Category: Latest News

The Government Bails out Failing Conservative Councils with Latest Rigged Funding Formula

The Government has proposed its latest attempt to bail out failing Conservative run local authorities with an unfair funding formula that will give the majority of a £153 million fund to the South East and South West while continuing to take money away from places like Nottingham with further cuts to its Revenue Support Grant.

Following the Government’s £300 million of extra ‘transition funding’ announced in 2016, which overwhelmingly benefitted more affluent councils in the South, the Government has now proposed ‘negative RSG’ compensation worth £153 million with a rigged criteria which will again see the majority given to local authorities in the South East and South West.

Research has shown that the ‘negative RSG’ funding will see:

  • Conservative controlled local authorities receive £131.7 million of which is 86% of the total available funding.
  • Labour-led authorities will receive only £3.3m ‘negative RSG’ compensation (2%) after just £14.1m of the transition grant (5%)

Surrey County Council is set to be one of the biggest winners as it will receive £17.3m from the new scheme after previously pocketing £24.1m of transition grant in 2016. It’s outrageous that the Government is once again choosing to bail out councils in better-off areas of the south when poorer councils in the North and Midlands in areas with higher need are losing out.

Increasingly we see Conservative controlled authorities in crisis with their finances despite less cuts to their finances and preferential treatment when it comes to the Government’s funding formula. The list of failing Conservative controlled councils that the Government are trying to bail out includes:

The Conservative Party is showing themselves both unfair and incompetent when it comes to managing money. Nottingham people and others across the North and Midlands are losing out on millions of pounds of extra funding which would help support the vital council services they rely on. We have written the three Nottingham Members of Parliament and we are working In partnership with the Special Interest of Municipal Authorities to get this issue taken up by the Public Accounts Committee so we can get answers on the Government’s unfair approach to funding.

Cllr Graham Chapman
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Resources and Commercial Services

Government Rejects Nottingham’s Bid for More Council Homes

Nottingham Labour believes in council housing, we want to build more, but the Conservatives are making it hard for us. The number of houses we have been able to deliver has been nowhere near the number that have been sold in recent years. The reasons for this are:

  • We are only allowed to use right to buy receipts to fund 30% of the cost of a scheme, the remainder must be funded through borrowing on the Housing Revenue Account which is in turn limited by central Government;
  • We are only allowed to spend the money on a very narrow range of housing types and it cannot be given to our ALMO Nottingham City Homes.
  • There is a very limited timescale to use the money and development sites can involve long lead in times to acquire, prepare and plan.

In the 2017 Autumn Statement, it was announced that local authorities with demand for new homes would be allowed to raise their Housing Revenue Account cap. However the Government has now announced that Nottingham will not be allowed to apply to raise the cap. The Conservatives have adopted a perverse set of criteria that has led to extraordinary situation where only 104 Councils can extend their borrowing cap – 91 of which are in the South, and the vast majority of which are Conservative controlled councils. We are left with the bizarre situation where Rushcliffe are eligible to extend their cap, despite the fact that we have 4 times the number of people on the housing waiting list and over 7 times the number of homelessness acceptances.

The Chartered Institute of Housing called for the suspension of the Right to Buy in order to support the delivery of the affordable homes the country needs. We will also have very soon the so called “voluntary” right to buy for housing association tenants being piloted in our region, potentially leading to further loss of social homes which are not being properly replaced. In the present housing crisis this Tory Government must consider the impact that the right to buy is having, and at the very least review the rules for the expenditure of right to buy receipts to make the “1-4-1” commitment a reality, as well as allowing councils like Nottingham to borrow to fund the council house building that we want to do.

Cllr Jane Urquhart
Portfolio Holder for Housing and Planning

Too Many Young People are Being Permanently Excluded by Schools in Nottingham

Permanent exclusions need to become a method of last resort as their current excessive use by many schools in Nottingham is leading to higher costs, damaging young people’s futures and has been linked to increased levels of knife crime.

Pupils in Nottingham are up to three times more likely to be permanently excluded than regional or national peers. Comparisons from the 2015/16 academic year show that in Nottingham 77 secondary school age pupils were permanently excluded. In Derby there were 28 students expelled, while in Leicester there were just 14. Since 2014 there has been 73 permanent exclusions of primary school children in Nottingham and 377 secondary school children. These are significant numbers and suggests some Nottingham schools are using permanent exclusions as a first response rather than a method of last resort.

Pupils that are given permanent exclusion end up being educated with alternative providers across the city and county where they receive a reduced curriculum and timetable. Not only are these providers of variable quality, they cost far more than mainstream schools and academies, creating a huge pressure on the city’s limited High Needs funding. The financial impact of mass exclusions means there is less funding available to all of the schools and academies in the city to spend on vulnerable pupils. It is estimated that the cost of exclusion is around £370,000 per young person in lifetime education, benefits, healthcare and criminal justice costs as well.

The cost is not just financial however as in the majority of cases permanently excluding a pupil from school will have a significant negative impact on the rest of their life. This may include poor attainment, ongoing mental health issues and the increased likelihood of entry into the criminal justice system. There is also some suggestion that as the number of permanent exclusions increases and more young people are not in school it adds to the problem of knife crime areas as well.

Too many of our vulnerable young people are being excluded and failed by the education system in Nottingham. We have raised concerns with the Regional Schools Commissioner who we expect to work with academies in Nottingham to reduce the number of permanent exclusions. Although academies are outside the councils direct remit, we urge them to work together and with the council to reduce the numbers of children being excluded.

Cllr Neghat Khan,
Portfolio Holder for Education and Skills

Autumn statement gives nothing for Nottingham’s schools or social care sector

An autumn statement that says nothing on schools or social care is not an autumn statement preparing Nottingham for the future but one that is ignoring the real problems cities like ours face.

The Chancellor has missed the chance to invest in the skills and potential of Nottingham’s young people and has shown no vision to deal with the rising level of demand in adult and child social care that is pushing the City Councils finances to the limit.

The Government’s education funding formula this summer would see Nottingham’s schools lose £22 million in real terms, which is over £500 per pupil. Taking this amount of money away from Nottingham’s schools will result in overcrowded classrooms that are not properly equipped, damaging the life chances of Nottingham’s young people. An autumn statement that was serious about preparing Britain for the future would be giving schools in Nottingham more money so that we can give our young people the skills need in the future job market.

In social care the government has revealed how unaware it is of the biggest challenge Britain is going to face. There is currently a £2 billion funding gap in social care and by not committing any extra funding in the Autumn Statement the Chancellor is making that gap worse. Demand is rising as we become and older population. In 2039, the number of people aged 75 and over will be 9.9 million. A Government preparing for the future should be making the proper funding of social care its number one priority.

Along with this, there is no relief for Council budgets. Since 2010, the Government has taken £200 million from Nottingham, which has resulted in Nottingham people paying more for fewer services. Seven years of cuts to councils like Nottingham has not helped pay down Britain’s debt either, as the Government is set to add an extra £90 billion worth of debt over the life of this Parliament. To add to this the Conservatives are damaging Britain’s economic success and growth is revised down.  

The Conservatives simply have no vision for the country or for Nottingham,  and are not prepared to face the economic challenges that we face.

 

Nottingham Labour approves fire sprinkler works despite governments broken promise on funding

We have approved £8.4 million worth of sprinkler installations and other safety measures in 13 high rise blocks in Nottingham City, despite the government breaking its promise to properly fund “whatever the experts tell us to make people safe”.

Following the tragic events in Grenfell earlier this year, Nottingham City Council worked with Nottingham City Homes, Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue and local tenants to review all of the high rise blocks in Nottingham. All the blocks have current fire risk assessments and are fully compliant with current regulations. To reassure tenants that all was being done to make their buildings safe though, we took the decision to install sprinklers within the high rise blocks along with improvements to other safety measures.

Council leaders welcomed the promise by Communities Secretary, Sajid Javid, who committed the government to doing all that was necessary to make people safe. As Housing Portfolio Holder, I wrote to the government asking for the funding for these safety improvements, and was dismayed when the government responded with a categorical no, describing the installation of sprinklers as “additional rather than essential”.

