Westminster Council faces massive service cuts or hikes in Council Tax and charges to make up a £123m budget gap by spring 2024 – with the Conservative Government making things worse rather than providing necessary support.
In early March this year the Conservatives’ pre-Covid council budget suggested the council would have to deliver £95.6m million in spending reductions or extra taxes and charges, by March 2023, due to further planned austerity and changes the Conservative Government is making to move funding away from cities towards the rural counties.
The future outlook has now become even gloomier due to both Covid and decisions by the Government. Westminster council has previously outlined £32.1m it could cut from spending or raise in income (something which now may be more difficult to achieve) by 2023. However, in a paper being presented to the council’s cabinet tonight (Monday 13th July), its finance team now forecasts a revised budget gap by March 2024 of a further £91.4 million that it has not yet explained how it will pay for.
The council will have to plug that gap and make the £32m in ‘savings’ it’s already identified, for a total of £123.5m in four years. That figure compares with the council’s net budget for 2020/21 of £180m: the budget gap is equivalent of two-thirds of this year’s budget.
This emerging horror story doesn’t even include the predicted in-year loss for 2020/21 that will see the council lose upto £33m this year due to the immediate impact of Covid-19 on its income. This will be covered by the council’s emergency reserves, cutting them in half and increase pressure on the council to refill them from its already massively overstretched income.
Westminster Labour Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “The impact of these enormous cuts, coming on top of the pain of the last 10 years, would devastate our communities. The Covid-crisis has further exposed how overstretched council services already are but the scale of the financial hole facing the council could mean major cuts to adult and children’s social care in the years ahead while many services that are not legally mandated could disappear entirely.”
Even now the Government still keeps promising that austerity is over but these figures show that to simply be a lie. The Council’s Conservative Leadership need to stand up to their Government to demand more support or they will show themselves to be fully complicit in the hardship currently heading Westminster’s way. No expressions of sympathy will cut it if they slash vital services because they didn’t want to rock the boat with their parliamentary pals.”
Cllr David Boothroyd, Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Member for Finance, said “The Westminster Tories wasted the years before the crash, never properly diversifying council income. They have left local communities horrendously exposed and the Cabinet paper questions the long term financial sustainability of the council.”