Recently I met with the City Council’s health advocates, the network of staff whose role is to help make the council a better, healthier, place to work.
Since the advocate network started they have instigated a range of activities from health at work days featuring blood pressure monitors and smoothie bikes to helping the council achieve ‘continuing excellence’ status in the NHS Better Health at Work award.
I’m really impressed with the work they’ve put in so far, particularly since they do this voluntarily on top of their ‘regular job’.
The network is a great example of where the council can lead the way and set an example to other employers about how to listen to the views of staff and improve working conditions.
Doing this is a key part of our new responsibility for public health, we must lead by example and persuade other employers –large and small – to make a difference by embedding public health in everything we do as an organisation.
We’re still not perfect, but we are making real progress towards becoming a better, healthier, place to work.
On June 26 for example we’re holding a wellbeing and health event for council staff where they can try out a range of fitness activities and also undergo a cholesterol check.
An important part of leading is getting the right person at the helm and we’re also on our way to appointing our new Director of Public Health.
Our job advert, which goes live this week, explains how we want someone who shares our radical approach which is to look at the social – as well as the medical – causes of illness and unhappiness.
We will appoint someone who understands and supports how the council can change lives and make a real difference and embraces our vision of public health.
I’m really looking forward to meeting the candidates and working with the right person who shares our passion to create a happier, healthier Newcastle.
Cllr David Stockdale, deputy cabinet member for public health, culture, leisure and libraries.
At the council we believe in placing power where it really matters, with the people of our city.
The old ‘top down’ days, when the council was the expert on everything and imposed changes without consultation are, thankfully, over.
If you want to see an example of this approach, take a look at Udecide.
Recently, we had a Udecide event at the West End Women and Girls Centre in the Elswick ward that I represent. Local people gave up their own precious time to come together to decide how £30,000 should be spent on reducing the harm caused to the community by alcohol
More than 100 people packed into the room, people who would not normally engage with the council, people who were excited that they had the opportunity to make a difference.
This was local decision-making made real – local people taking ownership of an issue and then deciding whether proposed solutions would work where they live. It was also brilliant that the event attracted both young and old from many different cultures and backgrounds. Udecide is a great way of bringing communities together to find out what they have in common.
They listened to presentations about the different projects, questioned representatives at length and in detail and then voted on where the funding should be awarded.
And these projects were often rooted in the community, for example the Patchwork Young People’s Development Group that wanted £10,000 for a year-long video diary project to get young people to document the effects alcohol has on Elswick.
Or an idea from West End Women and Girls Centre, who wanted to do a documentary project that looked at the health effects of excess drinking and challenged some of the myths that make young people think alcohol is safer than other drugs.
It was great to see people coming together to make a difference and using their own local knowledge and expertise.
It’s tempting to believe that people have stopped caring and are now apathetic about everything, particularly in less well-off wards like Elswick. This event proved there is still great passion and belief in the community. If we can continue to harness that passion with events like Udecide, we can really make a difference.
Cllr Ann Schofield is the deputy cabinet member for Age Friendly City and a councillor for Elswick.
Cllr David Stockdale, deputy cabinet member for public health, culture, leisure and libraries
On 1st April the city council took on official responsibility from the NHS for Public Health in Newcastle.
In its traditional definition, public health means a focus on action that will help to create a society where everyone has positive wellbeing and good health.
It includes a range of areas, like helping to improve diet and nutrition, tackling the misuse of drugs and alcohol, providing tools to help people quit smoking and much more.
But we believe public health goes much deeper than that – it is not just about tackling and preventing illness – it’s about improving and saving lives across our city and getting to the root causes of ill health.
Evidence shows the city’s overall health will improve when we tackle the underlying causes of illness and unhappiness, everything from poor housing to low income, high stress jobs.
Our challenge in tacking health inequalities in Newcastle is to improve the conditions in which people are born, grow up, live their lives and grow old.
Achieving this isn’t just about service provision, integration or clinical pathways and it’s not about getting hung up on the definition of public health.
It is about building on partnerships that focus on the broad social, environmental and economic causes of health inequalities.
We must also work to ensure that everything we and our partners do contributes to the overarching goal of health equality and improving health in Newcastle.
We will lead the way by making sure wellbeing and health is embedded in our four core priorities; supporting a working city, decent neighbourhoods, tackling inequalities and creating a more fit for purpose council.
And as a council we are in a uniquely powerful position to tackle our city’s shocking health inequalities. We see public health as a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity.
And we have already started to make a difference. We have shown our determination to tackle in-work poverty by introducing a Living Wage for our staff and our Warm Up North coalition is taking on fuel poverty and the stress of high energy bills.
It is not ‘top down’ either. We want communities themselves to tell us what makes them healthier and happier and we will provide small grants from our public health budget to help them achieve this.
We are still in the early stages of planning our grants process, but we want to make money available to fund that walking club or that allotment group that can really make a difference to people’s health and wellbeing.
This is an example of how we are focusing on a social, grassroots approach to public health.
It’s a massive challenge, but I’m convinced we have the passion and the expertise to change and save lives.
Today I met Sir Peter Bazalgette, the chair of the Arts Council, to talk about the final details of our Newcastle Culture Fund – a £600,000 a year initiative that arts organisations can apply to fund core activities. The fund will be put to full council for agreement this week.
Our city benefits from vibrant and popular cultural institutions, but given the scale of government cuts, it is not possible for us to play as significant a role in their funding in the future. The culture fund is a response to this new understanding and we’ve worked closely with the Arts Council and the venues themselves to make it a reality.
We have never doubted the value of the cultural sector to the social and economic life of the city, and we have listened to the arguments put forward during our budget consultation. We appreciate that the 100% reduction in our subsidy that we initially proposed would have had a negative impact, particularly if it led to other funders withdrawing.
With the Newcastle Culture Fund we’ve come up with a plan that takes us away from revenue subsidy of the arts to a sustainable investment from a variety of sources.
The new fund will have £600,000 of investment income from the council and we will encourage co-investment and financial contributions from people and organisations that have shown their support for Newcastle’s cultural and artistic development. It will be managed by The Community Foundation, who are experts in attracting extra funding.
The Arts Council has worked with us to develop this initiative, and it is designed to sit alongside its essential funding for arts and culture. We also welcome a commitment from the Vice-Chancellor of Newcastle University that additional savings generated from shared services between the university and council can be re-invested in the cultural life of the city.
We will use a range of sources from outside of the council’s core revenue budget to develop a sustainable long term future for the Newcastle Culture Fund.
Sources of funding will include the following:
- a contribution of investment income from the council’s loan note to Newcastle Airport
- a share of growth in business rate income that the council is able to retain (in recognition of the role the cultural sector can and does play in supporting the economy)
- ring-fenced savings generated from efficiencies resulting from a robust shared services approach between the council, Newcastle University and other partners
- an opportunity to bid for public health funding, where arts and culture organisations can demonstrate benefits to health and wellbeing.
In addition, we will make it easy for individuals and businesses to top up the endowment fund with donations.
We will therefore continue to ensure there is investment in our cultural institutions. We will also show our backing for arts and culture by creating a £6m capital investment loan facility for cultural and heritage organisations, rising to £9m if the need is demonstrated.
This will support our theatres, cinemas and other arts venues to invest in initiatives that will help them become more financially sustainable: for example, Live Theatre’s ambitions to redevelop the building behind the theatre, securing it a sustainable future income.
No-one doubts the value of the arts to our city, but they do require public funding and in the traditional funding model will always be a lesser priority than life or death services such as children’s social care or residential care for vulnerable adults.
With the Newcastle Culture Fund we are changing that funding relationship, moving away from old-fashioned revenue subsidy to sustainable investment in a sector that we know has many economic and social benefits.
In doing so we are leading the way in finding new ways of demonstrating our commitment to funding arts and culture in a time of austerity.
How can the council possibly have to save £100m when it’s got £400m to spend on capital projects across the city?
Capital money is separate to what we spend day to day on running services and paying wages. These operating costs are known as the revenue budget, and this is where we have to save £100m. We cannot use capital money to avoid making cuts to services.
Our capital money has to be spent on fixed or physical assets like buildings, schools, council owned housing and includes things like superfast broadband and preparing land an transport links for new investment sites, for example in Scotswood, around Central Station and at Science Central.
