Read the speech Cllr Andy Wilson, Cabinet Member for Finance, made at the 2019 Budget Council meeting…
Thank you, Mr Mayor.
I am presenting this budget to Council today with a difficult message for our residents,
Dealing with cuts from the Coalition and Now Tory Government has become a sad reality of our budget setting process every year and it will continue into a second decade by the end of this administration. It is clear that with the Tories in power, austerity is far from over.
If there is one message that councillors should take home this evening it is that the local government is facing a period of unparalleled uncertainty.
- Uncertainty caused by the government’s failure to secure and pass a Brexit deal which means the UK is hurtling towards a damaging No Deal exit from the EU, putting jobs and our economy at risk.
- Uncertainty caused by the planned fair funding review next year, which will take money away from poorer, urban areas like Lambeth and shift it to rural Tory shires.
- Uncertainty caused by business rates retention pilots, where the government has reduced the amount of business rates local councils will receive, while offering no certainty on what will happen after next April or how the Government will protect Council’s from the impacts of the economic cycle on an income stream fully dependent on the health of the economy.
- Uncertainty caused by a lack of a spending review, due next April but with no idea on what our funding will be afterwards or whether we will be given allocations on a year by year basis
- Uncertainty caused by the failure to properly sort out social care, with a Green Paper promised two years ago to address the shortfall of care between the NHS and local councils but nothing yet delivered. Lambeth currently faces a £6 million pressure on our adult social care budget but with absolutely no idea how that will be funded in the future.
So while we have published a credible, balanced budget with a clear plan, we know that the future may change very quickly in the next few weeks and months.
It’s a shame that the opposition budgets completely fail to recognise the reality of that situation.
The Green budget, while at least an improvement on Cllr Ainslie’s previous blank pieces of paper, comes with a significant credibility gap and a major financial health warning from the council’s finance officer.
Though to be fair, it’s a marginal improvement on the effort of Cllr Briggs, who has impressively copy and pasted last year’s budget effort without actually changing most of the dates.
Presumably Cllr Briggs just wishes it was still 2017-18 when he had two more Conservative councillors in the borough.
We hear a lot of talk about decent opposition from opposition councillors – but their failure to actually offer any solutions sums up why the voters of Thornton ward rejected them so comprehensively last week. It’s not enough to say you want to hold people to account, when it matters you actually have to do it, in Labour we know that holding government to account is more than just warm words and motions at Full Council.
Mr Mayor, I’m proud that it is Labour in Lambeth that is dealing in reality and has produced a credible budget that despite the circumstances, protects our most vulnerable residents and delivers on our ambitious manifesto for a better, fairer Lambeth. I believe the choices we’ve made reflect the values that our residents want from a Labour council.
And we know that because that is what our residents have told us through the budget consultation, one of the largest engagement exercises on a budget that this Council has ever seen. 4000 people responded online and I personally have met with a number of community groups and in some instances some very enthusiastic individuals to discuss our plans and the state of local government finances.
The key findings are that 46% of residents agreed or strongly agreed with the council’s saving proposals and 40% agreed or strongly agreed, that the budget proposals will enable the council to achieve its priorities
Residents placed services for children, Tackling Youth Violence and community safety as their top three areas for the council to prioritise. This is reflected in the additional funding for tackling youth violence in this Budget and in the significant focus the council is placing on this area as a policy priority.
So we have gone further in this budget to consult and understand what our residents want from their Council and having listened to residents, we have:
- Invested additional funding to tackle youth violence
- Introduced a business rates discount scheme for local firms that follow Lambeth council’s lead and pay the London Living Wage – because everyone deserves a decent wage for a hard day’s work.
- Protected spending on child and adolescent mental health, benefits advice and violence against women and girls services.
- We have scrapped plans to make savings in our library service
- As part of our commitment to continuing to invest in our borough despite austerity, we will deliver £131 million of investment in the next two years in roads and pavements, parks and homes
- And we are delivering on our manifesto commitment to double the council tax on empty homes
That doesn’t mean there aren’t some really difficult choices – austerity means that is unavoidable. We have had to increase council tax by 2.99%, to help prevent even further cuts and stay on top of inflation.
But I believe the choices we’ve made reflect the values that our residents want from a Labour council. I can only hope that a general election is called in the near future and a Labour Government is returned that ends austerity and reinstates funding to local government and means we can do more to help our impoverished communities.