Deputy Leader “disappointed” by Government rush for face to face meetings

Cllr Sally Longford has  written to the Government regarding their decision not to extend legislation that allows local authorities to hold meetings remotely, causing concern for council staff and councillors who have either not been vaccinated or are clinically vulnerable;

In a letter on March 25, Regional Growth and Local Government Minister Luke Hall MP told English council leaders that the remote meeting provision in the Local Authorities and Police and Crime Panels (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 expires on May 7 would expire.

The Government’s rush back means there is a very little time for local authorities to make provision to ensure there is appropriate space and infrastructure for face to face meetings to happen safely, adding costs that would be better spent in other areas. With many people in the city and the country still not vaccinated now is not the time to put the progress in fighting Covid at risk by rushing back to face to face meeting.

Writing in her letter Cllr Sally Longford said “We are all very disappointed to hear that the ability to hold remote meetings will not be extended beyond 7 May 2021. We would request that consideration be given to extending the regulations for a further six months in order to give more of a lead in to the step back to face-to-face meetings.”

Sally also reflected on the success of remote meeting over the last 12 months, highlighting that “remote meetings have enabled the public to more easily view real time debate and discussion regarding matters that are important to them and their community. A return to face-to-face meetings will inevitably reduce public “attendance”.

The Government’s rush to return to face to face council meetings is the latest in a number of ill-judged and last minute announcements throughout the pandemic, including:

Cllr Longford said that this latest Government decision was again being made in haste and is part of a pattern of poor decision making. She ended by saying “I hope we don’t repent at leisure, another Government U turn would be greatly appreciated.”

Despite this being an issue for all council colleagues in Nottingham and an issue for all local authorities in England, the Conservative Group on Nottingham City Council declined to sign the letter. You can read the letter in full here.

Nottingham City Council Budget 2021/22

Today Nottingham Labour will agree a package of budget proposals to establish a sustainable financial footing amid the Covid crisis.

This budget comes during an extremely difficult time for the people of Nottingham, the nation as a whole and the council. The impacts of Covid have been devastating. The health effects coupled with the economic situation has dealt a blow to many of our residents. During this most difficult time for our City the council has stepped up to support our most vulnerable residents and taken on new responsibilities ranging from getting every rough sleeper into safe accommodation to administering tens of millions of pounds worth of business grants to help small employers through the pandemic.

Nottingham City Council has had to make over £271m of budget savings between 2010/11 and 2019/20, and during the current pandemic has had to deal with £25.9m unreimbursed Covid response costs and loss of income. We are having to take difficult decisions in this budget which includes £15.6m of savings.

Proposals include some service changes, as well as a workforce reduction of 272 full-time equivalent posts – 109 of which have been held vacant. We will also be implementing the Government’s proposed 3% social care precept towards the rising costs of care services for elderly and vulnerable adults, which now accounts for over 35% of the council’s net budget.

Over the last couple of months we have been listening to the feedback on draft budget proposals and will be making a few changes as a result. We will be:

  • Scrapping the staffing reduction to the Missing Children’s Team.
  • Scrapping the proposed 30p charge for public toilets in the City.
  • Continuing the grants to arts and cultural venues with a much smaller 15% funding reduction rather than the 37% that had been considered.

There are many proposals in today’s budget that we are bringing reluctantly. To avoid similar decisions in the future we need the Government to change course. We will be using Full Council today to call on the Government to urgently address a number of issues which will be significant for the Council’s budget and financial stability over the coming years including:

  • The need to bring forward the promised Green Paper on Adult Social Care with a funding model that does not rely on continued increases in Council tax
  • Services for vulnerable children where provider pricing nationally is spiralling – Nottingham City Council is facing an estimated additional cost pressure of more than £12m over the coming year 
  • Further support for businesses and employment services which will be

You can watch Full Council here.

Chancellor urged to use budget to tackle the ever widening divide between the South of England and the rest of the country

The Chancellor has the opportunity in his budget to tackle some of the long standing economic and social issues that are holding back towns and cities across the Midlands and the North. He and his Party has spoken much of levelling up, but over the past decade of successive Conservative Governments, inequality across the country has risen and a number of long standing issues have been left unchecked.

As Nottingham and the rest of the country looks to emerge from the Covid crisis it’s more important than ever that policy and action from the Government matches the rhetoric.

The Covid effect on the UK has been significantly worse than all of our comparator nations, both in terms of the economic downturn and the Covid death rate. Covid has exposed significant wealth and health inequalities that are sadly more pronounced in the UK than most other developed nations.

