The Tories and Lib Dems in Government have chosen to cut Lambeth’s net budget by nearly one third. Prime Minister David Cameron said ‘we’re all in this together’ when he promised that the broadest shoulders would bear the heaviest burden in paying down the cost of bailing out the banks. But he has done the opposite. Britain’s poorest communities and poorest families are losing the most. A map published by researchers at Newcastle City Council shows how the axe has fallen. Based on funding per head of population, the poorest areas in the country – urban areas in inner London and the north of England – have lost over £100 funding per person. By contrast, wealthier parts of the South-East where social problems are far fewer have seen an increase in funding. It couldn’t be starker. You’d expect this kind of vindictiveness from Tories, but it’s the active support of the Lib Dems – a party that once claimed to stand for fairness – that’s been the most surprising. Not a single Lib Dem councillor in Lambeth has objected to this. In fact, at last week’s council meeting, they sought instead to justify their own government’s onslaught against the people of Lambeth.
By the time the funding cuts have all been made, Lambeth will lose £94.5m a year out of a total budget that was once around £300m. Our Labour councillors are doing our best to manage that devastating reduction in a way that minimises the damage to our community. We made a number of promises that we are determined to keep: we committed to:
- Protect services that matter most to local people
- Cut the back office to protect the front line
- Protect the most vulnerable
- Support people’s aspirations for a better quality of life including better housing, schools, and a clean environment
- Keep people safe and secure
Our budget aims to do all those things, although the funding reductions are so severe it’s not possible to protect everyone from pain. It is, though, a major achievement that over two-thirds of the funding cuts in Lambeth have been made to back-office services rather than the frontline. In total, 97% of our cuts have been made without closing services down. Instead of closing services, where we’ve faced funding cuts we’ve aimed to share services with other organisations to save costs, or are providing them in different ways rather than cut them completely.
We’ve also worked hard to make our assets work harder for local people than ever before – that means looking again at how we can create partnerships, use our buildings better, and rethink how we use our cash reserves. The result of this has been truly impressive. We’ve just opened a new leisure centre in Clapham at no cost to the public, with a new library opening later this month, and work under way to build a new leisure centre, ice rink and swimming pool in Streatham. We’ve found a way to keep all our other libraries open under greater community control, and we’re cutting the cost of council buildings by reducing the number we use and getting out of leases for old, run-down buildings that cost more to maintain. We’re reduced the number of temporary staff from 22% under the Tories and Lib Dems to below 7% today. We’re selling off underused buildings to provide the funding for new primary schools. And most impressive of all, we’re able to guarantee to upgrade every substandard council home in Lambeth over the next five years by selling off uneconomic properties and using our cash reserves to bring empty homes back into use so they generate a rental income for the council.
We have made no changes to who is eligible for care services among our older and disabled population. We have maintained funding for our squad of PCSOs that support the local police under police command. We have protected frontline services that keep young people out of gangs. And we’ve found the money to build a new centre to protect the victims of domestic violence. With so many household budgets under pressure, we’ve also frozen council tax with no increase at all for the fourth year running.
Despite the Government’s decision to hit local people with an unfair share of funding cuts we remain adamant that we will not let the Government make victims of our residents. We cannot magic away the pain of all the cuts, but we’ve done our best to support our community through these most difficult times.