Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes warns 'impossible' funding cuts foster extremism

Newcastle leader Nick Forbes says the public is losing faith in mainstream politics as council prepares to unveil £90 million funding cuts

Nick Forbes
Nick Forbes

The leader of Newcastle City Council has rejected suggestions that he has not been supported by the national party leadership.

Nick Forbes refuted reports he has barely spoken to Labour leader Ed Miliband, and had a row with Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, over the party’s failure to back calls to devolve power and funding to major cities.

Newcastle, as a member of the Core Cities group of the UK’s ten largest cities outside London, has helped lead demands for devolution.

Coun Forbes said: “The argument I had with Ed [Balls] was two years ago and just last week we had a far more positive discussion when we talked about the role cities can play in growing the economy.”

He said he had been critical in the past of the Labour leadership’s reluctance to back devolving power and funding to major cities, but the party had embraced the case for devolution since then.

And he highlighted his good relationship with Hilary Benn, Labour’s Shadow Local Government Secretary.

He said: “Hilary and I work very closely together on a range of issues including how we can change the way local government works in the future.”

Mr Forbes said huge cuts in funding for local services have left councils with “impossible choices” and could encourage a rise in support for extremist political organisations.

Coun Nick Forbes, leader Newcastle City Council
Coun Nick Forbes, leader Newcastle City Council
 

Mr Forbes, who has led the city since 2011, was speaking as the council prepares to launch a consultation over plans to cope with a reduction in funding of £90 million between 2016 and 2019.

The detailed proposals, which come on top of cuts already imposed by 2010, are due to be revealed next month, leading to a public consultation.

It has already emerged that Sure Start, which provides a range of services for children and families, is likely to be hit.

But the authority is forced cope with cuts in grants from central government even if the only way is to slash services.

Coun Forbes said: “It is fair to say that the choices we are having to make this year are impossible choices.

“The level of cuts we see in the future will have a crippling effect on the council’s ability to provide quality public services.

“I know there will be concerns about a number of the proposals that we will consult on.”

The anger this creates could contribute to an atmosphere which allows extreme political parties and organisations of both the left and the right to thrive, he said.

“People are angry, frustrated and dismayed. They feel national politics doesn’t work for the and as a result they are turning to extremes,

“It is a time of great economic uncertainty and that is a recipe for social disaster.

“Our society is fracturing. We are losing a sense of what holds us together as a nation.

“When people feel under pressure and vulnerable, that is when they turn to extreme political parties.”

Nick Ansell/PA Wire Labour leader Ed Miliband
Labour leader Ed Miliband
 

Coun Forbes said Newcastle was suffering the effects of devastating and unfair cuts in funding. For example, the cuts between 2010 and 2013 in Guildford, in wealthy Surrey, worked out at £19 per resident while in Newcastle it was £162 per resident.

But at the same time, the authority was trying to promote the city as a great place to work and for employers to invest in.

While spending for services has been cut, the authority has an infrastructure programme worth up to £527 million, funded from different sources which cannot be used to prop up services, such as Government schemes which can only be used for infrastructure.

This includes up to £60 million of works over a five year period to bring office space, shops, university accommodation, hotels and restaurants to “Accelerated Development Zone” sites such as Science Central, Stephenson Quarter and East Pilgrim Street.

He was speaking following the publication of an interview in a national newspaper in which he revealed details of an argument with Mr Balls at a fundraising dinner.

Mr Benn, Labour’s Shadow Local Government Secretary, said: “As everyone knows, David Cameron has hit certain communities really hard by unfairly taking most money away from the most deprived areas. That’s why Labour is committed to a fairer funding formula and longer term budgets to help councils plan ahead in the very difficult circumstances they face.

“And Ed Miliband has responded to local government’s call for more devolution by setting out our ambitious plans to pass powers and finance back to city and county regions. This will enable communities to make their own decisions about investment in skills, transport, housing, infrastructure and finding work for the long-term unemployed, while also retaining 100% of business rate income growth.”

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