By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter
Struggling residents concerned about the cost of living crisis are bombarding Gedling councillors with pleas for support and advice.
Elected members fear the situation is only going to get worse as recession looks increasingly likely – and they struggle to find the money to fund wage rises for council staff.
The Bank of England today confirmed interest rates will rise to 1.75 per cent – the highest in 27 years – amid rising inflationary pressure.
It warned the recession could begin in the autumn, fuelled by more increases in gas and electricity prices.
Ofgem has announced the energy price cap will now be reviewed every three months, rather than every six, meaning more frequent increases in household bills.
Gedling councillors spoke out during a cabinet meeting on Thursday (August 4), calling for more action from the Government to prevent the situation from worsening.
They say local people are struggling to afford food, clothes and bills – and Government Mininsters should draw up a plan for economic growth.
Councillor Michael Payne (Lab), deputy leader of Gedling Borough Council, said: “We’re heading towards a recession, and I’m seriously concerned about that.
“Councillors have inboxes full of people who are struggling to buy school uniforms, to fill the tank in their cars, to pay heating bills and to buy their weekly shop.
“If we don’t have a plan for growth nationally, public services, businesses and residents are going to feel the strain.
“I find it really, really concerning that we’re back in the position [of a recession] and that, after 12 years, the country is no further forward on our economic position. How’s that going to affect the people in Gedling?”
Cllr John Clarke (Lab), the council’s leader, added: “We’re getting bombarded with questions asking, ‘how do we deal with this?’.
“I know it’s awfully political, but it has to be. It just isn’t fair – there are people out there who are really struggling with this.”
Concerns have also been voiced about how the council will fund a proposed pay rise to help its own staff with rising bills.
The authority had budgeted for a proposed three per cent staff pay award in 2022 – costing a total of around £420,000.
However, it has been met with an alternative proposal of about £1,925 as a flat rate for all staff members – equating to a seven per cent rise on average and more than double the authority’s budget.
Part of this will be offset by a projected £46,500 underspend for the first quarter of 2022/23, which will be put into a contingency pot to address inflationary pressure.
This would be joined by £250,000 previously put into this pot for the same reason, although the council says it would need other underspends to “absorb” pay rises of that size.
“This is the biggest area of concern we’ve got – the whole cost-of-living issue – and we’re having to carefully monitor that with real close scrutiny,” a council spokesperson added.
“It won’t be until the winter months when this truly comes to the fore.”
In response to concerns over the cost of living, a Government spokesperson said Whitehall is taking a “balanced approach” and recognises “people are struggling with rising prices”.
The spokesman added: “We are protecting the eight million most vulnerable families with at least £1,200 of direct payments this year. All households will receive the £400 energy payments and 80 per cent will get the £150 Council Tax rebate.
“Through our £37bn package we have also saved the typical employee over £330 a year through a tax cut, allowing people on Universal Credit to keep £1,000 more of what they earn and in April we significantly increased the National Living Wage to £9.50.”