Saturday 25 January 2014

Brent's 2015-16 budget gap could still justify council tax referendum

Reflecting on Muhammed Butt's declaration yesterday that there were 'no plans to change course' on freezing council tax for the 2014-15 budget, I wonder what his plans are for 2015-16. In October the Council forecast a deficit for that year of  £34m (see below) a huge amount that on the council's own reckoning will put essential services at risk.

As political parties are deciding their manifestos for the May local elections surely they should be saying something about this crisis waiting for them in their first year of office.

In that respect a manifesto pledge to have a referendum on increasing council tax would make sense. Rank and file Labour party members and the wider public could than have a say and it could provide a launch pad for similar moves by other local authorities.  I do not think increases in council tax are the answer to the huge cuts in local authority funding, that of course requires the restoration of adequate funding, but a national debate post May 2014 leading up to the General Election in 2015 could feed into that demand. It will certainly put the future of local government on the General Election agenda.

The referendum debate in Brent, unlike in Brighton and Hove, may be closed in terms of the 2014-15 budget but should be very much a live issue for 2015-16. The electorate need to know how the competing parties would tackle the issue.

Meanwhile on February 4th the Budget Finance and Overview Scrutiny Committee will be discussing the draft budget for 2014-15. No details are included on the agenda except for the following statement:

The Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee will discuss and make recommendations on the draft 2014/15 budget. Councillor Ruth Moher, Lead Member for Corporate Resources and Deputy Leader of the Council, will present the draft budget and answer questions from members. While the committee will lead the discussion, this meeting is intended to give all non-Executive members the opportunity to participate in the budget scrutiny process and raise any questions or comments they may have on the draft budget.
These are the figures published on Wembley Matters in October 2013 LINK that signalled the upcoming crisis:



Budget Gap at Council Feb 2013

Reductions in Revenue Support Grant

Business Rate Top-Up

Additional Council Tax Freeze Grants

Business Rates - share of growth from baseline

New Homes Bonus

Collection Fund Surplus

Council Tax Base

Other Grants

Capital Financing

Latest Budget Gap

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