Council AGM Speech

Last night I made my annual speech to the Council’s AGM. You can read it in full here.

Council Tax and Budget

Last week, the Council took the difficult decision to increase Council tax for the first time in four year. It wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly, and I am acutely aware of the financial pressures many families in Lewisham are facing.

Lewisham’s share of the Council Tax will increase by 1.75% next year. This will raise an extra £1.3m which can be spent on providing services to the local community and is the first time in four years that it has been increased. For the average bill payer the increase works out at around 28p extra a week. I believe it achieves a reasonable balance between reducing spending on our services and paying a bit more in tax.

Lewisham was hit very hard by the cuts imposed by the Tory/Lib Dem government in 2010. We have already been forced to make savings of £56m between 2011-13. The budget for next year contained a further  £21m of cuts as part of our attempts to find a further  £54m of savings by 2015. In total, the Council’s budget will have been slashed by around £110m between 2011-15.

There is a fundamental dishonesty about the way the current Eric Pickles  behaves towards local government. He denies that the huge cuts imposed on local authorities need have any impact on services, believing we can find the money we need by simply putting coffee shops into our libraries. This is a complete fallacy.

Because of what Pickles has done there has been no national debate about what it is that local government should be doing, what it should stop doing – or which services should be provided by someone else.

If the government continues to force a disproportionate share of cuts on local government, we will reach a point where that decision is taken by default. All councils will be able to afford is to care for the elderly and disabled and collect the rubbish. Libraries will close, streets will go unswept, and leisure and arts will only be available to those who can pay

These will not be choices councils will make lightly. But that will be the reality if current central government policy continues. When government lies on this scale it debases politics and creates situations where ever bigger lies are told to cover up the previous ones

I am determined that it will not come to this in Lewisham, and we will continue to make every effort to protect the things people value most, making sure the services we do provide are the best they can be and working every penny of taxpayers’ money as hard as we can.