It is simply unbelievable that the Government has backtracked on its commitment to provide support to councils. In the same week as describing fire safety improvements for high rise blocks in Nottingham as additional, the government managed to find £100 million for the installation of sprinklers in the Houses of Parliament. The government again shows it simply has the wrong priorities.

We will go ahead despite the government breaking its promise to provide the funding. They are too important not to go ahead and we have taken the decision to use money from our capital budget. This however, will mean fewer new homes being built in Nottingham, despite the government saying it wants Councils building more and less money available to keep our existing 26,000 homes in good repair.

These are the consequences when government does not fairly fund local authorities.

Councillor Jane Urquhart,
Portfolio Holder for Planning, Housing and Heritage.

10.5 million families to be on average £450 worse off per year

A new report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that poorer families are set to see big cash losses due to a combination of the Conservative Government’s freeze on benefits, including in-work benefits and higher than expected inflation.

The IFS said on their web site:

“The Office for National Statistics announced that inflation in the year to September was 3.0%. Normally the September inflation figure is used to uprate benefit levels and tax thresholds the following April. However, current government policy is to freeze most working-age benefits in cash terms until March 2020. Combined with the latest inflation forecasts, today’s number means that the 4-year freeze is now expected to reduce entitlements in 2019–20 by an average of £450 per year for the 10.5 million households affected.

We can see that Conservative Party policies are having a detrimental impact on the incomes and living standards of millions of families in Britain and this includes thousands of families, with children in Nottingham. Since the Brexit vote last year inflation has been rising, due in part to the weakness of the British pound and this is driving up everyday costs for people. At the same time as process are rising in-work benefits are frozen and so many people are being hit hard in the pocket.

The situation has serious consequences for everyday family finances as well as the wider economic effect of people having less spending power. It’s now urgent that the Government looks again at the real impact their policies are having on Nottingham families.

Cllr Sam Webster

Portfolio Holder for Business, Education and Skills

Conservatives Gave £1 billion To the DUP Instead of Nottingham.

The Conservatives have taken £200 million from Nottingham since 2010. Instead of that money being spent here in Nottingham to create jobs, upgrade our infrastructure and build better communities, the Conservatives have instead used it to ensure the votes of two DUP MPs.

This £1 billion given to the DUP could reinstate every penny of the £200 million that the Conservatives have cut from Nottingham City Council since 2010. This would allow us to build more affordable homes, hire more social workers , repave more roads and increase the number of street  cleaning teams around the City. Instead that money has been used as a political bribe to allow Theresa May to cling onto power.

This shows the warped priorities the Conservatives have when it comes to spending and the extent to which they do not care about the well-being of Nottingham. We will be demanding that the Government changes this unfair situation alongside other Core Cities by lobbying Parliament on Tuesday 12th September.

Abolish the Bedroom Tax Now

Nottingham Labour unanimously passed a motion at July’s Full Council Meeting calling for the abolition of the bedroom tax – while Conservative Councillors abstained.

The tax affects approximately 6,000 households in Nottingham, the vast majority of who are on low incomes and many who are disabled.

It is also ineffective. The tax was originally intended to free up properties for others but people are, understandably, staying put and seeing their income reduced rather than move away from friends and neighbours.

Nottingham City Council is faced with the absurd situation of opposing the tax, but being forced to implement it by the Conservative government.

Nottingham Labour has written to government miisters to demonstrate their objection to the tax; and continued to press our three local Labour MPs, Lilian Greenwood, Chris Leslie and Alex Norris to speak out against the tax in Parliament and Labour’s front bench members have also said they will raise the issue,

Following Theresa May’s failure to secure the majority she wanted in June, the Conservatives had to buy the votes of 10 DUP MPs for the sum of £1 billion. In their manifesto, the DUP were opposed to the bedroom tax so it is hoped that no there is no majority in Parliament for the bedroom tax it can be overturned.

