Councillor “tearful” over state of Lewisham’s finances

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

A Lewisham councillor became tearful presenting a report on the stark financial future of the council in the wake of Covid-19.

The cabinet member for finance and resources, Cllr Amanda DeRyk, apologised when her voice shook as she said residents “needed a budget [from Government] that would support jobs and local services and what they got was repackaged promises and a summer meal deal”.

The financial monitoring report for 2020/21, approved by mayor and cabinet on Thursday, forecasts an overspend of £25.6 million, most of which is made up of pressures on the children and young people (CYP) directorate.

The figure takes into account government funding for the Covid-19 response in Lewisham, which is expected to exceed £50 million.

The budget and cuts programme the council was working towards will be “re-evaluated” in the council’s ‘stabilisation’ budget due in the autumn, Cllr DeRyk said.

The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick, promised in March that the Government would do “whatever is necessary” to support councils in their response to the pandemic.

But Mr Jenrick later appeared to backtrack, saying local authorities should not “labour under the false impression” that all Covid-19 costs would be covered by central Government.

He recently announced an extra £500 million for councils, while Mr Jenrick said the government “will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with councils and communities as we recover from this pandemic as we renew our commitment to unite and level up the country”.

But local authorities say it will cover “only a fraction” of the cost of the pandemic.

Lewisham council has more than £20 million in reserves, but it expects added pressures in the aftermath of the pandemic will “significantly” affect its ability to keep essential services going unless further funding is received.

As well as children’s social care, Lewisham is expecting budget pressures from schools, an anticipated decrease in council tax and business rates collections, and a delayed capital programme

Cllr DeRyk said: “The cost of coronavirus in Lewisham is estimated to be £50 million this year, about half of which is lost income and unachieved savings, but this is likely to rise.

“We will need to meet increased demand for services, which will come from unemployment, loss of homes, and the pressure and stress on families, plus new responsibilities for infection control, responding to outbreaks, and supporting vulnerable people in their homes and care settings, distributing food and medication for those most in need.

“We will be at the heart of the recovery, just as we were at the heart of the response to the outbreak”, she said.

At this point Cllr DeRky became upset, her voice cracking, and said: “We need the government to honour its promises to local government and our residents.

“Our residents needed a budget yesterday that would support jobs and local services and what they got was repackaged promises and a summer meal deal – it’s just not good enough.”

Cllr DeRyk was referring to the Chancellor’s mini budget announced on Thursday, part of which was paying for 50 per cent of people’s meals (up to £10 per person) if they eat out Monday to Wednesday in August.

Cllr Joe Dromey, cabinet member for culture, jobs and skills, said the government was able to borrow money, whereas “councils are required by law to balance their budgets”.

Pictured top: Lewisham civic centre


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