Nottinghamshire County Council: numbers that aren’t adding up

There are signs that Tory-run Notts County Council’s budget proposals, advocating cuts totalling £33 million, aren’t be as well thought through as they suggest.

There are signs that Conservative-run Nottinghamshire County Council’s budget proposals, advocating cuts totalling £33 million, might not be as well thought through as council leaders would suggest.

Earlier this month, Left Foot Forward reported that Unison East Midlands had identified how the council could raise £24 million to plug the deficit, substantially reducing the impact of the service cuts being proposed.

Among the points made by the Union were that the council were predicting a zero increase in its council tax base. However, whilst housing growth had slowed but not stopped, Unison suggested that the tax base would grow by 0.5 per cent, equal to £1.5 million.

Now, a report in the Nottingham Evening Post has indicated that the council now agrees with this assessment. Speaking to the Post, the council’s Director for Finance and Trading said:

“When the budget proposals for 2010/11 were drafted there were a number of uncertainties around next year’s financial position, including council tax collection levels.

“At the time we had to assume that there will be no growth in tax base in Notts for 2010/11, based on indications of the low number of new homes built in the county in 2009.

“Each year district councils are required to let the county council know of their estimated tax base by the end of January, which gives us a more precise picture.

“Early indications suggest that there could be tax base increases of between 0.5% and 0.75 %, which amounts to an extra £1.4m to £2m for the county council. Once we have more precise figures we can decide how this will affect our final budget plans.”

The news raises questions over the council’s decision to base its entire budget on a worst case scenario. Concurring with this view, local MP for Broxtowe, Labour’s Nick Palmer, said:

“I think we should not only have a worst-case scenario in the budget papers. We should have a middle-case scenario. Otherwise you end up cutting things you don’t need to cut.”

Reacting to the development, Unison East Midlands have said:

“Now we’ve shown them that they will have up to £2m extra income it remains to be seen if they will use the money to protect vital services for the vulnerable. You can be sure we will be pressing them to do the right thing.”

The news came after MPs from across the county met with Conservative council leader, Kay Cutts, to discuss the budget.
After the meeting, Cllr Cutts was quoted as saying:

“I am very glad so many of Nottinghamshire’s MPs accepted my invitation to today’s meeting with me and my Cabinet members. As we work to meet the financial challenges that the council faces it is vital that we talk with politicians of all parties.

However, Labour MP and Schools Minister, Vernon Coaker, made his concerns clear, concluding:

“What I am worried about is the services that Notts people rely on. The cuts in the budget are changes which affect the most vulnerable people in our areas.

“What was discussed was, ‘if you are going to increase charges, don’t do it to the most vulnerable people’.”

Similarly, Labour MP for Sherwood, Paddy Tipping, raised Conservative policy to freeze council tax:

If they were not so dogmatic about not putting up council tax, it would give them an extra £9m to spend.”

Not all MPs at the meeting were so critical, however. Local Conservative MP and Shadow Business Secretary Ken Clarke defended his Conservative colleagues on the council:

“Obviously they have to make quite serious cuts because of the mess public finances have got into. They are having to put more money onto key areas of child protection and learning disabilities.”

The full council is due to vote on the budget on Feburary 25th.

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