Conservative council leader calls on Government for more funding to save ‘important’ services

Cllr Ben Bradley MP, leader of Nottinghamshire County Council and Conservative MP for Mansfield
By Joe Locker, Local Democracy Reporter

The leader of Conservative-run Nottinghamshire County Council has signed a letter to the Government calling for more funding for local authorities as budgets are squeezed.

Thirty-three council leaders who form the County Councils Network (CCN), including 26 Conservative leaders, have co-signed a letter to Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, to ask for more funding.

In the letter council leaders welcomed the announcements on devolution deals, but went on to say Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement did little to address the “severe and mounting pressures facing well-run county and unitary authorities.”

CCN says one in 10 member councils were unsure or not confident they can balance their budget this year.

This is expected to increase to four in 10 next year, and six in 10 by 2026.

It comes after Labour-run Nottingham City Council issued a Section 114 notice, effectively declaring bankruptcy, on Wednesday, November 29.

The authority said it was unable to balance its budget this year amid a £23m gap.

While Nottinghamshire County Council is facing a £60m budget gap over the next three years, its leader Cllr Ben Bradley MP (Con) said it would not be going bust.

However, Cllr Bradley says he signed the letter to the Government to avoid having to cut important services in the future.

“It’s my job to make the case for these services,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“Nottinghamshire County Council is not in that boat, we are not going to go bust.

“We have made good decisions which mean we have solid finances, so we are not in that place. But every council is in a position where budgets are squeezed and I don’t want to be in a position where I’ve got to decide which services I want to run and which ones I don’t.

“We’ve got lots of things we do particularly for vulnerable people that are really, really important, so that’s the case we are trying to make to Government.”

Cllr Bradley added the County Council has a stable base and reserves to fall back on.

In Nottingham, a report from the council’s chief finance officer said reserves had been depleted due to past financial decisions including Robin Hood Energy, which cost taxpayers £38m, and unlawful misspending from the Housing Revenue Account, which cost £51m.

The city council says soaring demand for services such as social care, and a rise in homelessness, accounted for 80 per cent of the budget pressures.

The case for additional funding is being made before the local government financial settlement in December, whereby the Government decides how much funding each authority receives.

The CCN is warning the authorities it represents are set to overspend by almost £650m this year due to soaring costs, particularly in children’s social care and home to school transport.

These pressures are contributing to a £4bn funding deficit for member authorities over the next three years.

Coupled with the increase in the National Living Wage, nine in 10 councils in a snap CCN survey said they were now in a “significantly worse” position.

Nottinghamshire County Council recently revealed the costs of the minimum wage increase would add another £5m to its budget.

The letter continues: “There is still an opportunity to rectify the situation at this month’s local government financial settlement.

“We therefore collectively urge you to make the strongest case possible to the Treasury for additional funding focused on children’s social care and home to school transport.

“Failure to provide additional funding would mean England’s largest councils would face the prospect of outlining painful reductions to frontline services, raising council tax to the maximum permitted, and using reserves at unsustainable levels to balance budgets.”

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, said on Tuesday (December 5) the financial settlement for next year would provide an above-inflation increase of £64bn.

Mr Gove will also give evidence to the Commons Levelling Up Committee on Wednesday (December 5).

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