Thursday, 26 November 2015

Camden's cuts challenge - Post 12 - Spending cuts and Camden’s services

Cuts to council funding announced by the government yesterday have left local with huge budget pressures – according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the longest period of cuts since the Second World War

Since 2010 like-for-like funding from Government has been cut by 34%. By 2017 this will have been cut in half.  By 2018 the budget reductions – a total of £168 million – will be the equivalent to over £3,500 of spending per household in the borough.

We are currently analysing the full detail of the spending review. What seems clear is that local government will be expected to continue to cut budgets significantly, and that further cuts will be required beyond the implementation of our current 3 year financial strategy in 2017/18, and as expected core grant will disappear completely by 2019/20.  There is also likely to be some very bad news for per-pupil funding for schools.

A further complication is remaining uncertainty about which new burdens the government will transfer, or what existing funding it will substitute, to achieve 100% business rates retention across local government by the end of the parliament. The exact position for Camden for next year will not be known until the Local Government Finance Settlement next month.

We should be clear that this long era of cuts is the result of a Tory programme which slashed revenue and capital spending when the economy really needed it and failed to create balanced and sustainable growth.  Today the problems caused by the banking crisis and subsequent recession are still with us with lower wages and higher cost of living for most, weak growth and further spending cuts to local services.  Hidden behind this, of course, is also a drive to create a smaller state with only the slightest safety net.  

As the Shadow Chancellor argued, the UK economy should be doing better but because it still isn’t our public services continue to suffer. 

The Camden ‘Graph of Doom’
Camden’s ‘graph of doom’ is an illustration future spending if we don’t make big changes to as well as cuts.  It predicts that Camden will have no money for anything other than street cleaning and recycling; adult social care and safeguarding children by 2019 – two years earlier than I estimated this time last year. 

Cuts will put immediate pressure on both discretionary services (swimming pools, youth work, voluntary sector, parks and street cleaning, but are not required by law) and statutory services (like children’s safeguarding and adult social care) alike.  However, because funding for statutory services must come first, across these discretionary services will get hit hardest.

Camden’s Labour councillors will avoid closures wherever we can but the reality is that if we are to protect community services, every service will have to change.  This may mean the introduction of more charges, more technology and a change in the way we work with other public services and the voluntary sector.

Our Plan
Councillors across London are legally required to set balanced budgets, but we also need to campaign and speak out loudly against yet more damaging Tory government cuts. That is what was said last week by, among others, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell MP, and Sir Steve Bullock, Mayor of the London Borough of Lewisham.  We’ve joined London Labour councillors in a new ‘Red Lines’ campaign launched just this week.

Here in Camden we can't sit passively by and let these cuts work themselves out.  Just reducing budgets by a set percentage across the board (‘salami-slicing’) or setting budgets year-by-year is not an effective way to meet these unprecedented cuts.   

Camden Labour set a three-year strategic approach so we can make better and more informed choices for the long-term.  Four Investment Tests guide our decision-making to ensure services still tackle inequality and money is spent on the things which have the greatest impact.

The new outcomes-based budget approach has allowed the Council to free up some resources for reinvestment and change the way we do things.  This includes:

·       Being a London Living wage employer for all staff, including care contracts by 2017.

Before considering any cuts, we set out to make every pound work as hard as it can.  Technology - through open IT and data analytics, will be a component in over 85% of our initiatives and Camden is already seen as leading the way nationally.

The senior management pay bill has been reduced by over 20% since 2010 and the numbers of middle managers cut by 200.  

In total 1500 posts will go from the council to 2017 and we regularly talk to our trade unions about changes.  We are reducing use of agency workers and cutting the cost of our support services, including finance, human resources, information technology and property.  Increasingly the council will share services with other boroughs.  

New initiatives to balance the books include: 

·       A major restructure of the council away from historic departments (housing, environment etc) into 3 departments focused on people, places and performance.

