Sunday, 18 September 2016

Brent Council budget 'coup' an affront to democracy?

In a posting prior to Monday's Cabinet meeting LINK I drew attaention to the possible decision by the Cabinet to freeze the Council's Revenue Support Grant (RSG) until 2019/20 which would mean setting out an 'efficiency' plan for Council expenditure over the next four years to be submitted to the Department for Communities and Local Government. Due to the timing of Cabinet and Council and government deadlines the Officers' report recommended that these decisions, as well as one on Council borrowing, would not be made by Cabinet or Full Council but by one councillor and one officer in each case.

I wrote:
It is not only the decision in principle that has to be made by Butt and Downs but an 'efficiency plan' submitted that will dictate the level of savings (cuts, 'efficiencies' and income generation) over the next four years.

These are major decisions and I do not understand why the Cabinet cannot convene a special meeting before the deadline to consider Downs' proposal and efficiency plan. The wider Labour Group as well as the opposition seem to have been left out of the process completely but their hands will be tied for the next four years by these decisions.
Put simply the main parameters of the Council's budget decisions will not be made by the Cabinet, Labour Group or Full Council - and certainly not discussed by Labour Party members.  Within that of course there is also the setting of the level of Council Tax.

When these matters come up for debate over the next four years any decisions will have to conform to the efficiency plan.

Given the clear difficulty the Council is already having in delivering 'efficient' services as a result of funding cuts the 'efficiency' plan needs intense scrutiny.

Instead it will be compiled by  Carolyn Downs, Brent Council CEO and Muhammed Butt, Leader o the Coucnil,  and submitted by them before the government deadline. Additionally the Cabinet agreed to delegate the appointment of specialist fianncial advisers to Conrad Hall, the Brent Chief Finance Officer and Cllr Margaret McLennan, Deputy Leader.

The Cabinet Decision sheet records:
RESOLVED: 2019/20 and option to fix RSG settlements
Cabinet noted the overall financial position and the risks inherent in it.
Cabinet noted the overall arguments for and against accepting a fixed settlement of its RSG until 2019/20, and that on balance the advice is in favour of accepting it.
Cabinet delegated to the Chief Executive and Leader authority to decide whether or not to accept the fixed RSG settlement.
Cabinet delegated to the Chief Executive and Leader authority to submit an efficiency plan to DCLG as part of any decision to accept a fixed RSG settlement.
Cabinet noted the position in particular in respect of business rates devolution and how this might progress, and that the chief finance officer will continue to respond to technical consultations as necessary.
Cabinet noted the progress in developing a financing programme for the investment strategy.
Cabinet agreed to delegate procurement and appointment of specialist financial advisers to assist in the financing of the investment strategy to the Chief Finance Officer, in consultation with the Deputy Leader
In the light of these issues Cllr John Warren (Leader of Brent Conservative Group) has submitted a request calling for an Extraordinary Full Council meeting to discuss the Efficiency Plan before its submission.

Although his motivation may be to achieve further 'efficiencies' (cuts) and I would strongly disagree with that, the need for democratic decision making and accountability is essential and I think should be shared by Labour backbenchers.

This is Warren's  request:

I ask that the following item be included as " Any Other Urgent Business " at the meeting on Monday September 19th 2016

Full Council is asked to consider the Cabinet recommendations, noted below made at its meeting on 13 September 2016 in the report " Financial Position 2017/18- 2019/20 and option to fix RSG settlement " by holding an Extraordinary Council Meeting on Thursday 13 October 2016.

       2.3. That Cabinet delegates to the Chief Executive and Leader authority to decide whether or not to accept the fixed RSG settlement.

       2.4.That Cabinet delegates to the Chief Executive and Leader authority to submit an efficiency plan to DCLG as part of any decision to accept a fixed RSG settlement.


Every year Full Council considers the annual budget, in detail ,at a special meeting called for  that purpose.

I believe that the Cabinet recommendations, detailed above, are an important part of this budget process .

I believe that Full Council should consider the issue of fixing RSG up until 2019/20,along with consideration of the efficiency plan attached to this deal.

The deadline for submission to DCLG is 14 October 2016  - hence the meeting on the 13 October 2016 will enable Full Council to debate fully these issues with up - to - date information.



Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group said...

The term 'efficiency savings' is a misnomer in a very unequal society. Nazis could well use such a phrase to address what is happening under the even nastier welfare reforms with benefit sanctions that came in since the 2010 General Election and that public consent has been levered in for via Conservative & Unionist Party conference speeches prior to 2010.

For more on what happens to really poor people impacted by local councils on those experiencing the nastiness of DWP policies such as benefit sanctions, see Revd Paul Nicolson comments on preview of Ken Loach's Palme D'Or winning 'I, Daniel Blake'.

Meanwhile, the current central Government probably thinks that by deterring vulnerable people from claiming benefits that help overcome the economic barriers that disabilities and health problems impose on individuals and their families, 'savings for the public purse' are being enacted. Giving up on a PIP application – the useless application process is just too difficult.

Does the Brent Council budget coup decision maker realise that applying for Universal Credit will be online only? How will Brent residents without computer access fare without public access to computers and computer time?

The 'welfare reformers', by inferring that benefit claimants are essentially suspect, has set up a Universal Credit system that makes fraud even more likely. GCHQ says Universal Credit poses serious security risks. Those who presume to decide what 'efficiency savings' might be need to wise up before the public wakes up to an awful hangover at the realisation of what is being done in the name of 'efficiency savings'. "Those who give the order seldom see the mess it makes."

Anonymous said...

I am somewhat concerned. If they agree to thus, how can they make this decision for the next 4 years. Are we not due to have Council Elections before the end if thus period? If so how can it be predicted that the same administration will be in power? Sorry is this Sralin or Gutler speaking? Is it the dictat of the madhouse? Is it the words of an autocratic leader who does not believe that he will ever topple and is immortal?

Philip Grant said...

I agree with you. If the Council Leader and Chief Executive sign up to the government's plan for a fixed Revenue Support Grant, and submit an "efficiency plan", it will seriously restrict the choices which our elected councillors can make in setting Council Tax until March 2020.

The next Brent Council elections are due in May 2018, so the new Council after that could be tied by a decision that was not even considered, let alone approved, by the existing Full Council. The eight Labour Cabinet members have voted to give the Labour Leader great powers, without Brent's other fifty-five elected councillors having any say in the matter! Does that seem right?