The Chancellor has an opportunity now to deal with some of the big structural issues that have been damaging to the health and wealth of vast swathes of the population for far too long. I’d urge the Chancellor to use his budget to begin to deal with regional inequality, health inequality, skills inequality and wealth inequality as well as investing in sustainability and environmental projects.

My key asks of the Chancellor:

  • Make the £20 Universal Credit uplift permanent
  • More investment in regional transport infrastructure. The East Midlands has the lowest transport infrastructure in the country at just £268 per head in 2019 compared to £903 per head in London. 
  • Give a pay increase to Britain’s heroic key workers. Our front line key workers such as care workers, nurses, bin lorry crews and park rangers are the true heroes of the Covid crisis and they deserve much more than a pay freeze that will see their income reduce in real terms.
  • Stop the vast majority of Council Tax increases that come from the Government’s adult social care precept by introducing a new, national funding formula for care services for the elderly. For many years Government has committed to introduce a new system of funding, but to date this hasn’t happened. The effect of the 3% adult social care precept is that council tax bills continue to rise at a time when many households are already struggling with their finances.
  • Reform business rates urgently and extend the business rates holiday so that businesses have the ability to recover as Covid restrictions ease. For too long high street traders have been punished while online businesses are effectively incentivised unnecessarily. Right now retailers and hospitality businesses with buildings on our high streets in towns and city centres across the country are fighting for survival. The unfairness of the business rates system must be tackled to protect businesses and jobs.
  • Stop the cuts to council services that are happening across the country by honouring the pledge to refund councils in full for the costs of Covid. At this very moment Councils are having to balance their budgets for the next financial year whilst still in the midst of the pandemic and the social and economic consequences of it. Key workers are losing their jobs and essential local public services are under threat of cuts or closure because of the combination of reductions in Government funding over the past decade plus the significant unreimbursed costs of Covid. In Nottingham the unfunded Covid cost currently stands at £29million for this financial year alone.  With Councils legally obliged to set balanced budgets with no deficit each and every year there is no way out of service and job cuts without Government support and right now is the worst possible time to inflict further damage to local communities. 

The Chancellor has the ability to tackle many of these long standing issues in his budget. There are huge opportunities post Covid, but the Chancellor must act to reform the policies that hold far too many communities back. I know that many people will be watching closely to see if he does.  

Councillor Sam Webster,
Portfolio Holder for Finance at Nottingham City Council 

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Nottingham Pension Fund Must Divest from Fossil Fuels

One of the actions of Nottingham City Council’s Carbon Neutral Action Plan is to campaign for divestment and move the Nottinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme away from fossil fuels investments. This is why ahead of their Annual General Meeting tomorrow I submitted a question on behalf of City members of the scheme, and urged the Fund to commit to consult with its members on a divestment strategy and timeline before their next AGM. This is essential to ensure the long term sustainability of the Fund and to play it’s part in the prevention of catastrophic climate change.

The Pension Fund covers over 300 members including Nottingham City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, the District Councils and many other organisations who are generally non-profit making, or are undertaking a service which was, or could be carried out by the Local Authority. It is controlled by County Councillors and the City Council has no voting rights on the Pension Fund.  

I know that the primary responsibility of the Pension Fund is to protect the financial benefits of the scheme, and now that there is growing evidence that fossil fuel investments are performing less well than comparators it is the time to grasp the divestment nettle. Currently Nottinghamshire Pension Fund holds at least £170m in fossil fuel company shares and has no investments in sustainable, low carbon or renewable energy equity funds.

Given over 1300 institutions worldwide have already committed to divestment, including at least 10 UK local government pension funds and a large number of UK universities and faith organisations, it is time for Nottinghamshire to catch up and  do its bit for a sustainable future.

You can watch the Nottinghamshire Pension Fund AGM live on Youtube from tomorrow at 10:30am. Further information about the agenda of the meeting and those in attendance can be found on the Nottinghamshire County Council website.

Covid Budget Consultation Launched By City Council

Today Nottingham City Council is launching a consultation on its budget for 2021/22 and it comes at an extremely difficult time for the people of Nottingham, the nation as a whole and the council. The impact of Covid has been and continues to be devastating in many ways. The health effects of the pandemic coupled with the economic situation has dealt a blow to many of our residents.

Nottingham City Council has had to make over £270m of budget savings since 2010 and during the current pandemic has had to deal with £28.4million of unreimbursed Covid-related costs in this financial year. Budget saving proposals total £15.6million.

