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Budget myth-busting – your questions answered

How much money have you already saved?

Since 2011, we have saved £112m - about a third of our budget. We have minimised the impact on front-line services, mainly by making the way we do things as efficient as possible, selling our services to bring in money and sharing services with other councils.

How big are the new cuts to the council's funding?

By 2016, national government will have cut Islington Council's funding in half since 2010. Government funding makes up almost 60 per cent of the council's total funding, so this will have a very serious impact. Having saved £112m over the past four years, we expect to have to save £95m more over the four years to come.

Will the council be looking to stop some services?

It is not possible to make a further £95m of savings without having to make some very difficult decisions about services. We want to protect as many services as possible, but inevitably, not everything can stay the same. No final decisions have been made yet and we will be keeping you informed throughout the process.

When will decisions be made?

We will announce budget proposals for 2015/16 in January, and they will go to the full council meeting in February for approval.

The media says that the economy is recovering, so what's the problem?

Despite a national economic picture that is slowly improving, local government has never faced a tougher financial climate. We face a huge challenge in terms of funding cuts from national government, alongside increased pressure on our services due to an ageing population and residents who need help due to increases in the cost of living and benefits cuts.

Why is the council making savings when it has money in reserves?

Councils need some money in reserves to cover unexpected costs – for example if emergency work is needed to repair a building. Our policy is to have 5 per cent of our net expenditure, which is currently £13m, in reserve and this policy has been supported by our auditors. This is the same as a person earning £20,000 a year having savings of £1,000 saved up for a rainy day.

We have some other reserves earmarked for specific projects – such as a new heating system for a housing estate, or where we have a future financial commitment that we know we’ll need to pay for.

Using this money to fund services is not a sensible approach as these reserves aren’t budgets that are renewed each year. Instead it is like a savings account – once it is spent, it is gone. Our reserves can be viewed in our statement of accounts.

Why doesn’t the council save money from the back office?

Councils are sometimes criticised for spending money on the so-called ‘back office’ – support staff who do not provide a direct service to residents. This wrongly suggests that back office staff do not add value to the council. The reality is that both back and front office staff are needed to provide a service.

For example, protecting vulnerable children requires both children’s social workers (‘frontline’) and lawyers (‘back office’) to ensure that protection orders are granted by the courts. Lots of these back office services allow the front line staff to do their work.

However, we do want to make back office services as efficient as they can be. We have already saved money through staff reductions and making back office services more efficient. To make further savings, while supporting the council to make huge changes, we will need to continue to make support services more efficient and effective.

Can the council share services with other councils to save money?

Islington already does share some services with other councils – for example, our internal audit and public health services, which are shared with Camden.  We are looking at other opportunities to share services, and we will go ahead if there is clear evidence that they will save money or improve the services.

Why don’t you sell off buildings or share them more?

We have already made savings on our buildings, for example moving out of Highbury House has saved £1m a year.  We are investigating what other savings can be made.  At the same time we know it’s important for residents to have good access to council services and we need buildings in our community to do this.

Why don’t you just cut the salaries of highly paid council staff?

The chief executive’s salary was reduced by £50,000 when our new chief executive started in June 2011. This is one of the lowest salaries for a chief executive in London, and significantly lower than private sector organisations of an equivalent size.

There are currently 23 chief officers in the council (council staff who earn more than £83,000 per year), out of a total staff of 5,000.

Find more information on senior officers' salaries.

Can you save money by cutting spend on consultants?

We only bring in consultants when we need specialised skills and expertise for a limited time. We have reduced spend on consultants from £8m in 2010 to £1m now, and aim to reduce this spend still further.

What can residents do to help save the council money?

Residents can play a big part to help save money and protect services.

Our website provides a quick, easy way for residents to do things online, such as reporting faults or paying bills. It is also much cheaper for the council to process many requests online than face-to-face. We are currently looking at how we can improve our technology so the people who want to can self-serve online as easily as possible.

Another way residents can help is by recycling more. We introduced compulsory recycling because it costs £80 per tonne to send rubbish to landfill but only £15 per tonne to recycle it. It’s also much better for the environment. The council can save many thousands of pounds each year if residents keep recycling as much as possible.

Why don’t you collect all of your council tax?

Islington is a very deprived borough, with many poorer residents, which normally means that collecting council tax is harder. By March 2014, we had collected 95.9% of council tax due for the 2013/14 financial year. That was above the inner London average.

If people don’t pay their council tax we always take appropriate action to try to recover this money, including legal action, if necessary. At the same time, we want to help people in difficult financial circumstances to pay their bills, so we will often agree repayment schemes with them. We would normally expect to recover 97% of our council tax by the time we have taken recovery action.

Collecting debt is a problem for both public and private sector organisations. Regardless of the action that we take to recover it, it is almost impossible to recover it all.

How can I find out more about what the council spends its money on?

There are more details elsewhere on our website on where our money comes from and how it is spent, and we publish all of our transactions over £500 on our website every month.

Why do councillors get paid – can’t their salaries be cut?

Councillor allowances have been frozen since 2010.  All councillors receive a basic allowance of £9,698 per year. Some councillors also get extra allowances if they have extra responsibility – for example, the leader of the council is entitled to a £36,500 allowance.

Allowances are offered to make sure that anyone, from any background, can afford to become a councillor.

Learn more about

The future of local services - Islington's tough choices

Understanding council finance

Budget mythbusting - your questions answered