Our political editor WALTER CONXITE on an admission from the council’s finance chief that they have little idea how to plan the borough’s budgets
A Town Hall meeting has been told to expect a 4 per cent hike in Council Tax next year, as the borough tries to max out on local tax increases to make ends meet as government austerity cuts bite ever deeper.
The council needs to find £26million in savings in the next four years to balance its books, yet the council cabinet member in charge of finances admitted he has no idea what the central government financial settlement with the borough will be after next year.
Councillor Simon Hall, the borough’s finance chief, was presenting the Medium Term Financial Strategy at last night’ council cabinet meeting, setting out the financial outlook of the council over the next four years.
“In Croydon, we have a fast-growing population with all its benefits but in terms of balancing the books, it provides challenges,” was the cliché-heavy view of Hall.
He said financial pressures on the council include funding adult social care and children’s services.
Croydon’s children’s services were put into special measures last year when a damning Ofsted report rated it as “inadequate”, and said that children were at serious risk of harm. The council’s response has been to chuck money at the department – millions of pounds of extra funding.
Following years of cuts to the department – including three years under the current Labour administration – Hall revealed that he has had to find an extra £17million for children’s services this year in an effort to redress the balance.
Hall’s financial strategy assumes that this level of increased funding will continue.
But in the absence of any hard numbers from Whitehall for the years after March 2020, Hall admitted that he and the council’s finance exec, Richard Simpson, have been forced to make it all up as far as mid-term budgets are concerned.
“The assumptions we’ve had to make are, to a degree, being drawn up in a vacuum in the end there are no concrete plans beyond April 2020 in terms of how local government will be funded,” Hall said.
Brexit was not mentioned, but the current Mayhem government’s failure to negotiate an exit settlement with the country’s trading partners in Europe is certain to have delayed Whitehall’s calculations.
Hall said that his budget assumptions require the maximum increase in Council Tax, next year and each year thereafter, since the borough is not receiving an improved settlement from central government.
Council Tax in Croydon went up 5 per cent earlier this year – about £78 over the year for an average-sized household. That comprised the maximum 2 per cent increase, and 3 per cent allowed as the social care precept. Cumulatively, Croydon Council Tax has risen by a little more than 13 per cent in four years under Labour control.
Hall said, “For example with Council Tax we have made the assumption that taxation for local services will rise by 2 per cent every year and there will continue to be an adult social care precept given the large demands in this area.
“What this does result in is over the four-year period is we need to find £26m of savings or additional income to balance the books.”
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