Choose what you lose as Redbridge Council prepares to make massive cuts

Redbridge Council is asking residents what services they least want to lose as it prepares to make more than £83 million worth of cuts by 2025.

Council leader Cllr Jas Athwal said the council will “soon be confronted with some difficult decisions” as there are no longer “any more low-hanging fruit to pick from”.

Residents can respond by completing an online survey before December 7 or by attending any of three virtual public forums held this month.

On top of existing financial struggles, the council faces a £43 million budget gap this year, largely caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The council spent an estimated £61 million due to the pandemic and has so far received £18 million of financial assistance from the Government.

Cllr Athwal said: “The situation we’re currently facing is serious.

“As a result of the pandemic, the UK is on the brink of a hard recession, which will particularly impact the more vulnerable members of society.

“We’ve already had to make savings in Redbridge of more than £180 million over the past ten years due to government cuts.

“We’re now facing an additional £43 million spending gap this year alone, purely because the government reneged on their promise to repay the extra money we spent keeping people safe during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The stark truth is there isn’t any more low-hanging fruit to pick from after ten years of austerity, and we will soon be confronted with some difficult decisions.

“We are now faced with the daunting prospect of making savings and efficiencies to the tune of £83 million as part of our Medium Term Financial Strategy, on top of paying the bill for Covid-19.

“It is therefore vital that we hear residents’ views on what services matter most to them. We want to make sure that the services we provide meet local needs and support our communities through what will undoubtedly be a turbulent time over the coming years.”

The forecast gap of £43 million is equivalent to the council’s entire service budget excluding social care.

In the next year alone, the council will have to make more than £25 million worth of cuts.

A petition from the council calling on the Government to reimburse it for the money it spent “to keep local people safe” has reached more than 4,000 signatures and can be viewed here.

In neighbouring Waltham Forest, the council is in “good health” financially, according to council leader Clare Coghill at a cabinet meeting on September 3.

Redbridge Council deputy leader Cllr Kam Rai added: “The Government has put us in an impossible position. We are committed to delivering the services that our residents need most.

“However, ongoing cuts and now this loss of promised funding means that we now need to make difficult decisions about meeting ongoing local needs this year and over the next five years.

“I would encourage everyone to attend a budget event and have your say.”

Virtual sessions will take place on September 8 at 12.30pm to 2pm, on September 14 at 6.30pm to 8pm and on September 17 at 1pm to 1.30pm.

The online survey can be found here https://engagement.redbridge.gov.uk/strategy/budget/

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter