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Camden Council braced for finance crisis fallout

PUBLISHED: 16:55 13 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:36 07 September 2010

REPOSSESSED homes, job losses, state schools becoming overrun and an increase in mental health problems and family breakdown is what Camden Council is preparing for amid the worsening economic crisis. In an interview with the Ham&High, Camden s budget bos

REPOSSESSED homes, job losses, state schools becoming overrun and an increase in mental health problems and family breakdown is what Camden Council is preparing for amid the worsening economic crisis.

In an interview with the Ham&High, Camden's budget boss Cllr Ralph Scott has admitted the authority is facing a "doom and gloom" future and that money will have to be saved to address likely social issues.

However, he has also pledged to support core projects already planned for the borough, as well as protecting services for those most in need.

"We are facing challenging financial circumstances and we are going to have to give ourselves a significant amount of flexibility so we are able to provide frontline services and our core commitments," he said.

"Essential services will only go up with inflation at 2.5 per cent and any other increases will come to the council's executive and scrutiny committees for decision.

"There will be careful scrutiny putting up fees and charges and protecting vulnerable groups from increases.

"At the moment we are looking across Camden trying to make an assessment of what is happening to people. We are looking at whether homes are being repossessed, if people are taking their children out of private schools and moving them to state ones. We also have to look at family breakdown and mental health problems."

He said an "evidence-based" approach will be adopted to tackle such issues and help the borough's residents fight their financial hardships.

Key projects still on track are the Swiss Cottage Academy, investment to improve council housing, the refurbishment of Kentish Town Baths and replacing elderly care homes.

Cllr Scott said these projects are essential, and putting money aside for them will take precedence over other spending.

The council's decision not to spend now will be criticised by the Labour Party, who have already called on the council to intervene to help small businesses through the crunch. They say the council should cut costs on builders' parking permits and remove the fee hike they put on market stalls and childcare last year.

But Cllr Scott says taking these steps would be a knee-jerk reaction: "If we were advising people in Camden now, we would say, 'Put a little bit of money aside and do without expensive luxuries you may have wanted up to now.'

"That is what we are doing with the budget at the moment - we will not be buying a TV when we need to make sure the roof stays on. If next month we see a particular problem arising in Camden and we have spent all our money now, we are going to feel pretty stupid."

The council has also decided to put in a £500,000 discretionary rate relief for the voluntary sector and will keep the council tax increase to 2.5 per cent next year.

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