Mayor Biggs presented his draft budget at a Cabinet meeting last week (Wednesday 8th January) setting out his proposals for how Tower Hamlets Council should spend its annual budget. The budget follows a decade of austerity which has slashed council budgets and meant that Tower Hamlets Council has had to make £190 million in savings since 2010.
At the recent general election Tower Hamlets voted overwhelmingly to reject another five years of austerity. However following the national result of the election the squeeze on local government looks set to continue, and the council still has to save an extra £39 million by 2023. Tower Hamlets has seen a huge increase in demand for key services driven by rapid population growth and this is forecast to continue with the equivalent of 14 new residents every day for the next ten years.
The budget protects investment in flagship initiatives including:
- The borough’s Idea Stores, libraries, leisure centres and award winning parks.
- The Mayor’s programme to deliver 2,000 new council homes at genuinely affordable social rents.
- Funding for additional police officers to keep the borough’s streets safer.
- One of the most generous Council Tax Reduction schemes in the country which protects the poorest households from paying council tax.
- Our Liveable Streets programme to improve the environment as well as measures to tackle the Climate Emergency and clean up the borough’s air quality. Cleaning up our streets with investment in a new in-house waste service
- Supporting thousands more local people to develop new skills and gain employment.
The recent ‘Your Borough, Your Future’ consultation highlighted support for vulnerable children and adults as residents’ top priority for investment.
As a result the budget proposes £7.2m additional funding for children with social care or special educational needs and disabilities and a further £12.4m to support vulnerable adults as well as protecting investment in the council’s Tackling Poverty Fund and Free School Meals programme.
Residents told us in the consultation they supported reducing costs by making services more efficient, embracing technology to make things easier for residents and driving down back-office costs and agency staff costs.
Protecting local services despite the perfect storm of reducing Government funding and significant increases in demand have become an increasing challenge after ten years of austerity. The government is still expected to bring forward the so-called ‘Fair Funding’ review which could take money away from areas of high deprivation like Tower Hamlets and redirect it to Tory shires.
That is why, like many councils, Tower Hamlets is taking the difficult decision to recommend an increase in council tax of 1.99% in 2020/21 as well as a further 2% precept to fund adult social care services. In total the increases would amount to an extra 78p a week for the average Band D property. Tower Hamlets currently has the 7th lowest council tax in the capital and this will stay the same under the current proposals.
Mayor John Biggs said: “I’m proud of this budget which focuses on the priorities of our residents to make the borough cleaner, safer and fairer. These are difficult times for councils but by working hard to make services more efficient we have continued to protect frontline services despite the government slashing our funding. We’re delivering on my ambitious manifesto and protecting our investment in additional police, new homes and cleaner streets as well as increasing support for the most vulnerable.”
Cllr Candida Ronald, Cabinet Member for Resources and the Voluntary Sector: “We have worked hard to produce a budget that protects key frontline services that residents rely on however each year this is becoming harder as demand grows and government cuts continue. We need the government to reverse the massive cuts which have hammered councils over the last decade.”