·       Further income generation from public buildings, including new commercial office space, renting roofs to broadband companies and more income from events in public parks.

·       Preparing for business rate funding – all central grants will be replaced by business rates collection by 2020:  Camden needs a long-term plan to promote and retain businesses, especially (but not exclusively) in the tech and med-tech sectors.

Investment in infrastructure
Public services also face a very large challenge in its capital programme needed for schools, council housing and public infrastructure.

Currently only 6% of capital need for homes, schools, roads and public buildings is funded by the Government.  We need to use the council’s assets to support more investment.  The Community Investment Programme (CIP) is our plan to invest in things the government now won’t. This is mainly self-funded by selling or developing properties that are out of date, under-used or expensive to maintain and is guided by principles we set at the start.  So far: 

·       53 primary and secondary schools have received repairs and investment.  Money was given on the understanding that schools would not convert to academy status and none have done so.

·       The council is building 1100 council homes and repairing a further 13,000.  No council home will be voluntarily sold by the council under this programme.   Camden is the only authority in London to build more homes than it lost through right-to-buy.

·       Camden has sold old council offices to raise money for reinvestment.  On sites of old offices, like Camden Road and West End Lane we seek 50% affordable housing from developers as well as a receipt to reinvest.

We also know that buildings can only be sold once, so it is important we generate enough to fund the programme and make the investment count.  Because we will rely entirely on business rates from 2020, Camden will also have to think about how it is able to sustain business space in the face of hostile government planning policy and grow more – and this may mean a change from our big focus on building more council housing.

As Labour nationally develops its alternative economic strategy for long-term growth, it is important that where Labour is in power it has a plan based on investment, jobs and apprenticeships.

In Camden it is important that we continue to set budgets that invest money where it can make the most difference.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Camden's cuts challenge - Post 11 - after the 2015 election

Here's a short note outlining an initial view of future spending cuts from central government on Camden - in the light of the Queen’s speech and the post-election new budget.  (General information on the cuts and decisions taken so far is set out on the council website).

Revenue funding for services
It remains very difficult to predict the level of funding cuts for local authorities until the Conservative government sets out a Spending Review – which is expected at some point over the next few months. There will be a ‘stability budget’ on 8 July setting out how manifesto commitments will be funded and further cuts to public spending, including large welfare cuts.

Budget 2015 projections were slightly worse than the Budget 2014 projections from which we anticipated that we would require £70m of reductions over the 3 years to 2017/18 and a further £20m of reductions in 2018/19 and therefore remain an indicator that the savings requirement will be at least as high as that already anticipated.

It is difficult to derive precise departmental spending estimates from the commitments in the Conservative manifesto, or to know whether these would be a reliable indicator of any future settlement.  However, the Institute for Fiscal Studies noted that the Conservatives planned more significant spending cuts up to 2018/19 than the other major parties and would deliver them more quickly.

Cuts to schools
There are particular concerns in education funding, where a commitment to ‘equalise’ spend across the country could lead to cash freezes for schools (until other areas catch up) with the possibility of major cuts to high needs and early years spending should the government adopt a formula-led approach to redistribution.  In order to deal with extra cuts here and continue our investment in under-5s, funding for other discretionary services (e.g. street cleaning, voluntary sector, sports, youth work) will come under further pressure. 

It will therefore be important to keep sight of the ‘savings under development’ in the December finance report (£5m) and it may be necessary to revisit the cuts not put forward earlier this year at relatively short notice should the outcome of a Spending Review - or the announcement of the July budget require this.  

Further discussions may be needed to challenge which services and outcomes are prioritised and how they are delivered.

Capital funding of public infrastructure, homes and schools
Our capital programme stands at £1.2bn, but only 6.6% of this funding requirement is met from Government grants.  The lion-share of investment comes from our own self-financed Community Investment Programmeclick here for updates on what we are building in your area.  

