‘Most challenging ever’ budget agreed by councillors

Labour and Tory councillors play the blame game as £16.6m of budget savings and a 5% council tax rise are agreed, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre with (inset left) Labour councillor Alev Cazimoglu and (inset right) Tory James Hockney
Enfield Civic Centre with (inset left) Labour councillor Alev Cazimoglu and (inset right) Tory James Hockney

Labour and Conservative councillors have clashed over budget cuts and council tax increases during a heated civic centre debate.

Enfield Council has been under “significant” financial pressure this year and faced what it admits was “the most challenging ever” budget process for 2024/25, with final plans agreed at its annual budget meeting last month.

When discussing the budget report, Labour councillors reiterated the reasons why this year has been more difficult financially. They listed underfunding from central government, high inflation, increased social care pressures, soaring temporary housing demand and borrowing costs as the key causes.

At the meeting, tensions were high as Conservative councillors criticised Labour’s management of the budget, claiming they were not taking enough responsibility for the situation the borough was in.

As part of the council’s bid to set a balanced budget for 2024/25, council tax will be rising by the maximum of 4.99% allowed, while cuts will be made to spending on youth services, adult social care and waste collections.

In total, £16.6m of savings proposals, including both cuts and revenue-raising plans, are listed in the budget.

Shadow cabinet member for finance James Hockney summed it up by saying: “Welcome to the higher taxes and lower services budget.”

The Tory councillor said cuts to services were being made because the Labour administration had “trashed the council’s budget” while noting it was the “largest ever” with total spending set to surpass £300m for the first time thanks to rising costs.

Cllr Hockney also defended the government’s support for local authorities, saying it had provided a settlement of “over 9%” which was part of “a package of over £150m”.

Alev Cazimoglu, the Labour administration’s cabinet member for health and social care, defended the council’s position, saying this had been the “hardest budget to balance since 2010” when austerity had begun under the Conservative government.

She said: “14 years of economic terror and ideologically driven attacks on our public services has resulted in life expectancies falling and health inequalities widening with one million early deaths in the last decade.

“While councils up and down this country scramble around trying to balance their budgets, we have a government that wasted £12bn on useless PPE contracts, and £37bn on a test and trace app that never worked.”

But Conservative councillor Julian Sampson criticised how the council had implemented its “borrow to invest” strategy. He said investment in “key services” such as “road maintenance, decarbonisation, parks and green spaces” would be a good thing if done with the council’s “own money” but claimed currently the borough had “the worst of all possible worlds”.

He said: “We’ve got the debt, we’re paying £30m interest, we’re having to fund services, and the cherry on the top of it is we haven’t got the assets to show for it.”

Labour councillor Margaret Greer emphasised the investment and regeneration work happening around the borough, such as the Joyce Avenue and Snells Park estates redevelopment in her ward of Upper Edmonton, which involves replacing 794 homes with more than 2,000 over 20 years.

Cllr Greer said: “Balancing our HRA [housing revenue account] budget means we can get on, deliver more, better and much-needed council homes that this government is failing to deliver.

“Our HRA business plan shows we are delivering on our promises to build 3,500 homes. Enfield is stepping in where the government is failing.”

But Conservative councillor Chris Dey took aim at the Labour administration’s budget report and said: “This rogue administration is taking money from residents in this borough.”

He said the budget contained a “litany of tax increases” and implied Labour councillors were using the cost-of-living crisis as an excuse for poor financial performance, claiming the crisis had been caused by “Putin invading Ukraine”.

Labour councillor Doug Taylor responded by asking the opposition “what would the alternative be” and said: “We know why they’ve not said an alternative, it’s because they’re never going to be in power in Enfield.”

Cllr Taylor said more of the oposition party should have written “robust letters” to their MPs in response to the cost-of-living crisis and other recent national events.

He added: “They ignore the economic consequences of the actions of their government. How can you run a country and mess it up like their government has done? Austerity firstly wiped out half of local government.

“It’s an outrageous situation, if they’d been such a successful government why in 14 years have they had so many prime ministers?”

Following the debate, the budget report went to a vote, with all 29 Labour councillors voting in favour and all 24 Conservative councillors voting against.

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