The main source of capital money comes from our ability to borrow – it’s not money sitting in our account ready to spend on day to day activities. We are able to borrow money where we can demonstrate that it will lead to a long term return on our investment on behalf of the city. By investing up front, we can often demonstrate that spending will reduce in later years because the investment generates income, or because it helps make services more efficient.
Whilst we face some tough decisions about cuts to services, we’ll still be doing our bit to invest in the jobs and infrastructure our city needs to be ambitious and lead the region’s economic recovery. Our capital investment plays an important role in improving economic opportunities across all parts of Newcastle.
Why are you investing capital monies in the Civic Centre but not in the City Pool?
Capital spending is financed by commercial return on assets, for example rental income, or savings we can secure on our revenue budget by investing up-front in assets to reduce our costs.
We will cut costs by closing council buildings and moving staff into three offices, one of which is the Civic Centre. The Civic Centre is a high-cost environment for a modern organisation, with high energy costs and inefficient use of space. Following detailed analysis, we will implement plans for an investment programme to increase the capacity of the Civic Centre by 800 people, allowing us to bring the majority of our staff together in one place. This will save energy and maintenance costs.
Two other, smaller sites will be maintained in Allendale Road and Westgate College. This means that 13 other office buildings can, over a three year period, be reused for other purposes or sold with the receipts used for reinvestment. If we make the capital investment now, the overall accommodation costs should fall by around £2.1m by 2016. If we do not make the capital investment, then the building running costs will continue to increase, making our overall budget position worse.
The City Pool is difficult to sustain in the current financial environment. It has decreasing attendance and income, and currently requires an annual subsidy of £360k. Substantial additional investment is likely to be required for safety reasons in the near future. The repair and maintenance costs to bring the City Pool up to standard are estimated at £2.5 million, and a further £0.5m is estimated for works to make the pool more accessible. The usage of the City Pool has decreased which has had a direct impact on income to a point where we would not be able to repay the capital investment required.
Paul Woods is Director of Finance and Resources at Newcastle City council.
A phrase has been doing the rounds in the ‘blogosphere’ in certain circles about the City Council’s budget. I just want to set out what I think our budget process shows what ‘doing a Newcastle’ really means to me.
Firstly, although our budget consultation will soon come to a close it will have been one of the longest consultation periods of any council in the country. This means that people have a long time to understand the implications of what we’re proposing and respond. In some cases people were quick to appreciate the impact and respond, in other cases it has taken longer but this means that people have had the best chance possible of being involved.
Secondly, to allow people to get involved we publish more information than just about any other council. We publish detailed analysis and impact assessments which set out the risks and downsides to what we propose to do.
Thirdly, we have been more open and honest with people about the long term picture for council services. Alongside our statutory budget we have published two further years of projections based on what we know about our Government settlement. This means that rather than getting to 2016 and making decisions on just a one year basis we have chance to take decisions for the long term.
There is a good reason for doing that. In the good times it is good to produce a long term view but it is essential in times of adversity such as these. It allows staff, managers, service users and residents to understand the impact of the Government financial settlement and start to work on alternatives and innovative ideas. People have a right to protest and the scale of the cuts we face means that it is a totally reasonable response. But behind the scenes people have been quietly suggesting alternatives and working up innovative proposals. They are not the total answer, alternatives cannot replace £100m of public services or else we would already be doing it. But they will put Newcastle in a better position as we weather this current storm.
There has been a noisy debate which has in many cases has been instigated from outside the city. We have been having constructive discussions with the arts and culture sector throughout the budget consultation. The aim is to create a sustainable arts and culture sector which is increasingly insulated from public spending ‘boom and bust’ and if we can achieve that then Newcastle’s cultural scene will continue to be the envy of cities around the country. If we can do this then people will look to Newcastle to see how we did it and that, I hope, is what ‘doing a Newcastle’ will be all about. What is happening to public service funding in Newcastle is not unique, it’s just that in many ways we’re first to highlight the real long term impact of what it means to live in the Government’s age of austerity.
