Published: 13 January, 2013
by ANDREW JOHNSON
TOWN Hall chiefs have issued a bleak warning that libraries, children’s centres and youth clubs would have to be abandoned completely if the government presses ahead with its cuts programme.
Islington Council has already lost a third of its budget – a massive £100million – which it is having to cut over the four-year lifetime of the current council administration, which was elected in 2010.
There are also real fears that the Town Hall might have to hand over the site of the former Ashmount School to parents who want to create a “free school” which will blow another £3m hole in the budget.
Finance chief Councillor Richard Greening told the Tribune on Thursday that in addition the government has just taken £18m away from Islington’s Sure Start programme to help young children from poor families in order to fund a pledge to provide a nursery place for all two-year-olds.
“We will still fund Sure Start,” he said. “We’ve managed to make savings by shaving here and there. For example, we’ve deleted the head of corporate services post, which is saving £270,000 in wages and support staff.”
Savings are also being made by encouraging as many people as possible to contact the council via the internet, rather than face to face.
“It costs 20 times more to have a transaction with a person rather than over the internet,” said council leader Catherine West.
Despite the cuts at a budget briefing, Cllr West said that council tax would be frozen for the next two years.
The council’s ruling executive, or cabinet, is due to pass the budget next week.
Seventy-five per cent of the Town Hall’s income comes from the government, and the rest is raised through council tax.
“We can only put it up by a maximum of two per cent, unless we hold a referendum,” she said. “It is a regressive tax. Rich and poor pay the same amount and if we put it up it means families struggling to pay rent will be even worse off.”
Cllr West also said the council would be pressing ahead with its house-building programme. Other extra spending includes extra spending of £2.7m on the Bunhill Energy Centre which Cllr West said was cutting bills for residents; and extra an £2m to expand CCTV coverage in Islington – reported in the Tribune in November – and £1.1m to improve Archway and Finsbury Park town centres.
The council will also continue to fund bursaries for sixth-formers to help out now the education maintenance grant has been scrapped.
Cllr Greening added that the Town Hall’s reserves – currently at £77m – were being spent and would be down to £38m by next year.
Cllr West added that the government cuts were falling hardest on inner-city poor – Labour-voting – areas.
“Our income has fallen from £340m to £220m,” said Cllr West. “We are stealing ourselves for more bad news.
“The government has said there will be a further 23 per cent cut in 2015. That’s £30m.
“We don’t want to see that. It would mean that we would just have to stop doing certain things. There are things we have to do by law, such as social services and schools.
“But there are other things we do that we decide to do, such as run libraries, children’s centres, youth clubs and offer help with employment. All of that is at risk.”