Sutton Council leader warns of difficult future amid funding cuts
Sutton Council’s new leader has said she will have to take more difficult decisions on the borough’s future than her predecessor, in the face of mounting financial pressures.
In her first interview since taking over from outgoing leader Sean Brennan, Ruth Dombey said, in the face of £23.3m of further cuts that must be found by 2016-17, she could not rule out council taxes rises or cuts to frontline services.
She admitted as savings had been made over the past few years in ironing out back room inefficiencies, deleting about 400 council posts, and changing council practices, in the coming years it would be more difficult to find the mammoth savings predicted.
She said: "We will have to be more creative. We will probably have to take some harder decisions than we already have in the past few years. We know money's tight but i'm an optimist, and I think there's a way out of this."
So far Sutton has remained relatively unscathed compared to some other London boroughs during the Government's austerity programme.
But Coun Dombey said the council may need to strip back the areas it operates in, in order to keep up levels of service in it's statutory duties, such as safeguarding the vulnerable, maintaining roads and providing rubbish collections.
She would not speculate on what areas the council might not take a less active role in, saying much depended on funding allocations from central Government, but said residents would be asked to do more.
She said: "What is clear is we will not be able to afford to continue to provide services how they are provided now."
Residents may have to do more in their local communities.
She said: "More people need to take on responsibility for what's on their front doorstep."
The council, under her control, will also look to continue to save money and improve services by expanding service sharing with other boroughs, deleting unnecessary posts and making the council more efficient.
It will also lobby the Government and Transport for London for greater control over how it spends its money.
She said she wanted to actively engage with communities to find solutions and get ideas on how the council can do better - saying the council "was not perfect" and would respond positively to criticism.
She will raise the borough's profile, look to bring more businesses here, creating jobs and investment, and income for the council.
The new leader said: "In the past we have maybe been too inward looking. We have concentrated on making the borough a great place to live. Now we have some of the best schools in the country, and good community networks. Now it's time to put us on the map and really encourage investment."
Coun Dombey spoke candidly on a number of the council's recent controversies:
She said: "It was foolish and overambitious to suggest the Life Centre could ever cover its costs. We have learnt a lesson.
"But it’s a centre that’s vital in engaging our young people. There are some amazing things in there. To engage young people now we need to do more than just provide a table tennis table in a dingy hall."
She said she wished the council did not have to pay Chelsea for its Chelsea Football Club Foundation to provide lifestyle facility at the centre but it would pay back "at least four times over" in its benefits to Sutton’s youth.
The High Street:
"I wish I had a tardis so I could go back and do it differently. Every time I walk down it I’m disappointed."
She refused to accept no one had been disciplined for the disastrous management and delivery of the project. She said 12 people working on the project were now no longer working on the council.
She said she could understand how horrible it was for homeowners to have to give up their homes, but they could not allow council tenants to live in the properties which flooded and had sewage ruining them, and homeowners would be better off in the long term by allowing the council to build them a new home.
She said: "It's not a done deal. We will take the application on its planning merits."
She said that would include an assessment of health risks to residents.
When asked if she would live next to the incinerator, she said: "I would have worries living in Beddington as it is at the moment.
"I know residents desperately want improvements to the area and this is a way of providing a solution (through section 106 monies)."