Senior Labour councillors slam ‘disgraceful’ government funding in response to financial pressures

Councillors quizzed over budget pressures, rising debts and overspending on temporary housing at Enfield Civic Centre, reports Grace Howarth, Local Democracy Reporter

Enfield Civic Centre with (inset left) deputy leader Ergin Erbil and (inset right) cabinet member Tim Leaver
Enfield Civic Centre with (inset left) deputy leader Ergin Erbil and (inset right) cabinet member Tim Leaver

Senior Labour councillors have defended the council’s financial position after a report highlighted significant budget pressures and overspending.

At an overview and scrutiny committee meeting yesterday (Monday 15th) councillors discussed the report which revealed that Enfield Council is forecasted to overspend on its budget by £29million this year – but also that the 2024/25 budget has been “provisionally balanced”. 

Conservative committee member Michael Rye acknowledged the challenging financial environment the council operated in but questioned the council’s “excessive” borrowing and whether they were trying hard enough to make savings. 

He advised them to look more at outsourcing services, which he said would “reduce cost”. Cllr Rye also critiqued the council’s 2018 decision to manage the Meridian Water project, a scheme set to deliver 10,000 homes, in-house. 

But deputy council leader Ergin Erbil said he believed insourcing was “good practice” and where local authorities had “adequate funding” more services should be insourced. 

Cllr Erbil said: “We believe when you insource you prioritise your staff, you prioritise health and safety over profit, and when you’re a member of a landlord association you’re going to prioritise profit.”

Tim Leaver, cabinet member for finance and procurement, also clarified it wasn’t the council’s intention to stop insourcing but added there may be an opportunity to review it “in terms of best value”. 

Regarding spending on key services Cllr Erbil and Cllr Leaver said it was “reasonable” given the economic climate and the government’s cutting of local authority budgets. 

Cllr Erbil said: “We are in debt to invest in our borough, the debt that we do have goes towards maintaining key services, delivering decent homes, decarbonising our council buildings, and investing in our parks and green spaces.

“The majority of our debts are locked in at low interest rates, and if the government hadn’t skyrocketed interest rate levels then councils across the country would have been in better financial positions.”

This story is published by Enfield Dispatch, Enfield's free monthly newspaper and free news website. We are a not-for-profit publication, published by a small social enterprise. We have no rich backers and rely on the support of our readers. Donate or become a supporter.

Labour committee member Margaret Greer questioned whether the borough was underfunded by the government considering its size and whether this was because Enfield was an “outer borough, rather than inner London borough”. 

Cllr Erbil confirmed they were seen this way, saying: “I think it’s a disgrace the government settlement only provided 8% of our overall budget. We’re the second worst funded local authority across London, and seventh worst in the country, according to recent studies, and this has been the situation over the past 14 years.”

Conservative committee member James Hockney asked about the impact of cutting the council tax support (CTS) scheme, which helps the borough’s poorest households. A cut to the scheme was annouced last summer, amounting to £8.8m in savings for council coffers.

In response, Cllr Erbil said CTS schemes, due to budget pressures caused by inflation, were having to be brought “in line with the London average”. 

He said: “Our new scheme will still give a discount on the council tax bill for around one-third of the borough’s households, it’s still a very strong scheme.”

Conservative committee member Maria Alexandrou asked what the council was doing to reduce the number of homeless households being put up in hotel accommodation – currently said to be 300 families.

Soaring spending on temporary accommodation for homeless families has been the biggest contributor to “unsustainable” overspending, slashing the council’s risk reserve by around  £77m to leave only £41m remaining for future overspends.

Joanne Drew, the council’s strategic director of housing and regeneration, confirmed this and said: “The major variance in the budget is the cost of hotel accommodation.

“We’re now running £750,000 per month for hotel accommodation, it has been higher but we’re working on procuring cheaper accommodation.”

Joanne said due to the high demand for housing it would be difficult to reduce costs, but reassured the committee that rehousing residents was a priority.

Cllr Erbil closed the meeting by saying the council was set with an “impossible task” trying to balance its budget with a £39.4m gap identified at the start of the process. 

But councillors were pleased to hear the budget was now “provisionally balanced” and Cllr Erbil confirmed the council would continue to lobby for better government funding in future.

We know times are hard

If you are struggling to make ends meet, we are keeping Enfield Dispatch free because of you. We know that many people cannot afford to pay for local news, so this website and our print paper will always be free. If you can afford to, and value what we do, a small monthly, yearly or one-off contribution can support us to keep providing quality journalism for Enfield to our community for free.

Monthly direct debit 

Annual direct debit

£5 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else, £10 per month supporters get a digital copy of each month’s paper before anyone else and a print copy posted to them each month. £50 annual supporters get a digital copy of each month's paper before anyone else.  

Donate now with Pay Pal

More information on supporting us monthly or yearly 

More Information about donations