The council will also pass on the government’s 3% social care levy, which is a separate charge made to contribute to the cost of adult social care services. As a result, the bill for the average band D household will rise by £1.25 a week. However, the borough’s most vulnerable residents will be protected because councillors have also agreed to increase council tax support.
Ongoing, deep cuts to government funding will mean the council has £143million less in government funding by 2021 than it did in 2010. This is equivalent to a 64% reduction, with Ealing facing a deeper cut than the London or UK averages.
This stark reduction comes alongside an ageing population, rising costs and increased demand for social care and housing, meaning that the council must now consider all of its options for protecting crucial services for some of its most vulnerable residents. This includes safeguarding home care for older and disabled residents, support for homeless people, dementia services, support for children with disabilities and the protection of children from abuse.
Next year, the council must invest an extra £28million in providing essential services for vulnerable adults and children - £19.5million and £9.5million respectively. This brings Ealing’s total annual social care costs to £144million. The rise in the social care precept and core council tax will generate an extra £7.2million, however, this extra income still only goes a small way towards paying for social care and after taking all of its published savings proposals and projected increases in income, the council must still find more than £56million in savings by 2021 in order to balance its books.
To help close this funding gap, over the next four years, a £10.5million package of reductions was agreed in November and January’s cabinet meetings and a further £6.8million in savings has been agreed in this budget round. Savings proposals include reducing the number of managers and staff at the council and consulting on stopping a public health advice service for people quitting smoking.
The council’s significant financial pressures means that it will need to make further reductions to its budget and consider further savings over the next 12 months.
Council leader, Councillor Julian Bell, said: “We promised to keep council tax as low as possible for as long as possible and we have done this. Core council tax has been the same for a decade, but this year we have no choice but to increase this part of the bill by 2.99%, which is in line with inflation. Sadly, the unrelenting cuts from central government and increasing demand on our services means that we, like an estimated 95% of councils in the country, have no option.
“The total amount raised by increasing council tax in line with inflation and passing on the government’s social care precept is £7.2million. Sadly this extra money comes nowhere close to bridging our funding gap. It won’t cover the cost of rising demand for child protection services let alone meeting the much bigger cost of rising demand in adult social care.
“I am proud that we are continuing to meet our duty towards our most vulnerable residents and I am not prepared to stand back and watch over decline. This is why we are pushing forward with an ambitious transformation programme called Future Ealing. Its aim is to improve outcomes for local people at a time of drastically reduced budgets by rethinking how we operate and focusing on the areas that matter the most to residents. It is also about growing our income in as many ways as we can to try and offset the rise in demand for our services and the unrelenting austerity cuts that have been imposed on us since 2010.”
Councillors also heard about how Ealing has continued to attract investment to the borough that brings with it jobs and homes. The council is optimistic that it will be able to capitalise on additional investment and business that Crossrail will attract to the borough. Ealing, along with other London boroughs, has negotiated with the government to keep its share in the growth in business rates instead of it being diverted into a central government pot.
Councillor Yvonne Johnson, cabinet member for finance, performance and customer services, said: “We froze council tax for as long as we possibly could, because we wanted to help our residents who are also struggling under austerity. However, the financial pressures that we now face are so great that we have no choice but to take this increase.
“Despite extensive and sustained cuts to our government funding we have been successfully growing our way out of austerity and, through our Future Ealing programme, we will continue to become as efficient and innovative as we possibly can and to collaborate with other public sector organisations so we can continue to provide good quality services.”
Of the money raised through residents’ council tax bills, 20% goes to the Greater London Authority to pay for the Metropolitan Police, the London Fire Brigade, Transport for London and other services, and projects managed by the GLA. The Mayor of London’s share of council tax bills, known as the precept, is due to rise to £294.23 for Band D taxpayers, an increase of 27 pence per week.