Councillors reject government’s ‘end of austerity’ claim

Hackney Town Hall

Hackney Town Hall.

Hackney councillors have rejected central government’s claims that austerity policies, long protested by local authorities across the country, are coming to an end.

Philip Hammond, Chancellor of the Exchequer, used his last Budget before Brexit to announce that “the era of austerity is finally coming to an end”.

Among Mr Hammond’s announcements were an extra £1 billion over five years for Universal Credit,  an additional £400 million for schools to “buy the little extras they need”, £900 million in business rates relief for small businesses and £650 million for the rejuvenation of high streets.

Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville called the budget a “sticking plaster”, saying: “The extra funding for Universal Credit, while offering some much-needed support, does not address the fundamental flaws in the system that we have raised numerous times.

“It will not help those who are at risk of being plunged into debt or those fleeing domestic abuse who are unable to claim at both their family home and refuge.

“Likewise, the ‘little extras’ promised for schools is desperately needed but in no meaningful way addresses the current crisis in education funding which has resulted in the ongoing loss of valued teaching staff and schools having to ask parents to help cover their costs.

“We’ve continually campaigned for support for businesses affected by the government’s huge hikes in Business Rates last year, so it’s reassuring to see the Chancellor listening to councils like Hackney and their business communities. The money for high streets is welcome, and hopefully the process for allocation will be fair and benefit communities across the country.”

Other cabinet member councillors voiced scepticism as to the stated intention of Mr Hammond’s budget.

Cllr Caroline Selman (Lab, Woodberry Down), cabinet member for community safety, policy and the voluntary sector, spoke on the topic as she announced a ring-fenced funding bump for Hackney advice services.

Cllr Selman said: “Despite claims of the end of austerity, we still face significant challenges. Despite that, we continue to invest in the voluntary sectory.

“Under a ring-fenced budget, £770,000 for advice services in the borough will be invested, recognising the contribution these services make in supporting residents in difficult circumstances.”

Cllr Selman added that the council would work with local advice organisations to create an approach which is not led by “rigid targets”, but works towards a more “people-centred approach”.

Cllr Rebecca Rennison (Lab, Kings Park), cabinet member for finance and housing needs, added: “We’ve been told that austerity is coming to an end. It doesn’t feel like it’s over here.”

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