Council to consult residents on £19m savings plan

Havering Town Hall. Picture: Ken Mears

Havering Town Hall. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

Havering residents are to be asked for their views on the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic as part of the council’s budget-setting process, with £19million of savings earmarked for next year.

Cabinet members were updated on the council’s financial position at a meeting on Wednesday night.

Even factoring in around £23.5m in government support, a report said that the council, at the end of August, was still forecasting a £10.6m budget deficit.

This included £36m of pressures, including a total of £24m in spending and lost income related to the pandemic, as well as unachieved savings and “business as usual” pressures.

The report said if the position remained the same at the end of the financial year, it would see the council’s reserves and balances “significantly depleted”.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the spending review on Wednesday and the council’s chief operating officer Jane West said there may be some improvement in the council’s position over the coming weeks.

But she admitted that the £10.6m budget gap is “an extraordinary position for the council to be in”.

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Council leader Damian White told the Recorder before the meeting that the council will continue to lobby the government on the financial pressures facing local authorities.

He said: “The council is facing unprecedented times and the financial gap is a reflection of the extreme pressures caused by Covid-19.

“We will work tirelessly to curb expenditure and identify efficiencies in order to both protect key frontline services and reduce the budget gap over the remainder of the year.

“The council has built a solid financial foundation over several years which has placed it in a stronger position to deal with the current situation.”

The report also provided an update on the council’s medium term financial strategy, including proposals for £19m of savings in 2021/22.

The largest planned saving is around £3.6m on Better Living, a project which aims to work differently with residents in adult social care “to develop and link into their own personal networks rather than relying on a statutory service”.

This was questioned by opposition leader Ray Morgon, who told the Recorder: “I am sure for a lot of people, if they could do things themselves they are already doing it.

“There are a number of savings proposed but they are quite speculative in nature. How do we know these will happen?

“I can still see the budget being a little bit different than is being indicated.”

The move was defended by Cllr White, who said: “Better Living means we will be able to intervene in different ways before people fall into crisis rather than help only arriving after it happens.

“It works by using the skills and strengths that already exist within our communities to help residents live as independently as possible for as long as possible.”

The council is also proposing to hold fewer large events like the Havering Show and Langton’s Summer Concert unless the costs can be fully covered by ticket sales or sponsorship.

“We know how popular and important these events are to local residents and we are exploring funding options to help them become more financially viable,” Cllr White explained.

“The council is facing tough financial decisions this winter, therefore these proposals need to be included.”

The council leader confirmed that no decision has yet been made on council tax levels for next year but said that it always aims to keep increases to a minimum.

Cabinet members approved moving to public consultation on the budget plans, which will run until January 3.

Cllr White added: “The council has planned £19m of savings proposals which will be consulted on to determine whether they are included in the final tax setting budget in February.

“It should be noted that a significant proportion of the savings are already well developed back office efficiencies and modernisation initiatives, which have been delayed as a result of the Covid pandemic.

“Any proposals that may affect the way frontline services are delivered will be consulted on and fully scrutinised before the budget is set.”