Bassetlaw MP says Government wants councils to budget better

This week in Parliament, we have heard arguments that the Government is forcing councils to increase council tax and has not adequately funded the costs associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.

By Brendan Clarke-Smith
Wednesday, 27th January 2021, 1:10 pm

This is not the case and the reality is quite different.

We know councils face many challenges, but we also know that many decisions are taken locally and that taxpayers do not always get the value for money they deserve.

In my first real venture into politics I spent many years as a councillor in the City of Nottingham, so I was very disappointed to hear of the scandal involving council-run Robin Hood Energy.

Brendan Clarke-Smith, MP for Bassetlaw. Photo: London Portrait Photographer-DAV

A company that set out to help people struggling with their bills, but instead failed to turn a profit, ended up losing millions and being closed down, leaving 230 workers redundant.

Unlike the real Robin Hood, this one ended up taking people’s money and then losing it.

Auditors Grant Thornton calculated the council had invested a total of £43 million into the company and risked £16.5 million in guarantees.

It said the council ‘failed to act on warnings’ to manage it’s budgets and criticised the use of councillors on the boards of its companies without sector-specific knowledge, which it said led to huge debts.

Now it plans to sell more than £100 million in assets to make up the shortfall and balance the books.

Compare this with Conservative-led Nottinghamshire County Council, which has managed its budget admirably.

Bassetlaw District Council has been given a great deal of government support with £54.22 million of funding in 2020-2021, including an additional £2 million in additional Covid-19 funding.

In 2017 some councils in Nottinghamshire spent tens of thousands of pounds paying mileage over and above the Government’s recommended rate.

Notably, Bassetlaw paid the highest rate in the entire country – 69p per mile – while HMRC recommended only 45p per mile.

Whilst budgets will always be contentious, councils such as Nottinghamshire County Council have shown that, with sound financial management, sustainable public finances can be achieved.

Brendan Clarke-Smith is MP for Bassetlaw.