Thursday 24 December 2015

Brent Budget Scrutiny Panel recommend Council Tax rise to protect the most vulnerable

In a report to be discussed at the Scrutiny Committee meeting on January 6th 2016, Brent Budget Scrutiny Panel recommend that the Council raise Council Tax by the maximum of 2% which is allowed without a referendum as well as the 2% ring-fenced rise for adult social care.  Last year there was much controversey when Cllr John Duffy proposed an increase in Council Tax. LINK

The Panel  also call for the proposed 10% cut in road and pavement repairs to be abandoned.

On Council Tax their reasoning is set out as follows:

.        7.1  The minimum legal requirement on the Council this year is to set a balanced budget and a level of Council Tax for the forthcoming financial year. As noted above, we are satisfied that they will do the former, but we anticipate much further debate around setting the level of the latter.

.        7.2  During the last Parliament, the government offered a freeze grant to local authorities who froze or reduced their basic level of Council Tax. This was the equivalent to a 1 per cent increase in Council Tax in each financial year. Along with most local authorities, Brent accepted this grant in every year of the last Parliament and never increased its level of Council Tax.

.        7.3  The advantage of this policy was that the Council were able to receive some additional funds without asking local people to contribute any more through the Council Tax system.

.        7.4  This disadvantage was that the Council’s overall tax base would decline each year, as the additional funds provided could not increase cumulatively. Accordingly, The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) has estimated that had Council Tax risen in line with the Retail Prices Index measure of inflation of the course of the last Parliament, average council tax bills would be £168 higher next year, yielding an extra £2.8bn in funding for local authorities. This amount is equivalent to the entire road maintenance budget for the UK or the public health grant for local authorities.

.        7.5  In their Local Government Settlement announced before Christmas, the government announced both that the freeze grant would henceforth be abolished, and that Councils would continue to only be able to raise Council Tax up to 2 per cent without having a run a referendum.

.        7.6  We feel that these dual announcements leave the Council with little option but to increase Council Tax by the maximum allowed in this budget. It is understandable that the Council has decided not to increase Council Tax in previous years to protect residents, but in accepting the freeze grant, Brent has left its Council Tax base at a level several years out of date, and if action is not taken soon this baseline will be far behind what is required to run services in the future.

.        7.7  We also understand that this will have an impact on our residents. We therefore recommend that the Council reviews its Council Tax support scheme including any potential increase which might need to be made to protect the most vulnerable in the borough.

.        7.8  Likewise, the government have also announced that they will allow Councils to increase Council Tax by a further 2 per cent if the money is ring fenced to spend on social care. We feel that this option should also be carefully considered by the Council as a way to prevent the most drastic of cuts in this area. 

The recommendation on road and pavement repairs states:

.        6.4 ….we are very concerned about proposal MGF002, which proposes to cut the core budget for core highways maintenance by 10 per cent. It was noted that the list of potential risks associated with this item was longer than many others, something particularly alarming in light of the overall saving being relatively low at £50,000.
.        6.4  The report notes openly that this cut will lead to fewer active repairs, something which could be dangerous for residents, but also severely damage the reputation of the Council, particularly at a time when Council charges and taxes may be set to increase. It also risks additional costs in litigation arising from possible accidents arising as a result of poorly maintained roads and pavements.
.        6.5  We recommend that this proposal be dropped and that instead the Council examines if alternative ways to repair the street scene will decrease the need for reactive action in the long term.
.        6.6  For example, it was noted that tarmacking or concreting pavements leads to more even surface than paving slabs and does not give space for plants to grow upwards and damage the surface. Prioritising such alternatives may help to save the authority in the long term rather than always replacing paving stones on a like-for-like basis.
.        6.7  Another idea raised was to seek an outside partner to doggedly pursue illegal rubbish dumpers in the borough. The partner would be incentivised by being able to keep a large percentage of fines generated but the Council would realise long term savings as levels of illegal rubbish dumping – and associated clean-up costs – decrease. A similar approach could also be taken to people who drop litter or who do not clean up after their dogs.
The Panel  calls for Scrutiny Committee involvement to be much earlier in the budget making process and makes an overall critique of the package:

.        4.4 Our main broad critique of the package is that it lacks a common thread or philosophical story. The package instead appears to be a collection of disparate ideas brought together in order to reach the final figure required.
.        4.5  A clear example of this would be in the DOE001 proposal to increase the take up of direct payments for home care and community support. This is simply presented as a savings proposal rather than as part of the Council’s long-term vision of how to deliver care.
.        4.6  We feel that setting out the Council’s concrete vision at the start of the process, and ensuring that each proposal made aids progress towards that vision, rather than stalling it, would be an approach which would better ensure this continuity of purpose in future years.
There is much else of interest in the full report that can be found below:


Anonymous said...

Maybe they will reconsider the budget on road repairs after a Cabinet member tripped on a broken paving stone and smashed their face up in a street with no lighting while canvassing in the Kensal Green by-election.

Philip Grant said...

I am pleased to see that the Budget Scrutiny Panel has made the same points about the effect on Brent's Council Tax base which I, and others, made last year. I made these points both in comments on Wembley Matters, and in emails to my ward councillors and to the Deputy Leader (and Lead Member for Finance), with copy to Cllr. Butt.

The cumulative damage to the Council's ability to pay for vital services of NOT raising Council Tax was ignored last year because of the intransigence of the Council Leader, who forced his Labour Group to back him. Unnecessary cuts, such as the closure of the Stonebridge Adventure Playground, were the result of a decision made for political, rather than economic, reasons.

I doubt whether Cllrs Butt and Pavey will admit that they made a mistake last year, but I sincerely hope that they will agree with the sensible advice of the Budget Scrutiny Panel this time round.

Philip Grant.

Anonymous said...

Today is Christmas, the council has always seen council tax as their gift and with the lack of three wise men have given themselves lots of presents. From iPads & iPhones to magical holograms, pay rises and even a Santa (Mayor) costing over quarter of a million a year. As well as receiving, they have been giving to developers land and property that was once ours. They have also given to business, employment agencies have never had it so good and just because the favoured one used to have a Labour Cllr employed as a director is of no significance. They have increased inequality so the richest children can feel much better off in contrast to the poorest. Now they want more money as they have squandered what that've got pretending it is all the fault of the big bad Tories, when their own MPs voted alongside them.

Anonymous said...

Which Labour Cllr is the director???? Spill the beans!

Alison Hopkins said...

I think 09:10 on the 25th is referring to Bernard Collier's links to the employment agency whose name has escaped me.

Nan. said...

Bloomsbury Consulting, Alison.