Cllr Andy Wilson, Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance, said Lambeth needed to steer a course through a period of high risk caused by real-terms funding reductions and economic stagnation – and the continuing pandemic.
His Medium Term Financial Strategy, presented to Lambeth’s Cabinet this week, set out a series of proposals designed to maintain front-line services and protect the vulnerable, while delivering value for money for the borough’s council taxpayers.
Overall council funding
Cllr Wilson welcomed the recent increase in councils’ core spending, after a period of unprecedented cuts in Government funding since 2010. But he added: “This increase will only return local government to estimated funding on a par with 2010 levels, after over eleven years of austerity and without accounting for increased demand in that time period.”
The continuing fall in the proportion of local authority spending provided by central government has meant that councils have had to rely more on local sources of income, including council tax and business rates.
Support for the poorest residents
But Cllr Wilson said Lambeth had worked hard to protect the poorest residents from the increases, particularly through the council tax support (CTS) scheme. He said: “This proposed support will permanently reduce the bills of almost 7,000 vulnerable households eligible for CTS, with most seeing their bills reduced to nil.
“Together with the Winter Support Package recently announced by the council to cover food, energy bills and housing costs for vulnerable families, alongside holiday support for families in receipt of free school meals, this support is part of the council’s increased efforts to protect Lambeth’s families from the cost-of-living crisis.”
Continuing Covid challenge
The MTFS report to Cabinet also warned that: “We must remain vigilant, as the new Omicron variant demonstrates, the covid-19 crisis is not over and it will continue to have significant financial effect on the level of resources available, both now and in the future, to the council and its partners.
“The already existing demand placed on our services – particularly in social care and temporary accommodation – have been added to by the pandemic and the continuing effect of the virus on our community and economy in the longer-term.”
The report revealed that costs associated with the coronavirus pandemic were forecast to be over £35m in 2021/22, as of quarter 2. The main areas of spending included: providing support to local businesses; reopening the economy safely; and expenditure within Adult Social Care to facilitate hospital discharges and on infection control.
Word from the Cabinet
Cllr Wilson added: “Enhancing our Council Tax Support scheme at a time when the cost-of-living crisis is being felt most acutely by some of our most financially vulnerable residents will help mitigate the impact of the government’s cut to Universal Credit, increasing the overall monthly income for many families in the borough.
“As part of the council’s increased efforts to protect Lambeth’s families from the cost-of-living crisis, our Winter Support Package will help support some of our most vulnerable families, providing towards the costs of food, housing and energy costs at a time when household incomes are being stretched and benefits removed.
“We will continue to take every opportunity to support vulnerable people in our communities, but we must also be honest in our ability to do so in the face of gradually reducing grant funding from central government, rising inflation, and ever-increasing demand on our essential day to day services. Despite all these pressures and uncertainties, we have maintained a balanced budget position without the need for further cuts or new savings.
“The current MTFS will continue to be developed to ensure that it underpins and supports the delivery of the Borough Plan priorities and provide certainty to our most vulnerable residents who so desperately rely upon our essential day to day services.”