Tuesday 1 January 2013

Times will be getting harder in Brent in 2013

There was a flurry in the press over the holiday about local government cuts.  David Blunkett in the Guardian  LINK argued that the cuts were horrendous, an attack on local democracy and would reduce councils to providing only the statutory minimum of services but went on to state that ' the message of "austerity" has successfully debilitated the will to take on central government' and cited the failure of the 1980s fightback.

Ted Knight, late of Lambeth Council,  disagreed in his comment piece: LINK
In the 1980s, Labour councils like my own did organise a fightback. A price was paid, councillors were surcharged and forced from office. But resistance, far from being futile, mobilised communities. We won additional funds so that budgets could be set without cuts. Labour councillors today have the same choice – they can either lead a struggle against a vicious government or stand aside for those who will.
In Brent Cllr James Powney stated on his blog LINK 
This year's (Brent) budget, has fairly limited cuts but the failure of George Osborne's economic policy and the Conservative Party's hatred of local government mean that we will face massive fiscal pressures for years to come.

Brent Council is likely to respond to these by having a much tighter economic focus on everything we do.  This means that Council services will need to demonstrate a much more direct effect on economic well being than hitherto.  Local government has never had a challenge like it.
Meanwhile leaders of  Newcastle, Liverpool and Sheffield City Councils warned of potential civil unrest LINK
 The unfairness of the government's cuts is in danger of creating a deeply divided nation. We urge them to stop what they are doing now and listen to our warnings before the forces of social unrest start to smoulder.
There are seeds here of a possible fightback but there are clear divisions between those who will manage the cuts while complaining about the damage that they will do and those who want a proactive campaign against them.  The Labour Party nationally is very much in the former camp but the left of Labour, Gren L:weft, other left groups, the labour movement and the Coalition of Resistance are in the latter.

In Brent the Labour Group on the council are under pressure from the Labour left and the LRC but so far are managing the cuts in line with Powney's position. Unfortunately a leadership challenge to Muihammed Butt's leadership from the Ann John faction at the May annual meeting seems more likely than a successful challenge from the left. By that time the budget will have been adopted and any subsequent room for manoeuvre by a new administration will be extremely limited.

Although Cllr Powney intimates that the Brent budget will have 'fairly limited cuts' (we residents of course have been given no details and appear to have no say in the planned budget) the changes in housing benefit, council tax support and the postponed benefit cap, will also be hitting the least well-off.  It is yet to be confirmed whether Brent Council will be implementing a Council Tax increase and whether they will use their reserves to limit the cuts.


Anonymous said...

Martin - great post - would like to hear a bit more detail about your ideas for how a 'proactive campaign' against the cuts would work and how it would differ from the marches, letters, opinion pieces etc. that have been used so far. Do you advocate Brent not passing balanced budgets to protest cuts? How would you have saved £106 million otherwise?

Martin R said...

The Brent Council expenditure in 2011/2012 was £1042 million. It is my understanding that the £106 m cuts was for a three year period. Thus by cutting about 3% each year the Council will have reached its target.Much of this expenditure relates to the high cost of administration of services. So for example in that period there were 5 people administering the Voluntary Sector budget of about £900,000. This means that, at least, say £150,000 or so would have been staff overheads ie about 13%. This is very high. The cut of one person and the closing of an office would have dealt with the overspend. Imagine this multiplied by all the various departments and voila- the cuts are resolved.

Anonymous said...

Haven't the council already got rid of lots of Directors and hundreds of staff?

What about redundancy costs?

And who will run all the services if all the staff are gone?

Seems a bit of a simplistic budget on the back of a cigarette box am afraid