Hounslow Council approved its budget cuts for 2011/2012 at its Borough Council Meeting on 1st March.
I am pleased that the Council has agreed to freeze Council Tax for residents, following the four-year freeze by the previous Conservative-led administration.
However, I am extremely disappointed that the Council ignored pleas from local residents present at the meeting as well as Conservative councillors and decided to press ahead with significant cuts to frontline services, including the closure of Chiswick Day Care Centre and cuts in maintenance for parks and roads.
Unlike other councils across London, I do not believe that Hounslow Council fully considered innovative and creative alternatives to reduce costs, such as sharing services with other councils.
Councils across London use hundreds of different IT systems, for example, to do very similar things and major savings can be made by consolidating these.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council is teaming up with Kensington & Chelsea and Westminster councils to work together to provide a whole range of services for local residents, a move which they estimate will save around £35million per year.
Similarly, Hounslow Council identified just £350,000 in savings from the sale of unused buildings, compared to the £14 million that Hammersmith & Fulham Council plans to save. I believe that a detailed review of Hounslow Council’s property portfolio could have identified opportunities to consolidate the use of offices and sell underutilised office space.
Savings from shared services, the sale of underutilised office space, the consolidation of IT systems and improvements in the processes for the purchasing and commissioning of goods and services could all have helped to prevent cuts to vital services for local residents.
It is a matter of cutting waste and inefficiency so that important services such as libraries, funding for the prevention of domestic violence, youth services and day centres for the elderly and those with mental health issues can be maintained.
I have previously also expressed my concern about the way the Hounslow Council budget cuts consultation was run. I felt the process focused too much on which services should be cut, rather than giving residents the opportunity to suggest more innovative solutions to reducing costs. I also believe that details on the proposed cuts were not always clear – many people would not have been aware, for example, that the ‘reconfiguration of day care services’ would result in the closure of Chiswick Day Care Centre.
I believe local residents deserve a clearer and more creative approach to assessing the costs of the council. I hope best practices from other councils will be taken into account ahead of future council budget planning processes.