Up to 15 people in Lewisham’s housing service could be made redundant, the council’s housing select committee was told on Thursday (January 28).  

But members were told a “huge effort” would go into redeploying workers elsewhere in the council.  

See related: Next round of Lewisham cuts to be 'significant' for staff

See related: Budget cuts Lewisham: Services will be affected

The first part of the meeting, held to discuss budget cuts and the housing allocations consultation, was essentially held in private because of technical issues, though the director presenting the cuts summarised what he had said later.  

The local democracy service has asked the council for a recording of the full meeting and said the meeting should never have gone ahead if it wasn’t accessible to the public.  

Lewisham Council needs to make £40 million in cuts over the next three years. 

It published a second round of cuts proposals this month worth £15.1 million, added to the more than £26 million set out in November. 

It brings the total cuts planned for next year to £28 million. 

The housing service is set to be cut by £600,000 over the next two years. 

According to council documents: “Regrettably the £600,000 budget saving required will mean reduction in staff numbers and redundancies.  

“It is not possible to confirm how many staff will be impacted as the review will need to be completed but it is possibly in the range of ten to 15 FTE.” 

The cuts are expected to be achieved through services becoming more efficient by moving online/via phone and through IT investment, which will lead to fewer jobs within the service.  

The committee was told that work is being done to ensure the digitally excluded still have good access to the housing service. 

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Kevin Sheehan, executive director for housing, regeneration and public realm, said “The council, like many others in the country, is facing a very challenging financial position.  

“This comes about after what is now 11 years of austerity policies, particularly policies by the Government. 

“The council has had year after year cuts to its budget and that has taken a significant amount of our spending power away from us.  

“There’s no sign that the Government is going to discontinue that policy so, as a prudent council, what we have to do is balance our books.  

“We have to spend within our limits, it’s illegal for us to go beyond that.” 

Mr Sheehan warned the cuts are still at risk.  

“This £28 million still runs a significant amount of risk for us as a council because Covid-19 has affected our council tax collection rate. 

“We are mindful that one of the terrible things to come out of Covid-19 is that there will be an increase in unemployment, particularly among young people. 

“That could again impact on the council tax collect rate in the future,” he said, adding that business rates collection was also an issue.  

He said: “Clearly we depend on businesses coming back after Covid-19, but you see news every day of businesses going out of business.” 

Mr Sheehan said the council would try to redeploy people in other areas.  

He said: “The council always as a last resort makes people redundant so we’ll explore all of the potential mitigating opportunities. 

“We’ll look to redeploy people first into roles […] within the service, but then across the directorate and the council.” 

If the proposals are approved by mayor and cabinet, a staff consultation will follow.  

The cabinet member for housing and planning, Cllr Paul Bell, said a “huge effort” would be made to save jobs. 

One committee member was concerned the proposals were vague.  

Cllr Aisling Gallagher said: “I’m slightly concerned that we have this figure of £600,000 and we don’t really understand most of the detail.  

“Most of what we’ve heard has been quite general and it’s hard for me to not want this to go to the public accounts committee (PAC) to get some more detail because I’m not clear on how everything is going to stay as efficient as it is. 

“People hopefully won’t lose their jobs, but there might be some redundancies, but we don’t know the detail of where the £600,000 is coming from.” 

Mr Sheehan said the money will come from the overall budget, through staff turnover and redeployment.  

“We will restructure some of our services to have less staff overall.  

“No proposal at this stage that involves this sort of restructuring could be any more detailed at this stage,” he said.  

Cllr Bell added: “We need to talk to the staff, that’s why there’s not more detail in the proposals.  

“The decision is to move forward with it, post that I’m sure Kevin and his team will keep the housing select committee in the process.  

“There’s not a lot more we do until we’ve got the permission from mayor and cabinet, subject to business panel, to move forward and then full council.” 

The cuts are set to go to mayor and cabinet on February 3.