Thursday 14 January 2016

UPDATE: Muhammed Butt confirms 4% rise in Brent Council Tax

At a very poorly attended Budget Consultation meeting at Brent Civic Centre this evening Brent Council leader Muhammed Butt confirmed that he would be seeking an annual 4% Council Tax rise over the next 3 years  This would have raised an additional £20m by the end of the period.

In the first year this would be an increase of £42 a year (81pence a week) for Band D householders.

Questioned on the Council Tax Benefit scheme and whether it would be reviewed to protect vulnerable people from the impact of the increase he said that a review would take place but it would not be completed in time for this year's increase.

Cllr Pavey asked about using the reserves to preserve services said that he was undertaking a considered review looking at what could be done with the reserves via an investment strategy that would deliver useful financial benefit.

Questioned about maximising revenue from the Civic Centre and Willesden Green Library Cllr Michael Pavey conceded that the council historically had not been very good at raising revenue. The new 'Civic Enterprise' approach marked a genuine change that along with procurement savings could, if successful, contribute 25% towards closing the gap in the council budget.

Brent CEO Carolyn Downs responding to a question about the restricted opening hours of the Willesden Green Library and the danger that it would fail as a cultural centre,  admitted that Brent Council at present did not have the expertise to market it. The council were seeking to recruit someone with an arts and cultural background and  social enterprise experience to be a commercial director to raise revenue. She said that she was familiar with the argument that the restricted opening hours limited use of the Library/Cultural Centre.

Conrad Hall commenting on raising revenue through the Civic Centre said that the council was looking at the possibility of renting out a third floor of the Centre on a commercial basis.

He said that the projected savings were not yet enough to balance the budget by 2018-19 but successful revenue could help reach that target.

Cllr Butt said that the council workforce had been reduced from 2,900 to under 2,300 and that the propsoed cuts had redundancy implications. Answering a question about the number of highly paid managers in the council Carolyn Downs said that there had been a substantial reduction in managers. Those that remained had been allocated extra roles and responsibilities. The council was now operating efficiently with a smaller worker force and slimmer management.

Asked to report on his meeting with a junior minister at the Department of Communities and Local Government, Muhammed Butt outlined the areas that they had covered in the 30 minute meeting. These included the disproportionate extent of the cuts imposed on  Brent, the steps the borough was taking to deliver additional housing, the loss of the Revenue Support Grant by 2020, the loss of two year's worth of the New Homes Bonus, and the fact that funding for new schools was just for buildings and not for furniture, equipment and IT.

The minister said that the government did not intend to change anything: 'That's how much they care about the people of Brent."

Commenting on the meeting Cllr Pavey said. 'It was the biggest waste of half an hour I have ever spent!"

They had spoken to a subservient junior minister who was subservient to a senior minister who was subservient to the Treasury.

Asked about 'Red Lines'  LINK Cllr Pavey said it was an unashamed Labour Party attempt to unify Labour Councils in order to put pressure on the government to change its economic policy. Brent had been a founding member.

Their initial focus had been about the impact of the cuts on young people who had been first hit when they were at primary school and were now being hit as youth.  In February the campaign would centre around Adult Social Care and the injustice people were suffering under the capitalist system.

He finished by saying that other parties were welcome to join amidst jokes about the 'Green Line'.

A member of the audience, supported by friends, made several contributions detailing the impact of cuts and declining services on him as a deaf and almost blind person. He also called for more training of council staff in British Sign Language and catering for residents with those needs.  As the signer relayed his concerns the silent Conference Hall found itself facing the profound reality of the cuts. Both officers and councillors offered to communicate with him about the issues he had raised.

There were only 3 members of the public present at the beginning of the meeting, compared with 6 Brent officers in the audience. By the end of the meeting, which finished an hour early, there were 6 members of the public, 6 officers in the audience and Conrad Hall, Michael Pavey, Carolyn Dows and Muhammed Butt on the platform.


In a report going to the General Purposes Committee Conrad Hall updates the 'Council Tax Base' - the basis on which the Tax itself will be calculated:
The proposed council tax base for 2016/17 of 89,254 represents an increase of 6,455 over the figure for 2015/16. This will form part of the overall calculation of the Council’s budget. The increase is due to a combination of factors: a significant reduction in the total claimed for Council Tax Support (which pushes up the taxbase figure) new properties coming in to rating (including the allowance for 2,000 additional properties in the next year), and the increase in the collection level assumption of 1.0%. It is unlikely that there will be a similarly large increase in subsequent years. The increase in the assumed collection percentage will be a one-off, and it is unlikely that CTS will fall much further.



Anonymous said...

The beginning of last year Labour voted with George Osborne for cuts, so now they are using a budget they voted for as an excuse to get in extra money to waste. Figures.

Scott Bartle.

Alison Hopkins said...

The stupidity of all of this is that Brent could have been raising council tax since 2010 by 1.99 percent annually - I can't recall the exact cumulative total, but from memory of Finance meetings, it was in the net tens of millions. They chose not to because Ann John and then Butt wanted to claim political kudos for not raising council tax. But they'll employ a blasted chauffeur for the Mayor, of course.