No ‘dramatic cuts’ expected in coming years at Nottinghamshire County Council, finance chairman says

Nottinghamshire County Council does not expect to make any dramatic cuts to manage its spending and has its finances “in a good state”, the authority’s finance committee chairman has said.

Councillor Richard Jackson, who represents Toton, Chilwell and Attenborough for the Conservatives, says the authority is spending money “as carefully as possible” and has built up a £17 million Covid reserve to shore up any additional demands in the winter.

The councillor says it is unclear at this stage whether council tax will be increased next year to manage the pressures from the pandemic, but believes the authority has got the “flexibility to fund what we need to fund”.

It comes ahead of the Government’s Budget and spending review next week, which will outline and determine levels of local government spending and guide the authority on whether it needs to raise precepts in 2022.

Mr Jackson said: “Instinctively, we always want to keep any council tax increases as low as possible.

“But at the same time, we’ve got to balance all the challenges we’ve got in funding our services.

“Nobody likes putting council tax up and nobody likes seeing their bills go up. I just want to reassure people we’re spending money as carefully as possible.

“We’re balancing keeping taxes low with keeping services good.”

The authority’s budget of more than £1 billion is made up of £367.6m in council tax and £125.6m from local government grants, as well as other grants.

The Government Budget is expected to reveal the level of grant funding councils will receive from Government, and whether it will be enough to prevent a hike in taxes.

The council currently has outstanding borrowing totalling hundreds of millions of pounds, used in the past to fund capital expenditure like the recent £100 million school rebuilding scheme and £25 million transport investment.

Additional borrowing of about £70 million will also be needed by the end of this financial year to meet capital spending demands, documents show.

Mr Jackson describes this as “reborrowing on our existing borrowing”, equating to about 10 per cent of the council’s revenue budget but remaining “affordable”.

The figure raised alarm in last week’s finance committee, with opposition councillors fearing the council is “drowning in debt”.

However, Mr Jackson says plans are in place to bring it down, partly by funding capital spending through the sale of “surplus” assets following the pandemic.

While it is unclear at this stage which assets will be sold, the council expects to provide more details in its Investing in Nottinghamshire review, due before councillors at the start of November.

“We have got our finances in a good state,” he added.

“We had a peer review a year or so ago, which found us well-managed financially.

“We’ve built up reserves over several years to smooth out any pressures that come up as we come out of the pandemic.

“Our services will continue. We’re not expecting any dramatic cuts in the coming years, and we’re making the whole organisation as efficient as possible.”

Ahead of next week’s Government Budget and spending review, the finance chairman says the authority wants to see an existing fair funding campaign “recognised” by Whitehall.

The East Midlands has typically received a lower per-head investment compared with other regions in the UK, Government data shows, and Cllr Jackson says the authority feels it has “always been underfunded”.

He adds the prospect of devolution in Nottinghamshire in the form of a ‘county deal’ would be a “brilliant opportunity”, bringing more avenues for funding and additional local control for services.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to confirm his Budget on Wednesday, October 27.