Waltham Forest budget agreed

Waltham Forest Council has formally agreed its £395 million budget for next year after it was praised even by the leader of the opposition.

The budget will see council tax increase in Waltham Forest by 4.99 per cent and council rents rise, including those paid by households in temporary accommodation.

After freezing pay for council staff and using £400,000 from its reserves, the council has balanced its budget for next year, avoiding the need for lay-offs.

However, Conservative leader Cllr Alan Siggers (Valley) argued not enough money had been allocated for homelessness, given the likely ongoing effects of the pandemic.

Council leader Cllr Clare Coghill said the council had “stepped up as the fourth emergency service” during lockdown but that this had come “at a huge cost to the council”.

At a meeting of full council on February 25, she said: “While the Government has offered some extra funding, it has not covered the full cost, which they said would have to be covered by increased council tax.

“COVID-19 cost around £40 million and we have received about £28 million. It is only through sound financial management over the past decade that we have been able to weather this.

“(Raising council tax) is not a decision we take lightly but we must safeguard the essential services we provide.

“A third of our working age population are now in receipt of some sort of employment support but these schemes are winding down and the eviction ban is ending.

“We have set aside £6 million, on top of the Government grant, to help our residents through this.”

She also highlighted the nearly 3,000 laptops provided to local children for remote learning, 157 rough sleepers taken off the streets and more than 1,000 domestic abuse survivors supported since the start of the pandemic.

Cllr Siggers agreed that the council had shown “excellent financial stewardship” and that it was, overall, “a good budget”.

He said: “Council tax has remained, broadly speaking, within the same area as the rate of inflation and that’s no mean feat.

“But I’m very concerned about how we have approached our homeless budgeting.

“Right now, as we speak, there are a lot of people in private-rented and council accommodation who are not paying their rent and are building up debt.

“There’s going to come a point at which the Government says we can’t sustain the ban on evictions indefinitely.

“I suspect we are going to see a real pressure on that homeless budget and I think we should be arguing for more money in that particular area.”

The budget for next year allocates £700,000 towards sheltered accommodation and hostels and more than £25 million on building new council homes.

The budget was approved by the majority of councillors at the meeting and will come into effect on April 5.

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter