Lewisham's Big Budget Challenge

Lewisham Council has launched a "Big Budget Challenge" consultation, asking residents to give them their views on how it should bridge the £85million funding gap it faces over the next three years. They say:

What would you do if you had to save around £1 in every £3 you spend? That’s the challenge facing the Council which has to find further savings worth £85million over the next three years in the face of reduced government spending. 

The Council would like to know what you would do – how you would meet this budget challenge. What services are important to you and your family? What services do you think are important to the more vulnerable members of the community? Where might you find the savings? Using the online budget simulator you can decide how you would allocate the funding. To take part, click here.

 You can also attend your local assembly meeting during September and October to join in the discussion about the Council’s budget. 

It might look like one way to save some of that 85 million quid would be to employ less elaborate consultation mechanisms but the tool is actually hosted by the Local Government Association.

What it is trying to impart to us is that the "easy wins" of sharing services with other councils, allowing advertising on redevelopment sites and procuring more economically will only take them so far - that some very difficult choices lie ahead. And to that extent, it's a salutary exercise.

BC chose to ringfence "Environment and Waste" and "Planning, Economy and Regeneration" because we figure these are the fundamentals on which Lewisham's future prosperity is based - helping the Council to grow its revenues in the long term. We only trimmed the "Culture, Leisure and Community Development" budget, because we think this is an investment in quality of life, which benefits everyone. We also jacked up Council Tax by the maximum permitted amount, but it doesn't make a lot of difference.

What the game shows is that the Council is primarily a front-line social care provider and to make the figures balance, you have to cut things like adult care, child protection, housing support and community safety to the bone. We chose to protect spending on children's services and child protection (because, you know, children are the future) as much as possible, but we set about Council support and customer services with a blow-torch and some pliers, not because these aren't useful, but because front-line services have to come first.

Finally, we made up the balance with quite drastic cuts to adult social care, housing and community safety - the latter because with falling crime rates in the borough, we think there needs to be some sort of peace dividend and the former, no-doubt, out of our own ignorance of how essential these services are. The site tells you what the negative impact of your proposed cuts in each area are and the adult care cuts we proposed would probably lead to more people ending up in homes, more social isolation and less effective intervention by social workers.

All in all, not a pleasant exercise and by the end, you do not envy the Councillors and officers who have to implement the real cuts. Which is of course, the point.

50 comments:

thomtownsend said...

Massive piece of pedantry, but the tool was originally the work of You Gov and the Redbridge Council and dates from 2011. Would be interested to know who gets to look at the back end data from this.

AliAfro said...

I propose a rebate from Conways for all of their shoddy work.

Brockley Nick said...

That is good detail, thanks.

BarneyBear said...

How would I save money? I'd choose not to resurface and repaint a 100m stretch of a dead end road which doesn't get any traffic in the last week of the financial year. (Arbuthnot road next to the northerly end of Telegraph Hill lower park, fwiw).

Spending money purely because it hasn't yet been spent is an age old council disease.

Chris Wheal said...

It would not let me complete it. I was merely suggesting that they undo all the damage done by not increasing the council tax by the full amount in past years. It let me select all three options of 2%, 3% and 4% but then said that would increase council tax by 16%.

Even better would be to scrap the council tax and have local income tax. HMRC collects income tax significantly cheaper per £1 collected than the council can collect council tax (and pay out council tax benefits).

In every company I have ever worked for the first thing proposed when money is tight is a pay cut. I suggested they set the maximum salary at five time the lowest and watch all the wastrels leave, only replacing the few managers absolutely necessary.

And then there's the mayor and councillors - How about none get paid allowances or expenses if the turnout is below 50%? We, the electorate, clearly are not bothered about having them. Having contacted mine recently I cannot see that they serve any useful purpose.

Headhunter said...

To be fair though, that stretch of "road to nowhere" had big chunks back down to the Victorian setts and it was just getting worse... It shouldn't be a priority but what do you do? Let the road return to nature?

terrencetrentderby said...

