Government’s Planning White Paper to Take Decision Making from Local People

As the Portfolio Holder for Planning I believe in the power of democratic planning to shape a fair and sustainable future for everyone. The planning system must operate in the public interest and should be democratically accountable and genuinely participative and must reflect the different needs of the country.

I believe the best people to make local decisions are local people and that the current proposals in the Government’s White Paper will undermine that principle. As was seen with the National Planning Policy Framework introduced in 2012 by the then Conservative and Lib Dem coalition, changes to planning by the Conservatives put the interests of big developers over the interests and needs of local communities.

Many residents already feel a democratic deficit when it comes to planning and I am concerned that replacing consultation on specific items with consultation on Local Plans (5-yearly Strategic Plans) will only make people feel further removed from local decisions. I also wait to hear more details about their plan to replace Section 106 funding with a Community Infrastructure Levy. There is concern that some developers get away with not paying their fair share in Section 106 funding and I am concerned that the new guidelines would create more exemptions for developers.

As a council committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2028, we know how important green space and biodiversity is towards that goal, as well as being important to people’s quality of life. Sustainability should not be seen to be in conflict with economic growth and the government’s White Paper should reflect that.

At the same time I recognise the demand for housing in our city with large numbers of people on the current waiting list. It is our experience that planning legislation and decisions are not what prevents us from building more homes for local people. Rather it is the limitations of borrowing against the Housing Revenue Account (how the Government expects council’s to fund council house building) and restrictions on the use of Right To Buy refunds, which means that there is insufficient funding to build homes, unnecessary restrictions on spending RTB refund money. Also RTB means council houses are lost at a faster rate than we can build them. Nottingham City Council has lobbied the government on these issues a number of times

Investing in Pedestrian and Cycling Facilities in Nottingham

Nottingham Labour has a long standing policy of promoting sustainable travel, including walking and cycling, and we have a history of success in securing funding to deliver these priorities.

COVID has made this more important as people’s travels habits have changed to short trips from longer commutes and people have been more inclined to get out into the open air through walks and cycle rides in local parks.

There is already an extensive cycle network in the city with 80 miles traffic free routes and 3 high quality segregated routes into the city. Recently we have been able to secure £570,000 from the Department for Transport’s Emergency Active Travel Fund which is helping us improve facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. Trial schemes are currently installed on Hucknall Road, St Ann’s Wells Road and next week on Carlton Road

We are also trialling low traffic neighbourhoods in the Arboretum and Derby road to encourage quieter streets that make for more pleasant walking and cycling. Similarly we are trialling the closure of  Victoria Embankment to through traffic to make the space safer to walk or ride their bike and it has been great to see so many families doing that.

This sits alongside our successful bid to the Transforming Cities Fund where we secured £161 million with partners from Derby and the county. £40 million is set aside to improve pedestrian and cycle facilities across the city. Our proposals for this cover four key areas:

  • Improving city centre connections and the public realm
  • Linking Nottingham, Derby and the East Midlands Airport
  • Improving cycling and pedestrian routes across the Trent with the addition of the new bridge.
  • Expanding the on street bike hire scheme which will also include E-bikes.

All of this puts Nottingham in a strong position to capture the benefits about what has been a real renaissance in more sustainable travel.

Cllr Sam Webster, Covid Budget speech at Nottingham City Full Council meeting 05.10.20

It’s extremely disappointing that I’m having to bring forward an in-year emergency Covid budget at this time. My budget report to Full Council today proposes measures to deal with the costs of Covid to the Council in the absence of adequate Government compensation. 

Like many other Councils up and down the country, we’ve had no alternative but to take action now to plug the shortfall in Government Covid funding. 

I note that the Conservative – led LGA reported just last week that a funding gap of £5billion exists for Councils just to continue with services at today’s levels. My colleagues at other Core Cities, the biggest cities in the country outside London have been reporting eye watering funding gaps for the coming years.

We remain in the midst of an unprecedented event. A health and economic crisis the like of which none of us have seen before. 

It’s been a powerful reminder of what Councils, and by Councils I mean the people who work for Councils are here for: 

– to lead Nottingham and keep our city running
– to provide local public services, services upon which our residents and business either value or reply upon
–  to help people when they most need it.