There is no indication that the government will reverse its stance on the cuts to capital funding introduced in 2010. Therefore, except from distinct and ad-hoc grants such as from the GLA for Better Homes repairs work, the Council will continue to rely on generating its own resources to fund the vast majority of its capital programme (both regeneration and essential backlog maintenance) – primarily through the disposal of surplus or under-utilised assets and especially from the receipts generated through Community Investment Programme regeneration schemes.

Assets that are allowing the Council to self-finance the Community Investment Programme can only be utilised once – whether this be a disposal or the regeneration of land to create new homes and community facilities – and therefore more difficult decisions may be required to provide the resources we need to meet the Camden Plan.  Rising labour and material costs in the construction industry are already putting a strain on budgets and have led to difficulties in attracting the right calibre and quantity of tenders during procurement. With some live projects we are considering options such as re-profiling or merging phases to offset the increasing costs and come in on budget.  

Forced sale of council homes in ‘expensive areas’
The proposed housing association right-to-buy funded through sales of empty council homes in ‘expensive areas’ poses a fundamental risk to the Community Investment Programme’s aim to build 1400 new council and intermediate homes in the coming years. Changes to housing association funding signal uncertainty with social house building in general. The detail of how the manifesto pledge will be implemented by the government will be very important for our housing plans.       

More difficult choices
For a sustainable capital strategy that’s able to withstand a further five years of austerity, choices that may have been unpalatable in the past may increasingly need to be considered as part of the evolution and development of the Programme. For example, the balance between future repairs investment vs redevelopment on housing estates may change; further emphasis may be needed to invest in schemes which raise revenue; projects currently at master-plan stage could be subject to challenge and reallocation of resources if necessary; funding options such as selling some blocks in advance may be considered in to manage cash flow and risk; and further capital may be needed from projects, something which has proved challenging in our party (e.g. the £3m extra receipt from Liddell Road).  

In short, the new financial situation will require some difficult discussions about what we choose to fund and considerable innovation and fresh ideas on how we run public services over the next few years.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Rebuilding confidence in Labour's economic competence starts in London in 2015

Here are some more thoughts on how the 2015 General election plays out in London, with an eye on the Mayoral selections and elections:

London is our first real test
The first real test for Labour, with or without a new leader, is the London Mayoral selections in June and the Mayoral election in 2016.  Decisions the party membership makes here will signal early whether we learn the lessons from the 2015 defeat.  London is a platform for renewal, not a last loyal redoubt where we can angrily lead the fightback against the Tories: and repeat the mistakes we just made.  In any case, the power of the Mayor of London comes from consensus between boroughs and negotiation, not conflict, with central government and Whitehall.  Using City Hall as a convenient pulpit for the Left will fail Londoners, and ultimately the Labour Party. The eyes of the nation will be on us right from the start to see whether we 'get it'.  

Rebuilding confidence in our economic record starts in London
The 2016 London election offers a chance for Labour to elect a Mayor in the most economically prosperous part of the country and an opportunity to start rebuilding trust in how we run things.  Our candidate - I think this should be Tessa Jowell - should have an unashamedly pro-growth and pro-jobs pitch. They should focus on London's new strengths - tech and bio-med.  They should understand how the economy here is changing in both good ways (lots of opportunity) and bad (alienation of Londoners from best jobs, high costs of childcare), and react as per the ambition/compassion balance outlined by Tony Blair.  We should be saying something meaningful to the self-employed, the start-ups and small firms: not just through traditional funding levers but through a broader suite of initiatives like tax incentives, simplifying tax and providing cheaper office space, for example secured with the help of councils like they do at Camden Collective.  We need to say loudly and without equivocation that 'we are on your side and its also through you doing well that as many Londoners prosper as possible'.

