Thursday 25 July 2024
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Council tax rises likely as county budget shortfall £24million next year

Soaring inflation and rising costs will mean Nottinghamshire County Council needs to find an extra £24m to balance its books next year.

The shortfall could be made up through savings and council tax increases, the cabinet member in charge of finance has indicated.

Cost rises include rising fees to place children into foster care, surging prices for major projects, record-high gas, electricity and fuel, and a projected pay rise for council workers, costing an estimated £1,925 per employee.

However, the authority’s leader has said the council is not in financial “armageddon” and can weather the storm of both ongoing and future challenges.

It means the council could need to take “difficult” decisions in balancing its books next year.

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The authority insists nothing has been decided yet on how this will be addressed but has said action will be taken to avoid cuts to frontline services.

It follows some other local authorities speaking out about serious financial pressures as the current inflation rate of 9.9 per cent causes costs to increase from all angles.

Neighbouring Leicestershire County Council last month warned it could need to make drastic cuts unless further Government intervention is offered.

Ashfield District Council also revealed last week that it is facing a £3m shortfall but says all the “easy options” to claw back cash have already been taken.

And commenting on Nottinghamshire County Council’s financial pressures, Councillor Richard Jackson (Con), portfolio holder for finance, revealed similar pressures are being faced at County Hall.

He confirmed the authority needs to find £59m between 2023 and 2026, with £24m needed in 2023/24 alone.

He said this will be made up through savings and tax rises but called for the Government to bring forward a fair funding review to help the authority in managing its budgets and to provide more cash.

He said: “Over three years we need to find £59m and next year it’s £24m.

“It will come through a combination of savings and council tax. We’re mindful, in the current circumstances, that people are relying on our services more than ever.

“We’re looking at whatever we can do internally to assess how we deliver them without reducing services.

“The fair funding review absolutely needs to come forward. We’re waiting for the Chancellor to say what the Government’s thinking is in terms of additional funding.

“Certainly, local government generally needs more money from central government and we need the fair funding review to give us our fair share.”

Cllr Ben Bradley (Con), the council’s leader and Mansfield’s MP, said changes to the way services are managed could include a shift in focus on areas like children’s services and social care back into a community setting.

This would include the authority being “more preventative” to reduce demand for its acute services.

Other targeted changes, he says, will include offering “proactive”, community-led services in areas that need them the most, helping to reduce long-term need and spending in its budgets.

However, despite saying the authority is in a “reasonable” position compared with other councils, he adds further clarity over future budgets can not be found until Government outlines support.

“At this point in time, we’d have to look at the things we would need to change or get rid of, to stop doing, if there is this gap,” he said.

“Nobody thinks this is easy, the cost of things has gone up by up to 10 per cent and we don’t have that cash – and that’s not just councils, that’s everybody.

“But I don’t want residents to think they should be worried because we have a responsibility to make sure that’s not the case.

“There are certainly councils in a much worse financial state than Nottinghamshire and I’m not going to stand up and say it’s ‘armageddon’ because it’s not.”

Commenting on public spending issues, a Treasury spokesperson said: “While driving economic growth and tackling high inflation, we will continue to take a responsible and disciplined approach to spending.

“It’s more important than ever that departments work efficiently to manage within existing budgets, focusing on unlocking growth and delivering high-quality public services.”

•  Ofsted recommends how Nottinghamshire County Council can improve social work services

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