Council to implement voluntary redundancy scheme in bid to plug budget shortfall

The move comes as the council predicts a £28million budget gap by 2026/27, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Waltham Forest Town Hall and council leader Grace Williams (credit: Waltham Forest Council)

Waltham Forest Council is asking its staff to consider redundancy in a bid to close a budget shortfall of “£20-30million” in the next three years.

Council leader Grace Williams said the redundancy scheme, to be implemented next year, is needed to make “essential savings”.

She added: “We are a responsible council that will not duck difficult decisions that are in the long-term interests of our residents.”

The Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) understands that the council is predicting a £28m budget gap by 2026/27.

This year, it is also on track to spend £16m more than planned.

Measures like staff cuts are being considered as, unlike other government services such as the NHS, councils like Waltham Forest have a legal duty to balance their budget each year.

When asked whether the council has a target for the number of staff it wishes to let go, or whether every department is included in the scheme, the leader did not respond.

The borough’s branch secretary for Unite the Union Kevin Parslow told the LDRS: “Obviously, a reduction in staff may have consequences for the council’s clients and residents in terms of effects on some services, and we have warned the council of that.

“While there may be many who consider this a good time to leave the council, if too many apply to leave in one area of the council, then some staff may have their applications refused.”

Cllr Willliams said like most councils across the country Waltham Forest is “not immune” from pressures including a “prolonged increase” in demand for their services, high inflation and “insufficient” government funding.

For example, Waltham Forest Council cares for more than a thousand more adults than four years ago, representing a 13% increase in costs, but cannot raise the social care portion of council tax by more than 2% per year.

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Most local authorities draft the next year’s budget in the Autumn, before final approval at a full council meeting in April the following year.

Launching voluntary redundancies is an early sign of cost-cutting measures next year’s budget is likely to include.

However, other than statements from Cllr Williams about “difficult decisions” due to financial pressures, limited details have been revealed of other potential cuts and “savings”.

The council has also said it will need to “go further and deeper” in the long term by changing some services to “digital self-serve wherever appropriate” and targeting residents with the highest needs to prevent them from needing even more council support in the future.

A council spokesperson told the LDRS it will not consult residents on its overall budget, but will ask residents for their views on cuts and savings “where applicable”.

In previous years, Waltham Forest’s Labour administration has avoided making drastic cuts or savings to council services by tapping into its financial reserves.

Although these fluctuate over the years, Cllr Williams has said the reserves Waltham Forest has available to use have almost halved to £47m.

She added: “Like many others we have already been using reserves to continue to provide the essential services on which residents rely.

“In the long run this is simply unsustainable.”

Kevin said the council has rejected his argument that the council’s only escape from “the endless round of austerity” is to ask for more money and to set a “no-cuts needs budget” using its reserves.

He added: “Unite says that it should be part of a campaign, involving local authorities and the unions, to force central government to provide more basic funds.

“Sadly, no council has been prepared to go down that route, therefore, the use of reserves will not be more than one-off measures to prevent worse cuts.”

Further details of the council’s medium term financial plan are due to be published in early December

The government is then due to confirm its final funding figures for local authorities in January.

Full details of the council’s 2024-25 budget including potential council tax increases, will not be published in full until mid-February.

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