This also matters to public services
This isn't only a question about the economy, public finances increasingly rely on local economic growth as central government grant is cut.  From the perspective of a Cabinet member for Finance: a Mayor of London who brings in more inward investment is good for our bottom line.  But they should go further and cajole and encourage London's boroughs (each the size of a small-to-medium English city and responsible for at least £1bn each per annum) and the local public sector to spend public money much more effectively. Camden's new outcomes-based budget approach and our use of technology with the NHS is an example where we can spend money more effectively, despite the cuts, and give public servants and citizens much more of a role in shaping their local services together.   

London is not a done deal
Finally, although Labour is ahead in London, it is by no means 'in the bag' - the Tories tend to win when the Lib Dem vote doesn't stand up (2008, 2012) so our candidate must be one who can reach out to more voters, and not live in a political comfort zone because they think 'London voted for Ed'.  It is worth noting that in London the Tories and UKIP combined got 1.5m votes: Boris Johnson polled just over 1m in 2008 and Labour has be never gained over 890k votes in any election so far.  From a North London perspective, Labour didn't win Hendon.  So called marginal Finchley didn't vote anywhere near that on election day. Hampstead & Kilburn was much more marginal than people expected, and dare I say the Tories would have come closer if they'd really treated it as a marginal.  Labour also polls more poorly against the Tories when the Lib Dem vote doesn't stand up.  As we - and the Lib Dems - just found, most Lib Dem voters don't like Labour more than they don't like the Tories.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Thoughts on Labour's election loss

1. Watch out for that big fish about to hit you in the face. 
The negative perception of Labour's economic record, stewardship of the economy and public finances was a problem from day one, quite obviously. Labour was punished for that and the issue wasn't addressed effectively and early enough, despite opinions polls consistently warning that this was going to be the case. What’s worse is that we reinforced it by our own hand. By this I don’t just mean Ed forgetting the economy in his most important speech, or the extremely late appearance of the balanced budget pledge in our manifesto. The inner circle dismissed evidence clearly saying that Labour was weak on the money issue as the opinions of resistors who 'thought that way anyway' or 'probably wouldn’t vote for us'. For most people ‘economic competence’ isn’t just about your stance on capitalism, it’s a judgement on effectiveness, on how well you do stuff.  Sure... voters might have liked someone to take action on energy companies, train franchises and banks, but they were also saying that they didn’t want Labour to do it, because we'd just mess it upSo every time we proposed something radical we undermined our own case even further by people not believing we'd be able to do what we said. 

Why wasn't this addressed earlier?  Internal discussion within the party on sensible finances was difficult - anyone who wanted to balance the books was 'right wing' or 'pro austerity.' The whole Blairite fifth column thing put about by UNITE leadership and friends was seriously unhealthy and a sign of the ideological purism which gripped the Party from 2010 onwards from that quarter.   It's fair to move on from Blair, but - unforgiveably - they repeatedly dissed our own record of changing Britain for the better when doing so.

2. Too centralist. 

Ed’s inner circle never really got local government and decentralisation, the stuff at the end was window-dressing. Instead of giving power to people and challenging the Big State trope thrown at us, we talked about devolving skills budgets - hardly setting the world on fire. Jon Cruddas’s championing of decentralisation was effectively seen off and Hilary Benn seemed to lose every single important argument around the Shadow Cabinet table to Ed Balls et al. To the inner circle, an Ed-led government would be transformative by finding that mythical Whitehall box of levers and yanking them. As previous administrations have found out – government from the centre is ineffective and only builds even stronger Whitehall departments. Labour lost even bigger because of the wipeout in Scotland. Our support for the No campaign didn’t have a distinctive flavour because it lacked its own critique of the Union as too Whitehall-based: which is what we should’ve done. We didn’t have that critique because the inner circle wanted a strong Whitehall to tell people what to do.  Labour tends to see centralism as the state expression of collectivism, and a badge of pride.  Most everyone else sees it as control-freakery. 
Too much wonkery doesn't get results

3. Too many wonks in their bubble. 

At times it seemed that Labour was on a personal intellectual odyssey rather than applying for a job to run the country. It was all West Wing box set when the real lessons come from Our Friends in the North. The campaign was too focused on Ed and his speeches, as if an essay on something by him would made people sit up and listen. There is a time and a place for that, but not in the months running up to an election and not – as it seemed – all the time and to the exclusion of the wider team. Ed's inner circle was universally known as cliquey and never at the end of a phone.  Simply put, the esteem they felt for his undoubted intellectual ability was not embraced by the world at large. 