This budget today is not just about what savings we’re making or what spending is reducing, it’s the response to additional costs of our services in recent months and a response to the loss of income, upon which we are now reliant. 

Thousands of key workers who work directly or indirectly for the Council have stepped up during this crisis. Care workers, community protection officers, bin lorry crews, park rangers, housing officers and many more. It’s thanks to them, in large part that we’ve come this far. 

I’m proud of the Council’s response, I’m proud of the people who work for the Council for stepping up. I’m proud of the response of our residents, our local businesses and charities. 

We still have a way to go, evidently difficult times ahead, but Nottingham will do what it does – people will help each other, businesses will fight to survive and the Council will be there for people when it’s needed. 

And my plea to Government relates to this point. 

In the coming months and years local public services will be needed more than ever.  We have a job to do to help our city through, on health – on employment, on housing, on community cohesion, on recovery. We have a job to do and we need the resources to be able to do that job well. 

So I make one clear call to Ministers in Government – honour the pledge that was made to “stand shoulder to shoulder” with Councils – compensate us in full for the costs of the Covid response – as was promised. 

Covid has impacted the health and wellbeing of Nottingham people, the people we all represent.

Covid has impacted the financial and economic wellbeing of Nottingham.  

Thousands of our residents are experiencing lower earnings or have lost their jobs altogether. Unemployment is up 110% over the past year. 

Many people are struggling to keep a roof over their head and many businesses in our ciy are fighting for survival or have already gone under. 

This is an extremely challenging set of circumstances and it’ll be essential that we have the resources we need from Government to support people and aid recovery.  

The context of this report today, which proposes £12.5m of budget reductions is set out in section 3 of the report and I quote. 

3.1 The City Council has been operating in a difficult financial environment due to insufficient Government funding for many years – has made cumulative budget savings of £271M since 2010. 

3.4 Whilst the Government initially promised that it would fully support local government for Covid-19 the additional funding to date has been insufficient. This underfunding leaves the Council with a shortfall of £38.6M. 

By law we must deliver a balanced budget. 

Many people have asked me what is driving the additional costs for the Council, so I wanted to pick out some of the biggest cost or lost income areas. 

  • PPE costs £5.5M
  • Additional funding to care providers £4.5M
  • Leisure centres lost income £5M.

We’ve instigated a number of measures to deal with the current shortfall in Government funding. 

  • Vacancy freeze 
  • Ban on non-essential spending 
  • Consultation on a range of budget savings as set out in the 22nd September Executive Board report.

And a one off use of reserves to cover the remaining funding gap

As you might expect Lord Mayor when taking these decisions we have sought to protect front line services and those services upon which our most vulnerable residents reply on. 

We have consulted widely, receiving 232 responses during the consultation period. 

We have allocated reserves to minimise the impact at this time and we have defended key public services – core services for vulnerable children & older people, parks & leisure centres and kept free universal services such as bulky waste collections, free garden bin collections and 2 free resident car parking permits. 

We will continue to lobby to Government for the compensation our City was promised.  

Cllr Sam Webster
Labour and Co-operative Party, Castle Ward
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and City Centre 

Broken Government Promises on COVID Funding Puts Local Services at Risk

Conservative Government Ministers made a clear promise to fund the additional Covid costs of vital public services, but so far they’ve broken that promise.

Councils across the country were struggling financially before Covid hit, due to a decade of Government funding cuts. When Government asked our key workers to step up when they were needed most, they did so.

Nottingham has so far received only £39.8million from government, but the cost of Covid-19 is closer to £80million, leaving a shortfall of nearly £40million. This is on top of 10 years of austerity which has seen over £100million taken away from Nottingham in government funding every year.

These Covid related costs are the result of essential services that the Council and the key workers who work for the Council have provided during the outbreak; delivering care services to older people, sourcing our own PPE supplies, contacting 18,000 vulnerable people, additional mortuary costs and getting people who were sleeping rough into safe accommodation.

This is a dreadful betrayal and leaves councils up and down the country having to take difficult decisions that despite all our best efforts will affect local services that we all value and rely upon. We have done what we can to protect universal free services for our residents and prioritise those services which our most vulnerable residents rely on the most. We continue to call on Government Ministers to honour the clear pledge they made. All we’ve ever asked is that the costs of Covid should be met by the government as was promised at the outset.

