Thursday, 3 March 2011

Hackney Council - the Government's cuts and our budget

On Wednesday evening, Hackney Council set its budget for 2011 / 2012.

The full budget papers are available online on the Council’s website, and can be downloadedhere.

It is not possible for Hackney to escape the impact of the Government’s spending review. This budget, however, is the financial expression of this Council’s Labour Mayor, Cabinet and Councillors determination and commitment to shielding residents from the Tory government’s attack on the nation’s public services.

The cuts to local government are some of the deepest allocated to any part of the public sector, and the cuts to Hackney are among the deepest anywhere in local government. Once one off monies and some NHS money ‘given’ to councils is removed, the cut in Hackney’s grant for 2011/12 is 14.9% - 44 million pounds. This is one of the most severe cuts in Central Government support to Local Government since the Second World War.

Over the past months councillors and officers have been grappling with how this reduction in spending can be achieved with the minimum of harm to the people of Hackney. The front loading of cuts into year one and the delay in the publication of the provisional settlement until mid-December has made this task more difficult still.

Despite this, in this budget the Council will not be making cuts to the front-line services it provides to residents. There will be no raising of eligibility criteria for homecare for the elderly, there’ll be no library closures, no closure of children’s centres, no reduction in the cleanliness of our streets or any similar ending or reduction of services.

Instead, the Council has delivered the required savings through a range of changes, including continuing the efficiency savings that it has made every year for the past five years - these savings include stripping out layers of management, transforming the way we work, and gaining additional efficiencies from the contracts we have for things like ICT. In addition, a significant part of the cuts this year have been to funding for the wider borough that was passed through the council to Team Hackney – the local partnership that funded many projects that were run alongside the Council’s services. The Council has attempted to step in and fund Team Hackney activities where we can, but obviously our resources are limited.

Some people have suggested that the Council should either set an illegal budget or no budget at all and to do otherwise would be implementing ‘Tory cuts’. Neither of these are legally possible and, frankly, these accusations do no more that help the Government localise the blame for cuts on councils.

If either an illegal budget or no budget were set, then – very simply – the council’s officers would continue to follow the current budget. In this scenario, when contracts ran out services – from the council’s website, to sure start centres and nurseries - would be shut down. Eventually, a team from central government would be appointed to direct officers. In summary, the action would have no effect whatsoever.

The spending reductions imposed on local government and Hackney in particular have been made under the guise of ‘deficit reduction’ but ultimately at their core lies an ideology that seeks to change, and attempt to dismantle, public sector provision in our country. Whilst in this budget we have made the best attempt we can to protect you, your neighbours and all the people of Hackney, in future years this will become more and more difficult.

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