Public debate on budget cuts at Lewisham council meeting

Lewisham Council. Pic: Wikimedia

Lewisham Council. Pic: Wikimedia

The possibility of further budget cuts for Lewisham was discussed yesterday in a council meeting.

The council have yet to agree on a balanced budget as financial assumptions are still being deliberated for years 2015-16.

Lewisham Mayor Sir Steve Bullock and his cabinet discussed the cuts with the public who expressed concern over housing, emergency services and redundancies.

Lewisham’s housing stock is currently under pressure and is more likely to be impacted by budget cuts. John Hamilton, a member of the public, said: “Councillors find it difficult to identify those with home difficulties.”

Sir Bullock responded: “Lewisham Homes are managing the construction of at least 625 new homes, which will include the 500 council homes and a further 125 homes for sale that will create a cross-subsidy to increase the number of council units and also respond to local demand.”

Emergency services are currently facing a high demand as ambulance, fire and police services are under strain. Members of the public expressed that this is mostly likely to continue if the budget is not spent properly.

In response to Councillor Alan Hall’s question about the ambulance, fire and police spend in Lewisham, Sir Bullock replied: “In respect of the Metropolitan Police Service, the figure is a Met-wide one and not calculated at borough level.”

“In respect of the Fire Service, the Mayor of London sets the budget for the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority for the entire running costs of the London Fire Brigade.”

“This money is then put into the smaller budgets, some of which is attributed to stations rather than boroughs and some budgets are allocated on bids or greatest need, such as property maintenance and refurbishments.”

“NHS Lewisham Clinical Commissioning Group’s contract with the London Ambulance Service for 2014/15 was £9.3m. This is a contribution towards the total cost. The Lewisham contract for 2015/16 is expected to be of a similar value.”

Peter Richardson, a member of the public, was concerned about the reduction in facilities such as the library, which is operated by the council. He said, “It is understood that Lewisham must make a 40 per cent expenditure saving over the next 3 years and very few services are to be ‘ring-fenced’. In view of this, will there be any redundancies planned in the Public Library and Information Service?”

Councillor Chris Best said: “On November 12 2014, Mayor and Cabinet delegated the Savings Proposal in relation to the Library and Information Service which have been sanctioned on 11 February 2015. The proposal includes a reduction of £240,000 from the staffing budget but leaves unchanged the number of service points and the library opening hours. The savings will be achieved through a restructuring of the service which includes redundancies but will not impact on opening hours.”

The council did not address the issue of funding cuts to “baby cafés” in Lewisham health centres.

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