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.