Lewisham budget cuts plan to be debated

On July 13th, the Council’s Public Accounts Select Committee will discuss proposals to reduce the Council budget by £60 million, which will involve significant service reductions.

Much of the reduction will be achieved through “efficiency savings” such as job losses and renegotiating supplier contracts and by shaving non-core services (for example, nearly £100,000 will be cut by reducing the number of issues of Lewisham Life from ten to six per year and the elimination of the borough’s Fairtrade promotion). Many of the proposals seem eminently sensible, if the claims that service delivery will be unaffected are correct. For example:

Officers recommend the amalgamation of the Community Safety Service and the Community Wardens Service to create three area based neighbourhood safety teams on a reduced staffing level. The amalgamated service will still be able to deliver against the requirements set out in legislation, maintain key aspects of the current provision and deliver in partnership with the safer neighbourhood teams. A restructure is anticipated to save approximately £791k plus a £20k saving against tendering of the home security service.

But frontline provision of core services will also be hit. We’ve already highlighted the impact this could have on Lewisham libraries, including Crofton Park, which faces possible closure. Other major cuts include (but are by no means limited to):

· The cancellation of night-time waste collection in Lewisham’s major shopping centres, including Lewisham town centre, Deptford and Ladywell.

· Reduced funding for sports clubs

· The closure of adult social care centres for people with learning disabilities

· Fewer street cleaning machines in operation across the borough

· The closure of Lewisham’s automated public toilets

· The loss of trading standards officers, planning officers, environmental enforcement officers and town centre managers

Residents could also be faced with increased charges for services, including having to pay for replacement bins.

Lewisham Cllr Mike Harris told Londonist:

To cut any Council service there has to be a statuatory consultation and then to deliver the cost saving it can take a few years. We predict that we need to deliver £60m worth of cost savings based on the fact that in the budget the coalition announced cuts worth about 25 - 30% per department. We need to plan a minimum of 3 years in advance - therefore we're sketching out savings now so that if we need to be can deliver a 'balanced budget'. Local Councils aren't allowed to borrow except for capital improvements - so if we get our budget cut by 25% and don't manage to cut costs in time then we have to slash services that can be cut at short notice (which isn't acceptable really).

There's going to be a lot of consultation - and Councillors, the Mayor and his Cabinet really mean this. When you start looking at the budget options you realise how difficult some of these choices are.

However, the target of cutting £60m from the Council budget was discussed before the election. During the Brockley Central hustings, Mayor Bullock said:

All three major Parties have made clear that there will be a severe squeeze on public spending – they only differ on when and by how much this will be done. None of us can know until after the General election how much is needed but a 10% real terms reduction is likely to be the least that is required.