Barking and Dagenham budget approved

Barking and Dagenham Council has officially approved its budget for 2024/25 following a full council meeting last week.

From April, residents will see their council tax rise by 4.99 per cent, which is made up of a 2.99 per cent general council tax increase and a 2 per cent precept for adult social care.

An estimated £1.40 per week will be added onto the average Band D property council tax bill.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) reported in December 2023 that the council was bracing for a £23m budget gap for 2024/25, but this has since reduced by some £14.5m.

The council has taken £8.8million from reserves and has found £15.6m in savings in order to balance the books.

According to council documents, the council is having to borrow an extra £300m to fund current building developments as it’s struggling to financially compete with a rise in interest rates and high inflation costs within the construction sector.

Council officers said: “As a result of delivering this increased housing supply, the council holds one of the highest levels of debt compared to other local authorities in the country.”

They added that the £300m borrowing could lead to a peak debt of £1.8billion over the MTFS (Medium Term Financial Strategy), which takes into consideration cuts in funding and any other financial barriers the council may face over the next few years.

During last week’s full council, Labour councillor Michel Pongo asked deputy council leader, Dominic Twomey where the council was facing budget pressures.

Cllr Twomey, who is cabinet member for finance, growth and core services, said: “…they’ve come from everywhere across the borough and across services but fundamentally where did the budget pressures come from?

“They come from government and an absolute inability to fund us correctly… this is nothing new, it’s not come out of the blue and isn’t unique to us.”

He added: “We face challenges to our funding from rising demand from those critical services including adults and children’s social care.

“The cost in those are rising dramatically and the spending squeeze we face next year will be more difficult than this year.”

Independent councillor for Longbridge ward, Lynda Rice said she had concerns about the raising of council tax each year against a backdrop of a cost of living crisis.

Cllr Rice said: “I understand the demands and the pressure, and the increasing demands to do with adults and children’s social care, but what I’m worried about is many of the residents in Longbridge live in larger houses so the percentage increases of council tax is going to affect them more.

“I just think having council tax rises every year is not sustainable, especially with the cost of living crisis and of course the CPZ (Controlled Parking Zone) charges.”

Cllr Twomey said ‘discretionary funds’ are available to those who can’t afford to pay their council tax bill.

He said: “I’ve said and we continually say to government and we’re not alone in this, they are trying to resolve an issue – a financial issue – by forcing it back onto residents.

“They know the issue is there, that’s why the 2pc precept is there every year and has been for a number of years.”

He added: “I do accept the premise if the government was to give us the money, but not more money than we need, just an adequate amount of money so then actually we wouldn’t [have to] take the precept.”

After councillors finished asking their questions to Cllr Twomey, the council’s chair, Irma Freeborn moved onto the vote, which saw 41 councillors vote for the budget while one councillor voted against and the budget was passed.

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Ruby Gregory

Local Democracy Reporter