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OPINION - The Standard View: London’s town halls face a financial cliff edge, with vital services at risk

Havering Council has warned it is on the brink of bankruptcy (MRSC)
Havering Council has warned it is on the brink of bankruptcy (MRSC)

Local authorities do more than collect the bins and install low-traffic neighbourhoods. They have a statutory duty to provide a range of vital services such as education, children’s safeguarding and adult social care. But as we reveal in today’s newspaper, London’s town halls are “teetering on a financial cliff edge”.

It isn’t just Croydon, whose problems were somewhat self-inflicted. Other local authorities are facing insolvency for more mundane reasons: higher costs, soaring demand — particularly for social care and housing — as well as reduced funding. All but two of the capital’s 32 boroughs are forecasting an overspend in their original budget plans this year, while half are warning of bankruptcy in the next parliament.

This is a 2020s car crash that can be traced back to the spending decisions of the early 2010s. Ray Morgan, leader of Havering council, points to his borough’s central government grant falling from £70 million in 2010 to £2 million this year.

Amid an ongoing cost-of-living crisis, Londoners must brace for ever-higher council tax bills to help stave off a near-total collapse in vital local services.

Protecting democracy

Intimidation and acts of violence against MPs are a threat not just to the individual, but to our system of government. And while the right to peaceful protest is sacrosanct, there is no greying of the edges when it comes to racist abuse or threatening behaviour.

We have already witnessed chaos in Parliament, where the Speaker is currently clinging to his job, after he changed Commons procedure as a direct response to threats against MPs over the Israel-Hamas war. This follows MPs’ homes being targeted by pro-Palestinian protesters and the announcement by London MP Mike Freer that he would be stepping down due to death threats.

MPs are now to receive extra security, while the Government’s terrorism watchdog suggests that terror laws should be used against those who threaten them because such threats were aimed at changing politicians’ votes, making them “core terrorism business”.

The next steps must be careful and proportionate. But there can be few avenues we ought not to explore to defend our parliamentary democracy from threats, violence and intimidation.

Hitting the right note

It was a simpler time: before noise-cancelling headphones, your walk to the Tube platform could be assaulted by the not-so-dulcet tones of the local busker. No more.

The right to entertain on the Tube must be earned, and would-be buskers are battling it out at auditions in stations. Anything from classical to world, jazz to rap is welcome. All notes pair well with a copy of the Evening Standard.