That's all under Old Man Conway's bed in Ireland

JP said...

Lewisham Borough Council have employed Mitie (a notorious contractor who are being sued by at least one other council) to tart up Crossfields Estate in Deptford (where I live) at a price of £3.6 million. This is almost completely unnecessary and inhabitants feel that palms must have been greased. Cutting this sort of waste (we can't be the only example) would be a good start. JP

PeoplesAssemblySEL said...

It's like The Sims- the Council Cuts edition.

Martin said...

There were 3 big items: child care, adult social services and 'council services'. To me it looks like they will have to save somewhere there. I'd go and review all programmes which are included there and see which ones didn't work and stop them.

I know that people react emotionally when we talk about children but I can't believe that every initiative is successful and is making a difference.

Also if the council tried to get more employment here they'd start getting more taxes from the businesses.

local n vocal said...

Bleeding stumps nonsense. By correlating every cut with a front line or service impact they are suggesting that they are operating at 100% efficiency. Having worked in the public sector for nearly 10 years (including three London boroughs) I can promise you that central govt depts and local borough alike are deeply inefficient beasts.


No question that a 30% budget reduction over a parliamentary term is a bloody tough challenge. But throughout this period, as many of the comments here testify, we continue to see large scale waste through poor commercial management.


Efficiencies and reforms before top level, aimless cuts please!

Headhunter said...

Never worked in the public sector but speaking to friends who have, I also get the impression there are often very inefficient.... In particular I remember one of my friends years ago moved from a bank to work at the local council, when she arrived they gave her a pile of stuff to do which she completed by the end of the 2nd day. She went to her manager who looked at her in disbelief and told her that work was supposed to last her for a couple of weeks.... She soon learned to slow down to "public sector pace"....

Brockley Nick said...

Only problem with local income tax is that it puts all the burden on salaries rather than wealth. So someone sitting on a lovely big house they inherited from their parents and who doesn't have to work pays nothing, whereas someone slaving away to earn enough to pay rent or mortgage for a small flat pays a lot. That is neither fair nor does it reflect the impact those people are likely to have on local services. A large household is likely to generate more waste, to be collected, for example, while an old person in a large house that they bought for a song in the 70s is likely to require lots of that "adult care" that costs the Council so much, whereas a working couple in their 30s probably cost the Council nothing.


Tax wealth more, incomes less.

Newby said...

Local councils have no real power to raise any revenue themselves. Even the small amount they raise via council tax is capped by central government. If we freed councils up to both raise money (by income or wealth taxes or issuing debt) and spend money this would breath some life into local politics? That said I would rather they just spent less and taxed less.

Monkeyboy said...

I've worked in both, I could cherry pick anecdotes for my time to support any position I choose. The idea that "private = good" "public = bad" is helpful is wrong. I spent many ££££ on pointless activities in the telecom industry, it was ok - we passed it into the customer. Doesn't demonstrate anything in particular. There are good and bad ways of running an organisation. That's all.

Monkeyboy said...

I agree on the commercial side. To get good commercial governance requires professional commercial expertise. That requires a commercial salary and adds to the dreaded "back office beaurocrat" count that witless politicians love to hate even though they struggle to define it. Much better to parcel up work and farm it out to other to manage, like Conway or Skanska..... Oh

Chris Wheal said...

What selfish ignorant tosh. If you weren't the blog's owner I'd assume you were a troll.

Let's, for a moment, stick with the me, me, me attitude. This 30-year-old couple wil have spent their childhood in council parks, sports facilities and play areas, swinging on council swings and sheltering in council buildings. They will have then gone to council-funded and run schools, attending council events - perhaps the Peoples' Day every year. By the time they paid their first tax they would have been in debt to the council.

If the pair are youngest of siblings their parents are probably already retired and on council tax-funded bus passes, using council services for free and perhaps one or more is getting some extra council-provided care or a blue badge for parking.

Even in the selfish world in which you live, the 30-year-old couple are paying back for services or paying ahead for ones they will use in the future. If the council comes and helps a nuisance neighbour who has mental health problems, or planners prevent a neighbour's extension blocking their sunlight, they'll even be benefitting now.

But tax isn't about being selfish. It's about paying for the worst off. I hope you never need social services help, I really do, but that's the kind of thing we are paying for. After a car accident in Spain that left my wife with a head injury, she finally came out of the specialist hospital after four months. She was released into the care of social services. Our son was deemed "at risk" as a result, so had his own social worker too. With input from our health visitor, the pair put in place an outstanding package of help, in the house and outside, to help my wife cope, recover and, eventually return to work. I offered to be a case study for some positive publicity but they declined. They said the last thing they needed was good publicity as they were over budget already with most people in need trying desperately to avoid them.

Think of tax as like insurance - our travel insurance paid for our nurse-assisted return from Spain and ambulance to hospital in the UK. I wish I'd paid the premium and never needed to claim. Those who do claim rely on the small amounts paid by those who don't.

Newby said...

The thing is people really are not paying for services they will use in the future. They are paying the interest on the huge national debt and for liabilities that they will never receive such as free old age care, pensions and the like. Just because you believe in a smaller state does not imply that you are selfish more that you have a belief that most people are capable of looking after themselves without the dead hand of government interfering.

Testing said...

I'm not sure I agree with all that Nick writes but

"Only problem with local income tax is that it puts all the burden on salaries rather than wealth. So someone sitting on a lovely big house they inherited from their parents and who doesn't have to work pays nothing, whereas someone slaving away to earn enough to pay rent or mortgage for a small flat pays a lot. "

This is true and is a problem. It's a very hard problem to solve though and I'm not going to pretend to know the answer

Brockley Nick said...

Selfish? I think you misunderstand my point. I am proposing that the better off in society in terms of wealth pay more. It is wealth that is the greatest cause of social inequality, not income.


As it happens, I am one of those kids lucky enough to have parents who bought a large house in SE London when the city was emptying and you could buy houses for nothing. As a result, one day, I probably stand to be a beneficiary of the wealth that my parents were lucky enough to accumulate (unless they choose to piss it up the wall, which is of course, their right). Why should that wealth, which I haven't done a day's work for in my life, be taxed less than the salary of a nurse or a teacher?

Monkeyboy said...

my house has trebeled in value through no effort of my own, if i move out and buy somewhere cheaper i will pay no tax. if i earn more (earn, actually doing something prodcuctive) i get taxed more.

Don't think nick is suggesting a zero income tax position or even a flat rate income tax. simply that wealth in this country is very lightly taxed where earnings are not. a readjustment may be required. im sure those inheriting family money would agree with your position.

max doom! said...

i work in the public sector. it took me years to get used to how slow things get done, or dont. im institutionalised. now if you'll excuse me its time for my 3-hour nap.

Headhunter said...

"Let's, for a moment, stick with the me, me, me attitude. This 30-year-old couple wil have spent their childhood in council parks, sports facilities and play areas, swinging on council swings and sheltering in council buildings. They will have then gone to council-funded and run schools, attending council events - perhaps the Peoples' Day every year. By the time they paid their first tax they would have been in debt to the council."


I don't get how this is an argument against council tax levied on house value as opposed to a local council tax. Everyone spends their childhoods in council parks, sports facilities, swings etc etc, why does that mean that in later life their income should be taxed rather than their wealth?


You seem to be arguing against a general reduction in taxation which is not what the discussion is about... No one is demanding an overall reduction in the tax burden

bobblekin said...

Lewisham planning acting in residents interest? Don't make laugh!

Anonymous said...

Monkey boy, I'm not sure you should tell the taxman that!

If you move out of your house and buy a cheaper place you should be paying CGT on the difference. In the same way, unless Nick's parents have put in place an offshore trust, you'll be paying inheritance tax on that.

