Lambeth's budget challenge

Lambeth has been making huge savings since the Coalition Government came to power in 2010 and imposed a 50% cut in our core funding. To balance the books, between 2010 and 2018 we’ll have had to make savings of more than £200 million.

Council leader Lib Peck answers your questions

In December 2014 Lambeth’s Cabinet discussed the borough’s budget position and proposals to deal with the challenge.

Council leader Lib Peck answered your questions about the hard choices facing all of us.

What is the Council’s financial position?

These are in incredibly tough times. Most of the money we have to spend comes from central government and that core funding’s been cut by 50%, so we have to find £90 million of savings over the next three years. The consequence of those government cuts will affect some of the most vulnerable people in our communities.

My political vision is ambition and fairness for all but it’s our responsibility to manage Lambeth's finances wisely and set a balanced budget so next week, Lambeth’s Cabinet will discuss the latest proposals for savings across our services.

You have been making cuts for three years - why do you need to make more savings?

Yes, we’ve already saved £90m in the past three years, mainly by cutting a quarter of our staff and concentrating on maintaining front line services so residents were least affected.

But there’s no doubt it’s going to be harder to find another £90m worth of savings over the next three years without local people feeling the pinch. That means we need to use the money we do have very wisely and carefully.

How do you plan to handle the challenge that faces the Council and Lambeth as a whole?

It means we need to really focus on the resources we have rather than the 50% of the money we’re losing. We must invest our resources in the people who will really benefit - older people, disabled people including those with mental health issues, and children in care.

The proposals we're discussing include savings on the costs of street lighting, recycling bins and parking contracts. We also intend to save more than £20m over the next three years by working together with our neighbours in Southwark in offering a more 'joined-up’ health and care service where the emphasis is on prevention.

We will continue to attract more investment into the borough - more homes, jobs, businesses and opportunities for local people. This will make Lambeth more resilient and an even better place to live and work.

What is the position with Council Tax? Could you use it to help make up some of the funding you are losing?

Contrary to what most people think, council tax only generates 27% of our income, compared to 73% from general Government funding; but in these very difficult times, every bit of extra income or saving must be considered.

We've looked very carefully at council tax, as we have with every bit of our income and expenditure and we've calculated that an increase of 1.99% a year for the next three years would reduce the deficit by £5.7m - that sort of money would cover the cost of more than a hundred social workers, or teachers, or repair thousands of potholes in our roads.

It’s more than our annual budget for libraries, which was just over £4m last year.

Is it fair to ask Council Tax payers to pay more?

We've frozen Council tax in Lambeth for the last six years and in fact we have the sixth lowest council tax in London. But the financial pressures on the council are unprecedented and we are asking those that can afford it to pay what amounts to a few extra pence every week.

I know many people are struggling with low wages and higher prices so even a few pence will add pressure to household budgets. But, we will continue to help people through the Council Tax Support scheme which protects the poorest from falling into debt, and will support people in genuine difficulty.

Have you already decided to go ahead with these Budget proposals? Don’t we get any say in your decisions, including raising Council Tax?

Of course we will work with local people to make the best decisions.

Many residents have been involved throughout this process and of course the local elections in May gave people the opportunity to tell us what their priorities and concerns are.

There will be formal consultations on certain issues with those who are directly affected but there are lots of ideas in our budget proposals and it’s important that we hear everyone’s views on them.

What can the rest of us do to help Lambeth with the savings challenge?

Well, the cuts to funding affect all of us and there are some services we won’t be able to provide in the same way as we have done in the past.

Paying a little more in Council Tax would be a meaningful contribution, but local people can all do their bit - by keeping our streets clean and tidy, volunteering to help other people improve their skills and realise their ambitions, keeping a friendly eye on elderly neighbours.

It’s our borough and we can all do a bit more to keep it safe, clean and pleasant - thousands of people already do just that.