Cllr Stephen Cowan, Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham, has written this letter to all homes in the borough this week. He explains how we’ll continue to deliver more with less after government austerity cuts have reduced our budget by over 30%.
Delivering more with less
This year has been particularly challenging, but we have been able to protect and modernise local services, introduce new services, and stick to our long-term plan to keep council tax and residents’ council charges low. In fact, council tax is 29% lower in real terms compared to 2010 – maintaining our position as having the third lowest council tax in Britain.
Most local government funding comes from national government. It’s sobering to contrast the effects of austerity on our council’s annual budget:
- Hammersmith & Fulham’s annual budget 2010 = £184m
- Hammersmith & Fulham’s annual budget 2021 = £124m
Despite having our budget cut by a third, we have delivered a real-terms reduction of nearly all council charges ever since I took on this job in 2014. We have also abolished some charges altogether – such as the exorbitant charges for adult social care – because I believe people who’ve paid in all their lives shouldn’t have to remortgage their homes to get the care they need.
And we’re introducing a significant number of new services too, including:
- New youth clubs and services to give young people positive things to do and help set them on course to build a good life
- Free breakfast and lunches for children needing help in and out of school term time
- A £4m Gangs Unit to tackle the insidious problems with gang crime and
- We’re putting a record 72 new law-enforcement officers onto H&F’s streets to counter cuts to the police service and keep our residents safe.
We’ve been able to do all this and more (with so much less) because we brought in a ‘Ruthless Financial Efficiency’ programme. That has saved a record £118m over the past seven years by cutting council wastefulness, ripping out layers of management, renegotiating contracts, employing smarter and more productive working practices and deploying new, more efficient technology. We’re turning a once old-fashioned bureaucracy into a modern, results-orientated business.
Defending our residents and businesses during the Covid pandemic
This year has been like no other. In February 2020 I asked officials to move our borough onto an emergency footing. We were the first council in the country to do so.
We quickly redirected our focus to defend our residents, maintain services and introduce new services that supported our residents and businesses.
We are now running one of Britain’s most successful Covid test and trace systems. We procured space for emergency hospital beds to help the NHS, we built emergency mortuaries, sourced PPE for front line carers, are coordinating the biggest volunteering operation in our borough’s post-war history, and much more.
We spent £22m. The government promised us we wouldn’t be out of pocket and while it has provided funds, it’s left us £7m short.
I know that, as we look at the challenges on the horizon, with possible new variants of Covid, business failures and unemployment caused by the pandemic and Brexit, and the need to urgently address the climate emergency, that maintaining strong finances is the most fundamental of tasks we must continue to always get right.
First-of-its-kind Industrial Strategy making H&F a global economic hotspot
We must also prepare our borough for a very different world. In 2017, I launched our Industrial Strategy with Imperial College London. It is already helping transform H&F into a global centre for some of the smartest businesses in the world – businesses that are leading the way in tackling the challenges of our age.
We’re now working with our partners across business and education to align all our life-long learning programmes, so our residents are equipped to take up some of the best jobs and start-up opportunities anywhere. This coming year, our coalition for change is more important than it has ever been and there is an even more compelling urgency to our mission.
Thank you to everyone for the sacrifices made during the pandemic. Without doubt, the brightest moments throughout this time have come from the heroic actions of people working to keep us safe and the multitude of kindnesses people across our borough have shown. With record numbers of residents volunteering, donating funds and looking out for one another I am confident we have the strength, resilience, and compassion to rise to the challenges of the coming year.
With thanks and very best wishes.
Cllr Stephen Cowan
Leader of Hammersmith & Fulham