Loxley House Solar Panels

Last week, work began to fit solar panels to the roof of Loxley House, the main offices of Nottingham City Council. In total, the project will see over 200 Solar PV panels fitted on the Loxley House rooftop and will be installed and managed by our own workforce.

The panels will produce a large amount of green energy that can be used by Nottingham City Council and will ensure a return on the investment to install them. This is another example of Nottingham Labour being committed to an increase in green energy usage and cut carbon emissions.

In 2016, Nottingham City Council smashed climate change targets and achieved a 33% reduction in carbon emissions, beating a target of 26% by 2020. This increased effort to reduce emissions is aided by projects such as the installation of solar panels at Loxley House and will allow the council to continue to reduce its carbon footprint.

Nottingham Labour has also led the council to increase green energy usage in a number of other ways, such as investing in a new fleet of electric buses and also Leader of the Council, Councillor Jon Collins has signed up to UK100 – a commitment alongside several other UK towns and cities to ensure that Nottingham has 100% clean energy usage by 2050.

Nottingham Labour is delivering on its green energy commitments and will make sure that Nottingham continues to take big steps to reduce its carbon footprint and promote green energy.

The £9m Gap

Let us start by defining the problem and with three very significant facts.

First, there have been weekly declarations of black alerts at Nottingham University Hospitals. A black alert is when there are no spare beds at the hospital for incoming emergency cases.

Second, nationally there has been a 40% increase in bed blocking, when people can’t leave hospital for want of care at home, which for the most part is provided by councils.

Third, it costs £2500 to keep a patient in a hospital bed on average, and £450 to care for the same patient at home.

So the logical and practical thing to do would be to increase the amount of cash available to councils. This would allow councils to relieve the pressure on hospitals and effectively to save money.

But this has not happened. Indeed the opposite has been the case. Councils, including Nottingham, have not only had to cater for an ever increasing number of elderly and disabled. They have not only had to find additional money for the minimum wage. But the very budgets we use to pay for services like adult care have been substantially reduced by the very government which is expecting us to do more. So, this year in Nottingham, there is a £10m gap, and this is simply to keep the service going.

This is not just a Nottingham phenomenon, it is happening across England. The Government’s response has been belated this year, as it was last year, and it has been to try and bridge some of the gap by requesting an increase of 3% in the council tax.

I have two things to say about this.

First, this 3% levy will still leave a £7m gap so is inadequate. Second, resorting to council tax rises is unsustainable, especially in poorer areas. Poorer areas have a lower council tax base but a higher demand for adult care. So the council tax rises are far more punitive and far less able to cover the costs than in better off areas.

This means that councils all over the country are left with a problem:  do is they increase the council tax knowing it is unfair, regressive and not fit for purpose and should be funded centrally: or are they  prepared to see a service for the most vulnerable elderly and disabled deteriorate, and bed blocking in hospitals increase further still.

The whole situation reveals a real failure of planning and coordination by central Government.

It took until the last minute for government to realise the problem in 2016 and announce the 2% council tax – a levy which given the magnitude of the problem, is nothing more than a sticking plaster. Far from tackling the problem with a longer term solution, it has simply repeated the exercise with yet another 3% plaster in 2017. This tells me they have no plan. To have no plan when the NHS is in crisis and the crisis was so predictable and when it actually costs more not to provide for council adult service, is a dereliction of duty.

All I can say at this stage is that we in this council will do our utmost to keep the service going. It will be a priority; but will be at the expense of other services and, if we can come to arrangements with the Local Clinical Commissioning group which we will have to, it will be at the expense of other parts the NHS.

But in the end, there has to be a long term solution and that solution has to include more money; and more money means more tax to pay for it. I would start with corporation tax but that is my view.

What is clear is that we can’t go on as a nation with the immature approach we have; that decent key public services can be provided on the back of ever increasing number of efficiencies and we do not have to pay.

In my view we are past the point of relying on efficiencies some time ago. It’s just that government hasn’t realised it and virtually every council, every hospital and thousands of patients are now seeing the consequences.

 

Cllr Graham Chapman

Deputy Leader, Nottingham City Council