Job losses and millions in cuts to services are on the cards in Lewisham, according to draft proposals.  

Lewisham Council has identified nearly £27 million in possible cuts, out of £40 million planned over the next three years.  

The draft proposals, going to scrutiny next week, include increasing funeral charges, reducing local assemblies, cancelling the Blackheath fireworks display until at least 2023, cutting the grants programme for the voluntary and community sector by a third, and scrapping discretionary free travel for vulnerable people.  

See related: Blackheath fireworks could be cancelled until 'at least' 2023

See related: Local assemblies could be scrapped in Lewisham

Covid-19 has so far put a £20 million hole in Lewisham’s finances – it is facing a budget shortfall of £34 million next year. 

As it stands, cuts of £15 million are proposed for 2021/22, leaving a potential gap of more than £18 million, depending on Government funding. 

Further potential cuts will be announced in January to address that gap for the 2021/22 budget in February. 

The council is proposing to stop managing finances for vulnerable people who do not have the ability to do it themselves, and cutting funding for short breaks for special needs children – though it says the cuts are “modest and should not have a negative impact on families”. 

Savings are proposed through better management of contracts, improved debt collection, and by increasing the number of cameras to catch people committing traffic offences. 

By reducing the number of social workers from agencies Lewisham hopes to save £430,000 over three years.   

The council hopes to save £6 million by improving staff productivity, “arising from new ways of working [through] learning from the Covid-19 pandemic” – this includes a focus on better collaboration, sexual health services going online except for the most vulnerable, and returns from IT investment.  

The council has not ruled out staff losing their jobs, and significant cuts relate to merging teams. 

Teams in benefits and in council tax could be merged, while the council is proposing to save £140,000 through a “redesign of management structure in CYP joint commissioning”. 

Lewisham’s mayor Damien Egan told the local democracy service that the “combination of a decade of austerity and the financial impact of Covid-19 is taking its toll”.  

“We can’t rule out the possibility of redundancies over the coming years, but we are doing everything we can to protect jobs,” he said.  

Over the next three years, the council is proposing to cut £300,000 from its corporate transport budget – it currently pays for 250,000 miles of travel expenses and also covers staff claims for public transport.  

This could involve having car clubs and bike share schemes.  

People who fund their own care packages provided by Lewisham will have to pay for their transport if the proposal to do so is approved.  

In adult social care, the enablement service, which helps people develop skills to live more independently, and Linkline, a 24-hour alarm system for vulnerable people in case of an emergency at home, could be outsourced. 

The council is proposing to cut the adult social care budget by £3 million over three years by reducing demand for services. 

A further £2 million could come out of the children’s social care budget, with the help of demand management, such as reducing the number of children at risk of going into care. 

The council is also reviewing the financial support for carers who look after a child through a Special Guardianship Order – £60,000 could be cut from the budget.  

It is reviewing how it can make more money from its properties – renting out to film sets and merging council work space have been suggested.  

It is planning to speed up regeneration plans for Catford town centre, while the council hopes to make half a million from building between 250 and 300 market rent homes by 2023/24.  

A number of the council’s properties are earmarked for potential redevelopment in the future – in the short term it plans to use them for temporary accommodation in a bid to save money.  

Mayor Egan said the cuts are still only draft proposals.  

He said: “We’ve had ten years of Government cuts in the borough – in 2010 we had a budget of around £400 million, today it’s around £240 million.

“Lewisham has always managed its budget well, it’s something the council has always done and will continue to do. 

“It was very difficult before the pandemic, what’s happening now, the scale of the cuts being imposed on the council is huge.” 

A funding settlement for local authorities is expected on November 25, and Mayor Egan said the council is “trying to use that time to implore the Government to keep the promises they made”. 

The Government initially told councils to “do whatever it takes” during the pandemic and promised to covers the costs. 

“It just didn’t happen and that’s why we’ve got this extra gap in spending – the consequences are dire for any authority who has vulnerable communities and Lewisham is one of them. 

“We will set a balanced budget, the alternative would be the Government coming in and imposing cuts for us and there’s no way I want to allow a Tory Government come and set the priorities for Lewisham.”