Safety nets for Derby’s budget

28 Feb 2024
Coins coming out of a jar

Lib Dem Group propose safety nets for Derby City Council’s budget

Derby Council decide the budget for 2024/25 on Wednesday 28th February.

Derby Council’s leaders have proposed an innovative, but untested, solution to balance their budget for 2024/5, and beyond:  AI – Artificial Intelligence.  Lib Dems on the council asked what the alternative plan - ‘Plan B’ – would be if AI did not deliver, or did not deliver soon enough.  There is no ‘Plan B’.

Derby Lib Dems are therefore planning three amendments to the Budget being debated on Wednesday, offering something towards a Plan B.  All three proposals would also bring multiple other benefits to Derby if agreed and implemented.

Plan B1 seeks to harness the power of people to help keep Derby’s services operating despite the millions of pounds of cuts that the Council has suffered over the last ten years or so.  Many services are being squeezed to a minimum but could be enhanced by using volunteers working alongside paid staff.  There are already volunteers working in a several areas of the Council, such as Derby Parks Volunteers, in schools, alongside the Local Area Coordinators and in Community Libraries. 

Many charities and some other public sector organisations, mostly notably the NHS, welcome many more volunteers to support their services.  The Council could do the same, valuing the time and skills of individuals, providing the required training and checks while giving individuals an important opportunity to support their community in a meaningful way.

For some people this may be a stepping stone to a new career, a morale-boosting team to join or a way to give back in retirement.  All of which can be helping build a stronger community in Derby.

To do this the Lib Dems are proposing a ‘Volunteering opportunity’ role together with some money to support the training and equipment that volunteers may need for their new roles. This would be funded initially from a little of the extra money recently received from the Government.  This will need an ongoing 80k a year.

Plan B2 builds on the determination to make Derby a Zero Carbon city, expressed nearly five years ago by full Council when it declared a Climate Emergency.  For more than ten years the turbine by the Council House has been delivering power from the river.  At the southern boundary of the city, land on both sides of a second weir is owned by the Council.  To move forward a project to deliver a turbine here is just part of Plan B2 to increase renewable energy for Derby.

The Council also has solar panels on hundreds of roofs, generating power for the homes and offices below them – but it could have many more.  Installation costs have fallen – and energy prices increased – since the days of ‘Feed-in Tariffs’ so new installations can pay for themselves, particularly if part of a ‘Local Energy Club’.

In a local energy club householders and businesses fed from the same sub-station and signed up with the same energy supplier can buy and sell to each other, separate from the normal grid prices.  For Council offices, schools and more, becoming part of clubs like this can save money and bring income.  There’s a bit more work to do to make these happen, but they are proved elsewhere.

Driving forward a way to expand the amount of renewable energy being made in Derby will cut the flow of money leaving the city in energy bills, helping to build wealth here.  Engaging the whole of Derby in this endeavour, will bring the greatest benefits so we would like local people to be able to invest in some of these initiatives – with a return on that investment. 

To make this happen will take up to £50k to move the river turbine project forward, plus a member of staff to make this and the wider projects happen, another £50k.  There may also be need for specialist advice so we are adding an extra £50k for that and other costs.

Plan B3 develops the vision that the Council can become more commercial – providing trusted and professional services for a fair, but competitive price.  All Councils do this to a degree, but some do it a lot more than others.  Existing examples here include leisure services, pest control, commercial waste and payroll to schools.  However, there are many more areas where services could be provided.

Recently the Council showed more ambition to expand sold services, and some progress was made.  However, this process has identified that there are many more opportunities waiting to be exploited.  It will take planning and capacity to make this happen.  If we are to maximise benefits as Plan B3, we need to speed this up to deliver more value this year – and prepare for future years too.

Lib Dems are therefore asking for £50k a year to be spent on extra capacity to drive this agenda forward.  It might be expertise, resources or staff capacity. 

Deputy Leader of the Lib Dems, Cllr Lucy Care said “Actions like these can drive a cultural change within the City Council – and the City.  The Council can achieve so much more if it works WITH the people and businesses of Derby, not just doing things to or for the city and its citizens.

“Volunteering, renewable energy and commercial opportunity have all been talked about, but the Council has only dipped its toes in the water.  Now these need to be not just the solution to the Government’s budget squeeze on Councils, but an inclusive way to work for the future brighter Derby we all want to see."

Leader of the Lib Dem Group, Cllr Ajit Atwal, added “As a businessman myself I can see the opportunities that the Council is missing.  A more entrepreneurial attitude can bring really wide benefits to the city.  These are the first steps to making this change.”

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