Channel 4: Spending cuts – axe falls on Nottinghamshire
Where will the axe fall in “austerity Britain”? Channel 4 News Midlands Correspondent Darshna Soni looks at Nottinghamshire County Council which is pushing through some of the toughest measures yet.
Around the country the effects of spending cuts are beginning to hit home and councils are feeling the pain most acutely.
Responsible for frontline services ranging from archaeology to zoology local councils are responsible for many of the things we take for granted, and others we may not even realise are there.
But as local government is asked to cut spending by as much as £1.9bn across the UK everyone will be affected – by reduced refuse services, the closure of local leisure centres or the reduction in subsidies for buses.
Channel 4 News Midlands Correspondent Darshna Soni has been looking at Nottinghamshire County Council which is advocating some of the toughest measures yet.
The recently-elected Conservative council is in power for the first time in 28 years, and it is casting fresh eyes on spending. Council chiefs say they will identify cuts that will save £120m over the next four years.
Proposed savings in Nottinghamshire
£10m if savings to services provided for the elderly and disabled adults
Axing the Dial-A-Ride taxi service for the elderly and disabled to save £364,000
Selling 13 residential care homes in the next two years to save £1.65m
Closing three household waste recycling centres
Shutting four day care centres
Bringing in self service in 15 libraries to save £525,000
Reducing the number of times bus shelters are cleaned
Privatisation features prominently in Nottinghamshire’s strategy; it has already invited private companies to tender for contracts for its services. The county spends £360m and employs 3,000 people in the services it is considering privatising.
It is pledging that any employee working in a job that is transferred to another supplier, will transfer with the role. But such reassurance is not enough for Unison.
Nottingham union branch organiser Mike Scott told Channel 4 News the union sees itself as the “guardian of public services” and will work to protect its members and the public alike.
“Contracts are, in theory, protected under this kind of privatisation. The Tupe regulations ensure that terms and conditions are transferred to a new workplace.
“But these regulations are very easy for employers to get round after the transfer has taken place. We can say with confidence, that under these changes both the public and the employees will be worse off.”
Much of the pressure on local councils has come from an increasingly ageing population, but even social care is not safe from the chop.
The Hunts sold their home last year to pay for a nursing home. Now they have been told the facility is to go private and they are worried about the quality of care they will now receive.
The council says it will continue to take responsibility for all its services, manage the providers and remain accountable.
The Hunt family
Mr and Mrs Hunt never wanted to move into a care home, but when they were both affected by illness last year they say they were “grateful for a port in a storm.”
They’ve been married for 58 years and only ever apart when Mr Hunt served in the RAF during the second world war. Now they’re living in two adjoining rooms. They say the staff at their residential home are all “marvellous and go the extra mile.” On the morning I met them, Mrs Hunt had been taken out on a trip to the hairdressers for a set and blow dry.
But the couple are deeply worried about what will happen to them in the future. They showed me a letter from Nottinghamshire County Council, telling them it had approved the sale of all of its thirteen care homes. The council says that services won’t be affected and any money saved will be re-invested into services for the elderly.
If the home is transferred to the private sector, would it make a difference? Mr and Mrs Hunt believe it would. Mrs Hunt spent a short time in a private home and says the staff weren’t paid as well, morale was low and it affected the quality of care. They are now in their 80s and don’t want to face the upheaval of possibly having to move again.
“I’m wondering how we’re going to be fixed,” Mr Hunt told me. “We had to sell the house on the instructions of the county council to keep in here, so if it’s privately owned, what will they want to do? Stick the price up like everybody else.”
Following a career in the private sector, Reg Adair, Nottinghamshire’s cabinet member for finance, says too many people have come to rely on the state.
He told Channel 4 News: “It shouldn’t be all about the council and the public service looking after people.
He added: “The council is probably over-burdened with duties that it has to carry and therefore we need to relinquish some of the duties off to other parts of society so they do them for themselves.”
Local government funding
Councils are responsible for own budgets. Their revenue is raised from different means, around a quarter comes from council tax, the rest comes from central government grants and business rates. Councils also raise their own revenue through a range of methods from planning fees to car parking charges.
The Local Government Association points out that there are a great deal of statutory services that councils must provide, like social and child protection services, free bus travel for the over-60s, and social care to those with the greatest need.
In this way, much of the money allocated to councils is ring fenced for certain projects. However councils do still have control over their spending and many of the services they provide, and it’s likely we will all feel the effects.