4. Return of envy-based politics? In its search for tactical dividing lines there seemed little nuance to much of our offer. The disastrous Mansion Tax was a panicked headline-grabbing response written on the back of an envelope three years ago: an envelope which was then lost and then found in time for a pre-election Conference speech but with no groundwork or detail worked up in the interim. While the tax was popular in opinion polls, it did so at the cost of Labour looking like we’d arbitrarily cap aspiration. It clumsily invaded people's lives with subjective political judgements about success.  No thought was had about homes just below the threshold. Braver moves like reforming the outdated property tax system were dismissed. Obvious contradictions like how Labour was arguing for localism, but at the same time magically levying a tax on people it considered to be rich in one area of the country and redistributing the money elsewhere, were not thought through and left candidates exposed. The policy should now be consigned to the dustbin, with a lid on it, as should language about ‘bad’ businesses and ‘predators.’ In the end Labour policies sounded too much like a collection of things we were against, rather than what we were for.  What the fuck happened to One Nation as a winning proposition?  It was packaged as an approach but ended up being just a soundbite.   

5. Reality check. It was never going to be great.  I was predicting the Conservatives as the largest party from the start based on leadership and the economy.  The Conservatives also had something to say about the future, as this Nesta chart explains. Admittedly they made life difficult for themselves with a bit of a rubbish campaign - but as Salim, the concierge at work, said to me today: "At the end of the day, you lot were a bit bollocks." Quite.  

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

50 years of Camden - a quick Labour history

Given it's Camden council's 50th birthday today: here's a short precis of Camden, from my Labour perspective - comments please!

Camden Labour has been voted in to run the Town Hall 43 of the 50 years the borough has been in existence.  It has only been out of power for two short spells: between 1968-71 and 2006-10.

Ensuring that council housing, fair rents and inequality is addressed have been hallmarks of successive Labour administrations throughout the years.  We have also safeguarded residents' interests in the face of major national infrastructure developments.  Camden's unique social mix is a result of its varied housing tenure, and is assisted by our excellent Local Education Authority and family of community schools.  Support for council housing and community schools distinguishes the borough from those to the west: our social mix remains despite gentrification occurring at an alarming rate over last two decades.

1960s Camden formed of three small boroughs of HolbornHampstead (both Conservative) and (Labour) larger St.Pancras in local government reorganisation.  Greater London Council (GLC) created.  Labour wins majority in new borough under leader and railway clerk Charlie Ratchford.  Camden logo of eight linked hands created, symbolising “voting, giving, receiving and unity.” Labour housing minister Crossman approves council plans to build 4250 homes by 1968. Camden successfully opposes flyover proposals in Camden Town and M1 extension through borough.   

Housing investment
1970s Labour returned to power at Camden Town Hall on pro-council housing platform focusing on lower rents and new council housing.  Camden unsuccessfully applies to CPO Centrepoint, large office block intentionally kept empty by property developers during housing crisis.  Council housing acquisitions programme starts buying up ‘slum’ street properties for council housing, making Camden a major landowner.  Last new council housing built until 2013.  Creation of local amenity groups across borough, e.g. WHAT and tenants movement.     

Thatcher’s Britain
1980s Thatcher’s Rates Act takes away Camden business rates, forcing major cuts to services as Camden faces huge deficit.  Homeless Bengali families occupy Town Hall demanding better housing. Turbulent Labour Group splits over approach to Whitehall ‘rate-capping’ of council, but finally sets legal Budget.  Abolition of GLC.  Anti-Poll Tax riot and financial instability.     

