The Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has responded to the government’s comprehensive spending review consultation, outlining the impact of continuing austerity on the council’s finances.

Mayor Biggs highlighted that Tower Hamlets has already made savings of £190m since 2010 and has budgeted to make a further £30m worth of savings over the next three years even before the impact of coronavirus is accounted for. Over the same period, local government as a whole has lost 60% of its core government funding, equating to a £16bn cut across the sector.

Calling on the government to follow through on its pledge to ‘end austerity’, Mayor Biggs had three clear asks of the spending review – to provide a properly-funded vision for adult social care, to enhancing funding for community care initiatives, and to give a funding boost to youth services which have been drastically cut across the country. A report published last year from the APPG on knife crime & violence reduction found a link between cuts to youth services and an increase in knife crime.

Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “After a decade of austerity, we are now seeing the scarring impact of these cuts. The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the already-perilous state of local government finances and it’s time for the government to end austerity and invest in public services.”

Cllr Rachel Blake, Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, said: “The adult social care crisis has gone on long enough. An estimated 1.5m people across the country have an unmet care need, yet we have no long-term vision from the government, just dither and delay. Councils simply cannot be expected to bear the brunt for government failure.”

 

Full text of the Mayor’s consultation submission:

Local government has been one of the sectors most hard-hit by government austerity since 2010. Over the last ten years, local government as a whole has faced a reduction of core funding of £16bn which equates to 60p out of every £1 of government funding received by councils.

These cuts have coincided with a period of increased demand for council services, particularly within adult social care and housing services. This toxic combination of rising demand and diminishing budgets has resulted in the closure of vital frontline services, such as libraries, children’s centres and youth centres across the country.

In my borough, Tower Hamlets, we have already made savings worth £190m since 2010 and have budgeted to save a further £30m over the next three years. Clearly continued austerity is unsustainable.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to a further strain on already-scarce resources as councils rose to the challenge of dealing with the immediate crisis and supporting our most vulnerable residents while at the same time seeing incomes reduce.

Equally, the pandemic has taught us that investment in public services have clear long-term benefits. Local authorities’ key role in dealing with both the public health and economic effects of the pandemic has shown that councils have the knowledge and expertise make effective decisions about their local areas. I think it’s time to put local government the centre of your pledge to end austerity.

The spending review presents an opportunity for your government to support public services and begin to reverse a decade of decline. From a Tower Hamlets perspective, I have three clear asks.

First, we desperately need a solution to the social care crisis. Disappointingly, we have now learnt that the government’s long-term plan for social care is unlikely to be published this year despite the green paper being announced back in March 2017 and a clear commitment that the paper would be published in 2020. This dither and delay is a let down to the 1.5 million people in the country who have an unmet care need and pushes local councils further towards insolvency as an ever increasing portion of the income is used to fund social care.

We need a well-funded, long term vision which gives people the care and dignity that they deserve, resolves the funding crisis in local government social care departments, while also addressing the low wages and insecure contracts which are endemic within the social care sector.

Second, and relatedly, we need a greater focus on holistic care and community services. Community services, which can offer a lifeline to isolated individuals or families struggling with care needs, have been significantly scaled back across the country because of austerity. Community services are preventative in the sense that they can treat a need, such as loneliness, before it develops into a more significant health problem. In Tower Hamlets, we recently took to difficult decision to stop our meals on wheels service in order to make savings within our adult social care budget. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how vital community services can be as we’ve seen the number of people who do not have a support network around them. Therefore, I would like the government to support councils to increase spending on these types of services.

Youth services is another area in desperate need of investment. Spend on youth services has declined nationally by an average of forty per cent since 2010 and London alone has lost more than 500 youth workers. Last year the All Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime found a clear link between these cuts and a rise in knife crime with the areas making the largest cuts also seeing the greatest rise in knife crime. In Tower Hamlets we are one of the highest spending councils in London on youth services but we have been forced to make significant savings as a result of cuts to our funding.

In London and across the country we have seen the impact of cuts to front line policing and reduced spending of youth services. Violent crime is on the rise and our young people are increasingly drawn into gangs and county lines drugs trade. In Tower Hamlets crime is now our residents’ top concern. Not only does rising crime have a negative social impact – destroying lives, families and communities – but the cost of dealing with the effects of these entrenched social problems far outweighs the cost of providing preventative services, like youth services which make early interventions and can change lives. It’s therefore time to restore funding for youth services to 2010 levels in real terms.

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