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Thorpe warned “a perfect storm” was coming

Council bosses in Greenwich are to be tasked with finding £2m in cuts following a warning the authority is “at the end of the line”.

Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe said last night that years of Westminster austerity policies have pushed local government to breaking point over funding frontline services.

As the council looks to balance its budget, Tuesday’s scrutiny panel was told that bosses are being asked to find £2m in “efficiency savings”.

Opposition leader Matt Hartley said that previous calls to find such savings have been rejected by the Labour council – asking the leader how they now planned to monitor results.

Thorpe said: “The idea that there’s millions sat waiting to be found is a complete fantasy. This will require difficult decisions, but we will work with directors to deliver these savings.

“The word efficiency at this point just mean cuts. It is impossible anymore to justify that somehow there is waste and nasty stuff in the public sector that people complain about. We have been open when saying to directors that they have discretion when looking at how they are organised.”

Councillors recommended that bosses focus on reducing agency staff, some of whom have been employed for long periods and can cost more than contracted council workers, and on the authority’s procurement strategies.

But council officers pointed out that agency workers – a lot of whom are social workers – are essential to the council’s operation and are only employed when appropriate.

The council’s financial plans will be heard by its cabinet tonight (Wednesday) before a final debate at full council next Wednesday.

‘Most challenging finances I can remember’

Greenwich is planning to up council tax by 2.99% and invest one-off sums into combating youth violence, dealing with the impact from Universal Credit and training people back to work.

At the same time, cash earmarked for other projects has been moved to balance the budget – including £2m for anti-poverty programmes and cash for emergency support schemes.

Thorpe said that population growth, policy changes and government cuts are leading to “the starting of a perfect storm”.

“What this budget shows is that we are at the end of the line,” Thorpe said.

“This has been the most challenging set of finances that I can ever remember. Difficult decisions will be required in the next eight days.

“I would never ask people to raise council tax unless it was absolutely necessary – it is one of the most regressive forms of taxation.

“But, if you cut and cut and cut funding, the impact is felt by services and people.

“Then people in decision-making positions have to deal with that. There really are bigger, more serious challenges for services that we provide.”

The council leader said he has “no idea” the level of cuts that the government will impose during its upcoming spending review.

The council currently forecasts a £12.9m overspend for 2018/19, the bulk of which comes from services for vulnerable adults and children.

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Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Service is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media.
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