Turning council around
1990s Beginning of consolidation of council under Richard Arthur and '1990 Group', major focus on stability, council re-organisation and higher quality services.  Continuing government cuts result in massive capital backlog for housing and infrastructure.  First King’s Cross plans defeated by local residents.  New Labour government elected, starts to give more power and funding to local authorities. 

Labour Investment
2000s Camden named ‘Council of the Year’ in 2003, gains powers over community safety and early years.   Labour government invests £500m in council housing, beginning to make good the 18 year repairs backlog.  ‘Tackling inequality’ a council priority in Community Strategy, regeneration funds targeted at 10 most deprived areas.   Camden first borough to establish comprehensive Sure Start network. Swiss Cottage complex and Talacre Sports Centre opened.  Camden and Manchester drive new ASBO powers against drug-dealersKing’s Cross regeneration passed and Crossrail green lighted to Tottenham Court Road.  Leader Jane Roberts named Dame for services to local government. 

Coalition cuts
2010s Camden faces £160m cuts from Coalition government over 7 years, reductions of over 30%, and face massive capital deficit for council homes and schools.   Ends of sales of council homes by auction policy taken by Tories and Lib Dems.  Introduces 20mph zone across the borough, sets plan for London Living Wage and starts £330m Community Investment Programme to build 1100 new council homes and repair all community schools.  First new council homes built at Chester Balmore since 1970s.  Equality Taskforce and Camden Plan put childcare, growth and jobs centre stage.  Primary schools named best in country.  Leader Sarah Hayward opposes plans to demolish parts of Regent's Park Estate and Camden Town for HS2. New offices, public swimming pool and library build in King's Cross.   

Famous Camden councillors
Barbara Castle (St. Pancras council) – Labour Minister
V. K. Krishna Menon (St. Pancras council) – Intellectual and activist for Indian independence
Tessa Jowell – London MP and Labour Minister
Ken Livingstone – MP and Mayor of London
Geoffrey Bindman QC – Human rights lawyer
Frank Dobson – Labour Minister and Camden MP
John Mills – Economist and entrepreneur

Friday, 6 February 2015

West Hampstead benefits from huge investment in schools

The West Hampstead and Kilburn areas are benefiting from an unprecedented investment to expand and modernise schools.  The areas 'wins' because it has a growing population and therefore has greater need than other areas of the borough.

Far from money being taken out of the area, as some critics allege, the £25m figure cited here is actually one of the highest totals in the borough, only Highgate - where there is a historic cluster of secondary schools, has more investment.

The table below provides details of schools investment in Fortune Green, Kilburn and West Hampstead wards, showing total amount of planned expenditure and expenditure to the end of 2014. The funding for this investment comes from (Community Investment Programme (CIP) and government grants (non-CIP). The government grants have been for bulge classes in areas of high need and (£6.7m) general school places - the latter did not have to be spent in West Hampstead and could have been spent anywhere in the borough, but the decision was made to invest the money in the school there.

The CIP investment is funded by disposals of assets by the council after the Coalition government cuts £200m+ in investment to schools in 2010.  
Table 1: CIP and Non CIP Schools Programme Project Commitments
Total CIP and Non CIP Funding (£000)
Expenditure to Nov 14 (£000)
Fortune Green
West Hampstead
Taking away the £6.7m from the government and money for bulge classes the CIP totals here are in the region of £17-£18m.

