I’m determined that in the face of rising costs, we do not get caught in the cycle of cutting services and raising taxes, year on year. That’s not sustainable, and it’s not fair for residents.
Nottinghamshire County Council has managed to come in on Budget for 2022/3, despite 11% inflation and additional costs of over £24m to deliver services. That’s taken a huge effort, and is quite impressive to be honest, to be in a position to say we’re making no cuts to front line services despite that pressure.
Because of that work, we’ve been able to look beyond 2023 and to balance the budget for several years, meaning that residents can be assured that services, like children’s centres and social care, won’t go any where.
To make services sustainable for the long run, you have to make long term changes, tackling the root causes of why people end up relying on care services. We need to change what we deliver, to do more in communities to help families early on when problems emerge, instead of just picking up the pieces when everything goes wrong. However, if we’re constantly battling to fund basic things each year, we’re not going to have the capacity to make those changes. That’s why we’ve taken a sensible, long term approach to our services; delivering improvement in key areas instead of cuts, and getting out of areas where we don’t need to be, like reducing our office buildings from 17 down to 9 so far.
I’ve been saying this to national government too. During last year’s leadership contests you’ll have heard me say that I think we need to have a proper conversation about what Government is actually there for. I think we need to do less, but do it properly. To focus on the key priority services that everyone should expect to receive, and step away from some of the other stuff that’s less vital. I think that’s the only way you’re every going to be able to deliver quality services in a sustainable way.
There’s a lot of talk about our health services right now, and the NHS, just for example. Despite the fact that the budget that has gone up by more than 50% in the last decade, we still have the same conversation constantly about how it’s “under-funded” and can’t adequately provide services.
The issue is more complex than that. A 50% budget increase shouldn’t leave us in that position, except at the same time the demand, the complexity of people’s needs, and frankly our expectations of health services, have also gone through the roof. Extra funding will continue to not touch the sides so long as demand continues to rise exponentially as it has done the last 20 years. I don’t think anyone can justify continually pumping in tens-of-billions of pounds every decade until it miraculously sorts itself out, at the expense of other areas like education.
That’s why we need to level with people, and have an honest conversation about how we ensure our public services can deliver the core things that people expect in a sustainable way. That might mean there are some things they can’t do any more.
For the record, this isn’t Government policy, it’s just my view. My view is that it’s simply dishonest to tell people, as Keir Starmer did at last week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, that we can just go back to a time when our population was smaller, younger, distributed around the country differently, and when demands on services were far lower than they are now.
In Nottinghamshire we’re having a frank conversation about what is needed to make Council services work for the long term, and we’re delivering change. I think we need to do the same in national Government too.