Monday 27 February 2012

Brent Council passes second cuts budget

Brent Council tonight approved the 2012-13 cuts budget that had previously been passed by the Executive. In addition they approved an amendment in the name of Ann John that doubled the amount of money in Ward Working to £40,000 per ward. Cllr John justified this on the basis that this was an area where councillors could really make a difference. The move is likely to be controversial beyond the council as it was not included in the budget plans discussed at Area Forums. Cllr Kasagra, leader of the Conservatives. dismissed Ward Working  as a method of councillor self promotion.

In her budget speech Cllr John said that the council was faced with an ongoing and increasingly difficult process in dealing with the funding cuts imposed by the Coalition government. She said that government policies were 'hurting but not working'. In a wide ranging survey of the economic situation she said that the crisis had been caused by greedy bankers but that 'the greed of the minority was being paid for by austerity for the majority'.

John detailed how benefit changes and the housing benefit cap would impact on Brent's poorest families and added that the Localisation of Council Benefits would force the council to decide whose benefits should be cut.  However, she went on to claim that having a Labour Council could make a real difference and expressed pride in the administration and in staff who had experienced pay freezes, increased pension contributions and job losses but who 'knew the Civic Centre made sense and had responded magnificently. In Brent we are really working together'.

Ann John said that the council's new priority, faced with Brent's young people going straight from school or university into long-term unemployment,  would be to tackle the lack of social mobility in the borough.. The council will set up am independently chaired Commission on Social Mobility, set up a new employment agency and refocus the work of BACES to concentrate on employment and employability.

 John listed council 'successes' including freezing the council tax, increased recycling, green charter, fair trade status and protecting parks and open spaces (no mention of privatisation). She said that in future schools would be expected to contribute to the whole community: 'especially news schools with state of the art facilities'.

Cllr John and Cllr Muhammed Butt both continued to claim that the funding was horrendous but at the same time that they were somehow able to protect the vulnerable, despite the cuts they were being forced to make. This contradictory approach was even more apparent when Butt boasted that the council had been able to protect incomes of residents  by freezing the council tax and later condemning the Coalition's grant that enabled the tax to be frozen as a bribe and something that would undermine revenue in the future.

Cllr John's presentation was listened to in respectful near silence by the Opposition but Labour jeered at Paul Lober (Lib Dem leader) and other Opposition councillors when they spoke. When the Conservative leader rose to speak Ann John pointedly got up from her seat and toured the Labour benches, stopping for a chat here and there.

The Lib Dem amendment sought to restore funding for libraries, end cuts in school crossing patrols, merge the Festivals Unit in the Grants Unit, reinstate Green Zones , reinstate the graffiti clean up team restore funding cuts mad ein the Summer University and Duke of Edinburgh Scheme,; and deal  with litter 'hotspots'. £500,000 from the Icelandic bank 'windfall' would be used for essential priorities and another £500,000 for a parking scheme to encourage local shopping. Cllr Lorber said the Lib Dems would invest in local people, local services and the things local people value.

Cllr  Suresh Kansagra, leader of the Conservative group made a confused and confusing speech which also sought to reinstate library closures and opposed the increase in ward working money. The amendment seemed to be predicated on spending some of the council reserves,

Several Executive members read out prepared speeches and the debate descended into knock-about stuff with Cllr Zaffar Van Kalwala, to Opposition cries of 'Brent's Best Banker', making yet another barn-storming speech to fuel his bid to beat Dawn Butler for Labour's Brent Central parliamentary candidate nomination.

Cllr Rev David Clues (Lib Dem) brought a chastening tone to the proceedings by saying that the council did best when councillors worked together for the benefit of local people and acknowledged work Ann John had done with him on trafficking and the sex industry. In the context of the libraries he warned the council not to worsen economic poverty by lurching into cultural poverty.

Voting was on strict party lines with no divergence so the Opposition amendments were lost and the budget, with the ward working amendment, passed.

It was noteworthy that with Labour concentrating on government cuts and benefit changes and the Opposition restricting themselves to libraries and parking that there was no one challenging the council cuts that will impact on vulnerable children,  children with special educational needs, people with disabilities and those with mental health needs. With Brent Fightback barred from making representations to the council and the three main parties accepting the limits on spending set by the Coalition, no alternative strategy for council budget setting was put forward. A whole swathe of the population is unrepresented and silenced.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Trying to buy votes- so predictable from Brent Labour.
They should have scrapped Ward Working