Three point plan for the future
It’s been a really busy summer with a successful Newcastle Fair on the Town Moor, the 20th Newcastle Mela, Northern Pride, Sky Ride and the Great North Run among other major events in the city. Work started in Scotswood and on Science Central. There were major investment boosts for broadband and cycling. The council won a national award for our financial inclusion work and signed a multi-million pound deal to help people stay warm in their homes. The council’s public health team pioneered an innovative health bus project to complete health checks right across the city.
Looking to the future there we have a three point plan to help us get through these tough times.
- Balancing the books
- Changing the way we do things
- Investing in the future
Balancing the books
At the moment cuts and austerity are an unpleasant and unavoidable part of life. The implications are painful. Given the clear and obvious impact cuts have on people it is regrettable that the Government has announced further cuts for local government. We consulted on a budget which needed to cut £90m over three years. The Government announced an additional £10m of cuts for Newcastle in the Autumn statement and then up to another £8m in the comprehensive spending review earlier this year. Our best estimate is that the £90m over three years could in fact be as much as £108m.
Newcastle’s Cabinet will continue to make the robust case to Government that continued cuts are having a huge impact, and that is damaging and counterproductive. We will stand alongside our regional partners, Core Cities and the LGA in making that case. We have been clear from the start that we will be honest with staff and residents alike and will continue with that approach. We will also continue to apply the principles identified by the Fairness Commission to our decision-making.
Changing the way we do things
With the Government cutting our budgets year on year we could start to feel powerless, that Newcastle is a place that has things done to it rather than a place that does things. Our longer term approach to the budget is about taking control of what we’re doing, thinking about how the council might look in 2016 and how we could continue to provide services with the resources we will have. The council has four clear priorities and they will guide us and help focus services on the outcomes we want to achieve.
To take just one example, staff have developed a project called ‘chain reaction’ which provides flexibility for people who are eligible for social care. Chain reaction works with people to identify what they actually want from our services. This might involve people meeting together in their local café, or it might join people with others in their neighbourhood who can support each other. It allows people to be supported in their neighbourhoods, it is tailored around what people need and want and is based on cooperative principles. It is helping to support people in such a way that it is successfully avoiding them requiring high cost care packages. In short, it is both cheaper and more effective. It shows in one area what can be achieved and the potential to do so much more across the council.
Investing in the future
We need to keep focussed on the longer term future of the city. I signed an ambitious City Deal with Government which will unlock £92m of investment. It could ultimately be worth up to £1bn in total and bring up to 13,000 jobs to the city. The council is investing at Central Station to create a world class gateway to the city. We have unlocked stalled investment in the historic Stephenson Quarter around Central Station with developer Silverlink in a £200m scheme which will bring 2,200 much needed jobs. The first building is also going up on site at Science Central. We have secured £6m of Government funding to improve broadband connectivity across the city, and £5.6m for cycling connectivity across the city. We are investing £25million in our future homes fund and working with a private sector consortium on the expansion of Newcastle Great Park which will produce more than 2,500 much needed family homes. Work has also started on the £265m redevelopment in Scotswood which will create a new 1,800-home sustainable neighbourhood over the next 15-20 years. Our Apprenticeship Plus programme has created apprenticeships for young people both in the council and in local businesses.
These major projects are our statement of confidence in the future and is the biggest programme of investment in the city for decades. They are a visible sign of our concrete commitment to the city. However tough it might be we have to remember that better times will lie ahead.