The dust has settled after the elections and a clear picture is now emerging about the challenges and opportunities that the Labour Council in Ealing will face over the next four years.

As I reflect on what lies ahead I oscillate between real anxiety about how we are going to deal with another £96m cuts to our budgets and genuine excitement about all of the huge opportunities to transform Ealing that will come as a result of the regeneration linked to Crossrail and HS2. This huge challenge and massive opportunity must be linked as we go forward.

Over the last four years we have already cut our budgets by £87m and things have been tough. But the local government patient is still alive after this major surgery and we have managed to continue to improve services and only had to make limited frontline cuts. Along with the four years of Council Tax freeze it is a record that I and my colleagues are proud of.

So having done pretty well, how is local government rewarded by Eric Pickles? Further massive cuts on a scale that no other arm of government is facing.

To have to find another £96m of cuts over the next four years is near on impossible. We have done many of the obvious and easy things already to get to where we are. This round of cuts will be much more painful and difficult hence my anxiety and worry. In four years time the Council will be a different beast and we will have had to make some eye-wateringly tough decisions. We will in all probability actually have had to stop providing some services.

There are two clear causes of the financial challenges we face. Firstly the irresponsible and in many instances the criminal behaviour of the bankers that caused the international financial crisis in the first place. Secondly the financial austerity that will now last to the end of the decade is the price of this Tory led government's economic failure. Yes the economy is now finally beginning to recover but it is not being felt by ordinary people yet and it was presaged by three years of stagnant growth because the fledgling recovery under Labour was choked off and that meant the coalition government's plan to pay off the deficit in this parliamentary term has failed spectacularly.

Council Leader Julian Bell at a recycling initiative launch of the Green Redeem Scheme in April.
 

So how do we survive the next four years? Firstly we will follow the same principles we followed when making the cuts before - we will protect the most vulnerable, consult on the difficult decisions, try to share the pain equally, try to protect jobs by minimising compulsory redundancies and look to protect frontline services by cutting out waste and sharing procurement and services with other Councils.

Secondly we will put up a very large sign that says Ealing is open for business and we will seek to attract as much investment to our Borough as possible so that we can generate economic growth that will provide jobs and affordable homes for our residents.

The Council cake is getting much smaller and we need to maximise the self reliance and independence of those residents who can work so that we can concentrate our dwindling resources on those who need them most. It will be a tough challenge but I and my colleagues are up for the fight.