Tell the Government to pay up by signing our petition – https://www.change.org/p/government-fully-fund-nottingham-city-council-for-the-cost-of-covid-19?redirect=false

Cllr Sam Webster

Labour and Co-operative Party Councillor for Castle Ward and Portfolio Holder for Finance

Thanking our Community Protection Officers for their response to COVID

I would like to thank Community Protection Officers (CPO) who have been at the forefront of the City’s response to Covid-19. During the initial phase of lockdown CPO’s where carrying out high visibility patrols across the neighbourhoods and City Centre ensuring the public remained safe and well.

Officers played a large part in delivering homework and school packages to students that were unable to attend school and in addition continued to patrol parks and open spaces to ensure that children were not using equipment that had been isolated in order to comply with social distancing.

CPO’s responded to the city’s most vulnerable citizens who were either shielding or self-isolating for other means. Officers have carried out over 3000 welfare visits since March. This was in response to safety concerns raised by friends, families and neighbours whilst also carrying out additional welfare visits to establish contact with the many citizens that had appeared on the NHS shielding lists. CPO’s also assisted with delivering much needed medications and essential shopping for those who were unable to get to the shops.

Although the lockdown guidance has eased, CPO’s have continued to carry out welfare visits on high risk city residents whilst continuing to deliver the core statutory function of the day to day role which includes environmental and anti-social behaviour enforcement. CPO’s now assist Trading Standards and Environmental Health colleagues in visiting businesses across the City to ensure they are compliant across a range of checks including Test and Trace & Covid regulations compliance.

Since March 2020 CPO’s collectively have visited 618 Businesses in relation to Covid compliance, carried out 4,073 welfare checks, Investigated 4,471 fly tips, responded to 3,732 complaints of noise nuisance and Issued a total of 2,122 enforcement notices.

Cllr Neghat Khan,
Portfolio Holder for Employment and Community Protection

Government Must Not Let Nottingham’s Businesses Down

A letter from Cllr Sam Webster to Rt Hon Alok Sharma MP Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Dear Minister

I am writing to you regarding the welcome easing of Covid-19 restrictions on the opening of businesses in the retail and hospitality sectors due to take effect on 15th June.

While the ability to resume trading will come as a great relief to many in the retail, leisure and hospitality community who have endured weeks of inactivity, can I strongly urge you to continue to support these businesses over the coming months, for example, through the introduction of a recovery grants.

As I’m sure you are aware, concerns exist in the retail, leisure and hospitality community that the costs of the substantial social distancing requirements and potential reluctance of shoppers to return in sufficient numbers will put huge financial pressures on many independent businesses – particularly smaller ones – threating their ability to continue to trade profitably. Retail and hospitality outlets having to close their doors would have a knock-on effect for surrounding businesses and the more that close, the worse the situation would get.

In addition, the numbers of redundancies would rise placing growing pressures on the jobs market and local economy.

Small businesses are at the heart of our city retail economy but they need continued Government support to be able to recover and thrive over the coming months of uncertainty.

The impact of lower footfall and social distancing risks a spiral of decline as the number of empty shops and outlets grows. We all want to do our best to prevent this happening but we need the Government to provide the ongoing financial support required to help keep these businesses viable in the coming months.

On behalf of our local independent traders in Nottingham I’d urge the Government to introduce recovery grants to allow businesses to survive.

I look forward to hearing from you

Councillor Sam Webster

Honour our Key Workers by Funding their Work

Services are under threat unless the Government keeps its promise to fully reimburse councils for the impact of the Covid-19 crisis:

For the Nottingham context:

  • £54million additional costs
  • £19million additional funding
  • £100million less Govt funding since 2010.

There’s a looming crisis ahead with devastating consequences for local services if the Government reneges on its promise. The majority of the Council’s expenditure goes towards funding care services for older people and protecting vulnerable children.

During the pandemic we’ve seen our key council workers doing outstanding work, often in difficult circumstances. From care workers, bus drivers and household waste collection teams to Community Protection Officers, housing support staff and park rangers, whether working directly or indirectly for Nottingham City Council we couldn’t have come this far without them. It’s now imperative that the Government doesn’t turn its back on these people by leaving a huge gap in the funding that’s required. 

