Images above: Cllr Andrew Steed, councillor for Southfield ward; Ealing Council building
As an Ealing Councillor one is once again made aware of the many functions of a local authority. Most people will have limited direct contact with the Council, other than having their rubbish collected and their street being cleaned. They may wonder what their Council Tax is spent on. At the moment a lot of it-maybe as much as 80%-is spent on statutory commitments and responsibilities, stuff the Council has to legally pay for be it social services or regulatory functions.
Changes to local government funding and the grants paid by central government have been cut over the past ten years. Many services have been cut back, for example in Ealing street cleaning: which for most residents is now only once every twelve weeks. Recent settlements have eased some of the budgetary pressures, or rather they had.
The Coronavirus has resulted in significant additional expenditure. For sure the Council has received some new grants but like many businesses there has been a drastic reduction in revenue as well. This could be revenue raised by parking fees or revenue from leisure services. Most worryingly there has been a big reduction in people paying their Council Tax and a fall in Business Rate contributions. These shortfalls are understandable but already amount to £8 million. The current estimate is that Ealing Council will have a £50 million gap in its budget.
The Council has performed well over the past two months, arguably better than central government. Over 2,000 Council staff have been working from home, nearly all services have been running. Already the Council is reviewing its performance and how the Council will respond once the crisis is over. Services may change to cope with the new circumstances. Watch this space.
Andrew Steed is a Lib Dem councillor for Southfield ward in Chiswick / LB Ealing
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See also: Phasing out the lockdown