Letter to Chancellor

Dear Chancellor,

I’m writing to you in anticipation of your Spending Review on 25th November to highlight the chronic underfunding of local services and the potentially devastating funding gap caused by the Covid pandemic.

The combination of a decade of Government austerity and the costs of Covid means that Councils across the country now face appalling choices that cut right to the heart of essential local services.

The huge gaps in funding mean that all across England

  • the jobs of vital key workers are being lost, now
  • local facilities such as community centres, libraries, leisure centres and children’s centres are being earmarked for closure, now
  • those services upon which many of our most vulnerable residents rely are at risk, now

At a time of national crisis, when residents and businesses in our communities so desperately need economic and social support, the cuts that are coming will be catastrophic. I’m urging you to change course.

Even before Covid hit our communities and local economies the Conservative–led Local Government Association (LGA) reported that by 2020, local authorities suffered a ‘reduction to core funding from the Government of nearly £16 billion over the preceding decade. That means that councils have lost 60p out of every £1 the Government had provided to spend on local services in the last eight years.’

Over those years, Nottingham City has already made over £250million of budget savings due to year-on-year Government funding cuts and increases in demand of our care services for older people and vulnerable children.

The Conservative Chair of the LGA recently said: “Many councils were in a difficult financial position before the pandemic hit after a decade of central government funding reductions. They will continue to face demand pressures on day-to-day services – some pre-existing and others made more significant by the impact of COVID-19 – amid substantial income losses, such as from local taxation, fees and charges.”

Although recent additional Government funding to help with the costs of Covid is welcome, here in Nottingham we are trying to cope with over £21million of unfunded Covid costs in this financial year and a Covid budget gap of over £47million in the next financial year.

I would urge you to use your Spending Review to

  • stick to the clear pledge that your Government made, to cover the costs of Covid
  • give Councils a 3 year funding package so they can plan over the medium term
  • properly fund our local key workers, local public facilities such as parks, libraries and leisure centres and fund the additional demands on care services for older people and vulnerable children
  • help local economies to recover rather than impose yet more austerity cuts.

Yours sincerely,
Cllr Sam Webster
Portfolio Holder for Finance, Growth and City Centre
Nottingham City Council

New Council Apartments for Clifton

In March we announced plans to build new homes on unused garage sites to provide much needed affordable places to live for people in Nottingham to live, bring land back into proper use and help regenerate the wider area. I am proud that this week we confirmed that 36 new council apartments will be built by Nottingham City Homes in Clifton on the site of the former Southchurch garages, off Hamilton Court.

Nottingham needs a mix of all different types of housing and due to the high demand for homes for singles and couples in Clifton, these one-bedroom apartments for affordable rent will help meet the needs of local people waiting for a home.

Building, warm, safe, and energy efficient new homes, not only regenerates sites which are no longer fit for purpose, but also encourages investment, creates jobs and helps to support local supply chain businesses, which continues to be an important part of Nottingham’s Covid-19 recovery.

Cllr Linda Woodings,
Portfolio Holder for Housing, Planning and Heritage

Nottingham Businesses Let Down by Government Inconsistency on COVID

Government announcements made on business support during the pandemic have a real impact on the ground which is why it is essential that there is consistency, time to plan and timely, adequate financial support. The Government approach has often fallen short of this with a number of issues for local businesses that we have raised with Government.

Some of the issues raised with me and that I have found most disappointing includes:

  • Gaps in financial support for some businesses, charities, social enterprises and larger businesses as well as free-lance and other workers.
  • A discretionary business support grant scheme that was woefully inadequate and left many organisations without the support they needed
  • Last minute changes to restrictions proving to be costly and almost impossible to manageFunding going to businesses who did not need it while businesses that did need it missed out
  • No additional support during the phase of tier 2 restrictions in Nottingham
  • Announcements by Government followed by long periods with a lack of technical detail
  • Tier 3 only gave hours to respond to the changes required and a lack of definition of rules.

Most frustrating and damaging in terms of business confidence though that there is any kind of plan and forward thinking was the announcement of the second national lockdown only a day after Nottingham was put into tier 3 restrictions by Government.

The Government must remember that business owners have put their lives into building up businesses and growing and creating local jobs. Throughout the pandemic Nottingham Labour councillors  and MPs have been lobbying Government to protect jobs and save good Nottingham businesses from going under and I will continue to make that case on behalf of businesses in our city.

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

Tackling Child Poverty in Nottingham

Children are the most vulnerable group in our society and living in poverty has very negative impacts on children’s health, wellbeing and attainment. I want the best for all children in Nottingham and that is why Nottingham Labour councillors are committed to continuing to address child poverty and strive to make Nottingham a city where all children can achieve their full potential.

There 42,000 children in Nottingham living in families where no adults work or where household income is low.   Many children living in poverty are in working households, where insecure work, stagnant wages and insufficient pay is creating a growing crisis of in work poverty. Many Nottingham households have been pushed below the breadline by changes to welfare, which should act as a safety net, but is failing many Nottingham families, and cuts to vital public services.

COVID has heightened these challenges with the Child Poverty Action Group reporting that 2 out of 5 families have said that they fell into financial hardship during the pandemic. It has also highlighted inequalities with some children having the space, technology and Wi-Fi connectivity to continue their studies from home, while less well-off families struggled with children lacking access to learning and space to study.

The Council has already done lots of work to reduce child poverty in Nottingham; from our commitments to increase the number of children attending good or outstanding schools, to the work of Small Steps Big Changes and the Dolly Parton Imagination Library. There is also a well-established network of social eating projects, food banks and meal provision for those in our city that need it.

Nottingham City Council also stepped in to ensure that food vouchers were made available to families in receipt of means tested free school meals following the Conservative Government’s failure to respond to national calls. I am pleased that over the weekend after much pressure led by Marcus Rashford, the Government has reversed their position and are now providing some support.

In Nottingham we will continue to build on the measures we have put in place and lobby for the resources needed from Government to ensure every child in our city can have the  best start in life.

Cllr Cheryl Barnard,
Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People

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