St James's Councillor Tim Mitchell responds to Labour's budget at tonight's Full Council
As we end the 2022-23 Council year, I want to take the opportunity to thank the staff in our Adult Social Care, Public Health and Children's Services teams for all their hard work, especially for their handling of the tail end of the Covid-19 pandemic. Also I would like to thank Westminster's schools for continuing to cope with the continuing impact of the pandemic on their students and also managing the funding pressures caused by falling pupil roles.
For all these departments, we are this evening presented with budget proposals that are very similar to what the two Tory Tims presented last year with the exception of some short-term headline-grabbing initiatives. Despite the impression given last year by the incoming Council administration, none of these departments' proposals last year involved cuts in the front-line service received by our residents - for the Budget geeks amongst us this was evidenced by the fact that there were no full Equality Impact Assessments necessary. I am glad to see that the same applies to the budget proposals that we are considering tonight.
Lord Mayor, firstly I turn to the Adult Social Care budget. Last year the new Cabinet Member disparagingly referred to a "cut [of] £5m over 4 years". This year the new Cabinet Member is not seeking to reverse any of our proposals and instead is adding a further £4.72 million from 2023 to 2025.
Last year, our proposals for saving £1.75 million from 2022 to 2025 through "Promoting Independence" were misrepresented by Labour as reducing the care received by our vulnerable residents. Our "Promoting Independence" plans focused in three main projects: Direct Payments, Digital Technology and Equipment for older people and "WCC is home". This year further £1.6 million in savings have been added for 2023 to 2027 for a "new" Budget heading offering equipment and technology, direct payments and supporting residents placed outside Westminster to return "if they choose to". These plans have been labelled "Prevention Initiatives" perhaps because the new Cabinet Member is too embarrassed to use our term of "Promoting Independence" because she disparaged it so much.
Now I turn to Children's Services where last year our Efficiency and Financing Proposals were referred to by Labour Tim as "Salami Slicing" but this year Tim Roca is proposing to slice the salami even more with a further £2 million savings for the next two years on top of our proposals of £1 million.
I welcome the £0.65 million saving in 2023-24 from the Joint Funding Programme as unfortunately, the Health Service has held back for too long from paying their fair share of the cost of individual packages of care for children and young people with complex needs. The proposal to reduce by £0.875 million the staffing budget over the next two years will be a challenge and, like Nafsika said last year when she challenged my reduction in the Adult Social Care Commissioning team, I hope that this does not have negative consequences for our residents.
Lord Mayor, I end by looking at the plans for Libraries and Leisure Centres.
I am pleased that our proposal for a new Marylebone Library has been incorporated in the plans for the refurbished Seymour Leisure Centre.
It is good to see that the lease on the Mayfair Library has been extended which we all knew that it was going to be, although a year ago Labour scaremongered that it was under threat.
We wait with bated breath to see what the plans are for a Vincent Square / St. James's South Library as promised in the Labour Manifesto.
It was good to see the opening of the new Church Street Community Leisure Centre which was a key part of the Conservative plans for the Church Street area. I've already mentioned the long-awaited refurbishment of the Seymour Leisure Centre, I hope that the new Council can ensure that our plans for upgraded facilities can be completed on time.
Finally, I look forward to seeing the new administration's proposals for the re-building of the Queen Mother Sports Centre because doing nothing with this ageing building is not an option for the residents of south Westminster.
Lord Mayor, thank you.