£18m in budget cuts agreed in private talks that began months ago

The council’s spending plans were published last week but proposed cuts were first discussed behind closed doors last Autumn, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Credit: Motortion via Canva

Waltham Forest Council officials spent months discussing £18million in planned cuts in private “workshops” with Labour and Conservative councillors before it published them last week.

The council’s 2024/25 spending plans, were published last week (14th February), months after the council tax increase and cuts began to be agreed in private meetings between senior officers and Grace Williams’ cabinet team last Autumn.

This is despite proposals including a review of the libraries operating model, selling council properties and significant cut backs to vital council services such as social care for the elderly.

Details of the cuts remain limited to single sentences in the council’s public reports and no public consultation has yet been carried out on the proposals.

At a budget scrutiny meeting yesterday (20th February), neither Labour nor the Conservatives had many questions about the spending plans for leader Grace Williams or the council’s senior finance team.

This appeared to be because senior officers and leading councillors have held a series of private “workshops” and private members’ briefings in the last six months, replacing public meetings before the council’s budget and performance scrutiny committee.

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Labour committee member Miriam Mirwitch thanked the council’s finance team for their “transparency” during the private briefings.

Conservative deputy leader Afzal Akram agreed, noting that he did not have any questions because the team had given him “plenty of opportunity” to ask them already.

Cllr Akram added: “Thank you for being open and transparent today.”

Conservative member Tim James said he did not have “much to add” following the workshops, where senior officers had already answered his questions.

The committee’s deputy chair Jenny Gray did not have any questions either, but raised a concern about a “typo” in one of the budget documents.

Committee member Uzma Rasool did not ask any questions, but spoke briefly to pass on her Labour colleague Katy Thompson’s apologies because she was unable to attend the meeting.

Meanwhile, committee chair Keith Rayner suggested a lengthy recommendation that will now be referred to cabinet – that the council should closely “monitor” the services which are likely to go over budget.

He also commented the role of the committee he chairs is to “reflect concerns of the community and make suggestions” about council policy.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service approached Waltham Forest Council to request details of the workshops but has not received a response.

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