Government cuts ‘will be big challenge for council’
Leader says maintaining borough services in 2016 will be tough
THE leader of Hillingdon Council is predicting stormy weather this year as government cuts to local authority budgets bite.
Ray Puddifoot, who heads the borough’s Tory administration, admitted that his party in government was likely to provide the major challenges this year through the budget, HS2 and a possible Heathrow expansion.
He said creating school places and maintaining green spaces would also be key local issues, when asked by the Gazette for his thoughts on the challenges that lay ahead in 2016.
Cllr Puddifoot said: “I think with all local authorities, the financial challenges that we’ll face will be huge.
“We’re just beginning to get the settlement details through from George Osborne’s autumn statement and what he’s done is frontloaded the cuts to local authorities.
“In Hillingdon, we’re very well placed. We haven’t inflicted the cuts on libraries and services that other authorities have done, so our challenge for the coming year is to maintain this.”
He said he hopes that ‘common sense will prevail’ when it comes to nationwide issues affecting the borough.
“With HS2, I hope our MPs see that rather than wasting money on a railway that nobody really wants, they’ll spend the money on projects we do want across the country.
“And with the third runway, there is the nonsensical position of the Davis commission which says ‘we want you to build a third runway but you can’t use it until you can meet the air quality conditions’.
“How silly is that? Why would you build it then not use it? There’s no chance of them meeting the air quality conditions. There’s a six month delay, but they won’t do it in six years, it’s nonsense.”
With the draft budget for 2016/17 released before Christmas, Cllr Puddifoot says the borough is on track, but with £5 million to find.
He added: “It’s not getting any easier year on year, and it’s pretty galling, in a way, that local authorities are being asked to shoulder a huge portion of the national debt when the government is going to be frivolous with projects like HS2.
“We’re not in charge of the wind, but we can set the sails.”
Another politician with a big year ahead is Hayes and Harlington MP John McDonnell, who enters 2016 as shadow chancellor Labour
in leader Jeremy Corbyn’s team.
Singling out housing as a big issue, he said: “The local housing crisis is getting worse.
“Rising house prices and rents are making it almost impossible for people to get on the housing ladder or secure a decent roof over their heads.
“Government cuts to local council funding and the NHS mean that the care of the elderly and people with disabilities in our community is coming under intense pressure.
“The weakening of planning controls over the green belt by the government also means that we will be battling again to protect our local green open spaces.”
Mr McDonnell said the fight to save the Heathrow villages from demolition, to make way for a third runway, would intensify this year, but he predicted that the community would ‘rise successfully to meet the challenge’.
n TOUGH YEAR: Council leader Ray Puddifoot says Hillingdon is facing a number of challenges this year