In Fortune Green, the following schools have received investment:
  • Beckford  school is benefiting from £450k of repairs
  • Hampstead school has received £1 million for urgent repair works to heating and building fabric to keep the building operational until it is rebuilt under the government’s Priority Schools Building Programme
In Kilburn, the following schools have received investment:
  • St Eugene de Mazenod has received £400k, for works to eliminate the backlog of building repairs to bring the school into good condition;
  • St Mary’s Kilburn has received £350k for works to eliminate the backlog of building repairs to bring the school into good condition;
  • Kingsgate has received £2.2m to date as part of providing three bulge classrooms and other improvements to the existing school.
In West Hampstead, prior to CIP, Emmanuel Primary School had £8 million invested to rebuild the school.  Again, this the council contribution could have been spent elsewhere.  The cost of the new buildings for an expanded Kingsgate primary school in West Hampstead will be funded from capital receipts from the sale of land at Liddell Road.
So is West Hampstead a 'cash cow' for other areas of the borough?  No.  Table 2 provides details. At the moment there are no additional planned disposal projects in the these three wards.   
Table 2: General Fund CIP receipts
Actual disposals
Total planned future disposals (£000s)
Fortune Green
1A Glastonbury St.
Rear Car Park, 65 Maygrove Rd
Rear Car Park, 65 Maygrove Rd
West Hampstead
1a Lithos Road
55 Hemstal Rd

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Statement on the cuts for 17 December Cabinet - Camden's cuts challenge post 10

Conservatives and the smaller state
The Coalition’s cuts to council budgets are a demonstration of their broader plans for public services. They want to roll back the state.  If it’s not recognisably the Road to Wigan Pier then it’s a journey towards a more American Republican model of smaller, limited government with greater use of charities in social policy. 

As Camden council enters its 50th year, this is in direct contrast to the approach taken by generations of Labour councillors here in this Chamber - and the wishes of residents, community groups and campaigners who want to see a council which places social justice at the heart of what it does.

I said 4 years ago that the cuts caused by the banking crisis would be borne by those who had nothing to do with it.  That is what happened and there’s more to come.  More families on low and modest incomes are poorer with less disposable income.  Those that can find work are stuck in a low wage trap.  More have had to move from the borough because of the Bedroom Tax, introduced by the Tories nationally and supported by them locally.  
Poverty is not just unfair but it’s also a waste and waste is inefficient.  Remember: the more people who suffer, the higher the demand for public services.  
The Camden Graph of Doom

Camden’s ‘graph of doom’ predicts future spending.  It estimates that if things don’t change Camden will have no money for anything other than street cleaning and recycling; adult social care and safeguarding children by 2021. 

Do you think that at the end of austerity the Conservatives will pledge to put more money back into libraries or youth centres?  No.  The Conservatives set out their stall when they promised tax cuts over public service funding.

So despite the national economic picture finally improving after the long slump caused by the banking crisis, over the next three years Camden Council faces its toughest financial challenge yet. The Council has already made £93 million in savings across the Council since 2011, while continuing to deliver quality services to local people, build new homes and get young people into work. Now, further cuts to government funding alongside other social pressures – including an ageing population and have left us with a budget gap of £70 million to find by 2017/18.

Funding cuts continue to disproportionately affect those councils with the greatest need. On the government’s own estimates, Camden faces the 8th largest spending power cut per dwelling in  2015/16 among all other local authorities nationally – and by 2017 Camden’s funding from central government will have been cut in half.

Camden Labour has tried to prioritise the money we have left for vulnerable people and what we know will help them best and help save money in the long run. We’ve focused on tackling inequality, preventing people getting in to trouble and being as efficient as we can. This means extra money in some areas like mental health prevention and domestic violence. But also means some very difficult cuts to services that we know people value.

As Labour councillors we are in a particularly difficult position implementing cuts to public services we never wanted to – but let’s be clear: the responsibility lies with George Osborne and the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition. One-term Tory austerity didn’t work because it started off by doing too much too fast, as we warned. Alistair Darling’s plan for spending restraint and investment was replaced by deep cuts in the measures in the emergency budget of 2010 and the first settlement which choked the recovery already underway.  It left no room for error, so when European economies started to suffer there was little scope to compensate.  They sole purpose of the Coalition was to deal with the deficit.  They have failed.