We have had to endure year after year of cuts to our budgets which has already made it extremely difficult to maintain services. The Government can’t expect us to now meet the huge costs and loss of revenue due to Covid-19 on top of the seemingly endless austerity.

The Government promised they would support us and we’ve stepped up and done what was asked of us. It would be incredibly disappointing if they now backtracked and as a consequence put local services at extreme risk.

Cllr Sam Webster,
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and City Centre

Letter from Cllr Sam Webster to Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP re Funding for Local Authorities

Dear Minister

We welcome your recent announcement of a second round of funding totalling £1.6bn for local authorities,

This, along with the initial £1.6bn allocation (of which Nottingham City Council received £10.67m), will go some way towards mitigating the serious and significant impact we are experiencing on our finances as a result of Covid-19.

However, we are very concerned to hear speculation that the methodology for allocation of this second round of funding may be changed from that used in the first.

The consequence of this could be that Nottingham City Council would receive a smaller share of the overall pot and would therefore be denied vital funding to help us deal with the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As you will know, these extra costs are significant in in many council service areas like homelessness support, adult social care, food parcel distribution and support for people coming out of hospital.

Specifically, in our recent return to Government, we highlighted the following additional costs to the Council:

  • £9.2m needed for Adult Social Care including PPE equipment
  • £2.7m needed for Children’s Social Care
  • £13.4m lost income from Council activities

Overall, we identified £56.4m direct and indirect pressures caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is only our initial estimate and will inevitably increase as multiple pressures continue to impact the Council’s finances.

Our immediate focus has been on making sure residents and businesses are supported through this crisis period and making sure that vitally important front line council services continue to function safely. We want to able to continue to do that to the best of our ability but we need Government to stand shoulder to shoulder with us and recognise the financial consequences we are experiencing.

I would be very grateful therefore, if you would confirm that Nottingham City Council will not see a reduction in its second round share of the £1.6bn and that the methodology for distributing this funding will be unchanged.

Yours sincerely,
Councillor Sam Webster
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and the City Centre

Cllr Webster Speech on Budget at Full Council

Lord Mayor, 

The Labour Group and the Leader of the Council gave me political responsibility for the council’s finances less than 10 months ago. 

I feel fortunate to have reached this milestone, delivering my first council budget today, a milestone that Sajid Javid didn’t manage to make. Just 10 short months, but already onto my 3rd Chancelllor of the Exchequer. It has indeed been a time of considerable political change and flux. 

Our residents went to the polls in May last year and returned 50 Labour Councillors. They again went to the polls in December and all Nottingham City constituencies returned Labour Members of Parliament.

I know that I speak for my colleagues when I say that representing our residents interests is always our top priority. 

For Nottingham this is a time of great challenges. I’m going to set out those challenges and explain what the council is doing to meet them. 

After a decade of Government austerity, 10 years of Government funding cuts those challenges have become increasingly difficult to navigate, balancing a number of competing priorities. 

Chronic underfunding of local services by the Government over such a prolonged period of time has consequences. It’s caused social and economic issues that in my view were and are unnecessary. Social and economic issues that in the medium to long term will cost the public purse more. The recent updated Marmot Review highlighted for instance that, and I quote  ‘the amount of time people spend in poor health has increased across England since 2010. inequalities in poor health harm individuals, families, communities and are expensive to the public purse. They are also unnecessary and can be reduced with the right policies.’

Austerity has impacted the poorest people, hardest and that’s wrong. 

Let’s just remember what’s happened over the lost decade of austerity, the decade of low growth, the decade of stagnant wages, the decade of underinvestment, the decade of increasing child poverty, the decade of school cuts. 

Let’s remember that Nottingham has been in the Conservative Government’s firing line throughout and let’s also remember that this is not a new Government, it’s Michael Gove, it’s Liz Truss, it’s Grant Schapps, it’s Boris Johnson. These people have been in Government for years and years. They are austerity. 

