Tory cuts force Ealing Council to consider radical changes for frontline services

Councils Leaders back the Breaking Point campaign
Councils Leaders back the Breaking Point campaign

Julian Bell

Ealing Council’s cabinet met on Tuesday, 15 January to consider proposals on reshaping its library and children’s centres as a result of ongoing and drastic Tory government cuts.

Alongside other councils, Ealing is facing its toughest financial challenges in living memory after years of significant and sustained austerity. Since 2010 the council has lost £143million from its government grant, a reduction of 64% – greater than the London and national average.

This means that for every pound in government funding we used to receive, we now get just 36p.

We have, to this point, sought to minimise decisions that would affect the front line of our services, but like too many other Councils, we have now reached breaking point. In December, Labour Councillors signed Ealing up formally to the ‘Breaking Point’ campaign, to tell the Tories that enough is enough, and that their £1.3bn national raid on Council funds must be stopped. We have also called for a £4bn national fund for adult social care and children’s services, all of which are on the brink of collapse across the country.

By 2021, our government funding will disappear entirely and it will have to fund its services solely through council tax, business rates, fees, charges and commercial income. At the same time, demand is higher than it has ever been.

The January cabinet report contains initial proposals that could save as much as £1.95million by 2021. This, alongside the £12.3million savings announced in December, would help to further close the £57million gap in the council’s budget.

However, this gap is more than double Ealing’s total annual budget for children’s centres, libraries, street cleaning, rubbish and recycling collections combined.

The council will set its 2019/20 budget in February, including council tax bills for the year ahead. It will also consider further savings proposals including already agreed plans to reduce the council’s senior management team and to restructure the organisation to achieve greater efficiency.

The future of libraries

In the face of its financial pressures, the council is considering changes to the way its libraries are structured; providing a comprehensive library service and putting more control into the hands of residents and local groups. The council will consult on a plan to continue to operate six of its 13 libraries, changing their opening hours so libraries are open at times when they are most used.

The remaining seven could become community-managed libraries if interested groups and residents come forward with workable proposals and agree to take on their long-term management. This approach has been successfully used by other local authorities and the council has started discussions with some interested local groups.

The future of Children’s Centres

Children’s centre provision could also change. Ealing currently has 27 children’s centres; seven main centres and 20 smaller linked sites.

When looking at the best way to secure the long-term sustainability of the service, the council’s objective has been to maintain a fair and accessible spread, while prioritising areas of greatest need. It proposes moving to a new model by delivering its early intervention and support services from 16 centres. Subject to consultation, services will remain the same at its seven main children’s centres and will either stay the same or be enhanced at nine of the remaining 20 linked sites.

Early years services will be reconfigured and reduced at the remaining 11 sites, although services provided by others, such as childcare and early education, will continue and could be expanded in some cases to meet local needs. Early health services could also continue to be delivered from some sites. It is possible that a small number of the linked centres could close, however the council will work with its partners to maintain services wherever possible. If the changes go ahead, Ealing would still have more children’s centres than most other London boroughs. Public consultations on these plans could begin as early as February.

Cllr Jasbir Anand, who has responsibility for Libraries and Cllr Yvonne Johnson, who has responsibility for Children’s Centres, are happy to answer any members’ questions relating to these decisions. We will provide more detail on how services will function and how the community can be involved in our libraries during the consultation processes in due course.

These are incredible difficult times for local government, and for the residents of the Borough, and I want to make sure I am keeping residents up-to-date with the detail of our proposals as we develop them. These are extremely difficult decisions to make, but in light of the Tories’ continued attacks on our budgets we are being forced into a position that none of us wish to be in.