Bromley council merging more services to survive budget cuts

PUBLISHED: 10:27 28 October 2010

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne

2010 Getty Images

Council bosses could be forced to merge more services with neighbouring boroughs as they prepare to deal with the biggest cuts to public spending since world war II.

Delivering the Spending Review Chancellor George Osborne announced massive cuts of 27 per cent to local authorities budgets over the next four years, and handed local councils more control over how they spend their money.

On Tuesday Bexley council’s head of finance revealed that he had been in regular meetings with his Bromley counterpart over where the two boroughs can save cash by working together. Bromley and Bexley councils already share some back office functions, and community transport contracts, and this cooperation is expected to be increased as budgets are tightened.

Councillors in neighbouring Tory borough Bexley have said they are looking to cut about 280 staff but Bromley council meanwhile has remained silent over where services could be shared, and have refused to reveal exactly how much will be cut and where.

Bromley council’s Tory leader Stephen Carr says that he will do everything he can to protect front line services.

In a letter written to residents following the spending review, Mr Carr said: “The question for Bromley council is how much we will lose and this won’t be clear until December when the Government tells us the funding we will get.

“Already in this financial year we are dealing with a £1.67 million reduction in grants that impact directly on the Council’s budgets. In the meantime we are exploring how we could manage reductions of up to 25 per cent in spending over four years while doing all we can to protect front line services.

“This is a delicate balancing act so it is important to understand what matters to the people of Bromley.”

The borough will be given more power over how it spends Government cash, as grants that were previously ring-fenced for certain projects will be given as a single revenue grant.

Mr Carr also announced three meetings in November to ask residents how they think council money should be spent.

In August Bromley officials pre-empted last weeks cuts by announcing their intention to end in-house home care provision, prompting widespread protests from service users and existing staff, with up to 130 care workers fearing redundancy.

Helen Reynolds, Unison regional organiser for Bromley said: “The announcement of the Comprehensive Spending Review is a devastating blow to workers and their families whose jobs are in the firing line and may well act as a green light to Authorities to escalate their planned cuts.

“Bromley Council has already started a number of service closures and re-structurings putting hundreds of workers at risk of redundancy and it’s likely there will be more to come as more detail about the Comprehensive Spending Review becomes evident over the next weeks and months. Our members will be anxious and fearful for their jobs and we will want to represent them and their concerns as will as continuing to put pressure on the employer through local campaigning.”

Small community-based charities will also suffer at the time they are needed most under Cameron’s Big Society, according to the chairman of the Bromley Community Fund.

Richard Lane said: “The scale of the cuts means it will prove difficult to use public money to fund charities delivering services seen as ‘non-essential’, such as support for vulnerable groups like older people, those experiencing domestic violence or the homeless. Small organisations that support less widely-understood causes will particularly struggle to survive.

Police forces will also be hit by the spending cuts as George Osborne announced a real-term cut of 20 per cent to funding by 2015. Despite the promise from Orpington MP Jo Johnson to fight for more police in Bromley, the cuts will have a negative impact on the number of bobbies on the street.

Labour MP for Lewisham West and Penge, Jim Dowd, feels strongly that his part of the borough has a particularly raw deal from the spending review.

He said: “This is very bad news for areas like Penge. My constituency has a particular dependency on public sector jobs. I know that the deficit needs to be reduced but this is presenting a huge risk and that risk is on the most vulnerable.

“The Institute of Fiscal Studies has shown that this will hit the poorest hardest. The idea that we are all in this together is absolute Baloney.”

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