Since 2010 Government has consistently cut the funding for Nottingham’s public services. Nottingham now receives over £100million less in Government funding per year than it did.  £100million less every year to fund libraries, parks, public toilets, the local road network, public transport, youth centres, street cleaning, trading standards, environmental health, drug and alcohol services. We’re a hundred million pounds a year down on the resources we can put in to tackling anti social behaviour, supporting the homeless and looking after our most vulnerable residents. 

Over £100million less each and every year.

£529 per Nottingham household cut. 

Since 2012 this council has had to make savings of over £270 million pounds. 

It’s this Government’s attack on Nottingham’s households that’s led to a gap in the council’s budget yet again for the next financial year to the tune of £15.6million. 

After a huge amount of work by my colleague Portfolio Holders and Council Officers I’m able to set out budget proposals today to close this gap and deliver a balanced budget for the next financial year.

We have significant additional demands in our children’s services department. Like many councils up and down the country, but especially in big cities, urban areas and areas with higher than average levels of deprivation we have growing demand in children’s services. More vulnerable children have been brought into the care of the council and other additional costs associated with protecting children means that we’re putting more money into those services next year. 

Almost all councils are currently spending more on children’s services than they had budgeted for and therefore are having to allocate additional resources.

We’re also putting more money into care services for elderly people in recognition of a growing number of people requiring council funded care.

These two areas of spending – looking after the care needs of older residents and protecting vulnerable children are now by far the biggest areas of spend for the council. 

It’s now urgent that Government brings forward proposals to deal with the growing funding gap that councils face. As demand for care services continues to rise the Local Government Association has warned of a funding gap of £6.4 billion by 2024. After many years of promises from Government to bring forward new policy proposals to fund care services for elderly and vulnerable people it seems that realistically we are nowhere near a solution. Successive governments have failed to deal with this fundamental issue. 

It is the growing demand for children’s and adults services, the government’s failure to lead and the chronic underfunding of these services that is driving instability in the finances of councils across the country. 

Remember that these are literally life or death services for many of our residents, they are vitally important, but trying to fund them from council tax and the half of business rates that Government allows us to retain locally is unsustainable and unfair.

We have no choice therefore, but to apply the Government’s adult social care precept to council tax bills yet again. The Government expects us to apply this additional 2% on to council tax bills. 

The Governments adult social care precept has now added £160 to an average council tax bill in Nottingham. 

And it’s just about the worst way to fund these key services. Council tax isn’t based on ability to pay, its regressive so that poorer households pay proportionally more than wealthy households and it embeds inequality and unfairness regionally and nationally with councils in the poorest parts of the country able to raise the least new income. 

When you consider that 1% added to council tax bills in Richmond will translate to over £6 per person in new income for their council, yet here in Nottingham a 1% increase in council tax raises around half that level of new income to fund local services. 

Which area do you think has greater demand on its children’s and adult care services? 

Not only is this a government stealth tax, it’s an unfair tax that does nothing to level up, in fact it does the opposite. 

Let me be clear – The council tax rises proposed in this budget are a result of Government funding cuts. I will continue to inform the Government of my belief that council tax is no way to fund care services for older people. 

I need to point out further unfairness of the Government’s approach and I highlighted these points to the new Chancellor in a letter I recently sent to him. In anticipation of his first budget on Wednesday I urged him to change course and end the unfairness, because while Nottingham has faced relentless funding cuts some of the wealthiest parts of the country have received additional funding. 

The attack on Nottingham to the tune of a £529 cut per household can be shockingly compared to a £19 increase in funding per household in Surrey for example. This must end. The Government’s funding formula, if unchanged, is expected to slash another £14 million from Nottingham, yet Surrey, one of the wealthiest parts of the country is set to receive an additional £26million. 

And not just Nottingham – residents in Nottingham would be rightly angry. As angry as residents in Durham – set to lose over £10 million, Dewsbury, set to lose another £6million and Doncaster set to lose another £5 million. Some of the poorest parts of the country set to be targeted yet again. 

My message to the Government is clear – stop your attack on Nottingham, stop your attack on Nottingham households and stop your unfair funding regime.

I sincerely hope the new Chancellor changes course on Wednesday. The people of Nottingham will be watching.

So our challenges are significant, but we’ve done a lot to meet these challenges. In many ways I’m proud of the way the council,our partner organisations and our communities have responded. There has been damage done by Government policy, but also great resilience in our city.

