectors
- Applying successfully for competitive funding such as from lottery bodies.
Report author Alison Gardner said: “My research has shown that a wide variety of strategies have been used in Nottingham to maintain service continuity, corresponding against expectations with rising citizen satisfaction with the Council and the local area as a place to live.
“The Council has been able to exercise a degree of control in the way cuts have been implemented, particularly in seeking to avoid a dramatic response which might have caused unnecessary stress for communities and employees. This was part of a political decision to manage within resources in order to maintain social stability and sustain control over the way cuts were implemented.
“However, the council may now need to consider how far and how fast it should change in response to the next round of cuts and whether more radical changes in the shape and structure of the organisation are needed. It also needs to maintain awareness of how future cuts and reorganisation affect other important services, particularly in the voluntary and community sector, to help minimise the effects of on communities and neighbourhoods.”
City Council Deputy Leader, Councillor Graham Chapman, said: “This research shows that we have taken a particular approach which has ensured that in the face of Government cuts, we have continued to improve the prospects of citizens, make the city a better place to visit, live and work and stay the course with some long term plans for the future.
“It confirms that despite being dealt an unfair hand by the Government, we have managed so far to protect many frontline services and minimise the impacts felt by our communities. However, this cannot last as the Government demands even more cuts from councils which have already borne the brunt of their austerity measures. We’re now on the brink of fundamentally undermining or losing vital services which will cause significant suffering to the many people who rely on them.”