Cllr Andy Wilson is the Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance, and a councillor in Larkhall ward.
A number of promises and commitments have been made from the national political parties as part of their campaigns for the upcoming general election.
Yet the current debate risks ignoring the reality of what the last nine and a half years of Tory government has done for this country – and how little we can actually trust Boris Johnson if he was to be handed a full 5 year term in Downing Street.
On Monday, Lambeth’s Cabinet agreed our updated financial plan – and the cold hard truth of our budget challenge was a world away from Tory attempts to buy votes with expensive election promises.
Since 2010, Lambeth council has faced over £240 million of cuts due to Tory austerity for local services. Last year we had to agree to save £38 million over the next four years. And despite a claim to be spending more on public services, the failure to fund them properly meant we had to find another £6 million of savings in our plans approved earlier this week.
Trying to set a four year budget under this government is almost a laughable exercise. Since the last budget setting we’ve had:
- The deepening of the crisis caused by the Tories’ Brexit psychodrama – including four votes on Brexit without any agreed way forward.
- Two different Prime Ministers and two different Chancellors.
- Two spending reviews with no additional funds for Lambeth.
- The scrapping of a longer term Spending Review in favour of a series of cynical, one off funding announcements.
- The scrapping of the devolution of business rates funding for London – which was supposed to be the future direction of travel for local government funding.
The only thing that has been certain is that ideologically-driven, Tory austerity is far from over.
Minuscule rises in funding are dwarfed by the actual spending need in areas like special educational needs, school funding and social care. Over the next four years, rising demand and further government cuts means the council must find a further £6 million.
Children’s and adults services face significant pressures on their budgets, but the reality is that the resources that the council has to allocate to them under Tory austerity is not sufficient to meet the rising demands in our population. We need genuine reform and investment in social care and a return to the level of investment needed to properly support children in the care of the council.
Despite the scale of the challenge, the council’s financial plan focuses on protecting most frontline services from major cuts and identifies the bulk of savings from new income. In particular, the main focus will be on raising income and savings from back office functions.
This is in line with what Lambeth residents told us they wanted to see from the council in the 2018 MTFS consultation. We have listened to residents who told us they wanted to see increased investment in tackling violence that affects young people, in providing opportunities for young people and in tackling climate change.
This Lambeth Labour council has fought tooth and nail to protect front-line services from the excessive austerity agenda driven by the Tories in government. A few pre-election bungs cannot make up for the impact of a decade of Tory-led cuts to local services.
The only thing that is now certain is that on 12th December, we have a chance to put an end to this assault on public services once and for all by electing a Labour government that can properly fund local government and invest in the services that vulnerable people in Lambeth depend on.
Cllr Andy Wilson
Lambeth Cabinet member for Finance