Friday 13 February 2015

Brent Council: those who survived the axe (for now) and the victims

The cuts recommended to the Cabinet have now been published LINK. As expected the gap between the cuts of £54m required over two years and the £60m actually tabled during the consultation enables the Council to claim to have saved some services.

Despite recent moves by some backbench councillors to propose a rise in Council Tax of 1.99% to save some services, Council Tax is frozen for the 6th year. The councillors' move may have been too late to meet statutory deadlines.

The Budget Report itself does not refer to the petition from Stonebridge Adventure Playground in detail or, as far as I can see on first perusal, does not mention the number of signatories, and instead the future of its funding is dealt with in a separate report which ties the funding into the issue of the expansion of Stonebridge Primary School, which serves to complicate the matter.

It refers to alternative provision with a complete lack  od evidence or detail and it is hard to see how they could make up for what the playground provides (from their report):

The SAP enables children and young people to take part in a range of outdoor and indoor play experiences. Outdoor activities at the SAP include: outdoor adventure play, go-karting, gardening, and sports.

Indoor activities at the SAP include: games, arts and crafts, a ball pond, Wii games, and cooking. Other linked activities include trips, access and use of a narrow boat.
The scheduled opening hours are:

• Monday – Friday term-time, 2-7pm;

• Saturdays, 11am-4pm;

School holidays (summer, Christmas, Easter, and during the three School half-term breaks), 7am-6pm.
Some of the services which appear in the above list as 'not agreed' have other actions which will still impact on services.  Despite concersn about the capacity of the voluntart sector to take over Council functions this is a strategy adopted by the Council.

For example both CYP16 (Closing 10 children's centres) and CYP17 (Closing youth services) have agreed options (CYP1 and CYP3) that will out-source them to the voluntary sector and have the potential to reduce provision by the back door.

The proposal to transfer the management of the library services to a trust (ENS18) is to go ahead.

Energy Solutions will be expected to become self-financing but will receive a cushioning grant of £50,000 for 2015-16  during the transition,

It is worth looking at the rather contradictory statements in the Cabinet report on supporting people, that appear to doubt the capacity of the voluntary sector to provide the service but nonetheless recommend the cuts:
Proposal R&G27a would reduce the supporting people budget by £1m in 2016/17. This would be in addition to proposal R&G27, which would reduce the budget by £1.8m over two years. The current budget is £7.1m.
6.75    This additional saving would mean a significant reduction or selective cessation of services to provide supported housing and floating support of vulnerable individuals and families to assist them to maximise their independence and prevent homelessness. The service provides support to individuals with mental health needs, homeless families, ex-offenders, victims of domestic violence, young people at risk and isolated older people.
6.76    However, these services are not statutory requirements. There may be potential for VCS organisations to take on a greater burden of support for these client groups but it is very doubtful that there is capacity to do so to the extent implied by this saving in addition o the significant savings identified elsewhere in this area.
6.77    Supporting People services is a catch-all term for a variety of housing support services aimed at people who do not meet the council’s eligibility threshold for social care services. The services provided are intended to prevent clients developing greater caneeds by addressing housing issues. No significant comment has been received from the general public on this proposal, although  this may be because the term ‘supporting people’ is not well understood
6.78    Taking all of this into account leading Members have requested that officers prepare the budget on the basis that proposals R&G27 and R&G27a are agreed
The bulky waste original proposal has been modified to one free collection a year and  £25 for each additional collection.

Despite petitions opposing the cutting of school crossing patrols (ENS21) the Cabinet are recommended to approve it with schools expected to pay for the patrols themselves if they wish to retain the service. The fact that school budgets have not been reduced is cited to justify this.

The report outlines the devastating impact of the cuts on particularly groups but also argues that some have no equality implications as they affect all equally:
The proposals for budgetary savings are extensive and will affect everyone living and working in Brent. The Council h as already made extensive efficiencies and is now at a point where it is not possible to achieve the level of savings required without impacting on service delivery. It is inevitable that there will be a significant impact on those vulnerable people who are the greatest users of council services, particularly older people, disabled people and children. Many of the proposals would also have some negative differentia l impacts in relation to ethnicity or gender; one or two proposals would have a severe impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and in relation to pregnancy and maternity. The collective set of proposals will only have minimal impacts in relation to religion o r belief.

 Some of the proposals will have a negative impact on large numbers of people, regardless of their equality characteristics. Although these proposals will be unwelcome and are likely to attract significant public reaction, they are not considered to be problematic from an equalities perspective as they will not unfairly impact on any equality group
This is necessarily only a summary of a complex document but I hope that readers will feel moved to attend the 'Brent Fight Backs' meeting on Tuesday February 17th 7pm, at Tavistock Hall, off Harlesden High Street where people affected by the cuts will have a chance to speak out.

Lastly it is worth noting the very low number of individual written responses which totalled 37 but because some covered several topics have been counted altogether as 54. Day Centres and Adult Social Care (12), School Crossing Patrols (6) and Council Tax (5) were the highest.


Unknown said...

This whole 'consultation process' is a complete fraud and it makes me feel ill that the council has sought to pitch all of these different services against each other like this. The Hansard Society reported that in the last year only 12% of people contacted a councillor and only 9% of people responded to consultations. This results in a bias form of governance where those that shout loudest get the most - which is what the election of 63 Councillor's is meant to be protective against. Yet in Brent we have a cabal attacking vulnerable and marginalised groups of people who are unable to engage with these sorts of political processes.

The word 'saved' above the columns is particularly galling as it is not money 'saved', as it will 'cost' (although I reject this term) other public services in the long term.

Of course, 'cost' is an almost-Orwellian euphemism for pain that already marginalised people will be feeling. Yet causing pain is Labour Policy (Barry Gardiner cast his vote for more cuts the other week) and the councillors are just 'following orders'. I also reject this Nuremberg defence as there is an alternative - Greece has shown that the choice offered by the Green Party is a viable one.

Scott Bartle.

Anonymous said...

What people do not realize is that since 2010 when Con / Lib Dems took office National Debt has Actually DOUBLED from £750 Billion to now close to £1.5 TrillionTrillion

All the cuts and yet the National Debt has doubled in this time.

The real issue, as we have seen this week are the extremely wealth who do not pay tax. They are the real scroungers.