May 29, 2024

Derbyshire County Council face Parliament finance debate – Quest Media Network

A Government minister says Derbyshire County Council’s financial woes have not put it on any “red list or radar flashing screen”, despite being dubbed “dysfunctional” and “disgraceful”.

The financial issues facing Derbyshire County Council were raised in Parliament today (April 23) by Toby Perkins, Labour MP for Chesterfield.

He dubbed the Tory authority “incompetent”, “dysfunctional” and “disgraceful”, though a Government minister claimed Derbyshire’s communities were “really pleased” with the cash they had received from “Levelling Up” pots.

This comes as the authority faces a £40 million budget black hole this year on the back of a £34 million shortfall last year.

The authority is currently considering closing 11 care homes, 10 children’s centres, eight older people’s day centres, four short-break centres and four day centres for people with autism.

Mr Perkins told Parliament: “The services that the people in our county receive have diminished so much and whilst the minister and his department must take their share of the blame it is also important to have an opportunity to detail the ways that the county council’s leadership has also added to their problems. 

“Since the Government has come to power here in Westminster, Derbyshire County Council’s budget has been slashed by £780 million in real terms. In 2010 that budget was about £1 billion, [which is] £1.48 billion in today’s money.

“Derbyshire County Council’s current budget is about £700 million, therefore it is less than half of what it was 14 years ago in real terms.

“At a time of great financial hardship, not least owing to the runaway inflation unleashed by the party opposite, it is a disgraceful and heartbreaking situation.

“And these cuts have a material effect on the provision of services and on people’s lives.

“Next week the council will decide whether to go ahead with its proposals to close 10 children’s centres across the region, not only denying essential services to the children and families of Derbyshire but also potentially costing 118 people their livelihoods.”

He said the council had been responsible for “failures” to children with special educational needs, claiming “the children of Derbyshire are suffering massively under the current leadership”.

Mr Perkins said the county council had asked MPs to lobby Government for money for children’s services due to the cost of private facilities, while rolling out a “savage programme of privatisation” of its own.

He said: “One feature of this administration’s approach has been the unfortunate habit of marrying this serial incompetence with careless arrogance and indifference to public opinion.”

Mr Perkins claimed the county council had received £17.5 million since 2019 from central Government to create additional special needs schools places, but had spent £1.5 million – leaving £16 million unspent, which he dubbed a “betrayal” to parents and children.

He claimed the county council had “shattered public services in our beautiful county”.

Nigel Mills, Tory MP for Amber Valley, said he agreed that the county council needs to get education, health and care plans (legal documents outlining support for children with special educational needs) processed “much more quickly and accurately than they currently are”.

He said the closure of centres providing respite to parents and carers of children with special educational needs – with the authority looking to close four of these centres – would put more pressure on parents and risk children ending up in council care.

Conservative Sarah Dines, Derbyshire Dales MP, said: “My experience of how the Government and how the county council has reacted and have responded to the needs of my constituents are very different.”

She referenced multimillion-pound funding packages given to improve facilities in Ashbourne and Matlock from central Government.

Ms Dines said: “DCC could always do with more money but the money they have they manage really well. 

“The management has been very good. There is always more work to do, and who couldn’t spend more money on SEN?”

Simon Hoare, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, responding on behalf of the Government, said: “If you listen to the honourable member it is all doom and gloom and bleakness in Derbyshire.

“In no way shape or form is Derbyshire County Council on any red list or radar flashing screen in my department. 

“That is good news for the residents and service users of Derbyshire.

“There is little or no doubt and it would be foolish for any Government minister to stand at the dispatch box at the House of Commons and say that the funding scenario for local government in England hasn’t been challenging. It clearly has been.”

He said he agreed with Emma Alexander, the managing director of the council, that the authority was “sound and sustainable financially” which allowed it to make “proper decisions” and not “knee-jerk reactions”.

Mr Hoare said: “Chesterfield, Erewash, Bolsover, Amber Valley, South Derbyshire, Clay Cross, Staveley, Long Eaton, all of those towns, all those communities are really pleased to see the attention which is being spent on them to deliver levelling up, to make sure those engines of growth, those engines of livelihood and success, can be sustained.”

The county council’s budget woes are to be partially met by £66 million in cuts planned by 2029, which add to £300 million in cuts it has made in the past 13 years.

It forecasts it will have used £148 million from its emergency reserves just to balance its budget over three years, while already having imposed on itself a hiring freeze and block on non-essential spending in September.


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