If the plans are approved by the full Council Assembly meeting on Monday 25th February, councillors will set a balanced budget for the next financial year, despite extremely tough economic circumstances made much worse by significant cuts to the Council’s grants from central Government.
Not only has the Council had to make savings of £18 million this year; because of the way the Government calculates population figures, the authority believes it is losing out on £2.5 million of grant funding that should rightfully be awarded to help fund front-line services. Approximately 40 per cent of the Council’s original budget will have been lost due to the cuts from Government, over the four year period from 2010/11.
Councillor Rocky Gill, Deputy Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member for Finance comments: “These are really tough times for everyone in the borough. We have a responsibility to help the people of Barking and Dagenham as far as we can - and one way to do that is not to add to the burden on household budgets.
That’s why we are proposing to freeze Council Tax yet again, for the fifth time in a row. Other utility bills may increase - as well as the Mayor of London’s fare rises - but we are going to ensure Council Tax bills remain where they are now for another year.
“We have worked extremely hard to ensure that we can deliver a balanced budget again this year. Our priority is - and will remain - delivering high quality front-line services which are needed the most. We have had to take some difficult decisions to reduce or even withdraw some services altogether, but we are continuing to do all we can to invest in Barking and Dagenham while making sure we are as efficient are as possible.
“We have been working incredibly hard to seek the necessary funding to create more school places for our growing population. We’re building more council homes than any other borough in the capital and investing in more new housing than any housing association in London. We have started a £300 million capital programme to finance the building of new leisure facilities, major housing estate renewal and improving our roads and highways.
"We have invested in a brand new Technical Skills Academy to help our residents have the skills to be job-ready so our local businesses can succeed. Our Children’s Centres have been rated as ‘outstanding’ every time we have had an inspection from Ofsted - this is a Council that is delivering well despite a funding situation which is critical and is set to worsen in the years ahead.”
The Council is setting the budget amid a background where Government grants are forecast to continue to fall, placing increasing pressure on finances, year-on-year. At the same time, changes to Council Tax Benefit and Housing Benefit will impact many residents in the borough, driving up demand for Council services.
As part of its recent ‘Budget Challenge’ process, the Council consulted with residents and stakeholder groups in the autumn of last year as spending plans were drawn up in draft form. These were debated and scrutinised by the public and by councillors, leading to a robust budget that Members will vote on at Monday’s meeting.
Cllr. Rocky Gill concludes: “The priority of this Council is to ensure that the organisation is as lean as possible kept as low as possible, while delivering services of real quality which meet the needs of residents. We want to make sure that we treat every penny we spend with real care and that we get value for money every single time.”