Labour in local government is leading the way in being innovative and providing a last line of defence against government policies. John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets
Local government has faced a decade of cuts due to Tory austerity. In Tower Hamlets we’ve had to make savings of £190m since 2010 due to reductions in cash from central government and massive increases in demand on our services.
Successive Tory Governments have been all too happy to allow local government to take more than its portion of blame for spending decisions made in Westminster. It is those same Government policies which have led to the poorest in society bearing the brunt of austerity as public services are pared back or starved of cash.
Politics in 2020 can too often seem all doom and gloom but in local government we are bucking the trend, leading transformational change for our communities despite the tough economic times. Councils are currently setting their budgets for the year ahead. This is an excellent time to highlight some of the many examples of the great work we are doing as a Labour team despite the context of continuing cuts.
We are protecting services and delivering on our ambitious manifesto here in Tower Hamlets. There has been lots of change already, for example through our efforts to make more of our services available online or by embracing technology to enable more adults with social care needs to live independently in their own home for longer.
Not shutting a library or a leisure centre doesn’t get any headlines but keeping vital non-statutory services like libraries open and up-to-date isn’t easy when your budget gets sliced year after year – but we know these services make a real difference to residents’ lives and so we’ve made ourselves a lot leaner as a council to protect them.
As well as protecting services our budget tackles the issues residents raise with us, so the budget:
- Invests an extra £7.2m in children’s social care and SEND with a further £12.4m supporting vulnerable adults.
- Continues to fund additional police officers to keep our streets safe and tackle drug crime.
- Delivers new council homes and thousands more new affordable homes.
- Provides free school meals for all primary school pupils in the borough.
- Cleans up our streets with a new in-house waste service.
- Protects the poorest with 100% council tax discount and our multi-million pound Tackling Poverty fund.
- Supports thousands more local people into work or training.
- Transforms our neighbourhoods through our Liveable Streets programme to cut down on rat running, improve air quality and make our roads more pedestrian friendly.
I’m really proud of our budget but it feels like we are walking a tightrope with increased pressures piled on top of cuts. The government’s ‘Fair Funding’ review still looms and means there are further big storm clouds. A recently published paper shows that Tower Hamlets is likely to lose millions in social care funding alone, just one part of council funding; meanwhile Conservative council strongholds Hampshire and Surrey would see large boosts.
And so we are planning on keeping our current levels of support but are expecting a further wave of even bigger cuts.
We want to continue with the work that can really make a difference. Whether it’s to give overcrowded residents a new home so children have their own room to do their homework in, and tackle the horrendous levels of overcrowding. Or it’s getting more people into training that helps them get the job they wanted or help someone claim benefits they are entitled to so they can afford to heat their home.
These are the issues that come up again and again at my advice surgery and inform my politics. Labour in local government is leading the way in being innovative and providing a last line of defence against government policies.
We’ve seen a huge strain on our public services and the welfare safety net and I hoped the general election would see a progressive Labour message win. In Tower Hamlets that happened but nationally we failed to convince voters.
For those people at my advice surgery it really makes a difference who is in the Town Hall as well as who is currently in Number 10. That’s the difference Labour in local government makes. Now we need to win the argument nationally.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets