Job losses and service cuts planned amid Lewisham council bid to save £40m

By Grainne Cuffe, Local Democracy Reporter

Job losses and millions in 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.

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 a “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.

In adult social care, the enablement service, which helps people develop skills to live more independently, and Linkline, a 24-hour alarm system for vulnerable people in case of an emergency at home, could be outsourced.

The council is proposing to cut the adult social care budget by £3 million over three years by reducing demand for services.

A further £2 million could come out of the children’s social care budget, with the help of demand management, such as reducing the number of children at risk of going into care.

The council is also reviewing the financial support for carers who look after a child through a Special Guardianship Order – £60,000 could be cut from the budget.

Mayor Egan said the cuts are 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 £400 million, today it’s around £240 million.

“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.”

A funding settlement for local authorities is expected on November 25, and Mayor Egan said the council was “trying to use that time to implore the Government to keep the promises they made”.

Pictured top: Lewisham civic centre


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