So wealth does get taxed along the way - if you're declaring it.

That said, I do think Chris missed the principal you were both getting at.

StJohnsdog said...

How about abolishing the council altogether and merging with Greenwich and Bromley/Southwark or Croydon? I've lived in lots of parts of London and the ineptitude of Lewisham Borough Council tops the list of rotten-borough type politics. Sweep it away altogether. Great savings there on all the wasteful overheads at Catford Town Hall.

McBitty said...

Well said, Lewisham should merge with Southwark who know what they're doing.

Monkeyboy said...

greenwich? id be careful what you wish for

Vicar's Knickers said...

Get rid of Lewisham life for starters.

ianerc said...

I think you are a good few years out of date. Lewisham Council doesnl't manage any housing directly anymore. I believe you are thinking of Lewisham Homes. Different entity, different budgets.

ianerc said...

I've worked in local authorities for 30 years. the fact is that there is insufficient staff and insufficient resources to cover service demand. The days of inefficiencies are pretty much long, long gone.

two said...

the 'moderator' here often brings out the old 'misunderstanding the argument' thing when he's backed in a corner Chris...

Brockley Nick said...

Also, when I make an entirely different point to the one being attributed to me. There's a perfectly valid, moral argument for lower taxes - I just didn't make it. I'd stand by it, if I had.


Pity you don't stand by one identity long enough for people to get the measure of you.

hardlianotion said...

As long as folk don't understand how various Council departments operate in practice, the exercise is an empty one. This doesn't you in the position of a Councillor exercising their office, but it does put across the angry reaction to these cuts quite clearly. Hopefully, the consultation exercise in September and October will shed more light and prove a more fruitful exercise.

Headhunter said...

Yes... Greenwich? Really? I've heard more people b1tching about Greenwich than Lewisham,,,

Algernonian said...

Change all supplier contracts to fixed price, rather than time and materials! Conway and Skanska seem to take their own sweet time to deliver shoddy work, then repeatedly will have to come back to "fix it", thus earning more money for sod all.

Chris Wheal said...

My argument was over the statement: "a working couple in their 30s probably cost the Council nothing", which is:
a) tosh, and
b) selfish.
It also wilfully misunderstands: If you pay more for pubic services than you actually use, you are are doing well. Stop moaning. Rejoice. The people who use more than they pay for are the ones with the crap lives.

But on your other point, the council tax does not tax wealth. Everyone pays it, regardless of their income or home ownership status. When it was first introduced, although many people appealed to have the value of their house lowered, a few successfully appealed to have their council tax banding raised so they had independent evidence their house was worth more.

It's a hugely expensive tax to collect. It was designed to make comparisons laughable (we now only compare the Band D, which as what the Conservatives wanted). It has changed since 2001 when I wrote this in the Guardian, but it is not any better. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2001/mar/28/guardiansocietysupplement.localgovernment

I expect no sympathy from BC readers. When you reported in 2013 on a council survey on how to support the least able, the comments were predominantly about how unfair it was that people who could afford to, subsidised those who couldn't. http://brockleycentral.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/lewisham-consults-on-council-tax.html

Brockley Nick said...

1. That link you provided does not features lots of people complaining about subsidising others. It features one person who sort of makes that point and two others taking them to task for it.


2. Council Tax is an imperfect tax to be sure - if you're saying you want it to be replaced by a more effective sort of wealth tax (rather than an income tax), I'd agree with you - is that what you are saying?



3. Of course, we all use public goods like street lighting and parks - I meant that a young childless couple impose very few direct marginal costs on Councils. That's not selfish - I am not one of those people and I do impose direct costs on the Council. I think it's right that I should pay a little more as a result, if I have the ability to pay.


4. I wasn't moaning. You were.

Monkeyboy said...

Council Tax is not an effective wealth tax, partly because those in expensive houses would (selfishly) fight tooth and nail to prevent any attempt to revisit the banding. It's a failure, a fudge brought into to salvage something from the poll tax debacle.


