Job losses and millions of pounds in cuts proposed for Lewisham as Covid-19 bites

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

Job losses and millions of pounds worth of cuts to services are on the cards in Lewisham, according to draft proposals.

Lewisham council has identified nearly £27 million in possible cuts, out of £40 million planned over the next three years.

The draft proposals, going to scrutiny next week, include increasing funeral charges, reducing local assemblies, cancelling the Blackheath fireworks display until at least 2023, cutting the grants programme for the voluntary and community sector by a third, and scrapping discretionary free travel for vulnerable people.

Covid-19 has so far put a £20 million hole in Lewisham’s finances – it is facing a budget shortfall of £34 million next year.

As it stands, cuts of £15 million are proposed for 2021/22, leaving a potential gap of more than £18 million, depending on Government funding.

Further potential cuts will be announced in January to address that gap for the 2021/22 budget in February.

The council is proposing to stop managing finances for vulnerable people who do not have the ability to do it themselves, and cutting funding for short breaks for special needs children – though it says the cuts are “modest and should not have a negative impact on families”.

Savings are proposed through better management of contracts, improved debt collection, and by increasing the number of cameras to catch people committing traffic offences.

By reducing the number of social workers from agencies Lewisham hopes to save £430,000 over three years.

The council hoped to save £6 million by improving staff productivity, “arising from new ways of working (through) learning from the Covid-19 pandemic” – this includes a focus on better collaboration, sexual health services going online except for the most vulnerable, and returns from IT investment.

The council has not ruled out staff losing their jobs, and significant cuts relate to merging teams.

Teams in benefits and in council tax could be merged, while the council is proposing to save £140,000 through a “redesign of management structure in CYP joint commissioning”.

Lewisham’s mayor Damien Egan said the “combination of a decade of austerity and the financial impact of Covid-19 is taking its toll”.

He said: “We can’t rule out the possibility of redundancies over the coming years, but we are doing everything we can to protect jobs.”

Over the next three years, the council is proposing to cut £300,000 from its corporate transport budget – it currently pays for 250,000 miles of travel expenses and also covers staff claims for public transport.

This could involve having car clubs and bike share schemes.

People who fund their own care packages provided by Lewisham will have to pay for their transport if the proposal to do so is approved.

But Mayor Egan said the cuts were still only draft proposals.

He said: “We’ve had 10 years of Government cuts in the borough – in 2010 we had a budget of around £400m, today it’s around £240m.

“Lewisham has always managed its budget well, it’s something the council has always done and will continue to do.

“It was very difficult before the pandemic, what’s happening now, the scale of the cuts being imposed on the council is huge.”

Pictured top: Lewisham civic centre



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