by Cllr Ollie Sykes, Green Party spokesperson on finance
The city council’s projected £8.5m overspend, largely due to increasing demand in Adult’s and Children’s social care, highlights the impossible balancing act that faces ours and other councils as the fifth successive year of government cuts bites ever deeper and into the bone of local services. While responsibility for this lays firmly with those in Westminster who are cynically contracting out the task of managing most severe cuts in post-war history to local councils like ours, decisions made in our own council chamber have also played a part.
While in administration the Greens understood that the £80m savings we achieved through efficiencies and innovation would not balance the books if our government support grant continued to plummet from £104 million in 2012-13 toward a predicted £2m in 2019-20. The ‘wedge of doom’ (see below) graphically illustrates the crisis, with increasing demand on services pulling against year-on-year grant reductions, creating a yawning funding gap.
That’s why we proposed realistic Council Tax increases to narrow this gap and to protect services. Regrettably our Labour colleagues failed to support any increase above 2% and in 2012 allowed a Tory freeze budget to be voted through, blocking our 3.5% proposed rise. If this rise had gone ahead, the Council would have raised an extra £4 million every year since and would now be about £13m better off, with a smaller funding gap and services less under threat.
It is encouraging to see that, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is finally challenging the austerity agenda in Parliament and hopefully this stance will filter down to Labour locally, because we all need to push for a much fairer settlement. We also need to enable a more open conversation across the city to ensure residents can understand and be involved in some difficult choices that may lie ahead.