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Islington leader reacts as government slips out announcement on more council funding cuts

PUBLISHED: 16:12 13 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:12 13 December 2018

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council. Photo by Em Fitzgerald

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council. Photo by Em Fitzgerald

Em Fitzgerald

While the political world laps up the Brexit soap opera, a damaging yet entirely predictable announcement on council funding cuts has been slipped out by the government.

After a week-long delay due to the ongoing chaos, Whitehall has today published the provisional Local Government Finance Settlement.

It comes after Islington leader Cllr Richard Watts wrote to chancellor Philip Hammond ahead of his October budget, asking him to end the austerity-driven cuts that are crippling councils across the country.

Cllr Watts told the Gazette at the time that if they continued, Islington was three years away from stripping back vital front-line services.

His plea clearly fell on deaf ears, however, as another round of cuts – to the tune of £20million – have been laid out. And they make grim reading for anyone relying on council services.

By next year, Islington will have lost 70 per cent of its core funding since 2010 and will have had to make savings of £275m in a decade.

Reacting to the news, Cllr Watts said: “We are very disappointed and it is also very disappointing this announcement was delayed, which has made financial planning more difficult.

“Today was an opportunity for the government to recognise the growing pressures councils face in providing essential services, such as support for children and care for older people. Instead, it will make it harder to pay for vital council services that local people rely on.”

The news hasn’t yet received any coverage from national newspapers. When asked whether he thought Brexit was overshadowing other important issues, Cllr Watts added: “It’s so complicated it’s draining national politics. There’s a massive amount of fresh cuts in critical services that is getting next to no coverage.

“I don’t want to downplay Brexit but it does allow the government to get away with it without proper scrutiny.

“At the same time there are continued cuts to health services, police and welfare. It is a perfect storm of Tory cuts that are damaging vulnerable people.”

Cllr Watts said the cuts were making it harder for councils, but that he was confident of Islington’s ability to weather the storm for now. He vowed to keep all the borough’s libraries open and ensure free school meals for nursery and primary age children, but conceded another council tax rise was looking likely.

On that matter he said in October: “We absolutely recognise it’s a regressive tax, but you have to weigh it up. It’s a moderate increase to protect services.”

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