Notts council leader ignores Thatcher’s U-turn advice

In 1980, Maragret Thatcher famously told her party conference, “You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning!” Such words would have fallen on deaf ears in Nottinghamshire where  the Conservative county council leader, Kay Cutts, has made an about turn on the council’s proposed budget.

In October, the Council published its plans to save £33 million over the next year, with measures that included increasing charges for home care; cutting or increasing the cost of transport for older people; closing day centres; and increasing the costs of meal on wheels.

Last week however, Left Foot Forward reported that the County Council had found between £1.4 and £2 million, having underestimated the revenue increases they would get from council tax receipts. The figure was almost exactly that reported just weeks earlier by Unison East Midlands, which set out how the council could find £24 million to plug the gap without affecting services for the more vulnerable members of the community.

Since then, the council seems to have found an additional £4.6 million just weeks before a crucial budget vote. The reversals proposed include:

• maintaining spending on community transport rather than cutting by £150,000 from a total budget of £250,000 as originally proposed;

• reducing the non-school activities budget by 25 per cent rather than the original 50 per cent planned for Dukeries Community College and the Sutton Centre College;

• not withdrawing £560,000 from the budget to deliver dry recyclable materials to the Council’s material’s recovery facility;

• cutting the Welfare Rights Service budget from £150,000 rather than £250,00;

• increasing the cost of meals on wheels from £2.35 to £3 rather than the £3.95 as originally planned; and

• finding extra money for the gritting budget rather than reducing it by £50,000.

Furthermore, the Mel Shepherd, Cabinet Member for Adults, Social Care and Health has said that it is unlikely the sale of the council’s 13 residential care homes will now take place over the next financial year. Following the announcements, the Tory leader, Cllr Cutts, said:

“We have listened to people. This is a genuine consultation. I have been interested to what people have had to say.

“We remain committed to ensuring that the county council is financially sustainable.”

Unison East Midlands have concluded:

“We are delighted that the council have started to listen to what we are saying. The reversal of £4.6m of the cuts is to be welcomed. But as we have demonstrated the council have the scope to reverse a further £19m of cuts to protect vital services for the most vulnerable. The people of Nottinghamshire are counting on them to do the right thing.”

“This has only been possible by vigorous campaigning making use of excellent local government finance advice from head office, coordination the media and external campaign by the regional office and relentless workplace activity by the branch.

“A formal response from UNISON to the consultation will be submitted by Friday 22 January and we hope that the council will listen to what we have to say as we believe they can prevent nearly all of the propose service cuts.”

It will be hoped that the announcements made by the councils are not a cynical attempt to butter up the electorate ahead of the general election, with the original cuts planned likely to be reinstated after the election. For the time being however, Kay Cutts is misinterpreting Thatcher: “you turn if you want to, the lady is for turning.”

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