What ‘doing a Newcastle’ really means
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