Personally I still think more of the tax burden should fall on wealth, especially the unearned type, and not earnings.



As for the comentators, well it depends. It can be rabidly reactionary or cloyingly guardianista.

Joe Dromey said...

Glad you like it Nick. We were very keen to do something that would help people see the scale of the challenge and allow them to feed in their views.

There will also be discussions on this at local assemblies in each ward over September and October. Dates here (though some are tbc) http://councilmeetings.lewisham.gov.uk/mgCalendarMonthView.aspx?GL=1&bcr=1&CT=13268

Joe Dromey said...

Thom is right. It was created by LB Redbridge and YouGov with support from LGA who made it free for all Councils to use. There were some flashier simulators but we didn't think it was right to spend loads of money on this given the situaiton - YouChoose (the simulator we're using) is provided free.
Regarding the data, we're keen for this to be as open as possible. You can actually see the data from other respondants once you've completed the simulator. A report on the results will go to Council and will be publicly available. It will also be reported on our website and in Lewisham Life. Any other ideas, please let me know.

Tamsin said...

Cut out the Ward Assemblies - and all their creaking support structure (too few staff trying to cover too much work) - and the whole Young Mayor set-up. Nice ways of playing at democracy when times are good but a waste of money when the other options are actual services.
And on that - don't cut adult social care. Simply shifts the burden on the public purse to what are ultimately more expensive options and generates a lot of individual misery on the way.

lord rogers said...

joe, I can't see the option to discontinue PFI repayments as a money-saving initiative as part of this 'project' - perhaps you could clarify this?

Monkeyboy said...

presumably its a contractural relationship so perhaps there isn't a cost free way of doing that?

Brockley Nick said...

I agree with Ward Assemblies and the Young Mayor programme. Especially now that the former don't really have any budget to spend. They are relative luxuries, that require quite a bit of admin support from the Council to deliver.

Mark said...

Sorry but your mistaken Lewisham Homes is just a special purpose vehicle set up by the council to manage council housing in the area. The housing, and Lewisham Homes as an entity is still owned by the council.

Monkeyboy said...

Not if it's your main home. It's not a buy to let, i can flog it and live in a tent and themoney is all mine.


From the HMRC site....

"However, if you sell your main home you're usually entitled to Private
Residence Relief on any gain you make which means there's no tax to
pay"


it's my private residence, i live in it full time.

Monkeyboy said...

...also you get something north of £600k tax free before inheritance tax kicks in

PeoplesAssemblySEL said...

If you are opposed to a further £85 million worth of cuts being taken from the councils budget. You can use this simulator to tell the council, in the further comments section. https://youchoose.esd.org.uk/Lewisham/Options/Index/2014

We've attended some of this season's assembly meetings and people are a mix of bewildered and indignant at the scale of cuts. We don't have to just accept these eye-watering cuts to our community and frontline services. We can use our voices.
There's 7 days before the simulator closes on the 22 October.

PeoplesAssemblySEL said...

Only a couple of days left to get your voice, heard via the council's online simulator about the cuts in funding.
https://youchoose.esd.org.uk/Lewisham/Options/Index/2014

The choices made here will affect the likelihood of CPZ's coming to the area and so much more.

We are opposed to all the cuts, we think they should not be happening to area like Lewisham with such high social needs, people need more money less.

Part of the reason why some claim there is 'no money' is wide scale, systematic tax avoidance.

This is a live recorded video -> http://bambuser.com/v/5010694 fresh from yesterday's Occupy Democracy protest camp outside parliament square of a talk on tax by economist John Christiansen, of Tax Justice Network

It's 13 mins long, a bit noisy with parliament bells. It's clear, lucid really worth a listen. http://bambuser.com/v/5010694

Topics include: Why we don't make things as much as we used to as a country.
Tax competitiveness- "Britain has quietly become a tax haven”

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