Budget 2020/2021: How Hackney Council has protected frontline services in spite of government austerity cuts of £140m

Hackney Mayor Phil Glanville. Picture: Emma Bartholomew

Hackney Mayor Phil Glanville. Picture: Emma Bartholomew - Credit: Emma Bartholomew

Voluntary redundancy for council staff is just one of the ways Hackney has managed to plug a massive shortfall of £17m in this year’s budget after further central government cuts.

Bringing outsourced services back in-house and a reduction in its top-up contribution to the pension fund also form part of a three-pronged approach, Hackney Mayor Phil Glanville revealed in a budget briefing with the Gazette at the Town Hall this week.

The budget was passed last night at a Town Hall meeting of the full council, which saw approval for a 3.99 per cent council tax rise.

Despite £140m of cuts from government since 2010, which is just short of £1,500 per household, the council has protected front line services, and aimed to shield vulnerable people from the impacts of austerity.

Restructuring the way the council is run has been key to ensuring sectors like temporary accommodation, adult social care, special educational needs, and young people's services continue to receive substantial funding.

All council staff have been offered the chance to apply for compulsory redundancy, but each case is considered on its own merit and will only go ahead if the loss of a post is not deemed critical to the organisation, because once it has gone it will not be replaced.

"As a Labour council we don't want to make people compulsorily redundant, as that can often be a difficult process with trade unions and leads to ill will," said Phil.

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"If it's say a team leader the opportunity is to think about how the team can be restructured, or if it's a head of service you might combine a head of services and reconfigure. There are lots of options."

He added: "There's also a process of negotiation, and what will it mean for you in terms of your pension, or how long have you been here. Some people might say, 'I want a career break. I'm going to set up a business', but for others it might mean debt consolidation."

Despite the reduction in staff, the head council has not gone down as one might expect, because of the in-sourcing of services.

"Before you had Hackney Homes, outsourced recycling, outsourced IT, the Learning Trust, and we didn't have a housing development team as we do now," said Phil.

"Proof the organisation is leaner and smaller and works in different ways, so there is more hot desking and working from home, is that the estate has consolidated considerably, so this building has more people in it than before it was refurbished.

"We no longer have so many satellite buildings because we have brought them to campus which means we are more efficiently using our estate."

"These things can feel back-officey but it's been a lot of hard work on those parts of the budget," said Phil.

"It saves £6-7m in the budget, which allows us this year to say that's the main thing we've done around savings. It means we aren't impacting on front line services which we have always been really clear we don't want to do and allows us to think about further restructuring in the council over the next two or three years."

The government's Fair Funding Review plans to shakeup the grant criteria in favour of rural areas could see Hackney lose another 25pc of its funding next year, which would see the predicted budget gap of £18m in 2023/24 double to more than £36m.