Cllr Andy Wilson recommending the budget to full council
Cllr Andy Wilson recommending the budget to full council

Cllr Andy Wilson is the Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance, and is a councillor in Larkhall ward.

The future of local government funding has remained uncertain despite the General Election in December.

At this week’s Lambeth council meeting, councillors were forced to pass a budget without knowing our final funding settlement from government due to delays in Parliament. With that:

  • No Comprehensive Spending Review, no sign of promised reforms to the funding of Adult Social Care and the possibility of Brexit hanging over us, all the political noise in Westminster over the last year has done little to change the fundamental uncertainty on the ground in Lambeth.

What we do have some indication of is that:

  • The outcome of the government’s Fair Funding Review will likely see Lambeth lose significant sums of money as the Tory government moves money away from deprived inner-city London boroughs towards County Shires and newly won electoral seats in the North.

The timely Local Government information Unit and Municipal Journal’s State of Local Government Finance Report makes for dispiriting though not entirely unexpected reading, clearly highlighting the widening disconnect between local and central government. According to their survey:

  • 74% of councils say they do not have confidence in the sustainability of local government finance.
  • Councils are near universally disappointed with government progress in delivering a sustainable funding system and a long-term social care strategy (97% and 98% respectively).

This comes as no surprise. Local government and Lambeth in particular has borne the brunt of a cumulative funding crisis for a decade and counting, inflicted by successive Tory governments. The message is clear, Tory austerity is not over.

This small rise in funding for the coming year simply does not mitigate the actual spending need in areas like special educational needs, school funding and children’s and adults’ social care. But we are not alone, issues of rising need and costs are being felt across the capital and the UK.

In Adult Social Care:

  • The Office for Budget Responsibility projects that in 5 years’ time adult social care will take up a much larger share of local taxes. Even if we continue to raise Council Tax by 4% for the next 5 years there will still be a £2bn gap in the funding required, which will have to be met by reductions in other services.

In Children’s Services:

  • Lambeth will receive the smallest percentage increase of funding through the Dedicated Schools Grant of 2.2%. This compares with 4.4% for London Boroughs as a whole and 5.9% nationally.
  • In 2017-18 all but one council in London were in deficit on their high-needs expenditure and all but six were in deficit on their children’s social care expenditure.

Here in Lambeth we have chosen to protect services for the most vulnerable and where possible provided additional investment in schemes such as Coburg Crescent and advancing new ways of joint working with partners in Lambeth Together and Living Well Networks. This reflects our priorities as an administration and what residents told us were their priorities in the budget consultation last year.

In last year’s budget, we agreed an investment of £500,000 to tackle serious youth violence and this year’s budget we are allocating £1m. We have put in place a 1% social value levy on our major third party contracts which will generate an additional £1.2m for a Youth Opportunity Fund, using our purchasing power in the local economy to provide direct social value to our residents.

And finally the effects of the climate crisis are continuing to be felt all around us. Lambeth was the first council in London, and one of the first nationally, to declare a climate emergency with a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2030. As part of this, the Council is establishing a citizen’s assembly to work with residents on a plan to significantly reduce carbon emissions across the borough, ensuring that Lambeth plays its part in helping London, and the UK, reach its climate change goals.

In order to fund the activity associated with this initiative, our budget proposes to invest £250,000 to cover the first two years of the programme.

Despite the uncertainty and funding challenges faced, our Lambeth Labour budget continues to reflect our priorities as an administration with investment in tackling youth violence, tackling the climate crisis, and protecting services that our most vulnerable residents rely upon.

Cllr Andy Wilson

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