The consultation continues until Friday the 1st of February at http://www.letstalknewcastle.co.uk
The Leader of Newcastle City Council calls for more honesty and openness in local government funding.
Last November 20th was the day when the government’s austerity programme turned from a theoretical national debate, to a stark reality for the people of Newcastle. £90 million of council cuts over three years, affecting every aspect of public life across the city. I described it as one of the darkest days for public service in Newcastle.
Residents have been shocked. Protesters fighting the closure of 10 of our libraries have accused me of being a “Tory poodle”, doing the work of David Cameron in a concerted attack on public services. The fact that some of the cuts affected our local cultural institutions pushed us into the national press. I received letters signed by a who’s-who of the geordie cultural diaspora: Sting, Bryan Ferry and Robson Green to name a few. Writer Lee Hall is turning a legitimate and welcome campaign against cuts to arts and culture into an increasingly personal campaign against me. The local Liberal Democrats join with Eric Pickles in accusing me of deliberately exaggerating the cut in order to pass the blame to government, and of megaphone diplomacy. I have been likened to militant firebrand Derek Hatton, who famously defied the Thatcher government by setting an illegal budget. Even the New Statesman leapt on that particular bandwagon, with one of this magazine’s newest bloggers accusing me and the council’s Director of Finance of making arithmetic errors deliberately to over-state the scale of the cuts for political reasons.
All this talk of politically motivated over-statement of cuts is a ruse to hide the real scandal. The figures are right. They are the inevitable consequence of decisions made in Whitehall and Westminster, not in Newcastle Civic Centre. Newcastle has been honest about the scale of the cuts facing, not just our city, but communities across the country.
Unlike most councils, we set our budget for three years instead of the usual one or two. We did this for good reasons. The old methods of annual “salami slicing” of budgets was no longer adequate. We needed to take a good hard look at what the council does, and plan over the longer-term. A three year budget gives us more scope to make radical changes. And more time to work with communities and partner organisations to find alternative solutions to avoid closure of the most valued facilities and services, and more time to minimise job losses by helping staff to retrain or redeploy.
But creating a three year budget has been a fearsome task, because it’s exposed for us the enormity of the challenge facing the whole of local government. We were among the first councils to look in detail at the consequences through to 2016. Since we published our budget, other cities have issued very similar proposals. Liverpool has to save £173m by next year; Leeds, £51m next year; Manchester, £80m by 2015 and Birmingham, £600m by 2017. Councils have cut £5bn and shed 230,000 jobs over two years with some of the deepest cuts yet to come. We are not the only council that is considering closing libraries and cutting funds to the arts. The Local Government Association have gone even further in spelling out the consequences of cuts to 2020, by which time local government will have no money left to fund any services beyond its core statutory functions.
And what of the argument that I was exaggerating the cuts back in November? Just before Christmas the government announced a further round of cuts, and our £90 million cuts requirement became £100 million. So it turns out we were actually under – rather than over – stating the scale of the challenge.
The judgment about where these cuts should be made lies with central government and are then hidden in a fog of complex and opaque adjustments and mis-information. The five councils with the highest levels of multiple deprivation, on the government’s own figures, are the same five councils facing the highest levels of cuts. During the four years of the Comprehensive Spending Review, £1 billion will have been transferred from the North to the South and East, with some inner London boroughs also amongst the worst affected. Millions more have been transferred to shore up the inefficient system of local government in two-tier shire counties.
We need a new approach to restore trust to this broken system. I have led the call for an independent approach to determining the allocation of local government budgets, accountable jointly to local and national government.
In the meantime I will get on with the job of supporting and improving our city. I will resist the calls for my colleagues to set an illegal budget, to defy government in the way that Liverpool did in the 1980s. I will maintain constructive relations with government, for example with Greg Clark on the delivery of our Newcastle City Deal, and Patrick McLaughlan about the need for investment in transport infrastructure. But what I cannot do is join in a conspiracy to hide the consequences of unfair and unsustainable cuts. I will be honest about the implications for our great city, open to alternative proposals, work day-in, day-out to preserve the services that people have a right to rely on, and continue to fight for a fairer future. I hope the government too can bring a bit of honesty into its own decisions.
This is an edited version of an article published on the website of the New Statesman.