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Nottinghamshire County Council risks going "from one crisis to next" without government budget clarity

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Authorities like Nottinghamshire County Council risk going “from one possible crisis to the next” unless the government clarifies how it will financially support councils beyond the coming year, a councillor has warned.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) outlined the provisional stages of its grant offering for councils in December.

This, analysis suggests, will provide authorities with an estimated 6.9% extra in basic spending power for the 2022-23 financial year.

County Hall, home of Nottinghamshire County Council. (54207581)
County Hall, home of Nottinghamshire County Council. (54207581)

Nottinghamshire County Council is yet to receive final confirmation on exactly how much it will receive in grants, but documents suggest the authority will likely receive additional support to fund health and social care.

This includes a projected £33.5m in the Social Care Grant, an increase of £9.2m from last year, as well as £30.9m in the Better Care Fund – a £900,000 rise on 2021-22.

Figures also show the authority is expected to receive a one-off £7.5m grant to support its services and £7.3m for revenue support.

The figures were discussed by the authority’s finance committee on Monday (January 10), where councillors broadly welcomed the additional spending and grant support.

But calls were made for further clarity from Whitehall on long-term plans to support councils beyond 2023.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a three-year, £4.8bn package to support councils until 2025 during his budget last autumn, but Whitehall has so far only provided councils with details of next year’s support.

And Jim Creamer (Lab) believes it poses a risk for councils operating on a year-by-year basis.

He said: “We really ought to be pressing the government that we need a long-term settlement.

“It doesn’t help our officers, this committee and our services going on a year-by-year basis, it’s like going from one possible crisis to the next.

“They are ignoring local government at their own peril. We are the ones carrying the can, doing the work for the public. It’s a good report, it’s just a general criticism of having yearly settlements.”

A council report published before the meeting stated the one-year settlement provides “further uncertainty beyond 2022-23, which will remain until further funding announcements are made”.

Andy Meakin (Ash Ind) said: “How difficult is it for the council to do an accurate medium-term financial strategy when we are continually getting one-year settlements?

“How much guesswork do we have to undertake, and would you back calls for a three-year settlement to give us more certainty going forward?”

Richard Jackson (Con) chairman of the committee, agreed with the need for more long-term clarity and said it’s "a point we make very regularly” to the government.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service has approached DLUHC for a response.

Monday’s meeting also saw council officials questioned on whether the grant settlement means the authority will be increasing or freezing its council tax precepts from April.

Rules set by government mean councils can increase standard precepts – used to fund day-to-day services – by 1.99% without calling a referendum, while the social care precept can rise by a further 1%.

Authorities can also carry forward any increases they did not take for the social care precept from 2021-22, when the limit was 3%.

Last year the council increased the social care bill by 1%, meaning it could increase the precept by 3% this year.

In response to a question by Mr Meakin, Mr Jackson said: “The budget debate will come in this chamber at the end of February. We haven’t made any decision on council tax levels yet and you will see our proposals relatively soon.”

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