These are challenges shared by most councils with the majority of the UKs largest cities facing significant budget gaps:

  • Manchester City Council – £50 million
  • Leeds City Council – £118 million
  • Newcastle City Council – £32 million
  • Sheffield City Council – £60 million

Smaller councils are also facing similar challenges:

  • Bolton – £40 million
  • St Helens – £22 million
  • Stoke-on-Trent £14.4 million

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.’

Despite this, the council has worked hard to protect frontline services that people have valued so much during the pandemic. During this most difficult time for our City the council has stepped up to support our most vulnerable residents and taken on new responsibilities ranging from getting every rough sleeper into safe accommodation to administering tens of millions of pounds worth of business grants to help small employers through the pandemic.

Thousands of key workers work either directly or indirectly for the council, from care workers and bin lorry crews to bus drivers and school catering staff. Our key workers have stepped up to help people through this crisis. We wouldn’t have come through it without them. But they are being let down by the Conservatives who despite promising to stand shoulder to shoulder with local authorities have failed to properly fund the cost of covid to councils. As the council has a legal duty to balance its budget every year a number of difficult proposals are being proposed including a reduction in the number of Community Protection Officers, closure of one leisure centre and rationalising the link bus network. 

You can read more about the 21/22 budget here.

Cllr Sam Webster,
Portfolio Holder for Finance at Nottingham City Council

Nottingham Labour Councillors call on Government to retain £20 a week increase for Universal Credit

Today Nottingham Labour councillors call on the Government to  retain the £20 a week increase to Universal Credit made at the beginning of the pandemic and extend the payment to claimants of legacy benefits who are currently excluded from the additional support.

There are roughly 35,000 people on Universal Credit in Nottingham. These are people that were already struggling before the pandemic and the economic consequences of the lockdown has made life harder for them. The Government was right to help mitigate the this hardship last year with an increase to Universal Credit payments of £20 a week.

Reversing this will hit those already most in need and result in more debt, more rent arrears and greater reliance on food banks for many people in Nottingham. As unemployment across the country hits record highs and incomes are increasingly stretched, it is essential there is an adequate support system for those that need it.

The government needs to urgently reconsider its planned cut.

Letter from Cllr David Mellen to the PM on COVID Tiers

Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing ahead of the Government’s anticipated announcement on Thursday, allocating local areas to the new tier system, to reduce the spread of Covid-19 in England.

It is clear that strong measures will continue to be needed once we come out of the current national lockdown restrictions on 2 December, to ensure we keep people safe and well.

However, it is vital that careful consideration is given to ensuring the right areas are placed in the right tiers. While we welcome the way the three tiers recognise that different areas require different approaches to managing the virus, we believe that Nottingham City Council is uniquely placed to understand the best interests of its citizens.

Last month, Nottingham was placed in tier 2 before being stepped up to tier 3, alongside our partners in the neighbouring Nottinghamshire County Council. At that time, we had one of the highest rates of Covid-19 in the country. Since then, we have seen a significant and sustained reduction in the rate of Covid-19 in Nottingham City, with 40 consecutive days of falling Covid cases and counting. We now sit below the national average for rates per 100,000 population and are ranked 121st Lower Tier Local Authority nationally. I’m sure you would agree this is a dramatic and impressive turnaround.

Our rate is now 50 per cent lower than when we were last placed into tier 3. We believe our sustained lower rate of Covid-19 should be reflected in the way Nottingham is allocated a tier this time around.

Our fall in cases of Covid-19 is a reflection of the hard work which has taken place, along with neighbouring councils, the police, businesses and our city’s two universities – as well as with the local NHS. All organisations have united in a shared response to reducing the spread of the virus.

It is also, of course, attributable to the efforts of our local communities, and their support in adhering to the guidelines and restrictions in place. We feel that people in Nottingham have worked hard to bring down the rate of Covid-19 in our communities and among our older population – and that our position in the tier system should reflect this decrease.

We know that ongoing restrictions will continue to have a significant impact on our businesses, our hospitality sector and our communities. It is vital the right decisions are made for our city.

We would like the opportunity to build on Nottingham’s successful partnership work in a way that allows us more freedom to reopen key parts of our economy: to keep restaurants and indoor entertainment venues open and to ensure our city can begin to reopen in a way that is safe, supported and protected.

I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this further.

Yours sincerely
Cllr David Mellen
Leader, Nottingham City Council

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