Notts Cuts Watch #9

Tagged as: austerity councils cuts local_communities
Neighbourhoods: nottingham nottinghamshire
Published by group: GroupNotts Save Our Services

The past week has seen the snow give way to freezing temperatures, but again this has done nothing to stop the onslaught on public services, nor the burgeoning fightback, with even Prince Charles getting caught up in anti-fees protests. Events haven't been quite so exciting in Notttinghamshire, but there's been a lot going on, some of which (but inevitably not all) is recorded below.

If you’ve got a story which hasn’t been picked up elsewhere, email nottssos+watch [at] gmail.com.

Community Centre

The Post reported on Thursday that the Chase Community Centre in St Anns, which closed two years ago, is once again facing an uncertain future. Until 2008, the centre was run by the Chase Action Group (CAG) who pulled out, citing financial difficulties. The centre was then handed over to the city council who leased it to the Renewal Trust (which it should be noted is chaired by council leader Jon Collins).

The lease was for 25 years, albeit with a break clause allowing the trust to leave after one or three years. The trust says it hasn’t been possible to find funding and the four staff employed at the centre will be made redundant at the end of December. Cherry Underwood, Trust executive, told the Post, “Unfortunately, the funding crisis is starting to bite across the voluntary sector and the Renewal Trust has been unable to secure sufficient funding for the Chase Neighbourhood Centre.”

Leisure

According to the Post, “700 Calverton residents have now signed a petition against the planned closure” of Claverton Leisure Centre. Gedling Borough Council plan to close Arnold, Redhill and Calverton Leisure Centres ostensibly in order to build a new one in Arnold. If we can believe the Post, the campaign against the closure is being led by the Calverton Labour Party (Gedling is a Conservative-run authority, although even local Tory MP Mark Spencer is opposed to the plan). Opponent of the closure Mike Hope, told the Post, “The only benefit of this closure is the council will be able to make some money from selling off the land.”

Local MPs

Local MP and Minister for Justice Ken Clarke has been in the news this week after his ministry published a green paper advocating shorter prison sentences. This is actually rather sensible, but predictably didn’t go down well with the hang ’em and flog ’em brigade. That said, there are questions about exactly how much money the proposals will save, which only goes to underline the fact that saving money is a very bad starting point for setting social policy.

Tory MP for Broxtowe Anna Soubry has done a thoroughly shoddy job of representing the posties in her constituency, but has apparently written to Ken Clarke and county council leader Kay Cutts “hi lighting her concerns for Broxtowe Citizens Advice Bureau which is facing a profound crisis in funding which will mean that they will struggle to maintain their existing level of work.” The Tory-run county council is currently consulting on cutting their funding to CAB in the county by two thirds.

Lilian Greenwood MP has criticised the government’s decision to cut funding to the Meadows PFI regeneration scheme in Parliament. In what the Post described as a “hard-hitting section of her speech” Greeenwood “suggested that Samantha Cameron and Miriam Clegg would never know the hardships of living in a run down inner-city estate.” She said, ""The Government claims that we are all in this together. But I don’t imagine Mrs Cameron or Mrs Clegg would struggle with a buggy up three flights of stairs and along a walkway to get home with their shopping bags. I don’t suppose they worry about walking down dark alley ways and through tunnels on their way home at night. And I don’t imagine they have to worry that their windows don’t fit properly, that their flat is cold and damp or their kitchen is falling to pieces." Greenwood lives in Southwell.

Nottingham City Council

The city council has been organising a series of meetings entitled “We asked, You said.” This follows a survey in October in which the council “asked you to tell us which council services are most important to you and where savings can be made,” i.e. “what you want us to cut.” Campaigners have turned up to some of these meetings. Sneinton Against the Cuts went to their local event on Monday and others in Forest Fields went to a meeting in Forest Fields Community Centre on Wednesday, concluding “Forest Fields, and the whole of Nottingham, deserve better than this shower.” Quite.

The council are looking at reducing the range of sports and leisure discounts available to residents. Unfortunately, as Andy of NCC LOLs explains, “it’s a case study of what happens if you don’t get someone who knows what they’re talking about in to help.” The portfolio holder decision (pdf) mangling the current policy and introducing real confusion over who is going to be eligible.

Andy also has some information on possible attacks on the terms and conditions of council workers. His source suggests likely cuts include, “Big reductions to redundancy payments; No longer being paid for first three days off sick; Reducing time on redeployment from 3 to 6 months; and most bizarrely, forcing over 55s to reduce their hours.”

The council’s application for a judicial review into the decision to cut the funding for the Building Schools for the Future PFI scheme was approved last week. On Monday, at a case management hearing, it was agreed that the case would heard in court, alongside similar challenges from Luton, Kent and Waltham Forest, on January 25th.

Nothing gets the tabloids more worked up than the subject of grit. So, inevitably, the Post had a big story about the fact that despite 150 people requesting grit bins for their streets, the council has only provided 40. Jane Urquhart, councillor with responsibility for transport, told the Post “Adding another 150 grit boxes to the list is just money we don’t have.”

Nottinghamshire County Council

The county council claims that they have managed to save £8m since April by changing the way they buy goods and services. This was reported in the Post in an article woefully short on details, making any evaluation of the claims impossible.

