Greenwich has been pretty much alone among London boroughs in playing down the impact of Government cuts. It’s something that showed sharply last summer – while Greenwich was shouting and spending on tall ships, Lewisham was running The Big Budget Challenge, inviting people to play with the council’s budget and explaining the troubles ahead.
Last month’s Autumn Statement put an end to all that. So it’s good to see that Greenwich is holding a public meeting next Tuesday to discuss what happens next.
Despite us all having to pay council tax, most council funding comes from central government. Council tax rises don’t really amount to much extra in the kitty – especially since the government limited rises to 2% before local referenda have to be called. (The Autumn Statement allowed councils to whack an additional 2% on to cover rising social care costs, but this is seen as too little, too late.)
So councils can either defy the government (and end up with Whitehall staff taking over), or they have to cut. There have been dire predictions of councils going bust by 2020.
Cuts in Greenwich aren’t new. Greenwich has run cuts budgets for the best part of a decade. Stealthy cuts have included closing kids’ playschemes, quietly dispensing of Kidbrooke’s only library, cuts in grants to the voluntary sector, staff pay freezes, cutting senior council officers and threatening Maryon Wilson animal park.
People only notice cuts when they’re directly affected – like a certain Mr David Cameron of Witney, Oxfordshire. But so far, many cuts in Greenwich have been behind the scenes.
You can only chomp into those reserves so far. If you include “unusable reserves”, that figure rockets by almost a billion, but chipping into that sum means flogging off property, plant and other assets (such as the Blackwall Lane “pocket park”).
But with another £77m of cuts to the council’s annual budget expected to come, how long can that go on for?
So credit to Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland and deputy leader John Fahy for holding a “question time” event about all this – to be held at 6pm at Woolwich Town Hall on Tuesday 15 December.
If you want to submit a question and go, you need to register. Hopefully a recording will be made available for everyone else.
It’s curious that it’s been announced with only six days to go, in the run-up to Christmas, held at a time of day that’s not hugely convenient for people in work, and hasn’t featured in this week’s Pravda, but at least it’s a tiny nod towards transparency.
So, what are you asking the council?