Today Lewisham Council will agree our budget for the coming year. It will not be easy and we face some incredibly difficult decisions.
Most of the council’s funding comes not from council tax but from the Government. This funding has been cut massively by the Tories since 2010, forcing us to make savings of £150m. Next year the Tory Government will cut our funding even further from £160m to £147m, and it will go on falling in the coming years.
As a result we are having to increase council tax. With local people suffering from a long squeeze on living standards, we’ve done our best to keep council tax low; we have not increased it in six out of the last seven years. But continuing to freeze council tax is not possible when the Government are cutting our funding so severely.
Given the sheer scale of the government’s cuts, increasing council tax will not be enough on its own and we will also have to make further savings. Councillors and I have worked hard to develop these proposals and to scrutinise them. We’ve consulted with those who will be affected. We’ve done our best to minimise the impact of the cuts on the services people value and on the most vulnerable.
You can view the budget papers here and its appendices here.
Some say that we should set a ‘no cuts’ budget. But councils are bound by law to set balanced budgets. So when our funding is being slashed by the Tory Government, I’m afraid a 'no cuts' budget simply is not possible. The Labour Leadership have made their position clear; they expect councils to set balanced budgets and do the best they can in the circumstances. We will continue do so.
Even in these tough times though, there is much that we can do to improve Lewisham. We are doing our best to address the housing crisis and building the first council homes for a generation. There will be 500 new council homes by 2018 and 2,000 affordable homes. I’m proud that we were the first council in the country to pay the Living Wage and we will continue to do so. We will also encourage more local employers to follow our lead by offering a business rate discount for firms that commit to paying the Living Wage.
We are fighting back against the savage Tory cuts being inflicted on our community. Lewisham Labour has joined up with other Labour Councils across London to form Red Lines - a campaign against the huge Tory cuts to local government.
There is one more thing that we need to do, and something I want to ask for your help with. In May we elect our next Mayor of London. Our candidate Sadiq Khan will help us build more homes, tackle low pay, boost growth in London and stand up with us against vicious Tory cuts. So, please join us campaigning for Sadiq at one of our upcoming sessions or sign up to help here. We need to do all that we can in Lewisham to help Sadiq win.
We very much value your support in these tough times and I look forward to seeing you out campaigning for Sadiq Khan.
Mayor Steve Bullock