Westminster budget cutbacks ‘worse than expected’

Frontline services will suffer as government slashes funding for council

WESTMINSTER council will need to cut almost �35million from its budget over the next two years after the government announced its local authority funding policy.

The council will face a 7.2 per cent reduction in spending power – the combined revenue from government grants and council tax – next year which is far above the national average reduction of 4.4 per cent.

There are fears that frontline services in the borough will suffer from greater cuts than previously predicted as Westminster is forced to compensate for a greater shortfall than they had hoped.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of Westminster Labour group, said: “The council has made it clear over the past few months that major cuts will take place right across the board and I think these government funding cuts are now probably worse than anyone was expecting.

“Every public service will be hit. Streets will be cleaned less, rubbish will pile up for longer, the elderly and disabled will be told to fend for themselves and parents with young children will be told that services will no longer be available.

“The government has no idea if it’s going to work and if it doesn’t then all the pain will have been for nothing.

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“We all agree there’s a need to cut the deficit but we think you can halve it over four years which is a sensible amount of time. What the government is doing is trying to cut the whole deficit in the next five years which is completely unrealistic. They have no idea what the effect on real people will be.”

Westminster will have to compensate for a shortfall in funding of �21million in 2011-12, and a further �13.6million in 2012-13.

Some of the council’s proposals for doing so were unveiled in its future planning document last month including sharing services with neighbouring councils, raising adult social care eligibility thresholds, and reducing some street cleaning and recycling services.

Karen Buck, Westminster North MP, said: “I think the ferocity of the funding cuts to local government make a mockery of the idea of localism.

“Local councils are going to have to do almost nothing but cut services and lay off staff at such a rate that any chance of building up community spirit is just fanciful.

“We will see a lot of the good work that has been done in communities over the past few years being lost.”

Council leader Councillor Colin Barrow says previous levels of spending are unsustainable and the council can’t afford to continue in such a manner.

“This means that we will have to prioritise the services that we deliver,” he said. “To do this we have to re-think how we operate.

“No one wants to cut front-line services, but if councils pool their resources and expertise and bring the public sector together under one roof, people can get more for less from local government.”

A council cabinet meeting will be held tomorrow (Friday) to discuss the funding cuts while a full council meeting will set a budget for the next financial year in March.