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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

‘Too little, too late’: Council leader slams government for last minute £600m cash injection

Cllr Muhammed Butt, warned ‘horrific choices’ would have to be made to find the £8 million savings needed to balance next year’s budget.

The leader of a North London council has slammed the government for its last-minute cash injection to help fund social care, calling it ‘too little, too late’. Last week (24 January) the government announced it would step in to support the council’s delivery of key services by providing a £600 million support package.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) said it had ‘listened to councils’ after leaders across England raised concerns about the prospect of bankruptcy due to the financial pressures they are under. Around £500 million of the total is earmarked specifically for social care.

Last year, Brent Council leader, Cllr Muhammed Butt, warned ‘horrific choices’ would have to be made to find the £8 million savings needed to balance next year’s budget. Inflation, decreased government funding and a growing demand for services were blamed for the challenges the local authority is facing in delivering statutory services, particularly adult and children’s services.

Cllr Butt has previously called the dependency on grants ‘no way to run local government’ and urged the central government to ‘fund it properly’ by giving the council more power to make decisions for the community. However, Cllr Butt, who has to deliver the final budget next month (29 February)  called the latest government intervention ‘too little, too late’.

Cllr Butt told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “Brent Council has made £210 million of cuts to services since 2010 and is expected to make a further £8 million in cuts for this year’s budget. Injecting a last-minute pittance into the sector as councils are about to go bankrupt is neither an effective nor an efficient form of statecraft.”

He added: “As usual from this yesterday government, the funding is too little, too late and an insult to the people that rely on our frontline services.”

In October, the council warned its finances were ‘on a knife edge’ as it revealed a £13 million budget overspend in the housing services department – particularly due to rising homelessness in the borough and the need to provide more temporary accommodation. Between 130 and 150 people a week are currently coming to the council looking for housing support, according to the council.

To help balance the books, council tax is once again set to rise by 4.99 per cent next year – the maximum allowed without a referendum – whilst some adult services, such as the Millennium Day Centre, will be cut.

In addition to the extra cash for social care, this week’s announcement by the government also revealed that councils will see a 4 per cent increase in ‘core spending power’ – the government money available to fund service delivery. This is an increase from the 3 per cent previously announced in December as part of the annual spending review for local authorities.

But the organisation representing local authorities in London has warned that the funding remains insufficient.  Deputy Chair of London Councils, Claire Holland, welcomed that the government had listened but claimed London boroughs will still face a funding gap of more than £400m next year.

She said: “London boroughs have forecast to overspend on adult and children’s social care by £350 million this year. While they will receive £77 million from the additional £500 million to support adults and children’s social care, it is insufficient to meet the need and complexity of need of our residents.”

She added: “It is also very concerning that the formula used to distribute this funding takes no account of children’s social care needs. If it did, London boroughs would receive more than £100 million.”

Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove, said: “We have listened to councils across England about the pressures they’re facing and have always stood ready to help those in need. This additional £600 million support package illustrates our commitment to local government. We are in their corner, and we support the incredible and often unsung work they do day-to-day to support people across the country.”

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