The announcement comes following the presentation of the Council’s 2019/20 Budget and is a reaction to the financial strain created by a more than £40 million cut in central government funding over the last eight years.
This underfunding is particularly acute in the area of Special Needs Education and Disability (SEND) support. The Council is having to step in and make up the shortfall to protect these vital services. There is a £5 million funding gap per year which is growing over time and threatening the council’s finances and the services we provide.
Another important area of pressure is adult social care, where demand for services has grown significantly with more people requiring increasingly complex care support. That is why the Council has also agreed a further 2 per cent increase in the precept for Social Care, as allowed under government funding plans for these services.
The Council remains committed to delivering a fairer finance deal for residents and has made it abundantly clear the Council’s books will not be balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable residents. That is why it has scrapped Council Tax contributions for the lowest income earners, has removed the unpopular homelessness storage charge and is working with Citizens Advice to support those suffering greatest hardship.
It has also been announced that the Council will give those who are most advantaged in our local area the opportunity to help out. The Council will be writing to residents in the highest tax bands (Band G and H) to ask if they would consider making an additional voluntary contribution to go towards the provision of additional children’s mental health services in the borough.
That contribution would be made to a charity the Council will be setting up and used to provide additional mental health support to local children and young people. Those contributions would be distributed to two charities: Richmond MIND and Off the Record to deliver these services.
Cllr Robin Brown, Richmond Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Performance said:
“The ongoing lack of funding from Central Government has left the Council with very little room to ensure a fair deal for our residents whilst protecting the services they rely on. We don’t ask local people to pay more without exploring all other avenues, and we have built an additional £3m of benefits into the budget from the efficiency review we started as soon as we took office.
“The Council’s support from central government has been slashed by over £40 million over the last eight years. Since 2018/19, general grant received has been zero and Richmond continues to be one of the lowest funded Councils in London – forcing us to rely on residents’ Council Tax to cover an increasingly higher share of service costs.
“Whilst Council finances are under enormous strain, we won’t use that as an excuse to put our most vulnerable residents under extra pressure. That’s why we are scrapping council tax contributions for our worst off residents and removing the unfair homelessness charge.
“We never want to be asking our residents to contribute more but we must make difficult decisions to protect the services our residents need. This year we are going to be writing to our residents on the highest tax bands, who may be able to make an extra contribution, to ask if they would do so on a voluntary basis to help us tackle the growing crisis in young people’s mental health.
“The Council will be establishing a charity to receive these voluntary contributions. That charity will work with Richmond MIND and Off the Record to deliver additional mental health support in the borough.
“We want to stress that this will be a completely voluntary scheme and contributions would not go towards general service delivery but rather to targeted support in areas it is most needed.”
Cllr Brown added:
“This administration has always said it would be open and honest with you about the difficult financial choices the local authority faces. We take the responsibility of investing your Council Tax very seriously and we will continue to be open with you about the decisions we need to make to ensure the services we deliver continue to be of the highest standard.”