There was a stench of despair in Havering’s discussions about the 2023-4 budget.1 The public consultation process will fail because residents don’t understand council budgets. They also think this budget is rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.
Beginning with George Osborne’s Age of Austerity, 2010, local government has been starved of funds. His insane ‘policy’ was compounded with zero Council Tax increases followed by inflation ‘caps’. Havering’s lost a minimum of £70m annually since 2010 not including the ‘lost’ revenue from actual inflation increases.
The decline in funding has been accompanied by increased responsibilities in Children and Adult services. These services consume 70% of the budget, making an inexorable push towards a Section 114 notice which means decision making is put in the hands of the government.2 Havering’s CEO was bleakly frank about this possibility. He said current section 114 notices applied to imprudent, badly managed councils but future notices would hit well run councils like Havering, which had run out of resources.3 In brief, Conservative government policies are bankrupting local government.
The council will lobby MPs and ministers. The CEO held out little hope but he’d work hard to get Levelling-Up money.
Addendum: How councillors reacted
Gerry O’Sullivan drew contributions from every councillor. Questions ranged from the abrupt, Mandy Anderson, (@21 minutes)4 to windbag, Philip Ruck (@50 minutes). Philip asked the killer section 114 question, eliciting the important CEO response. David Taylor’s (@71 minutes) dog-whistle questions didn’t get the preferred answers. Damian White worked hard as ‘lead’ opposition councillor. The others seemed over-whelmed by the complexity of it all.
1 Annotator Player (sonicfoundry.com)
2 CP524_financial_sustainability_Oct_2021.pdf (publishing.service.gov.uk)
3 Hear the comment @ 55 minutes
4 This is when she began speaking