Redbridge Council discusses budget proposals

Redbridge Council has identified more than £9 million in savings for its next budget – around £16 million short of the amount needed.

The proposals to be discussed by the council’s cabinet tonight include a council tax increase for Redbridge of 4.99 per cent, including 3 per cent for adult social care, the maximum rise possible without a referendum.

Cabinet member for finance Cllr Kam Rai said at an overview committee meeting last night that “it appears the vast majority of London councils will be doing similar increases”

He also said most of the savings the council was planning to make would be achieved by “being more efficient or through income generation”, rather than getting rid of services.

The council predicts a £83 million budget gap by 2025 and needs to make more than £25 million in savings in next year’s budget alone.

He told the committee: “In the early part of this year, it looked really difficult. We saw local authorities either going to the wall or threatening to and it’s been a huge effort just to get us to this place.

“We have stuck to our guns in trying to preserve all of our services without making cuts… and we are not using reserves this year, which has been our aim for the last five years. To be able to do that this year is an amazing achievement.”

Many of the savings suggested by the council involve encouraging centres offering arts or leisure activities to become self-financing, rather than relying on council support.

Organisations the council wants to become self-sufficient in the next five years include Redbridge Music Centre, Redbridge Drama Centre, Ashton Playing Fields, Redbridge Cycle Centre and Cricklefields Athletics Ground.

At the last cabinet meeting in December, council leader Cllr Jas Athwal said he wanted the borough’s public services to embrace “commercialisation”, using money-makers like gyms to prop up services such as libraries. [https://www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/18956052.redbridge-public-services-expected-pay/]

He told the cabinet: “This is the modern way of working, we want to have everything we do ‘wash it’s own face’.”

Other savings being considered include allowing large ads on council-owned sites, selling or renting off depots like Ilford Waste Transfer Station and increasing the cost of pay and play sessions at leisure centres.

The budget also suggests “wilding” existing green spaces by letting them grow as they would naturally, which would reduce the cost of maintenance and litter-picking.

The council’s resources director Maria Christofi told committee members that economic recession and unemployment were some of the biggest risks to the council this year.

She said: “We still do not know the impacts of Brexit or what else the pandemic is going to bring.

“We have received a small amount of funding from the Government and I’m not sure it’s going to be anywhere near enough if the pandemic continues.”

In response, Cllr Rai said the council was pouring “just under £600,000” into a fund to provide training and jobs for residents, adding: “The more people we can get into work, the fewer we have to provide a (council tax) discount to.”

He also explained the council has a “two-pronged” support for business, focusing on “incentives” to attract new firms to the borough and Covid-19 grants to help current businesses “stay afloat”.

The cabinet meeting to discuss the proposals will take place at 7.15pm tonight and will be streamed live here: https://teams.microsoft.com/l/meetup-join/19%3ameeting_MzU2OTU2ZDktZTYwZC00ZDM1LWJmYWUtODEwNWRkNzlmNzNm%40thread.v2/0?context=%7b%22Tid%22%3a%222a8b2c16-2e9e-4dce-a97b-a0b34e803a22%22%2c%22Oid%22%3a%228553191d-cc1b-4978-93d0-9846c820d321%22%2c%22IsBroadcastMeeting%22%3atrue%7d

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter