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Monday, 2 March 2015

Brent Budget and Equalities

As Brent Council meets to set its Budget this evening, a Guardian column reminds us all of the realities of local government.  One of the points made is the importance of equalities.  Given the recent controversy in Brent on this matter, perhaps Councillors should be more mindful of this. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Limited Victory on Local Welfare Provision

Patrick Butler has a rather gloomy look at the government's partial reversal of cuts to local welfare provision.  I fear he is right.  The victory, such as it is, is very limited.  In particular, the budget can still be raided for other purposes.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Labour Business Plans

Yesterday I wen to hear Rachel Reeves MP present Labour's plans to boost business.  The whole agenda of improving productivity, making work pay, increasing research and development and so on seems so much more substantial than the Tories' race to the bottom.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Special Council Tax Meeting

I gather Brent Labour Group is having a special meeting about Council Tax levels tonight, called at very short notice.  I assume this is to attempt to regularise the rather messy situation that has been allowed to arise.  Really this whole issue could have been much better handled, as indeed could the budget as a whole.

OECD Gloom

The sheer gloom of the OECD analysis of the UK economy makes for depressing reading, especially the low productivity and tight housing supply.  Neither of these are likely to be helped by Tory policies.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Brent Council Tax Rise

Returning to the suggestion of a Brent Council Tax rise that has caused so much controversy.  I have summarised the arguments in favour here.  It is not hard to think of ways to spend the extra money.  In the past I have suggested expanding the local welfare provision.  I reckon a lot of people would support a modest Council Tax increase on that basis, but of course it is easy enough to think of other deserving objectives.

The main counter argument is that a Council Tax rise, even a slight one, raises living costs at a time when many people are under strain.  This is true, but it does not appear to have been widely noticed that Brent has already done this with changes to Council Tax Support, and specifically targeted a rise at those least able to pay. 

I reported on this at the time.  The changes put in place then affected people who had previously paid nothing because of their poverty.  In Brent that is about 21,000 people.  The standard rate was set at about 20% of the full charge.  Still a hefty discount, this was nonetheless a big rise from the zero level.  For instance, someone in a band D property would go from paying zero to almost £300/year. 

I asked a senior member of the Council Executive why that was the right choice for the poorest people, but he still felt the rate for everyone else had to be frozen. 

He couldn't think of an answer.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Equalities and Race

Martin Francis takes up the issue of Brent Council's equality policy and the behaviour of its head of human resources here.  I don't propose to go in to the details of the issue, where the Council is giving contradictory answers, and effectively fails to deal with the problem.  I have been highly critical of Brent Council's human resources department on this and other issues before

What I wanted to pick up on is Martin's view that "Consideration of the Equalities issue would perhaps carry more weight and be more robust if some Cabinet members stepped aside in favour of substitutes who are members of the BAME community."

I think this is a very old fashioned view which is actually quite wrong.  Firstly, there is the obvious point that we should all be concerned about racial discrimination, whatever our ethnicity.  I don't agree with the implication that only someone from an ethnic minority can properly make a judgement. 

The second, wider, point is that a modern understanding of equalities goes well beyond race.  Current legislation, and the wider political culture, recognises a number of different strands where discrimination can come into play, including sex, religion, age, disability sexuality and so on.  We all of us, meet at least three of what the law calls "protected characteristics".   The characteristics (such as disability for example) can in any case be catch all groups that actually cover a range of people with very different problems.  It is also true that people in one or other of these strands are not exempt from prejudice simply on that basis (e.g. anti-Semitic white people can discriminate against white jews).