Today Lewisham Council passed its budget for 2017/2018 which saw central government grant squeezed by £11.7 million, bringing the Council’s general budget down to £232 million.
This year we have also been forced to increase council tax by 4.99% in an effort to protect - as far as possible - the services that our community relies on in particular social care and the support that we provide to our most vulnerable residents.
Council Tax is not a fair tax – it is a blunt measure that hits poor working households the hardest. Yet the Tory Government have decided that Council Tax increases by local councils can solve the national social care crisis. They could not be more wrong. Not only will Council Tax increases not cover the increased demand (even Tory Surrey Council were planning a 15% increase until they reached a special arrangement with their Tory minister colleagues), but inner city areas like Lewisham are harder hit because we have proportionately more social need and fewer higher rate council tax payers.
The cumulative impact of ten years of actual and planned Tory and Lib Dem cuts will mean that Lewisham’s budget will have been cut by 63% during the period 2010 -2020. The impact has been stark so far: Lewisham Council is now almost half the size it was in 2010, with 2,185 staff compared to 3,937 in 2010. We know only too well that despite our best attempts, most residents using Council services will have noticed that we cannot always do as much or as quickly as we did before.
In the face of the grim outlook, we want to pay tribute to our staff across the Council who are doing a remarkable job ensuring residents get the essential services and support they need. The Council is trying innovative solutions, including sharing services with other boroughs. Most recently, sharing our information technology service with Brent Council has saved over £1 million per year and has enabled our social workers to use effective mobile technology when working on the move. Also, by working with a strong local community, we are able to keep all 12 public libraries open.
And we will strive to deliver Labour priorities too. We are tackling the Tory housing crisis by building 2,000 affordable homes including the first council homes in a generation. In Place Ladywell we have delivered an innovative solution for families in temporary accommodation. We were the first Living Wage council in the country. We will continue to pay the real Living Wage, and in the last year, our business rates incentive scheme has more than trebled the number of Living Wage employers in Lewisham.
Finally, we are very proud that our Lewisham Offer for Syrian Refugees has found homes for initially 10 vulnerable refugee families from the horrific war in Syria. None of these homes has come from the Council’s social stock in order not to add pressure to the housing crisis, but have been offered from the local community as a result of the Council’s collaboration with local volunteers including Lewisham Citizens and many local faith groups and charities.
Lewisham may have lost millions in our financial resources, but our strongest resource is our people. Labour in Lewisham recognises that fact – by working together we will survive this reckless Tory Government and keep local services delivering however hard it gets.
If you want to find out more about our budget, you can do so here.