It's clear there is a need for public spending restraint so I also question those who only argue 'to turn the taps back on' without identifying where the money comes from.    

But while I appreciate the difficult situation they are in, I’m also critical of Labour’s front bench when it comes to local government spending.  Hilary Benn loses far too many arguments on spending around the Shadow Cabinet table to other departments: most recently over borrowing caps for council housing.  Too many senior figures take a blinkered approach to local government, and London local government in particular.

So it’s essential that we fight for a Labour government in 2015 which will protect the future of the welfare state and universal public services.  The financial formula which recognised the pressures of inner London should be restored.  Labour’s plan for decentralisation should cede Whitehall spending and powers to local authorities so we have more control over local public services and are able do more for the most vulnerable: after all, we know more about those with the most complex needs than Whitehall agencies do.

Our Plan
Here in Camden we can't sit passively by and let these cuts work themselves out.  In order balance the books decided to take a three year strategic approach to addressing the projected budget deficits. The three year strategy phases the changes so that we can make informed choices, like UNISON's Ethical Care Charter.

The Council’s experience is that reducing budgets by a set percentage across the board is not an effective way to meet these unprecedented cuts. Therefore the council has taken the opportunity to take a planned, longer term approach, looking in detail at all of the Council’s spending to consider how to provide services for less whilst still maintaining range and quality.

Our Four Investment Tests have guided our decision-making to ensure services still tackle inequality and money is spent on the things which have the greatest impact.

The new Outcomes-Based Budget approach has allowed the Council to free up some resources for reinvestment. Examples include enhanced focus on tackling domestic violence, reinvestment in childcare, and an innovative partnership fund in mental health.

We set out to make efficiency measures first.  Smaller support services and streamlined management structures are a major component of this, as well as the adopting of systems thinking.  Technology - through open IT and data analytics, will be a component in over 85% of our initiatives.

The Council is already considerably leaner than in the past. For example, the senior management pay bill has been reduced by over 20% since 2010. We will continue this by reducing further the number of management roles, reducing use of agency workers and consultants we don’t need, and reducing the cost of our support services, including finance, human resources, information technology and property.

Talking to residents
We haven’t made this plan without talking with and listening to residents.  We’ve gathered comments from over 2000 people just at this stage, in one of the largest listening exercises of its kind.

One of the strongest messages we received from residents was the importance of prioritising the money we have to protect our most vulnerable residents and avoiding the large scale privatisation neighbouring boroughs have embarked on.

Residents were also clear that they wanted to see greater value for money in outsourced repairs and street cleaning contracts negotiated by the Tory-Lib Dem administration before 2010.  While progress is being made here, I will announce further measures to ensure value for money in the New Year.

Job losses
It is estimated that the saving proposals agreed in September and those proposed in this report could result in a reduction of up 600 in our Full Time Equivalent staff posts. Any staff reductions required will be managed in line with the Council’s well-established procedures and be subject to an equalities impact assessment. Initial discussions have commenced with staff and trade unions about proposals for meeting the financial challenges ahead.

Measures are already in place to minimise potential redundancies such as holding vacancies and the use of redeployment where possible, but I pledge to monitor this issue an address UNISON’s concerns.

Use of reserves
We cannot agree with the proposal plug our funding gap by using reserves. Reserves are one-off balances and are allocated to specific projects or to mitigate corporate risks. These include funding for projects that will achieve ongoing savings such as our customer access programme, as well as towards fighting the negative impacts of HS2 on local residents.

Reserves can only be used once so they aren’t a sustainable way of plugging a permanent reduction in funding. They also take away from capital projects – to do so, for example, would means the end to the Parliament Hill renewal. 

In summary I thank council staff for their hard work in putting together the MTFS – we are not even halfway through a difficult journey which is transforming local government and how its serves local people.  So far it has proved resilient, just how far that will last if is now open to question after the end of this financial plan.