Monday 21 March 2016

H&F Labour's 2016/17 Budget: Tough On Wastefulness; Winning £140 Million From Developers; Putting More Money In Residents' Pockets; Modernising And Improving Services; And Resisting The Government's Attempts To Force Us To Raise Council Tax By 3.75% Each Year For The Next Four Years

Hammersmith & Fulham’s Labour administration is one of only a handful of councils in the country to freeze rather than increase council tax this year. Last year we were the only administration in London to cut it. We’ve managed to do that while also:
  • Cutting 16 of the council charges we inherited 
  • Freezing 178 other council charges this year
  • Cutting, in real terms, 85% of all council charges as measured by the income they raise
  • Cutting meals on wheels prices from £4.50 to £2.00
  • Abolishing the £12 per hour charge for home care for elderly and disabled residents and this year abolished the 15-minute-only visits to give people more time for the care they need
My colleagues and I have added to what we started last year making H&F council take a more business-like approach to stripping out waste from its budget - as we said we would (see page 4) in our manifesto. That means we have:
  • Introduced zero-based budgeting to focus on outcomes important to residents rather than just spending on things because that’s the way it’s always been done
  • Taking a new tough line to negotiating with developers winning a record £140 million for borough residents
  • Selling council services commercially
  • Cutting the numbers of expensive senior management
  • Re-configuring how the council operates and making it start to work more effectively across council departments and with other local agencies to save money and improve outcomes
  • Better debt reduction
The Evening Standard's graph demonstrating how
H&F Labour's sound financial management
is helping to deliver London's greatest
percentage reduction in council tax

for the second year in a row.
I am very grateful to Cllr. Max Schmid, the borough’s cabinet member for finance, and his team of finance officers. Max is an accountant who had previously worked at PwC where he worked to help councils and central government be more efficient. I'm glad he's now leading on that for us.

We're also keen to see how we can encourage more local services which adds to what the council does and improves life for residents so we're exploring new things like The Casserole Club and looking at how we can better work with the voluntary sector to get things done.

This new results-focussed approach to council finances has allowed us to do the following:
You can read more of about the changes we've chosen in the official H&F Council 2016/17 Annual Report.

We've done this against a backdrop of punitive measures to our finances undertaken by the Conservative government. These include:
  • Cutting the government grant to Hammersmith and Fulham Council by 66% since 2010.
  • Removing the additional annual government grant specifically given to councils to subsidise council tax cuts or freezes
  • Giving councils a number of costly new responsibilities but neglecting to provide any new funds to pay for them. For example, new schemes like Staying Put are good ideas but that programme will alone cost H&F roughly £500,000.00.
  • Basing future government grants to councils on the assumption that all councils will have increased council tax by 3.75% each year over the next 4 years. In Hammersmith and Fulham that means the government will subtract £2 million a year from all future annual grants in the expectation we will raise that sum by putting council tax up by 3.75% each year.
Hammersmith & Fulham's Conservative councillors had little to say about any of this. They haven't been around much since losing the local elections in 2014 but the borough's opposition leader did argue against H&F Labour having reduced meals-on-wheels charges, implying we should continue with their aggressive approach. He also claimed that the government's dramatic cuts to council funding were part of a strategy he supported that would free up councils to do their own thing on finances which is, er... an interesting take on things.
H&F's Labour administration will not raise council tax. We will continue to take a tough, cost-cutting approach to wastefulness so we genuinely put more money back into residents' pockets while modernising and improving council services.

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