The Town Hall is set to hike up council tax by 4.99 per cent – an increase of just under £1 a week for most households and one that will bring in £4.3m for the local authority.
The council will be setting aside over £1.4m to reduce low-income, working-age residents’ council tax bills by a further £60 a year. This means no working-age claimant receiving full support from the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS) will receive an increase in their council tax bill.
Hackney Mayor Philip Glanville also confirmed that a target for low-income families to pay no council tax at all by 2030 is “absolutely not in doubt”, after work to establish various milestones was postponed.
In an interview with the Citizen this week, Glanville said: “Other boroughs have exempted care leavers, people have focused money on veterans, people have looked at different types of poverty. We want to do all of that, but now is not the time to do that. There is not the capacity within the council’s teams to do that.
“There are so many other things that the people involved in doing that piece of work are doing in Covid response that it isn’t the right time, but those two dates [all low or no-income families paying zero council tax by 2030 and receiving at least a 90 per cent discount by 25/26] are absolutely vital to me.
“What we are learning about poverty, how that scheme operates, what the levels of demand will be through this pandemic show just how important it is but some of the solutions coming out the other side.
“We don’t know how many people are going to need that support coming off furlough. We have seen the numbers rise in Universal Credit. To commit more resource that we might need to support a bigger scheme in terms of numbers increasing its generosity is not something we could do right now, and that increased generosity and investment would not have been happening until after the local elections anyway.
“We haven’t really lost any time, we just have not done that piece of work this year. We would still want to keep those targets. Where we have had extra resource we have invested in this scheme and the support around it. Anyone saying we are backing away from committing to supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Hackney – this budget shows we are absolutely not doing that and where we can we are buttressing it.”
The majority of pensioners on a low income and young people leaving care will continue to get all of their council tax paid by the borough.
The Town Hall has pumped another £100,000 into its discretionary crisis fund for those in financial trouble, with an extra £900,000 of other investments into tackling poverty, inequality, reducing school exclusions and raising attainment, and in support for those with no recourse to public funds.
According to budget documents for the coming year, it is expected that Hackney will still have one of the lowest council tax rates in London, with the cumulative increase in its rates from 2010 to the present day over five per cent less than inflation.
Due to overall government funding not fully meeting the council’s day-to-day demands, the Town Hall has balanced this year’s budget with savings of £11m.
The latest budget documents bring forward just over £3m of cuts. These include £1.6m found in the Town Hall’s adult services directorate and £540,000 in its children and families service, with the Town Hall’s Virtual School for looked-after children set to be reviewed.
A cumulative impact assessment made as part of the budget notes that a number of savings proposals “could impact some of the most vulnerable children, who are also a group most impacted by the pandemic”.
Quizzed on the savings, Glanville said: “This is one area where some of it is the way that we commission, some of the services that we provide in terms of school support and doing that in a different way and also those with higher-level needs are receiving services that could be better commissioned and also should be funded by the local NHS.
“There’s an onward process after agreeing these areas to work with local health colleagues and make sure that support is still there but is funded in a different more collaborative way.
“I’ve said throughout this process that if we can’t get that reassurance we would have a process through the onward work on these savings, if it was not safe, if it was likely to have any impacts that you would pick up through an equalities impact assessment that we would review that and look at other ways of delivering those savings. There’s a good process using scrutiny and onward engagement to ensure that the decisions we are making are safe and protect those most vulnerable.
“We’ve been asking those questions about each of those savings and making us confident that they are deliverable while supporting the most vulnerable.”
The borough leader went on to stress that the savings would not get rid of the virtual school while restating the council’s commitment to supporting looked-after children, but “doing it in a better and more efficient way”, while similarly examining its housing with care schemes.
The budget also brings forward a number of investments, including £7m for the Integrated Gangs Unit, an expansion of CCTV, and a £2.3m project over the next three years to switch all street lights to LED bulbs.
The administration’s insourcing agenda continues with £6m worth of contracts already brought in-house, creating savings for the borough, with parking enforcement to follow next year.
The council’s own energy company Hackney Light and Power will also be bringing forward £200,000 in a roll-out of free home insulation, with £700,000 to go on the delivery of solar panels to be installed across roof space owned by the council.
While the current year’s budget gap has been balanced, the Town Hall still faces a projected £24m shortfall through to 2023/24, with the borough leader warning that “a huge amount of challenges” remain for Hackney.
Eleven years of government austerity have seen the borough lose £140m, as need continues to rise around rough sleeping, people with no recourse to public funds, people with special education needs and disabilities, and in the area of adult social care, on which Glanville pointed to the need for a “bigger national solution”, citing existential challenges in the sector.
Glanville added: “We have always found a Hackney way through, a Hackney solution to austerity. Making long-term decisions, thinking through how we commission and structure our services, looking at commercial opportunities to grow our income. Clearly all those things are harder during Covid, places you go to close the gap are harder to find, and it is not as easy as it was.
“I’ve been Mayor for long enough to know now that you go into that period and you think what are the types of services that we will be having to do in a very different way; there are no easy decisions, but even going through the public health savings [of £217,000] that we have this year, we value sexual health, smoking cessation, working with some of the most vulnerable people about drug rehabilitation, but in the act of going through those services and saying yes we can find savings and still deliver a high quality service, that is what we will always seek to do.
“We have to make sure we continue the work we’re doing, find those Hackney solutions and deliver best value for those residents.”
EDIT: This article was updated at 10:42 on 18/02/2021.