Waltham Forest balances budget

Waltham Forest Council will not have to lay off staff after successfully balancing its budget for next year.

Savings such as a pay freeze for staff and the use of more than £400,000 from its reserves mean it does not face a budget gap in the next financial year.

In April last year, the council warned it was facing a deficit of up to £40 million after spending £25 million on COVD-19 and losing a number of income streams due to lockdown.

Like neighbouring Redbridge Council, which still needs to cut £16 million from next year’s budget, the council is increasing council tax by 4.99 per cent.

Council leader Cllr Clare Coghill told the budget and performance scrutiny committee last night (February 11) that she was “really pleased” with the proposed budget.

She said: “One of the things I was very concerned about at the start of COVD-19 was that we would end up in such a financially challenging situation that we would have to make cuts.

“So we would have asked people to move mountains during the crisis and then we would not be able to ensure they had a job at the end of that.

“On a human level, that would have been extremely difficult, so I’m glad we are where we are.”

She added that it was vital the council “continued on pushing up the standards of children’s social care”, given it was still unsure what the full impact of lockdown on families would be.

Cllr Jenny Gray (Lab, Leytonstone) added that officers had done “an amazing job” on the budget in an “unbelievably difficult time”.

She said: “Tonight we hear Bexley (Council) has had to go to the Government to save its budget and other local authorities are in difficulties too.”

The council tax increase of 4.99 per cent is the maximum amount permitted by the Government without holding a local referendum.

The committee heard from officers that a survey of London councillors showed 25 London councils planned to make the same increase.

The budget will need to be agreed at a meeting of full council, due to take place on February 25.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter