Taxis, redundant social workers – Tower Hamlets Budget Full Council

Last night at Budget Full Council I spoke about the silent crisis in social care in Tower Hamlets.

Previous budgets have relied on savings from “service transformation” plans in social care to balance the books, ie there have been plans to deliver services differently to save money. The “transformation” hasn’t happened – page 19 of the council’s budget pack says:

“A number of savings put forward in 2014/15 are not being progressed at this time due to issues encountered during implementation. These relate in the main to the Adults Health and Wellbeing and Children Schools and Families and amount to £2.89m in 2013/14. Alternative savings have been put forward”.

No information has been given about these “alternative savings”. Taking close to three million pounds out of social care budgets can’t be done easily, especially when cuts are being made because planned savings are off track.

Then in this year’s budget the Independent Mayor proposed to save a further £3.5 million through “vacancy management” – expecting the directorate covering social care to make do with a 5% cut to their staffing budget.

I went to speak to the staff side trade unions about the impact these cuts would have. They told me that social workers are already under pressure, with admin support cut in previous budget rounds and restructuring and voluntary redundancy meaning that social workers are already on their knees, with huge case loads. Workers with previously unblemished records are being taken through capability procedures because their caseload is too much to cope with.

They spoke about the bitterness that social workers feel when they sit in increasingly cramped offices, on the phone fighting for desperately needed resources for the vulnerable families they care for, and look out the window and see the Mayoral Mercedes gliding out of Mulberry Place (other council leaders happily use public transport) and watch the Mayor’s office rapidly expanding in size and cost, stuffed with over paid advisors.

Some of the Mayor’s spending proposals sound great. Some of the best are the cheapest – a grant to the Unite organising centre at St George’s Town hall is less than one advisors salary, but could be transformative, as the partnership seeks to tackle our adult skills gap.

Last night’s budget spending spree is paid for off the backs of the most vulnerable. The “efficiency savings” that the Mayor cites in his press releases are cuts to social care staffing budgets.

There is a failed leadership in the Town Hall when the Independent Mayor and his cabinet are sailing around in the borough in tax payer funded taxis and chauffeur driven Mercedes, and social workers are under pressure to take voluntary redundancy.

The people making those decisions are doing all they can to hide that truth. Overpaid advisors release nonsense press releases, scrutiny committees ask for information they are never given, and all the rhetoric and bombast from the Town Hall is intended to distract from a real public debate about the future of our borough.

Times are tough for many in Tower Hamlets, and will get harder for many in April when the Tory government benefit cuts hit. We have the highest child poverty in the UK.

At the same time we have the highest economic growth potential in London, and Tower Hamlets is full of people and organisations with so much to contribute to bringing hope and jobs to the borough.

What local people need is honesty about the scale of the challenges and opportunities we face, a public conversation about solutions and open transparent decision making to renew trust in our politics and create a shared future for the people of Tower Hamlets.