Hammersmith and Fulham Council leader, Cllr Stephen Greenhalgh, has identified clearing the Council's debt – and hence its £5 million annual bill for debt interest – as a key priority for his second term.
'Freedom with responsibility' is the focus of what I want to achieve for our residents in the next four years. It means that the council will do everything we can over time to become debt-free.
Only when we have paid off council debt will we be free to put every single penny into delivering frontline services.
At the moment our residents are paying £5million every year just for us to stand still. That is without a single bin collected, or a single street being swept.
The council’s historic debt – which dates back more than a generation – stands at £133m.
Think of it as the borough’s credit card. You are paying, through your council tax, £5m every year in interest payments… even before we pay off the debt.
Just think what we could do with that money instead. We could put more money into our schools, parks and into supporting our vulnerable.
And yes, we could return some of the money to you by continuing to lower council tax bills as we have done for the last four years.
In H&F, we are proud of the services we deliver while reducing council tax.
Our services are judged to be amongst the best in Britain. In fact, we were recently recognised as the best local authority in Britain.
However, with our debt burden, we are achieving this with one hand tied behind our back.
Our neighbours in Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea are all virtually debt-free.
That is why our focus in the next four years is on reducing that debt – but it will not be at the expense of quality frontline services. Quality schools, supporting our vulnerable, safer streets, cleaner streets and decent parks continue to be our absolute priorities.
So, how can we reduce debt while still having quality services? Well, we have already managed to reduce our debt by £36m in the last four years. On top of that we have to pay the costs of borrowing.
Our focus will be on using the buildings we own in the most efficient way possible.
If a building is underused and can be sold to reduce our credit card bill it will be sold.
The days of having a council building on every street are over – our residents want quality services, not bricks and mortar which are often underused.
That is why we will be working with the voluntary sector to look at creating modern community hubs across the borough rather than today’s myriad of often underused and poorly- equipped buildings.
That is our promise to local residents – we will carry on delivering quality, value for money services while doing everything possible to continue reducing our historic debt.