Nottingham City Council has been issued with new instructions relating to its budget-setting process from the Improvement and Assurance Board (IAB).
The new instructions allow officers to bring forward savings proposals without the agreement of the majority Labour group of councillors when the budget for 2024/25 is set at the next formal City Council meeting on Monday 4 March.
Cllr David Mellen, Leader of Nottingham City Council, said:
“I’m disappointed that the IAB has chosen to issue these instructions that give no flexibility to councillors to look at how savings proposals might be shaped or adapted to reduce the impact on our citizens and our communities.
“In the past, councillors have worked closely with officers to make sure the needs of Nottingham people are factored in to what have been many challenging years of making difficult decisions in order to set balanced budgets under this Tory Government.
“That process was continuing at pace for the next financial year, with councillors actively engaging in discussions around savings proposals.
“However, the new IAB instruction will effectively tie the hands of councillors to shape how these cuts will be made. We will be presented by officers with a final set of officer-agreed proposals for the City Council meeting on 4 March. Councillors will be faced with only two options: accept the proposals in their entirety or fail to set a balanced budget which is our legal duty.
“This is not where I or any of my fellow Nottingham Labour councillors wanted to be. By taking away our ability to shape these budget proposals, the IAB has taken away the democratic electoral mandate that was given to Nottingham Labour in last year’s local elections – in which we gained 51 of the 55 council seats. The people of Nottingham have asked for our voice to be heard in this process.
“The recent budget consultation that concluded in January had a record number of public responses, with more than 5,000 people giving their views on the proposals put forward by officers. I believe there is limited scope for these views to be encompassed in our decisions.
“Setting a budget has always been challenging – but Nottingham Labour has acted in good faith and in the best interests of the citizens we represent over the years. This has not always been easy. Like all councils, we now get less money from the Government – approx. £100m less each year in real terms. Making cuts and reductions in our services has become, regrettably, business-as-usual now.
“Make no mistake: this is a cruel and uncaring Government that has presided over a heartless and unnecessary policy of austerity that has brought this country to its knees. The needs of the vulnerable and the poor has been secondary to the fortunes of the Conservative party.”
The new IAB instructions state:
New Finance Instruction(s) for NCC – effective from 25th January 2024
Flowing directly from the existing instructions – namely, ‘2.1,Approval of wholly realistic plans and budgets’ and ‘2.2, Establish and Maintain a sound and prudent reserves policy and practice’ – the IAB further instruct NCC as follows:
- The s151 officer, after consultation with the Chief Executive and fellow Corporate Directors, shall present his best professional view on a draft budget for 2024/25 in line with normally expected professional standards but which in particular maximises the level of savings options that Corporate Directors believe can be delivered and thus quantifies the minimum budget imbalance relying on the bid to Government for ‘Exceptional Financial Support’
- Subject only to any professionally required changes determined by the s151 officer, the draft budget for 2024/25 as defined in 1 above, shall be presented and recommended to the Full budget setting Council meeting for its approval.