This week Hackney Council passed its budget amid protests against cuts.
There has been a great deal of publicity about council passing on government cuts and, on Wednesday 2 March, Hackney was among 17 Council to set their budget for 2011/12 financial year. It was with heavy hearts that we voted for cuts. However, we are also pleased that we were able to set a budget that protects frontline service. We are also pleased with what we have been able to achieve as a council over the past eight years.
Over those eight years, there were no protests about the council's proposals for the budget. On the contrary. For eight years running Hackney Council, under the leadership of Jules Pipe, has set a budget without any service cuts. In short, as a council we have invested in the future of this borough. Previous budgets have invested in schools, housing, parks and borough roads and millions of pounds of savings have been ploughed back into improving services and making Hackney a better place to live.
It has been because of this council's prudent management of the budget in the last eight years that we were able to support the 2011/12 budget which, although makes £44m of cuts, delivers front line services in a seamless way. Libraries will not be closed, children's centres and leisure services will remain open and youth facilities will remain unaffected.
In any other circumstances we would not have chosen to make any cuts in the council budget, however, when the coalition government announced the borough's grant settlement just prior to Christmas, we learned of the devasting impact that an 8.9% reduction in our funding would have across the borough. We were even more devastated to learn that, in real terms, that meant Hackney's budget would be reduced by 14%.
As publicly elected officials we had two choices. The first was to balance the budget and ensure that the impact on the residents of Hackney was minimised. So, we worked with the Mayor to ensure a budget that would do no further harm to Hackney residents and which would protect front line services.
The second option that we were faced with was to set an illegal budget. However, that would have resulted in the council being unable to borrow and unable collect council tax. In addition, instead of having to find savings of £44m, we would be faced with having to find savings of £114m. Meaning that there would be £114m less to spend on services. The implications of such a decision for service delivery are evident.
We therefore supported the mayor's budget in order to protect front line services which included a decision to make cuts to senior officer roles, not to fill current vacancies and to cut agency staff.
Full details of the budget are available on the council's website here.