Free swimming, a Women's Resource Centre and continued grants for young people included in new budget

  • Council announced plans to invest £5m into the waste service last month
  • Now, Council announces further £17m revenue investment in measures including the popular Education Maintenance Allowance and University Bursaries; free swimming for women and girls over 16 and men over 55; a new Women’s Resource Centre; and programmes to boost local tourism and civic engagement
  • Introduction of new Council Tax Cost of Living Relief Fund
  • All made possible after council eclipsed £37m savings target
  • Recent LGA Peer Review praised ‘good record of financial management’

The council has announced further investment proposals for its 24/25 budget which include additional cost-of-living crisis support, and new initiatives for residents to get active and involved in the running of their borough.

Last month, the council announced that its proposed budget planned to invest £5m to tackle waste problems, including litter and flytipping resulting from the increasing numbers of people living, working in, and visiting Tower Hamlets.

At a Cabinet meeting next week, further investment proposals will be added to the 24/25 budget. They include:

Continued investment in young people with £750,000 for up to 1,250 students receiving Education Maintenance Allowance, increasing the amount they receive from £400 to £600 per year.

  • A total of £1.2m for the Mayor’s University Bursary, increasing the £1,500 per pupil award from 400 to 800 students.
  • £248,000 a year to improve health and isolation by providing free swimming and aquatic sessions for women and girls over 16 across a range of facilities in the borough, as well as men over 55 years old.
  • Promotion of Tower Hamlets as a place to visit, work and invest in, including a project to recognise residents from diverse communities and involve them in council delivery.
  • £1.4m to create a culturally sensitive Women’s Resource Centre to provide health, educational and employment advice and benefits to local Bengali-British women. 
  • £1.5m for culturally sensitive Drug Misuse Treatment Centre to diversify drug treatment for BAME and other groups.
  • £15m capital investment to create an Institute of Academic Excellence - a world class A-level institution that will look to improve attainment, and send more local children to Oxbridge, Russell Group, and world class universities.
  • £20m capital investment in a culturally sensitive Adult Care Home (extra care), a standalone 50-60 bed adult care facility designed to promote independence and wellbeing for elderly and vulnerable BAME residents.
  • Investment in a Somali Resource Huba dedicated resource hub for the growing Somali population in Tower Hamlets.

These are in addition to measures introduced by the council in last year’s budget which will continue in 2024/25. They include universal free school meals for all primary and secondary school children which are part of a wider £21m investment made in young people, and £2.5m in free Adult Homecare (effective 2025).

The proposed budget will be voted on at a Full Council meeting on 28 February.

Lutfur Rahman, Executive Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:

“The strong financial position we have created is allowing us to make further investment in our communities.

"Last year it was groundbreaking measures such as universal free school meals and college and university bursaries. This year we will build on that by investing £5m in our waste service, support women and older people with free swimming and through a Women’s Resource Centre and work alongside our residents with so everyone can take part and take pride in their borough."

“In just 12 months we have managed to turn round a challenging financial situation into a position of strength and resilience. We have achieved more than our savings target, financial stability with a balanced budget and significant progress in signing off our 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.”  

New waste service investment

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 – including an increase in nighttime 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; and a new ‘Street Leaders’ scheme’ to encourage 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.

Cost of Living crisis

The recent Annual Resident Survey found that residents were most concerned about the Cost of Living crisis, so 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 revenue 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).

Investment in housing

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.

Council tax

The general Council Tax element was frozen last year, but 24/25 it is proposed to go up by 2.99%. Tower Hamlets currently has the 6th lowest council tax in London and one of the most generous council tax reduction schemes for those who are less well off.

The planned increase is due to a perfect storm of over a decade of austerity with less and less money coming from central government, combined with increased inflation and utility costs.

To support lower income households, the council will create a Council Tax Cost of Living Relief Fund, which means that people will be able to apply for relief on the entire council tax increase of 2.99% if their total household income is less than £49,500.

The council will continue to apply a 100% council tax discount rate for those who are most in need, along with an open access financial hardship fund that anyone can apply for.

Finances to rely on

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 £43.4million – an additional £6.4 million – in savings identified, from areas including service restructures, income generation and transformation.

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, our period of public inspection for the remaining draft accounts is now underway and the 20/21, 21/22 and 22/23 are all 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.

LGA Peer Review

In December, 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 Tuesday 23rd January 2024