This was submitted to all councillors this morning. The Executive met this afternoon and have made some positive amendments to proposals to cuts to School Crossing Patrols, Support Public and Community Transport and increasing the cost of community meals - putting money back into the budget for one year.
The most striking thing about the latest budget documents is how much the council's reserves have increased. They now stand at £11.6 million, when their approved level is £8 million. Since 2010/11 the council's reserves have increased by 84%. On top of this they have £2 million in a contingency and transition fund, making a total of £13.6 million which is effectively sat in their bank account doing nothing. This makes their recent decision not to implement the living wage on the grounds of affordability rather strange to us. It also means they have at least £5 million which they can use to protect services, and still keep their prudential level of reserves.
The latest council budget document can be downloaded here
The following was issued as a press release this morning:
North Somerset UNISON, which represents workers at North Somerset Council and Schools across the district is calling on the council to make no further cuts to jobs and services. The council have made £50 million of cuts over the past 3 years, and are proposing another £11 million of cuts for the forthcoming year. We have already seen the council increase the amount of council tax that now has to be paid by residents on low incomes. They are now proposing further cuts to services for some of our most vulnerable residents, particularly older people, disabled people and children. These cuts include reductions to adult care and supporting people services, increasing charges for meals on wheels, and reductions in public and community transport. The cuts also include 50 full-time job losses, including our School Crossing Patrols. These figures seems a relatively small number compared to previous years, but it must be remembered that these job losses come on top of about 400 job losses (a quarter of the council's workforce) over the last 3 years. There are also job losses which are to be confirmed for the years from 2015/16 and beyond. In addition the council are also looking at transferring more council jobs and services to the private company Agilisys, despite a report on this contract by the management consultants KPMG, which was highly critical of the £100 million contract - a report which the council tried to keep secret.
But it is not only council jobs that will be lost as a result of the cuts. The council contracts with many private and voluntary sector providers, particularly for services for older people and disabled people. As the council tries to cut costs for these contracts, private companies and voluntary sector organisations will inevitably cut either their numbers of staff, or the pay of their staff, and services will suffer as a result.
It is our view that the council's cuts are having a serious impact on the local economy. And that although we are being told that the economic recovery is underway, it is not being felt by ordinary people, including many residents of North Somerset. Whether you work in the private or public sector, ordinary working people have not had a decent pay rise over the last few years, while prices for essentials such as food, energy and fuel have rocketed. In addition people who are claiming benefits, including in work benefits, have seen benefit increases capped at 1% - well below the level of inflation. Because wages and benefits haven't kept up with prices, people have less money to spend in the local economy. Because people are spending less, local businesses are earning less, and this creates a vicious circle - where everyone is spending less and earning less and then spending less and earning less ad infinitum. This is one of the many reasons we have also been campaigning for the council to pay their staff the living wage, and encourage employers across the district to do the same. Many economists are now saying that the recovery will not be sustainable unless we see wage increases.
We are also being told that jobs are being created and unemployment is falling nationally. But the jobs that are being created are low paid and part-time jobs, and nowhere is this more evident than in North Somerset, where a quarter of working age residents earn less than the living wage, including many council and schools staff. Unemployment rates are also falling in part because people are taking part-time work when they really need full-time jobs, or declaring themselves self-employed, or being reassessed back onto health related benefits because of the failure of the DWP's fit for work assessment. And we still see relatively high levels of unemployment in the most deprived areas of North Somerset, particularly in wards in Weston super Mare such as South, Central, and West, which all have claimant counts above the national average. The unemployment rate in Weston super Mare is much higher than for the rest of North Somerset. And the South West is the only area in the country where the latest figures show unemployment is actually on the increase.
As in previous years North Somerset UNISON has responded to the consultation on the council's budget proposals and we will also lobby councillors at their budget setting meeting on 18th February from 5.30 pm outside the Town Hall in Weston super Mare. We urge all concerned residents of North Somerset to join us.