Havering Council has proposed a council tax rise of 4.99 per cent and included plans to close children's centres among its draft budget measures. 

Following on from last year’s consultation, which received 3,188 submissions, the council has now published its proposals ahead of next week’s scrutiny (February 7) and cabinet meetings (February 8). 

They include the increasing of core council tax for 2023/24 by 2.99pc, plus an additional 2pc for the adult social care precept.

This would bring in a total of £148.7m for the council, constituting 68pc of the council’s core spending power of £218.6m. 

If the Greater London Authority’s (GLA) proposed precept increase of 9.74pc is also passed, this would mean that Band D properties in Havering would see their council tax rise to £2,088.13 a year, according to council documents. 

As previously reported in the Recorder, Havering Council has described its current financial situation as “acute”, impacted by factors including the war in Ukraine, demographic pressures and limited central government funding. 

After a report to cabinet last September identified a £70 million deficit in the council’s budget over the next four years, including £19m for the 2023/24 budget, the local authority said it has now managed to cut the forecast overspend to £13.3m for the year ahead, through a host of proposed cuts and growing its income.

In its report, it adds it is expected the position will improve by the year-end, though that this is likely to “have a significant impact on the council’s reserves”, which currently stand at £10.9m. 

Romford Recorder: Cllr Ray Morgon, leader of Havering Council, described the budget proposal as very positive and very prudentCllr Ray Morgon, leader of Havering Council, described the budget proposal as very positive and very prudent (Image: Havering Council)

In an attempt to tackle its multi-million-pound deficit, the council has outlined four areas of focus; improving business efficiency, changing how it funds and provides services, increasing its income and reducing or stopping services. 

Collectively referred to as ‘savings proposals’, the council estimates it has so far managed to improve its position by £9.6m for 2023/24, and £19.4m in total over the next four years. 

Some of the proposals related to increasing its income include reviewing parking charges across the borough (though extending the free 30 minutes free parking to Hornchurch and Upminster), increasing annual fees for bulk waste collection, and increasing cremation fees. 

Proposals in the initial budget consultation included the potential closure of Elm Park Children’s Centre, moving waste collections to alternate weeks, and withdrawing the funding for the Citizens Advice Bureau

While the latter two are not in the documents, a review of early help provision is.

In a media briefing, Cllr Keith Darvill, Labour leader and cabinet member for environment, said Elm Park Children’s Centre will be kept open “certainly in the short-term".  

But the budget’s savings proposals document details a “wider reorganisation of children’s services”, including plans to “permanently close Chippenham Road, Elm Park and Hilldene Children’s Centres and instead deliver services that happened at those centres from other locations”. 

The closure of Corbets Tey toilets and the removal of council-supervised school crossing patrols are also suggested as areas of savings. 

During the media briefing, Cllr Darvill described the council’s approach as “positive but careful”, adding: “We know an increase in council tax won’t be welcome...however, we as a council have still got to be efficient and look to the future.” 

Romford Recorder: Cllr Keith DarvillCllr Keith Darvill (Image: Havering Council)

Cllr Morgon also acknowledged the difficult backdrop to the coming budget, describing it as “one of the toughest and hardest budgets that has had to be put together in many a year”. 

However, they were keen to add that investments such as retrofitting of homes, new businesses being introduced into Havering and work on the climate agenda, as well as a significant capital funding programme, were continuing to be made. 

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“Yes, it’s a very tough environment that we’re working in at the moment...but the budget we’ve put forward is, we believe, very positive and very prudent,” Cllr Morgon said. 

The proposals will now go to scrutiny and then cabinet next week, before full council on March 1. 

In a separate Housing Revenue Account budget document, rent increases for council tenants and shared ownership leaseholders of 7pc are also among the proposals.