Save our services by using reserves mountain, say Newcastle Lib Dems

February 25, 2017 3:18 PM

Liberal Democrat councillors in Newcastle will propose a series of changes to Newcastle Council's budget plans at Wednesday's city council meeting, designed to save a number of popular services such as school crossing patrols, individual litter bins in terraced areas, funding for parks maintenance, the current number of recycling centres, and grants to independent leisure centres.

By using a very small percentage of the council's growing pile of reserves (under £2m from over £100m of reserves) the Lib Dems will move a series of amendments to buy time and keep these services going for another year whilst other options can be explored.

Proposals

£675,000 - A 25% reduction in the 17/18 cut to "Continuing care and support to adults with complex or multiple needs" - we believe that £2.7m cut in one year is too ambitious given the amount of service redesign that has to be done to deliver the full programme of savings
£150,000 - No further reduction for 17/18 in Parks funding until the full review and impact of the Parks Trust proposal is known, concluded and implemented
£100,000 - Delete cut in grant for Newcastle Futures for 17/18 until alternative sources of funding are found as part of the wider review of funding to employment and skills organisations that is under way

£189,000 - Defer for one year the removal of all the smaller litter bins across the city (to be changed to a much smaller number of large bins) until the consultation process with members and communities on the number and location of binshas been undertaken
£358,000 - Defer closure of one of the recycling centres until after the reviews of waste management/recycling have been completed.
£154,000 - Defer Community Bins proposal for one year until further consultation takes place and is concluded.

£32,500 - No further reduction in ward budgets for 17/18 until the current review of the Communities Service and the proposal for Community Hubs is complete and recommendations understood and considered
£50,000 - Provide one final year of (reduced) grant support to Newburn Activity Centre and Kenton Park Sports Centre - £25,000 each to support their transition plans instead of taking away all £139,000 of grant in one go
£125,000 All school crossing patrols to remain for 17/18 to allow more time for alternative funding to be explored and put in place and/or for alternative safety measures, such as light-controlled crossings, to be considered and implemented.

"As each of our amendments refers to funding only for 2017/18 then it is acceptable that as one-offs they can be funded from reserves for that year" says Councillor David Faulkner. Lib Dem lead on Finance

Note: The actual year end reserves of the City Council have increased from £55.8m at 31/3/2013 to £81m at 31/3/14, £101.5m at 31/3/15 and £106.3m at 31/3/16. In every one of these years the predicted level of reserves in that year's budget paper for the following year has proved to be a significant underestimate. And in each budget report the words "The Director of Resources considers the planned level of reserves and balances to be adequate" appear. In the budget paper for the February 2016 Cabinet (and March 2016 City Council) the prediction was for reserves of £91.9m as at 31/3/16 and only six weeks later at the year end they were £14.4m more. In that paper, just a year ago, the estimate of the reserves position at 31 March 2017 was £74.3m - now it is estimated to be £32.5m more at £106.8m. We cannot believe that, whatever the degree of risk to the council - including not delivering on its income or savings plans - that it is £32.5m worse than only 12 months ago.