The council hopes to save a further £5m a year by bringing in Logica (who describe themselves as a “a business consulting and technology service company”) to install a SAP system for back office processes, at a cost of £7.4m over four years. On their website, Logica claim, “The contract worth £7.4 million over five years will see Logica work with the Council to implement internal shared services using Logica’s unique Local Government Framework approach. SAP ERP will enable support functions such as HR, payroll, finance and procurement to be run with greater efficiency and provide a better service to managers and staff delivering Council services.” So it’s a multi-million pound government IT project run by private sector consultants. What could possibly go wrong?

On the subject of consultants, it’s also been revealed this week that the council has spent £1.5m on consultants in the hope of saving money. According to the Post, the council “shelled out more than £1 million to 17 individuals from four companies as part of the Improvement and Change Programme.The cost covered 1,568 days work, meaning an average daily rate of £649. Capita Resourcing were paid £264,480, Smartsourcing £9,350, UK Public Sector £721,966 and NCC Group £22,044. The council also spent more than £550,000 on reviews of how it works. Tribal Consulting got £138,625, DECATS £120,000, PricewaterhouseCoopers £249,915, Purosolutions £18,000 and NCC £24,835.” Mike Scott of Notts County Unison wasn’t best please: “We are vehemently opposed to this. It is a waste of money. There are people who work for the authority who could do this work. I think it’s a big insult to the people who work for the council and a waste of council tax-payers’ money.”

This week also saw the council announce plans to increase are charges, putting up the cost of a space at a care home, meals on wheels and home help. David Jones, chairman of the Nottingham and Notts Pensioners’ Action Group told the Post, “Those pensioners who have savings are being clobbered.” Mike Scott of Unison, meanwhile, accused the council of trying to run down services so that they could be closed in the future.

On Thursday 9th December, Notts County Unison held a small protest outside County Hall. The demonstration was timed to coincide with the full council meeting. Three campaigners were dressed as skeletons to symbolise the “skeleton services” which they fear will be left if the cuts are carried out. There was also a cardboard box covered in brown paper, presumably intended to represent a coffin holding the remains of public services in Nottinghamshire. The lobby was relatively small, but a larger protest is likely next week when the council’s cabinet meets to discuss budget proposals and the closure of Gedling School.

Private Sector

According to the BBC, 77 jobs are to be lost at Bodill & Sons (Contractors) Ltd, based in Linby and Hucknall which has gone into administration. Richard Philpott from administrators KPMG told the BBC, “The pressures on contractors in the current climate are immense and we envisage things only getting harder as we enter 2011.”

Schools

The controversy around the planned closure of Gedling School continued this week. On Tuesday, the Post reported that campaigners were calling on Nottinghamshire County Council to defer making a decision about the closure. Currently, the decision to begin “consulting” on the closure is to be made by the council’s cabinet at it’s December 15th meeting.

Catherine O’Riordan explained to the Post, “I have asked if it is possible for the Cabinet on the 15th to be persuaded to postpone making a decision and allow us time to demonstrate how Gedling School can be transformed… (Education Secretary) Michael Gove’s White Paper outlines a variety of opportunities for schools to improve themselves.” Anti-cuts campaigners have vocally supported the Save Gedling School campaign, but may be more wary of O’Riordan’s plans to “put a vision forward for transforming Gedling School in line with the Conservative vision for schools.”

The county council ignored these pleas, instead publishing a report (pdf). This was described by the Post – in its usual restrained tone – as “damning.” The Save Gedling School campaign were quick to put out a response, criticising “the deceptive manner in which this report has been presented.” They followed this up with a more detailed critique of the figures used.

Universities

On Monday, students held a meeting with the Vice Chancellor of the University of Nottingham. This was agreed following the occupation at the university last week. The meeting was preceded by a rally. Students got a chance to put their position and ask questions of the VC. According to Nottingham Students Against Fees and Cuts, “Greenaway admitted that he believed Higher Education to be a privilege not a right and agreed with markets and a tiered system in university education.”

Students have committed themselves to continuing the campaign. On Wednesday a number travelled to the NUS organised demonstration in Sheffield (Nick Clegg’s constituency), with at least 4 coaches travelling to the demonstration in London on december 9th, the day of the vote on increasing fees.

Upcoming

The following is a run-down of the anti-cuts events I know about happening over the next week.

  • Monday 13th December,2pm, Nottingham City Council meeting which includes a motion introduced by David Mellen requesting that the government “review and change” their policies to avoid “leading to a wasted generation in Nottingham and the UK”. Presumably you can go along to support the motion. Remember to be rude through the rest of the meeting.
  • Monday 13th December, 7.30pm, Notts SOS meeting. Open planning meeting at the International Community Centre, Mansfield Road.
  • Monday 13th December, 7.30pm, the local labour party is holding a debate at the Labour Group’s City Agent’s office about the Nottingham Labour Party’s strategy for the local elections next in May next year. Council leader Jon Collins is chairing. Why not go along and make some helpful suggestions? The address is Unit 13a, John Folman Business Centre, Hungerhill Road, NG3 4NB.
  • Wednesday 15th December, 11am, Nottinghamshire County Council cabinet meets to discuss the budget and closure of Gedling School. Apparently the Save Gedling School campaign are planning a protest, although there’s nothing on their website.
  • Saturday 18th December, the latest day of action against tax avoiding corporations. Nothing has been publicised in Nottingham yet, but there have been actions on the previous days.

Links:

Link_go Cuts Watch #8

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