Mayor of Hackney responds to Budget
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville’s response to the Chancellor’s Autumn Budget.
Unfortunately we have yet another Budget which pays little attention to the ongoing funding cuts faced by councils and the impact this is having on our communities.
Since 2010, Hackney Council has had to find £152 million to balance its budget due to cuts to the grants we receive from central Government and rising costs. More cuts in future years mean that from 2010/11 to 2020/21, the Government’s annual grant to Hackney will have fallen by 45%.
Government rhetoric of “increasing efficiency” and “doing more with less” as a panacea to ongoing funding cuts is increasingly being exposed as empty. The growing impact its cuts are having across a range of vital frontline services on which millions of people across the country rely are being felt more and more each day.
Of particular concern today was the lack of anything to help address the ever growing pressures and spiralling costs of adult and children’s social care. The system is at breaking point, and the negative impacts on the people who rely on it, their friends and family, and the wider health service increase year-on-year. Also missing was anything about sustainable funding for our police and our schools, both in general terms and for children with special education needs. These are both areas I know are of growing concern for Hackney residents.
This Budget wasn’t just about asking the Government for more money. It was as much about it giving us the freedoms we need to properly address the housing crisis; committing to transport projects to support important growth in homes and jobs; listening to widespread concerns over the ill thought-out elements of Universal Credit; and supporting the many hundreds of Hackney businesses which are having to manage huge increases in Business Rates.
The Chancellor delivered on some of our requests in these areas, and below is a more detailed response on each. Much was announced on housing, and we will be examining the finer details and implications of that over the next few days.
We called on the Chancellor to halt to the planned 3.9% inflationary hike to Business Rates and offer more support to businesses, so today’s announcements are welcome. However, for thousands of businesses in areas like Hackney, the next few years will still be extremely tough as they struggle to manage the ongoing rates hikes as a consequence of the Government revaluations which came into force this April.
Hundreds of businesses in Hackney are having to pay thousands of pounds more than in 2016/17, and many face even greater rises each year until 2021/22. Some will end up paying more than twice what they paid previously. Small and medium businesses are the backbone of our country, and Hackney is home to long-established traditional SMEs as well as innovative tech firms at the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution, yet it is precisely these businesses which are bearing the brunt of the Government’s ongoing rises to Business Rates.
As such, it’s disappointing the Chancellor didn’t go further and increase the support available through the Discretionary Relief Fund, or announce some other form of longer term support, for the areas most severely affected by his Government’s hikes.
The lack of commitment to Crossrail 2 is frustrating. This much-need project, both in terms of the Core Route through Dalston and the proposed Eastern Phase through Hackney Central and on to Essex, is essential to alleviate congestion and unlock the huge potential in housing and jobs growth across East London and the South East.
Transport studies clearly show that even with the known interventions planned by 2031, further rail infrastructure will be need in East London to cope with forecast growth. Sections of the Crossrail 1 Elizabeth Line will be at capacity soon after opening with other lines, including the Overground, suffering from similar levels of over-crowding.
Crossrail 2 is essential for the prosperity of London. It has the wide-spread backing of councils, businesses and other organisations across the capital, and will support the growth of hundreds of thousands of new homes and jobs. The Government needs to commit to it so work can begin as soon as possible.
It’s incredibly disappointing that the Chancellor failed to announce a single penny for the vital fire safety work that will be necessary up and down the country following the tragedy at Grenfell Tower. Councils who have approached the Government so far have all been turned down for any funding and it shouldn’t be about individual authorities being forced to beg for additional resources, there needs to be a concerted national response to this tragedy and its long-term implications.
This was a Budget that again focussed on propping up a failing housing market, with a focus on home ownership that does little for the 13,000 families waiting for a Council home in Hackney or the 120,000 children who will be spending Christmas in temporary accommodation across the country.
When there’s a shortage of housing, it’s common sense to get everyone building more. We will urgently continue discussions with ministers about how Hackney could benefit from an increase in its housing borrowing cap to build more homes, but without measures to get all councils building, today’s announcement does not go far enough and it must lead to real freedoms not continuing attempts to control and dictate from Whitehall.
It’s also vital that we focus on building new homes rather than converting the vital workspaces and commercial buildings that are home to Hackney’s thriving small businesses, and I would caution the Chancellor against further liberalising planning rules that could harm the economic lifeblood of our communities.
The Chancellor had the chance today to reverse the Government’s short-sighted cuts to police funding, which are now demonstrably leading to increasing crime rates across London and the country. Nationally, police budgets have been cut by more than 25% since 2010. In London, the Metropolitan Police has been forced to make £600m of savings since 2010 – with a further £400m to find by 2020/21.
We’ve seen the real impacts of these cuts in Hackney, where we’ve lost one-in-four of our officers, with 200 fewer than in 2010. After years of declining crime and fantastic partnership working, we’re now seeing a concerning increase across the board, and particularly in theft and violence.
The Government needs to see past its empty rhetoric of being more efficient and acknowledge the reality that London’s police simply don’t have the resources they need. I’d urge everyone to tell the Home Secretary about their concerns first-hand through our Foot the Bill campaign, before she publishes her proposals for future funding in December.
Education funding remains a serious concern for schools, parents and councils. It’s disappointing that the Chancellor didn’t provide a commitment to fund the world class education all of our children deserve or offer the clarity we’ve called for regards long-term funding. We still do not know what will happen to funding in areas like Hackney after 2019/20, leaving open the risk that the Government will revert to its original plan to strip our borough of £914 per pupil – or 692 teachers.
The Government has also ignored our calls to properly fund support for children with special educational needs, the funding for which has effectively been frozen since 2011, leading to a shortfall of £100 million across London and £8 million in Hackney.
We’re pleased the Government listened to some of the concerns about Universal Credit voiced by councils, academics, charities and residents across the country, both those living with the consequences of the current flawed system and those where it is due to be rolled out. Forcing people to wait six weeks to receive any support has led to significant spikes in rent arrears and increases in the use of food banks in pilot areas, as people were dragged into debt through no fault of their own.
Speeding up and improving the payments system is a sensible first step, and I’d urge the Government to continue to listen to the concerns I have raised with them, particularly around councils’ role in supporting residents to claim benefits and to help existing claimants adjust to this significant change in how they manage their personal finances. Government needs to provide councils with the necessary funding to pay for a comprehensive advice and support service for people transitioning to Universal Credit.