The council has also agreed a 1.99% rise in council tax, plus the 3% social care precept. The government’s funding settlement for the next financial year includes the assumption that council tax will be increased by the maximum allowed. Without this rise, Ealing Council would be forced to make cuts to critical frontline services to plug the gap left by the government’s funding shortfall.
The council tax increase will raise an additional £7.243million. This, along with one-off funding of £10.1million from government, council savings of £7million and a further £3.35million from business rates, means the council was able to agree a balanced budget for 2021/22 without dipping into its cash reserves.
However, because the government funding is one-off, the council is expecting to be facing the same challenges at next year’s budget round when the financial impacts of the pandemic are even more severe.
Over the last 10 years, the government has cut Ealing’s core funding by 64%. This means, for every pound it used to receive, Ealing now gets just 36p. At the same time, demand for services has increased significantly, particularly in the areas that serve our most vulnerable residents.
As part of its package to protect the most vulnerable, the council has agreed to exempt care leavers from paying council tax until their 25th birthday. And owners of properties that have been empty for more than 10 years must now pay a 300% premium on top of the standard council tax. This move will help bring disused properties back into use, creating more homes for local families, an important Future Ealing priority.
Residents on low incomes and who are struggling financially may be entitled to help in paying their bills through Ealing’s Council Tax Support scheme which the council is continuing to fund. More than 25,400 working age claimants are currently in receipt of help.
Ealing is also continuing to invest in frontline services, including £15million in services for children and young people, including children with special educational needs and disabilities. In doing so, the council is recognising the significant impact the pandemic and lockdowns are having on the borough’s children and families.
The council has also approved a 50-year, £400million investment in its wholly owned housing development company, Broadway Living, to enable it to build more than 1,500 new homes, the majority of which will be genuinely affordable. Some of those homes will count towards the council’s ambitious target of delivering 2,500 new genuinely affordable homes by April 2022, which the council is on track to meet. Like all local authorities in London, Ealing is facing an escalating affordable housing crisis, with more than 10,000 households on its housing waiting list and only approximately 500 properties becoming available to rent to new tenants every year.
Further plans include a £5.1million programme of road and pavement improvements. And investments in refurbishing the council’s leisure centres to help people lead more active lives as the pandemic abates and improving food and recycling rates as part of the council’s climate change emergency response, are also budgeted for.
The council has identified £7m in savings for next year; most of them one-off. Amongst the efficiency savings is a proposal to close Acton Reuse and Recycling Centre and consolidate operations out of Greenford Reuse and Recycling Centre. The move to one main site would bring Ealing in line with other London boroughs. Residents living east of the borough who normally use the Acton site will be able to use the nearby site at Abbey Road, in Park Royal.
Councillor Bassam Mahfouz, cabinet member for finance and leisure, said: “Despite the challenges we are facing, we are determined to continue supporting our residents. I am pleased that we have a roadmap out of lockdown, but it’s clear that the financial and social impacts of the past 12 months are going to be felt for many years to come.
“The services we provide to the most vulnerable people in society are going to be more important than ever in the years to come and that is why we are focused on protecting them, despite the unrelenting pressures we are facing. We want to be able to meet the increasing demand that we know is coming.
“Unfortunately, the council tax rise is unavoidable. We aren’t happy about it and would much rather the government had provided the funding we need rather than pass the costs of the pandemic on to our residents. However, I’m proud that we are continuing to invest in the borough.”
Councillor Julian Bell, leader of Ealing Council, said: “It is with deep reluctance that we take the decision to raise council tax. The government is currently spending eye-watering amounts on this pandemic and we believe that it wouldn’t have been difficult for them to find an extra £7million rather than ask residents, who are already under pressure, to pay.
“Much of the government funding we’ve received is one-off. This means that it’s a sticking plaster being used to fund a long-term problem. The COVID-19 pandemic, and the council’s role in leading the local response, has clearly demonstrated how crucial local services are to people. Government must now put in place a sustainable and realistic long-term funding settlement so we can plan with confidence to provide the services that really matter to local people.”