Ongoing severe austerity cuts will result in the council having £143million less government funding by 2021 than it did at the start of the decade - equivalent to a 64% reduction and deeper than the London or UK average. This cut, along with a series of other factors including an aging population, rising costs and increasing demand for social care services, means that the council has no choice but to rethink the way that it pays for and delivers local services in order to secure their future sustainability.
It is approaching this through a programme called Future Ealing which is focused on transforming the way it operates to improve outcomes for local people at a time of drastically reduced budgets. Councillors confirmed last night that prioritising the borough’s most vulnerable residents is central to the Future Ealing programme.
Cabinet also heard that the council eventually expects to have to make a total of £265million of savings between 2010 and 2021 in order to balance its books. To help close this funding gap, on top of £4.5million of reductions agreed in November, a further £6million package of savings, for 2018/19, was approved last night. It includes reducing the cost of fostering and adoption services by working more collaboratively with other west London councils, increasing recycling rates to cut the cost of waste disposal and making it easier for residents to contact the council digitally rather than in person or on the telephone.
As well as spending less, the council is also working to meet the government funding gap by increasing its income from business rates, fees and charges for council services and from council tax as the numbers of new homes increases.
Cabinet heard that it will be reviewing charges for council services, and in some cases plans to remove the subsidies that were previously in place. It will also be reviewing debt collection processes to increase recovery rates.
Last year, increasing pressures meant the council had no choice but to pass on the government’s 2% social care precept for the first time. This raised £2.3million and wasn’t enough to plug the financial gap so the council had to reallocate an additional £11.5million of council funding for adult social care last year.
Council tax levels for 2018/19 will be agreed in February, but the ever increasing demand on social care services mean that the council expects extra funding will be needed to continue to deliver services in 2018/19.
At the meeting, councillors also agreed plans to increase council tax support for Ealing’s poorest residents.
Cllr Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council said: “The social care crisis is a problem caused in Whitehall, not the town hall.
“With spiralling social care costs and an ageing population that needs more complex care for longer, councils have been pressing the government for an urgent national fair funding solution. We cannot turn our backs on those that need us the most so until this happens our budgets will continue to be under severe strain.
“Although the financial challenge cannot be underestimated, I like my fellow councillors entered politics to make positive change to improve the lives of local people. We have strived to grow our way out of austerity by helping to secure billions of pounds in inward investment for transport schemes, homes and jobs. This has help generate more money for the council through business rates as well as strengthening the local economy.
“The government has announced that councils will be able to raise council tax by 3% next year as well as passing on its social care precept. In Ealing, core council tax has been frozen for a decade as part of our commitment to residents to keep bills as low as possible, for as long as possible. We will be reviewing all the options before making a decision on next year’s bills in February.”
The council’s Future Ealing programme sets the vision of what sort of borough the council wants Ealing to be. At its core is the desire to create a fairer borough that seeks to tackle inequality at all stages of life so people can help themselves to live fulfilling lives. It seeks to improve the lives of local people by prioritising the council’s limited resources against nine key aims.
Councillor Yvonne Johnson, the council’s cabinet member for finance, performance and customer services, said: “Years of swingeing cuts to our government funding coupled with the national social care crisis is making it increasingly difficult for us to balance the books and protect local services.
“Our ambitious Future Ealing programme aims to make this a fairer borough and it has already begun to improve peoples’ lives as well as saving money. For example, the council has significantly reduced the number of children who are looked after by the council by carrying out intensive work with families to help them stay together – this improves children’s lives while saving millions of pounds.
“This is the type of smarter working that will help us find our best path through these intensely difficult times; we will increasingly be working ever more closely with residents, community groups and other organisations to get things done and make sure our borough remains a great place to live and work.”
All cabinet decisions are subject to call in for a period of five working days from the date of publication of the minutes of the meeting.
Council tax bills for 2018/19 will be set at a meeting of full council on Tuesday, 20 February. The bill includes core council tax, the government’s social care precept and the GLA precept.
For every 1% increase on bills, the council would raise £1.2million.
Read the full budget report and appendix outlining savings proposals.