While not as much of a shambles as the last Council meeting, Brent Council's Budget setting meeting on Monday was not inspiriting.
The budget is something of a tread water budget with most of the major savings items being agreed in previous years. Central government is demanding yet more savings to come; more than £50 million in fact. No one had any suggestions as to where this money would be found. The discussions centred on minor items of expenditure largely in Environment, and (as Cllr Krupesh Hirani pointed out) pretty much ignored big items like Adult Social Care. Despite some ill judged frivolity from time to time, it was also the most subdued budget meeting I can remember attending.
A contrast with four years ago is that then we had a broad sense of what to do and how to do it. This included raising income streams as far as possible, controlling demand, dampening down unrealistic expectations of what the Council could do, ceasing non-essential activities and implementing some genuinely transformational projects like Alternate Weekly Collections. Pursuing all this with resolution allowed us to maintain freedom of action and make real choices about priorities.
The danger of not having such a strategy is that you just wait for a financial crisis to come along, and then are forced into panic measures where you are unable to pursue any political priorities.