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Monday, 8 December 2014

More on Brent Budget

Some details of Brent Council's likely budget options are now out.  Oddly, they are published only just before the Full Council's Budget discussion this evening, so it is likely that many councillors will not have time to read them, or even be aware of them.  Since the information are in the Cabinet agenda, they will not be sent out as part of the Full Council summons.  The Cabinet papers are here, and make grim reading 

The first thing to remember is that it is not Brent Council that is choosing to force these cuts but the ConDem government.  The Tories and Liberal Democrats are on an ideological mission to shrink the state and they are doing so by cutting spending in a counterproductive austerity drive, which targets poorer areas and local government particularly.  They do not even appear to monitor the effects of these cuts, so I guess they don't care about them. 

Secondly, we should recall that there is no point shooting the messenger.  This has been a problem in the recent past.  I get the impression that some people were under the impression that removing Ann John as Leader would somehow obviate the need for a balanced budget.  What a surprise it didn't.  It simply encouraged people not to face problems squarely.  Similarly, some councillors seem to think the best response to any problem is to seek to blame Council officers, when they are merely giving their best advice on how to deal with the problems.  Turning on people who are merely trying to have an honest debate advances no one, and is a despicable form of behavior. 

A third point to remember is that delaying action merely reduces freedom of action further down the line.  For instance, Lambeth ceased all its school crossing patrol funding three years ago, but managed to persuade the schools themselves to keep funding them in half of the cases.  Brent adopted a gradual approach of reducing SCPs as the staff left, which also did away with half the patrols, but still leaves the service 100% dependent on direct Council funding and therefore still under threat.

The details are too lengthy for one post, so I shall probably do several.  The standard four ways of saving I have commented on before.  They are given as: driving efficiency, building community resilence (i.e. self funding groups), generating extra income and stopping services completely.  That is pretty much a rehash of the options that have been picked over before.

One inconsistency that strikes me is that in terms of income generation, the report mentions increasing charges and putting up rents for Council housing.  These understandable if regrettable responses are put in the context of trying to shield the poorest.  However, it is noticeable that the report sets its face against a modest rise in Council Tax despite the fact that bears down less on the poorest than increasing Council rents and other charges, and despite a Council Tax rise not being dependent on central government, and therefore allowing the Council to preserve more freedom of action for the future.

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