Council leader pledges ‘responsible’ financial management amid ‘tough choices’ ahead

In a speech, Cllr Grace Williams said that the Labour-run council’s £16million budget deficit was due to political decisions made by central government, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Grace Williams delivering a finance speech at the Full Council Meeting on 19th October, Credit: Waltham Forest Council

Waltham Forest Council leader Grace Williams has said Labour’s stated aim is to be a “responsible” manager of the council’s finances while “helping residents through these tough times”.

During her Autumn address at a full council meeting on 19th October, Cllr Williams said the council is facing a £16million budget deficit this year due to the Conservative’s “politically-created economic crisis”.

She called on the government to fix the “broken” social care system, “upgrade” local housing allowance rates, to “review” the way local councils are funded and to give Waltham Forest the power to “build the right homes in the right places”.

In a speech that repeatedly criticised the Conservative government’s management of the country, she said she was “looking forward” to the next General Election as the Labour Party is “ready to shoulder the responsibility” of government.

Cllr Williams told the council chamber: “We have some tough choices to make, thanks to the politically created economic crisis.

“We face a serious deficit, including in-year the pressures of £16m and if you look around London, it’s the same and worse in other places.

“Now is the time to renew our shared vision as a council, our shared mission, if our councillors, our staff, and our residents, that the decisions we make are based on firm principles, a strong safety net for the most vulnerable, a focus on building resilience and effective intervention with people as well as for people and focus on ensuring that our services are easy access for all as well as being value for money.”

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“We will use every lever we have to become a powerhouse for all residents.

“And it is vital that as councillors we prioritise their needs as we make these tough choices, to say, we hear you and we will act with you no matter what your role as local leaders in serving your residents and improving your neighbourhoods will be absolutely vital during this time.

“Since last year, the council’s approach has consistently been to do everything we can to support our residents through these challenges, to step up and to take action and to invest in a better future.”

The speech ended with an exchange with Conservative leader Emma Best, who suggested that Labour are “literally” turning into the Conservative Party.

She said that Cllr Williams would “rather talk about the government” than tell residents what she is doing.

In a reference to Labour’s dismissal of concerns about vibrations and noise from newly installed traffic calming measures, she accused the party of not listening to residents.

She added: “You don’t even want to hear residents, let alone listen to them.

“You won’t listen to reasonable motions. When you get the chance to tell people what you’re doing. You’d rather talk about the government.”

In a final reply, Cllr Williams said it is valid to talk about the Conservative government due to its cuts to council funding.

She added: “I do think it’s really important that this chamber is clear that yes, we get money from central government.

“That’s how it works – that money is collected from taxpayers, it goes to the central government.

“We used to get quite a lot back. We now don’t get very much back. Now we really rely on a few things.

“We’ve really increasingly relied on council tax.”

To watch Cllr Williams’ full speech, click this link and select “leader’s autumn statement” or skip to 58:10:

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