Council tax rise on horizon as next budget planned

Cabinet member for finance spells out budget pressures for 2022/23, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

Councillor Mary Maguire
Mary Maguire, Enfield’s cabinet member for finance

Council tax could rise again in Enfield as the civic centre looks to close a £3.7million budget gap.

The local authority is considering a core council tax increase of up to 1.99% in an effort to balance the books during the upcoming financial year.

It is one of three options on the table designed to close the funding gap, and would come on top of a 1% increase in a council tax levy used to support adult social care.

Another option currently under consideration involves freezing core council tax and instead using reserves and further income and efficiencies to plug the gap.

Although the government has increased grant funding for local authorities, Enfield Council still faces pressures from inflation, changing demographics and the ongoing impact of Covid-19. In addition, the council aims to make savings of at least £7.9m during 2022/23.

The proposed budget, which is currently out for consultation, was discussed during a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee on Wednesday.

Mary Maguire, cabinet member for finance, told the meeting there was “continued uncertainty” over fair funding, with a review still underway of local authority needs that could eventually see more government cash directed to Enfield.

Cllr Maguire added: “We have those huge demographic pressures that we face in adult social care, in children’s services, in temporary accommodation, so it is a very difficult job to make the figures work and make sure that we direct the money where it is needed.”

An extra £8.2m is set to be invested in adult and children’s services by the council to cope with rising demand.

The meeting saw shadow cabinet member for finance James Hockney and council leader Nesil Caliskan clash over debt, as part of an ongoing row between the Tories and Labour. Council borrowing levels are currently more than £1bn, and the Conservatives have warned they could soar to £2bn by the end of the decade.

In response to a question from Cllr Hockney, Fay Hammond, the council’s executive director of resources, revealed £4.6m would be charged to the revenue budget, which is also used to fund frontline services, to pay down interest on debt.

Cllr Hockney pressed Cllr Caliskan on why she had U-turned on the previous Labour administration’s goal of paying down the debt and running a surplus. In response, the council leader said she wanted to invest in the borough, including in housing and the local economy, to help tackle inequality.

Cllr Hockney also criticised planned increases in burial costs, which the leader insisted were in line with inflation.

Labour committee chair Susan Erbil raised concerns over transport for those with special educational needs (SEN). She pointed out that the budget report states that a review had reduced the pressures created by SEN transport by £1.6m, but that demand is still growing.

Bindi Nagra, director of health and adult social care, said in response that the council was trying to be as efficient as possible, including by offering payments to parents so they can arrange private provision. But he added that demand was only set to increase, as more children are being identified as having special educational needs.

Derek Levy, an independent councillor and member of the Community First group, asked if the council may only be able to provide basic statutory adult social care services in a few years’ time given the growing demographic pressures.

Cllr Maguire said she did not think the council would be in that position. She added: “I believe we will be able to deliver what we said we will deliver, but there are difficulties ahead.”

The consultation on the budget for the upcoming financial year will close on 11th February. Details of how to take part are available here: https://new.enfield.gov.uk/consultations/2021-12-22-budget-2022-23—have-your-say/