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Nottingham

Nottingham City Council: Councillors refuse to approve budget cuts proposals

Nottingham Labour councillors refused to support proposed budget cuts as the authority looks to close a £53m gap.

Nottingham City Council’s officers have been proposing to make cuts to jobs, youth services, community centres, the libraries service and public transport in a bid to close a £53m gap in its budget for 2024/25.

The budget hole comes on top of an in-year gap of £23m, which led to the council’s chief finance officer issuing a Section 114 notice in November, effectively declaring bankruptcy.

In total 554 full-time equivalent jobs could be lost under the proposals, while a further council tax rise of five per cent is also planned.

During an Executive Board meeting at the Council House on Tuesday, February 13, councillors said they could not recommend the budget report and abstained from voting on the cuts.

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However, the legal requirement for the authority to set a balanced budget means council officers will still have to bring forward the proposals for final approval at a formal meeting of the Full Council on March 4.

Explaining the situation Cllr David Mellen (Lab), the leader of the council, said: “Today’s paper asked us to recommend the budget, we weren’t in a position in all conscience to recommend a budget in which we’ve had little part in, particularly in agreeing which proposals come forward, because the Government, through their agents the improvement board, insisted that everything comes forward.

“At the meeting in March when we make a decision on the budget we hope there might be further changes as we’ve seen this afternoon, but we will have to make a decision to set a balanced budget. It will be separate from what happened this afternoon which was not about setting a balanced budget but about recommending the budget or not.”

Asked if the council could vote against the budget, Cllr Mellen added: “I think there will be legal consequences, there will be political consequences and in reality, with uncertainty about commissioners if the council did that wholesale then the Government would certainly make their decision to impose commissioners.

“I am part of the Labour Group and we will have further discussions about that, taking advice in various quarters from senior people in the Labour Party but also from lawyers as to what our position is.”

A consultation on the plans ran for several weeks between December and January, during which more than 5,400 people responded.

In response officers managed to change the proposals in “small ways”, including finding money to retain Linkbus services, including Easylink, keeping real-time information at bus stops as well as saving the Queens Drive and Racecourse Park and Ride sites from closure.

However, on the instruction of the Improvement and Assurance Board (IAB), appointed upon the collapse of Robin Hood Energy, council officers had to suggest every possible saving to set a balanced budget.

Robin Hood Energy was recently cited as one reason for the lack of reserves the council was able to fall back on.

Yet, even with the savings the budget gap cannot be filled, meaning the budget can only be set if the Government grants the council more funding in the form of a mechanism called Exceptional Financial Support.

It would be split into up to £25m for the current year, and up to £40m for the next, and will come in the form of loans and special permission to raise money from council assets to spend it on day-to-day operational costs, rather than a grant.

During the meeting executive councillors described the proposals as “devastating”.

They said high inflation, caused by the Liz Truss Government, soaring costs and demand in social care and homelessness and reduced Government funding, by around £100m a year since 2013, is to blame.

Tuesday’s meeting was proceeded by a protest from campaign group Save Our Services, with union representatives, residents and staff members gathering in Old Market Square around 1pm.

Cllr Linda Woodings (Lab), the portfolio holder for social care, said: “To me this feels like a holding budget, we are holding on for a Labour Government to come back and rescue local government finance.

“We are drowning here, we have been drowning for a long time and this year the cuts have really cut us to the bone and beyond. I’m not convinced these savings will save us money, I think they will cost us more money.”

Cllr Steve Battlemuch (Lab), portfolio holder for property, added: “These are all things nobody wants to see in the city.

“These are all things that make the city a worse place to live and work.”

The final budget will return for final approval at Full Council in March.

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