Cllr Andy Wilson is the Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance and a councillor in Larkhall ward. Below is the speech he gave proposing the Lambeth Budget 2021/22 to Lambeth Full Council.
It has been a year like no other in living memory.
This time last year, we set the budget for the financial year ahead, on the cusp of entering the first national lockdown at the onset of the Covid-19 crisis; we now look set to end this financial year in a similar position. It has been a testing year for our communities and sadly, for many of our residents, a traumatic one.
For local government there are some things which have remained familiar. We are planning for next year’s budget in yet another state of continued uncertainty not simply with the progress and outcome of the pandemic, but with the future of local government finance and how severe the impact of long-term funding pressures will be on our essential services.
We find ourselves once again setting a budget whilst being none the wiser about:
- The long-term decisions on the Fair Funding Review;
- The resetting of the business rates base;
- The future of business rates retention;
- Or most importantly the much-mooted Government solution to the funding of Adult Social Care.
Unfortunately, these uncertainties have not been resolved by a succession of Conservative-led governments and not by the Chancellor in his speech this afternoon.
As central government grants fail to keep up with long term rises in demand for essential services councils will increasingly be forced to fund services from tax revenues, exacerbating a squeeze on local budgets and taxpayers since 2010.
Rishi Sunak had nothing to say on local government or the funding of social care in his budget speech. What we do know from the local government settlement is that almost half of the Chancellor’s £2.2 billion increase on the core settlement for local government assumes that councils will raise taxes locally to the maximum allowable limit.
While thousands of Lambeth families are worrying about the future of their jobs and how they will make ends meet, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are forcing local government to hike up council tax to make ends meet during a pandemic.
Thankfully the council’s prudent financial management means we have been able to weather this storm for now and set a balanced Medium-Term Financial Strategy, through a mixture of income generation, savings and use of reserves.
But the future will not be plain sailing and fundamentally the government has announced nothing to change the fact that councils will be forced to find new ways to generate income or face having to make more cuts in 2021 onwards to balance their books.
Rises in Council Tax and the Adult Social Care precepts are sticking plasters. Long-term pressures require longer term funding solutions and no clear plan on the future of social care and how we pay for it has been forthcoming from this government or any of its Tory predecessors.
As a result, this and every council has been forced by central government to raise Council Tax to stay on a sustainable financial footing. Even Wandsworth Council will be increasing Council tax for their residents by 3% this year.
These rises in local taxation, a regressive tax system, will leave residents bearing the costs. That is why as a Labour administration we’ve chosen to expand the welfare safety net for people in financial difficulty. We have done this by providing:
- An extra £500,000 in emergency financial support for residents at immediate risk of financial hardship;
- An extra £1 million to the budget for discretionary housing payments to support residents who may struggle to pay their housing costs;
- Additional funding for local advice surgeries to ensure that help is at hand to assist residents in finding the support they need;
- Help for households to make savings to their bills, managing income and offering advice on making sure they receive the right benefits for their situation, and since September this support has benefited 214 households saving them a total of £170,000;
- Nut most significantly we will Expand support for vulnerable people who struggle to pay their Council Tax by increasing the scope and funding for our Council Tax Support scheme.
As rises in Council Tax become a more significant factor in providing additional resource to local authorities, we will ensure that those who suffer the most from this increase receive increased financial support. We will set aside £1.5 million of hardship support, this year, to reduce the bills of almost 7,000 households eligible for Council Tax Support, with most of those seeing their bill reduced to nil.
We plan to begin consultation to adjust the Council Tax Support scheme to make this support permanent so that from 2022/23 we can protect more residents who struggle to make ends meet.
In addition to the enhancements to the Council Tax Support scheme, we’ve added a Foster Carer Council Tax allowance to support our foster carers for the incredibly important work that they do and to encourage more residents within the borough to become carers.
Lambeth’s budget reflects our Labour values – on the side of local people at a time of hardship and rebuilding the welfare safety net so cruelly removed by this Conservative government.
We will continue to take every opportunity to support vulnerable people in our communities, but we must also be honest that our ability to do so could be put at risk if the government doesn’t keep its promises to fund local authorities in full for the work we’ve done to fight Covid-19 as well as restoring needs based grant funding so that we can give certainty to our most vulnerable residents who so desperately rely upon our essential day to day services.
Cllr Andy Wilson