Council to invest £5m to tackle waste emergency as Mayor sets out balanced budget

Council chambers

Council chambers

A multimillion-pound investment to create a cleaner borough is one of the key elements of a balanced draft budget published today.

The budget puts the council in a secure financial position with resilience built in to manage increasing economic pressures nationally.

The £5million investment into the waste service will see key services frontloaded, with an additional 72 frontline workers recruited. This will include additional drivers, sweepers and loaders, alongside new vehicles to tackle the waste emergency declared by the council last year.

The funds will enable enhanced sweeping beats. This includes

  • an increase in night time and weekend rounds with a minimum of 15 hours a day around the borough’s busiest areas
  • new rapid response teams to proactively identify waste issues in parks, streets and open spaces
  • a modernisation of the service’s technology to maximise efficiency
  • a new ‘Street Leaders’ scheme’ to incentivise residents to assist the council in identifying and addressing waste hotspots.

The investment will also optimise collections through digitisation and improved management. While funding is initially for one year, it will be used to identify areas requiring recurring investment moving forward.

This year’s Annual Resident Survey found that residents were most concerned about the Cost of Living crisis, and as such support for residents remains at the heart of this budget. Financial support and increased investment in frontline services will continue to provide additional reassurance to those impacted hardest by the crisis.

The money is part of a £17m investment package in areas including temporary housing accommodation to help people in London’s housing crisis; the insourcing of the council’s leisure services to provide residents with more health and economic opportunities; and measures to support vulnerable people like transport for children with Special Education Needs (SEN).

Housing also remains a top priority for the council, and significant investment in the development of affordable, family-sized homes continues, with the council on target to deliver 4,000 homes over the course of this term, both council-led and through various partnerships, while improving the condition of existing stock. Similarly, additional investment in the Future of Building Control in response to the Grenfell tragedy will improve the safety and security of existing homes in the borough.

Local government finances are under severe pressure following a perfect storm of more than a decade of austerity, rising energy prices, the cost-of-living crisis, inflation and interest rates.

Last year the council faced a difficult position including having to save £37m over the following three financial years. As a result of reviewing its budgets the council is pleased to announce that this target has been exceeded, with £42.5million. An additional £5.5million – in savings identified, from areas including service restructures, income generation, transformation, review of contracts, reduction in reliance on consultants and other efficiencies.

This comes following significant investment made last year including £21m in youth provision. This included a radical transformation of the council’s Youth Services through the launch of Young Tower Hamlets; the reintroduction of Education Maintenance Allowance and University Bursaries to help young people into college and further education; and universal free school meals for all primary and secondary school children. Tower Hamlets is the only local authority in the country to provide them.

Investment in community groups, with the increase of grant funding more than doubling to £15.4million, has seen a reinvigoration of the third sector and this will continue in this budget and beyond.

Finances to rely on

As well as delivering a balanced budget, the council has also made significant progress in resolving historic financial issues of audit, assurance and governance.

In the past few months, accounts for 16/17, 17/18, 18/19 and 19/20 have all been signed off by independent auditors, with the 20/21, 21/22 and 22/23 scheduled to go to Audit Committee in March 2024.

In October, the council’s outstanding Annual Governance Statements for 20/21, 21/22 and 22/23 were published on the council’s website after being approved by Audit Committee.

Lutfur Rahman, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:

Tower Hamlets is breaking the mould. We are putting our residents first by reinvesting in public services; insourcing services to deliver more opportunities, and investing in other key frontline services that matter such as housing; adult and children’s social care; Universal Free Homecare; young people and our waste service.

“In just 12 months we have managed to turn round a concerning financial situation, into a position of strength and resilience. We have achieved more than our savings target, financial stability with a balanced budget and audited accounts, and we have still found room to invest.

“I want to thank council officers and members for getting us into this healthy and sustainable position, and the 1,931 residents and businesses that took part in our budget consultation.”  

LGA Peer Review

Last week, the council’s financial handling was praised by the Local Government Association’s Peer Review challenge report (15 December) following a full week’s inspection in September.

The report said:

“Tower Hamlets has a good record of financial management, with strong foundations in place to maintain the future financial sustainability of the organisation. It is positive that the council is developing three-year financial plans which will enable investment in services and priority areas once completed.”

Posted on Monday 18th December 2023