OPINION: Community Links life-president Kevin Jenkins wonders how Newham can maintain services on a council tax freeze
PUBLISHED: 09:00 01 March 2017
Once again the Mayor of Newham is recommending to Newham Council a budget which includes no increase in the Newham element of council tax - for the ninth year running, no additional precept for social care and saving of £80.08 million without cutting frontline services.
I’m sure such a budget will be very popular with the electorates.
Probably much less popular will be my view, that perhaps the freeze on the council tax and not taking the opportunity to raise additional resources for social care is one freeze and one missed opportunity too many. I am conscious that I do not have view of the detailed data that the mayor and council have, my instincts are based on a combination of the data I can see, my year round observations and personal experiences. My key concerns
1. Although this year’s budget proposals may retain the current frontline services, these frontline services are a lot less than they were three, four or five years ago, for example, there are a lot less youth clubs, holiday playschemes, advice services, more erratic street sweeping in residential roads, poorer quality and less used parks etc.
Similarly, although a frontline service is still there, if the essential criteria required to access the services is raised, fewer people will benefit from the services even though they are still there. More worryingly, over a period of time, services that were originally preventative become reactive due to the ever increasing access criteria, meaning that problems and issues are dealt with when they are much more deep rooted and much harder to resolve, costing more money to do than they would have done at a much earlier stage.
2. It’s always easier and more popular to cut the back office, however, the frontline services do need back office support. I fear that the back office services in Newham are creaking and may not be able to continue supporting the frontline due to the continuous cuts they are enduring.
3. Although the restructuring on the repayments of the council’s debt is welcome, the actual overall level of council debt (and growing) is concerning, especially in the medium to long term.
4. The most concerning, is the failure to take the opportunity of raising additional funds for social care. The level of real genuine need in Newham far outstrips the services available, which no restructuring or new ways of doing things will cure. These services which effect the most vulnerable in the borough need additional resources to deliver the quality of care that the people need and deserve.
Although I applaud the efforts of the Mayor and council to balance the books, there does come a time when you need to increase the pot rather than rearranging inadequate resources within the pot. More from Kevin