Cuts of £43m, including department mergers and job cuts have been approved for this year's budget, as Wandsworth Council agreed to freeze council tax for the fifth time in six years.

By keeping the tax at £682 for a band D property owner, almost half that paid by the average London resident, Wandsworth Council maintained its position of having one of the lowest council tax rates in the country at a full council meeting last week.

Director of Finance Chris Buss however has warned persisting with this policy of cuts instead of tax hikes could mean a further £53.8m will have to be cut from the budget by 2016/17 to avoid raising council tax more than the government limit of two per cent.

Figures show council tax would have to increase by 66.1 per cent in 2015/16 and a further 32.5 per cent in 2016/17 if the council was to avoid additional cuts or raiding reserves, and yet such an increase would still see Band D property owners paying less than the average Londoner at 1,131.73, compared with £1,300.

Wandsworth Guardian: Wandsworth Town Hall

Wandsworth Town Hall 

Wandsworth has already cut its spending by £80m since 2010 by axing jobs, outsourcing services, and cutting services, meaning the figure could approach a staggering £175m slashing of spending over a seven year period.

Services such as lollipop ladies, park workers and meals on wheels have already been cut, while library services and leisure centre management has been outsourced. The council is in the process of outsourcing its adult social care and youth services.

Children’s and adult’s services departments will be merged, with housing and environment and community services also becoming a single department at the loss of jobs, while 15 positions are to be axed from the finance department, saving £900,000.

Labour councillor James Daley, who sits on the finance and corporate resources overview and scrutiny committee, said they too were committed to keeping council tax low but the party had commissioned a group of ex-local government finance experts to look into how to achieve that while protecting front-line services.

Following their report the party proposed an amendment to the budget, refused by the council, including a programme aimed at saving at least £20m in the next four years while protecting front line services.

Coun Daley said: "It is just an endless cycle of cuts after cuts being handed down by Eric Pickles to local authorities.

"Of course Wandsworth Council is freezing council tax as it’s an election year and they are raiding reserves to pay for it.

"Rather than raiding reserves we would rather they look at the suggested savings in this report."

Wandsworth Guardian: Wandsworth Council leader Ravi Govindia: "We cannot absorb costs beyond our control"

Defending the decision, leader Councillor Ravi Govindia, said: "Despite further falls in Government funding over the coming year this council will continue to provide some of the best services in the country while protecting our residents from a tax increase.

"More of our work is now being outsourced to achieve better value for money and to harness the expertise, innovation and extra investment outside organisations can bring to council services.

"Because of Wandsworth’s robust financial position we will be able to release £18.5m from our reserves over the next few years to smooth the funding drop and ease our transition to an even leaner and more efficient council."