It is now almost a year since Labour was elected to run Ealing Council and I became Leader. It has certainly been a tough and challenging 12 months with both highs and lows.
On the positive side we have reached record recycling rates in the Borough and have had the cleanest streets ever. In our residents’ survey more people than ever before were very satisfied with the Council and there was a substantial increase in residents feeling safe in the Borough and their neighbourhood at nights.
We have delivered on many of our manifesto commitments including introducing the “Grimebuster Helpline,” CCTV in Crime Hotspots, and most important of all, despite the tough financial climate, we were able to freeze Council Tax for residents finding it hard to make ends meet as VAT, inflation and petrol prices are all increasing.
Big capital projects continue to move forward including the regeneration of Acton Town Hall with its new pools, Library and community facilities. The Dickens Yard development was begun in the summer last year and has progressed rapidly and when complete will transform Ealing Broadway I believe for the better.
We have also made the decision to invest in a car park in Southall unlike the previous Tory Council that asset stripped Southall to the tune of £13.5m by selling off the Community Centre and other assets. The car park is badly needed and will help pay for itself. It will bring jobs and regeneration to an area of the Borough that has been badly neglected by the Tories. It will also improve the quality of life in Southall by reducing traffic congestion and the resultant pollution and help in our partnership with the Police to improve Southall.
Overall however the dominating theme of the year has been the huge and savage cuts from the Tory led government. They began last June with the cutting of nearly £3m from our in year area based grants that provided funds for the youth Connexions Service and voluntary sector organisations and the announcement that we would lose a further £3m of Local Area Agreement reward funding.
This was followed in July by the axing of £250m of funding from our Building Schools for the Future programme that would have expanded and transformed 18 of our High Schools. In the end we managed to save the sample schools – Dormers Wells and Cardinal Wiseman – from the Tory axe and the ground breaking ceremonies were a welcome relief from the almost weekly bad news.
Autumn brought the news that Local Government would have its grants cut by 28%, worse than the 25% we had been planning for and when in December our individual grant was announced it was even worse at a 30% cut. One of the local Tories who refuses to criticise his government asked me recently what the level of cuts were because he couldn’t work it out – was it £53m? (the original target we set when we thought it would be a 25% cut) or was it £65m or £66m?
My answer was £67m over the next 3 years with further substantial cuts to come in year 4. £65m was the 30% cut in our controllable budget that excludes our school budgets. £66m includes an extra £1m the Tory led government top-sliced off our schools budget for their controversial Academies policy and £67m is the latest figure after the Tory led government at the end of the financial year without notice to schools cut a further £1.3m from the Schools standards fund for Ealing.
These are savage and unprecedented cuts in our Council budget by a government that is cutting too deep and too quickly and represents a concerted attack by the Tories and LibDems on local services. I am proud that we have managed to protect the most vulnerable children and adults, that we will not be closing any of our Children’s Centres that we have protected our youth service and invested £45m in our Primary schools and expanded our Apprenticeship scheme. We have found most of the cuts through efficiency savings, new ways of working, reducing management and cutting out waste but the sheer scale of these cuts means that front line services are being hit.
I am angry with the government about these cuts. Difficult decisions lie ahead over our Library service, sheltered housing and supporting people projects and I will try to mitigate the impacts as much as possible but people should be in no doubt where the blame lies for these cuts – with the Tory led government.