Friday 26 September 2014

Unacceptable cuts - what sticking to Tory spending plans will mean in Lewisham

At this week's Labour Party Conference, Ed Balls made clear that any future Labour Government will stick to its 'binding fiscal commitment’ to match Tory spending plans.

The latest £40 million of cuts proposals posted yesterday on the Lewisham Council website sadly make clear the real cost of such a commitment. (Lewisham Future Programme papers for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Monday, 29th September).

In response, I have made the following comments, in a personal capacity, as part of a press release issued today by TUSC, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition:

Martin Powell-Davies, TUSC spokesperson and National Union of Teachers Lewisham Branch Secretary (personal capacity) said:

“The latest round of cuts announced by the council shows that Labour is failing its own big budget challenge. Having already cut over £100 million worth of jobs and services since 2010 they now propose to cut a further £85 million, starting with £40 million in next year’s budget.

The council by its own admission says that these cuts “are becoming increasingly difficult to identify and implement”. Regrettably, it seems the ‘difficult choices’ that the Council are making will be at the expense of some of the most needy and vulnerable people in the borough.

The latest proposals include plans to close or outsource day centres, youth centres and a sexual health clinic; cut support for the homeless, care packages and meals on wheels; increased charging for adult care services; cuts to a whole range of health services - to name just a few.

The Council plans to save over £4M by reducing the services offered by Children’s Centres, cutting the number of targeted families by a third. The Youth Service could face almost total closure with significant job cuts facing Youth Workers. The future of many community organisations will be threatened by the cuts to grants and services that are proposed.

The only answer to the ‘Big Budget Challenge’ is to refuse to make these unacceptable cuts and to join with trade unionists and the local community to campaign to get back the money that has been stolen from Lewisham by the Government. 

My union branch, Lewisham NUT, agreed this week to write to the three prospective Lewisham Labour candidates for next year’s General Election campaign to ask if they support the reversal of all the cuts in public services and benefits that have taken place under the Con-Dems, including the restoration of central government funding of local authorities to at least the level that existed in 2010.

Unfortunately, there’s no sign that the Labour Party have any intention of doing this. That’s why I’ll be campaigning for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition at the next general election” 
  • Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) was co-founded by the late Bob Crow to begin to build an electoral voice for working-class people. In May 2014, TUSC fielded 560 local election candidates in nearly 90 towns and cities, in the widest socialist challenge to Labour for 60 years. In May 2015 – for both the general and the local elections – we are going to up our game, aiming to stand even more widely, to ensure austerity is not unchallenged at the ballot box.

  • Lewisham Future Programme - Here is a summary of some of the proposals:
    “The Council is now in the fourth year of an eight year long period of resource reduction. Over the period 2010 to 2014 the Council made savings of over £100m. ... This level of continual reduction means that proposals need to be increasingly transformational and are becoming increasingly difficult to identify and implement”.
    “Staff numbers (Headcount) have reduced from 3,997 to 2,745 (-31%) in that time. The scale of this change is important context – a far more radical and transformative approach is now required”.
    “By 2018 it is likely that, as an organisation, we will be one-third smaller than we are now. We now employ less than 3,000 staff and the numbers are bound to fall further”.
    “For several months now we have known that we need to make £95m of budget savings from 2014/15 to 2017/18. This year (2014/15) we made £10m of reductions that will flow into next year. This reduces the total we need to find to some £85m. The profile of the savings we need to make requires us to find in the region of £40m savings for 2015/16 and £45m over the next two years”
     “But the Government then chose, when allocating its spending reductions as part of the national public austerity programme, to allocate the deepest cuts to its financing of local government  ... [and] to focus the budget cuts disproportionally to those Councils with the highest spend - which, of course, also have the highest levels of need ... Lewisham is the 16th most deprived local authority area in England with one of the lowest business bases - it is bound to be effected greatly by these financing changes”
    Savings required 2015/16       2016/17      2017/18       Total
    £m                         39                26               20                85

    The report presents £40.6m of new proposals. These include:

    Section A - Social care & health – proposed cuts of £10.3 million including:

    A1: Cut of £2.7M – Care Packages - cutting the costs of community care packages for the roughly 3,400 adults receiving them  .. a range of cuts to the packages provided including “the Meals on Wheels contract will not be renewed and individuals in receipt of this service will be offered alternative options for the provision of a meal. For example, arranging for them to access supermarket home delivery services”
    A2: Cut of £1.5M - Reduction in cost of Learning Disability provision – “It is a risk that out of borough providers will evict our clients, or encourage families to take legal action against the authority” ... “This is a significant savings target relating mainly to direct service provision. It will potentially result in, or be perceived to result in, a reduction in service quality and client and family choice, both of which have potential reputational risks for the authority
    A4: Cut of £1.3M - Remodelling building based day services - Day centre provision is often used to meet the needs of vulnerable people who are at risk of isolation, to develop life skills and to provide meaningful activities. There are four centres within the borough, provided by in-house services. They are the Leemore centre, Narborhood Centre, Ladywell and Mulberry .. This proposal is to remodel the in-house service so that opportunities are offered to customers in smaller community based groups. As outlined in other proposals, service users will be actively encouraged to make greater use of existing community, leisure and educational facilities and social venues in and outside of the borough. Partnership work with external providers will be further developed to make more creative use of centres and reduce the need for the existing number”.
    A5: Cut of £275K - Charging for Adult Social Care services - proposals to increase changes for non-residential adult social care.The users of these services are vulnerable adults, usually on low incomes. Any increase in charges will reduce the disposable income of some clients although the [income support] buffer of 25% will continue to provide a level of protection to those on the lowest incomes”
    A6/A8: Cut of £3.3M - Public Health programme review – a series of cuts to programmes covering Dental Public Health; Health Inequalities; Mental Health; Health Protection; Maternal and Child Health; NHS Health Checks, Obesity;/Physical Activity- Public Health Advice; Sexual Health.; Smoking and Tobacco Control; Training and Education.
    There is a risk that reducing funding to some of these organisations will destabilise them financially and have a negative impact on the populations they support. Affected organisations include: Forvil; Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) and Voluntary Action Lewisham (VAL)”.
    Decommissioning CAB Money Advice in 12 GP surgeries (£148K) 
    Reduce contract value of sexual health by a further £350k. This would likely mean closure of at least one sexual health clinic.
    Stop/reduce supply of HIV tests to GP practices (£25k)
    Stop funding chlamydia and gonorrhoea screening in GP practices (£26k)
    Reduce the contract value for community health improvement service by limiting service to support mandatory Public health programmes such as NHS Healthchecks only and reduce other health inequalities activity. (£270k) “This would have a major impact on the work on health inequalities throughout the borough, reduce support for various public health programmes, most notably the Healthcheck programme ... It would also make the neighbourhood model of delivery for community development health improvement services extremely challenging to implement”.
    £348K cuts in smoking and tobacco control including by reducing contract value for stop smoking service by £250k (30%), stop most schools and young people’s tobacco awareness programmes: “likely to have a significant impact on the ability of Lewisham to reduce the prevalence of smoking”
    £68K cuts in maternal and child health “Reduce capacity/funding for breast feeding peer support programme & breast feeding cafes” and “child death review process”
    Section B – Supporting People – proposed cuts of £1.35M
    A series of cuts to supported housing and floating support services affecting high-support hostels, shared supported housing and in the community that could affect individual client groups, such as drug and alcohol users, women experiencing violence and exploitation, offenders and rough sleepers .
    The Council paper says clearly:
    Any losses to the floating support service will carry increased risk of more households becoming homeless
    Loss of hostel bed spaces will inevitably lead to pressure elsewhere within council resources
    Further reductions in funding my impact on staff quality and morale to such an extent that service users are put at risk
    Numbers of people living on the streets in Lewisham will rise significantly
    Anti social behaviour on the streets in Lewisham may rise significantly
    Section E – Asset Rationalisation – proposed cuts of £949K
    Mainly unspecified plans to save on buildings e.g trying to relocate community and youth services into schools and (£25k) by dimming the street lights!
    Section J – School Effectiveness – proposed cuts of £751K
    Mainly by charging schools more for services such as Educational Psychologists – so increased pressure on school budgets and/or cuts in service if schools don’t buy-in.
    Section K – Crime Reduction – proposed cuts of £974K
    £574k from cuts in Drug and Alcohol Services
    £200 k from cuts to the Youth Offending Service
    “Young people will not be able to attend the diverse range of programmes that are currently in existence which will be tailored to their offending behaviour. Instead, young people will attend more generic programmes”
    £200K from cuts to Integrated Offender Management Service
    “Those who are involved in the criminal justice system are notoriously difficult to engage in drug/alcohol treatment services. Without additional support this engagement is even less likely which means that their criminal activity is likely to continue with all the associated impacts on other Lewisham residents”.
    Section L – Culture and Community Services £1.4M cuts proposed
    L1: Most of this is £1.125M cuts in voluntary and community service grants – out of a total £5.9M budget – so a 20% cut overall.
    The various organisations supported by grants are not listed but:
    “The level of reduction proposed is likely to lead to some organisations losing significant levels of funding. This could mean the closure of some groups and the loss of some services that are no longer deemed to be a priority”.
    Also L2: Cuts in staffing in the libraries service
    Section N – Environmental Services - £740K
    N1: £340K Closing or ceasing to maintain a number of small parks, highway enclosures and closed churchyards (and trying to get ‘community involvement’ to do the jobs instead)
    “Depends on appetite and capacity of local groups to take on  extra responsibilities ... Reduced maintenance regimes may lead to more visible litter, graffiti and increased fly tipping

    N2: Reduction in street cleaning frequency £400K
    Specifics are not spelled out but “No of posts affected 14 ... There will be a reduction in the frequencies that we sweep all residential roads which will result in a build up of litter, detritus and weeds. Streets will be unswept for longer periods”
    O: Public Services – proposed cuts of £650K
    Includes ending of discretionary Freedom Pass scheme (200K savings).
    “There will be a high impact on persons with a disability as it withdraws their current entitlement to free travel. Sampling shows that 68% of these will be entitled to alternative travel concessions. The remaining 32% will no longer have support. Information will be provided to all about alternatives and most economic ways to use public transport”
    Q Safeguarding / Early Intervention Services further cuts of £4.1M for 2015/16
    Q1 Redesign Children Centre offer
    Changing children centre contracts as they are re-procured to:
    A shift the costs of providing reception and administration
    B reduce the unit cost of working with each family
    C reduce the number of families to be worked with by a third
    The proposal means that Children’s Centres will be redesignated so that they will be allowed to offer a lower standard of service “So that they can operate more flexibly and at a lower cost” They may e.g. open for fewer hours/weeks.
    The proposal is also to support 3800 families rather than the 5500 families currently targeted by the service – i.e a third fewer families.
    Q2: Reduction in Youth Service Provision – proposed cuts of EITHER £3.1 M now OR £1.4 M this year – but rest of cut to be made in three years - given that the total budget is £3.5M, this means the reduction of the Youth Service to “a statutory service model only”
    Option 1 looks at an option of mutualisation of the youth service following savings. “The proposal is the Council should stop funding the mutual entirely after the third year, generating a further £1.7m saving. There is a risk that the mutual will not at the end of 3 years, be sustainable and therefore a risk, that without continuing Council funding at some level, services cannot be guaranteed”

    Option 2 considers a move straight away to a statutory service only model.
    “Given the extent of savings required by the Council and the risk that option 1 could still require Council funding after a mutual has been in operation for three years, option 2 proposes moving directly to a statutory service model only”.
    Even if Option One was considered, these are the immediate cuts proposals:
    "The Youth Service currently maintains 7 youth centres and 5 adventure playgrounds (APGs) ... In order to release savings across the Service it is proposed that the Service retains 5 youth centres and 5 APGs, while removing staff from 2 youth centres and reducing front-line staff headcount commensurately. Removing staff from these sites will allow the 2 centres to be operated by voluntary/community providers or to close. Currently proposals are to close or pass on Ladywell and Rockbourne youth centres
    From its youth centres, the Service operates a street-based outreach capacity comprised of 3.4 fte support youth workers with an ability to operate 15 hours of outreach work per week. It is proposed that the Service remove this capacity.
    Ending Council-run provision at 2 youth centres and ending the street-based outreach capacity will mean Reduction of Youth Workers from 17.5fte to 10 fte, and reduction of manager and business support capacity yields a savings of £370,000
    In order to release further budget savings, but still maintain the Service’s integral relationship with the community and voluntary sector, it is proposed that the commissioning fund be reduced by 31%. (savings of £293,000).The commissioning fund is used to procure a broad range of activities focused on building life skills for young people from the voluntary sector that serve to supplement the Youth Service’s direct delivery and ensure a range of youth provision across the borough”.
    One third reduction in the commissioning fund will lessen provision and also require a reprioritisation and reallocation across currently commissioned providers. There are various voluntary sector providers who rely on Council and Youth Service funding to sustain operations and it is likely that some providers will have to either reduce or suspend operations.

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