First of all, we are pleased to see that equality impact assessments have finally been completed and we hope that all councillors have received them and have been able to read the 100 pages of assessments in the short time available to them. These assessments make very uncomfortable reading indeed.
The report for your meeting on the 18th January stated that “some of the most critical services to the vulnerable” are now at risk. We would direct your attention to the equality impact assessments for adult social services and children’s and young people’s services – our written submission for today concentrates on a few of these and directs you to the relevant pages. Councillors should be particularly concerned by those proposals listed on pages 3 to 4 as having the highest impact including the cuts to Supporting People funding, projects funded by area based and other grants for children and young people, and the introduction of self service machines into libraries.
Page 2 of the report lists specific issues raised during consultation including the impact of reduced funding to the voluntary sector, reduced care and support for older people, reductions to the Disabled facilities grant, reduced education support services for Black & Minority Ethnic children, the impact of the council’s greater reliance on self service for those who do not have IT access or knowledge, and the impact of reducing costs on the quality of service provision generally.
It is our view that you need to look very carefully at different budget reduction proposals, both within and across directorates, in order to assess whether the individual or cumulative impact on older people, people with physical and learning disabilities, women, Black and minority ethnic groups, and children and young people will be so considerable that it would in fact constitute actual or potential discrimination if you implemented the proposals.
In addition there are a number of proposals including £726,000 of cuts to children and young people’s services, which are not fully developed and have not been equality impact assessed. Neither have we seen an equality impact assessment for the proposed freeze on contract prices for residential and nursing home providers, which will also impact on services.
We have previously expressed our view that the public spending cuts imposed by the Coalition government are both unfair because they hit the poorest and the most vulnerable the hardest, and are also unnecessary because there are other ways of cutting the deficit, such as taxing the banks and other financial institutions who caused the recession. We have also urged councillors to make central government aware of the impact of the cuts on the most vulnerable citizens of North Somerset. BUT this evening there are choices to be made and ways you can lessen the impact of the cuts. I want to briefly mention some examples.
You need to ensure that the money for Castlewood and the Town Hall refurbishment is moved from the revenue into the capital budget, and that the council tax collection fund surplus and the New Homes bonus is also used for revenue spending rather than being diverted to capital.
You have £1 million in a so-called transition fund, which is actually a fund for redundancy payments – so if you don’t make staff redundant then this money can be freed up for services. In addition loosing potentially a quarter of your workforce over 4 years, and cutting the terms and conditions of some of your lowest paid staff on top of a 3 year pay freeze will have a negative impact on the North Somerset economy and will also impact on service delivery. And we still don’t know precisely how many jobs will be lost in the private and voluntary sector as a result of the cuts.
We do not understand why you are prepared to use your reserves to invest in capital projects, which will make future savings, but you will not apply the same argument to using reserves to invest in preventative services for our most vulnerable groups. For instance previous investment in Supporting People services has actually saved money, not just for the council, but also for the NHS, Police and Probation services. Preventative services for children are an investment in the future of everyone living in North Somerset. It is also interesting to us that the £7 million you currently have in reserves is approximately the same amount of money you would have had in your revenue budget if over the last 3 years you had increased council tax more in line with the rate of inflation or the 5% ceiling. As a result we think this £7 million should be put back into the revenue budget to pay for services.
The budget proposals you are considering also contain an additional £1.1 million of cuts on top of the £17.5 million assessed as being required – we would urge you not to “get ahead of the curve” and implement these additional cuts this year.