Government’s broken Covid pledge and ongoing austerity mean £12.5m more City Council budget reductions

Nottingham City Council has agreed £12.5m of budget savings to balance its 2020/21 budget as unmet Covid costs, along with another year of Government cuts, take their toll.

The Council has had to make cumulative budget savings totalling £271.4m over the last ten years and since the start of the pandemic the financial strain Covid-19 has had on councils across the country has been widely reported in terms of increased expenditure, lost income and the impact on existing budget savings.

A decade ago, the Government’s Revenue Support Grant to Nottingham – which used to be one of the main sources of funding for local services – was £127m for the year, dwindling to just £25m for the year ahead through the Government’s austerity measures.

On top of that, this year the Government told councils to step up in the fight against Covid and the costs would be reimbursed – but the Government has paid only around half of the £78m of the Covid costs to the City Council. This has forced the council to use £31m of its reserves to plug the gap.

At its full council meeting today (Monday 5th October), councillors agreed a range of savings, including a reduction of 154 staff posts. The council is seeking to meet this by deleting vacant posts and accepting voluntary redundancies where possible. Other savings include:

•Apprentices – delaying the employment of apprentices until next April, saving £450,000 in total
•On street parking machines – replacing most parking machines with cashless machines, promoting pay by phone and card payments
•Parking permits – introducing charge of £25 for households requesting a third residents parking permit, renewable every two years
•Civic roles – reducing the ceremonial duties of the Lord Mayor
•Day Centres – closing one adult-care day centre while maintaining access to a day centre for all users
•Bulwell Hall Golf Course – closing the course from November 2020 and seek an external operator
•Play Areas – closing a small number of underused play areas and those requiring significant improvement.

Councillors have prioritised services for the most vulnerable residents, protected free universal services such as free bulky waste collections, a free garden waste bin and two free resident parking permits and defended parks, community centres, libraries, care services and leisure centres.

Councillor Sam Webster, the Council’s Portfolio Holder for Finance, said: “The Government has spent the last decade stripping away the funding for local services across the country that people rely on, placing the financial burden instead on local council tax payers. When Covid hit this year, the Government looked to councils to step up in the fight against it, promising full financial support – a promise they have failed to deliver on, despite our frontline key workers rising to the challenge.

“The combination of a decade of austerity and unmet Covid costs is leaving all councils in a dreadful financial situation, having to take decisions like we have today to cut services and to use reserves to plug the funding gap left by the Government.

“This is no way to fund local services, especially when the Covid crisis has made it clear that the country relies on councils and their workers so much. At the very least, the Government should honour the clear pledge they made at the outset and meet the costs of Covid. The Local Government Association says there’s a £5bn funding gap just for councils to maintain today’s service levels.

“If communities and economies in our cities and towns are to recover well, there must be investment in local public services. In the coming months and years, council services will be needed more than ever. The broken promise must be fixed by ministers urgently.”

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