Whatever Conservative Governments throw at Nottingham, we will succeed, but we won’t forget.

In our budget proposals today we’ve worked hard to protect vital, front line services, to protect those services upon which our most vulnerable residents rely, with our dedicated council officers we’ve been innovative to bring in grant funding, to grow commercial income, to further embrace new technology and be as efficient as possible whilst demanding high standards of our services.

Despite the challenges we’re doing so much. We have an ambitious agenda, we’re still investing in Nottingham’s future, we’re confident in Nottingham and in Nottingham people, we’re helping to create new jobs, delivering the biggest regeneration programme for decades and growing the city. 

Each of my colleagues on the Executive and our assistant portfolio holders could point to excellent work happening in the council and I know that all of my colleague Councillors could demonstrate the positive work happening in their communities. 

When I see thousands of Nottingham children receiving a free book direct to their home every month, when I see that we’re a child friendly city, when I see that we’re working towards being the first city in the country to be carbon neutral, to improve health with the cleanest city air, to build the best children’s library in the country, those things give me great hope for our future. 

And all of those things that we can do as a council when combined with the resilience in our communities, the positive work of our partner organisations, our voluntary sector, the diversity of the city and our history of innovation and creativity I know that despite being held back by this Government, Nottingham will continue to progress. 

And because we are a progressive city, we are an inclusive city we will meet these challenges together. 

Lord Mayor I move the report. 
Councillor Sam Webster
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and City Centre
Nottingham City Council 

Valentines Letter to Rt Hon Rishi Sunak MP Ahead of Budget 2020

Roses are red,
violets are blue,
if you have money for Surrey,
can we have some too?

Dear Chancellor,

Congratulations on your new appointment.

With the Local Government Association indicating that Surrey is set to receive an additional £26million of Government funding while Nottingham is set to lose another £14million I wanted to write to urge you to change course.

Ahead of your first Budget I’m asking you to begin to restore the resources that your predecessors have taken away from Nottingham.

Nottingham has had its main Government grant cut by £102 million since 2013, at a time when demand for services like care for the elderly and protecting vulnerable children have been rising.

In Nottingham over the last 9 years we’ve had to save £267 million, due in large part to Government funding cuts. We’ve been innovative and improved efficiency.

We’ve implemented a range of commercial and trading activities which bring in over £20 million a year to help fund local services. We have prioritised vital front line services and tried to protect our most vulnerable residents.

The funding cuts imposed by your Government have gone too far, they’ve hit the poorest parts of the country hardest, they mean that local people are having to pay more to fill the funding gap and without new resources are putting vital public services and the financial stability of councils at risk. Just like in other local areas up and down the country we’ve had to cut services, increase some charges and increase council tax in an attempt to counter the funding cuts.

There are three specific areas I would ask you to prioritise to ease the pressure on our financial position and help us to unlock Nottingham’s potential:

  • Social Care Green Paper – Care for the elderly, vulnerable children and disabled people are the biggest areas of expenditure in Nottingham. The LGA has warned there will be a £6.7 billion spending gap in children’s and adult social care services by 2025. Since March 2017 we have been waiting for the Government’s Social Care Green Paper but its publication has been delayed time and time again. A clear plan for how local authorities continue to provide social care services as demand rises is essential for the long term financial sustainability of councils.
  • Fair Infrastructure Funding – There is a serious disparity in spending on infrastructure between regions. London gets £3636 spent per head compared to just £741 per person for the East Midlands. Projects like the electrification of the Midland Mainline have been shelved while projects like London’s £30 billion Crossrail 2 are set to go ahead.
  • Funding Based on Need – Cuts to local authorities have disproportionately fallen on urban areas with higher levels of deprivation. Since 2011 Nottingham has lost £529 spending power per household compared to wealthier areas like Surrey which have gained £19 per household. A new funding formula is needed that recognises the differences between areas of the country and has need at its heart.

Councils do so much to transform local communities and economies, but given adequate resources and powers we can do much more. As a Chancellor delivering his first Budget you have an opportunity to work with us rather than against us.

The people of Nottingham will be watching closely on 11th March to see if you’ll begin to return to us some of the funding that’s been taken away.

Yours Sincerely,
Cllr Sam Webster
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and City Centre