The sad thing about the News Shopper homophobic letter row is that it obscured a valuable bit of reporting they did on the Greenwich Council cuts that are bound to come our way. Reporter Mark Chandler grabbed a word with council leader Chris Roberts at the planning meeting which reiterated the authority’s opposition to the Greenwich Market redevelopment – a shame the Shopper doesn’t do this kind of thing more often.
Cllr Roberts said: “We’ve been told to expect cuts of 40 per cent in our grants which would equate to £70m.”
But asked where the axe could fall he said: “The only thing I can say at the moment is nothing is ruled out and nothing is ruled in.
“It’s difficult to put a shape on it until we do know the scale. If it appears evasive it isn’t meant to be.”
Actually, this figure is nothing new – Chris Roberts said as much at a full council meeting in July (which was attended by the News Shopper). Discussing the council’s financial situation during the debate on Greenwich Time, he said just that – the 40% cut comes from the rate support grant which central government doles out to local councils. In fact, the situation could be worse, he said, with London councils as a whole facing a further £100m cut in grants which Greenwich takes a double-share of (2/33rds) – which would add a further £6m to the total.
But none of this will be known for sure until 20 October, when Chancellor George Osborne publishes the results of his spending review – so it’s all still speculation.
But the one solid thing that has emerged is that the council is already ramping up its search for savings.
Last year, a leaked document revealed the Labour council was planning £26.8m in cuts but Mr Roberts said officers were now looking at slashing £35m in the coming year.
The document included the possibility of ceasing investment in the Met’s successful Violent and Organised Crime Unit and Cleansweep, but Mr Roberts could not say if this was still a possibility.
Cllr Roberts said: “We’re going to try to be as focussed and targeted as we can in terms of protecting the frontline and essential services”
Behind the scenes, senior officers have been asked to draw up cost-cutting plans, starting by cutting procurement costs and finding ways of sharing commissioning and administration with other local authorities, the police, heath services and universities.
It’s worth also comparing the difference in attitudes between Greenwich and Lewisham…
In neighbouring Lewisham, the council has revealed initial cost-cutting proposals and put them out to public consultation.
But Mr Roberts ruled out a similar approach in Greenwich.
He said: “That’s just not where we start from. I wouldn’t want to come out and say ‘we’re going to close x number of libraries’.
“It risks raising levels of anxiety with people that you might not need to raise.”
Last Monday, 80 people attended a meeting to discuss the future of Crofton Park library – with all 80 voting against plans to close it, while last month elected mayor Steve Bullock managed to call anti-cuts protestors “fucking idiots”. While Lewisham has generally always been keen to be seen as an open authority – especially when compared with Greenwich’s top-down approach – Chris Roberts will be hoping to avoid such scenes as he works out what to do over the next few months.