Brent's 2017-18 budget comes under scrutiny at the Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday January 9th. The Task Group's report appears to have been written before the Communities Secretary's announcement that larger local authorities could raise Council Tax by 5.99% in 2017-18 if 3% was earmarked for social care services. At present the Council intends to raise the tax by 2.99% - the maximum previously allowed without a referendum.
The Task Group, on the basis that the 2017-18 was largely decided last year, makes a number of recommendations on a longer term basis:
1. Brent should dedicate some time and intellectual space to mapping out the potential consequences of Brexit for the borough, particularly in the areas of population, housing and manufacturing exports.
2. Brent should advocate a form of sub regional investment for the “strategic investment pot” produced in the London business rates pool, if the arrangement becomes permanent. The West London Alliance could deliver investment in our region of London.
3. The criteria Brent should adopt for strategic investment are as follows:
· That the capital investment should have a spend to save rationale, and, in some way, reduce Brent’s anticipated revenue spending in forthcoming years.
· That the investment aligns with the Council’s political priorities.
· That the investment should represent a sound long-term financial decision.
· That the money spent makes a significant positive impact on the lives of the most vulnerable in Brent.
4. Brent should leave no stone unturned in attempts to grow the local private sector. Two ideas it should specifically look at are appointing a business champion and using the procurement system to support local businesses.
5. A report on progress in delivery of the new sexual health services for the borough should come before Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny in six months’ time.
6. The Council should always give due consideration to ensuring a geographical spread when strategically purchasing property.
7. The Council should set a target to keep bulky waste collection requests low in order to reduce costs and the amount of materials finding their way into landfill.
8. The special collection service page of the Brent website should be re- designed to give maximum exposure to alternative and sustainable options which residents can use to dispose of bulky waste, particularly charity retailers in the borough. Helpline staff should also be trained to offer alternative options in the first instance.
9. The Council should look to develop sustainable ways for people to dispose of mid-sized waste items as a way of reducing illegal rubbish dumping.
11. The Council should look into the possibility of hiring an external partner to find more advertising space in the borough on a no-win no-fee basis.
12. A review of pavement licencing in Brent should be carried out to see how much we could generate from this source. This should take particular account of price and enforcement.
Brexit could reduce the population of Brent as EU citizens return home and thus reduce the Council Tax base as well as impact on local industry, particularly building, and reduce the number of pupils in local schools, creating falling school rolls.
The Task Group go into the issue of Business Rates in some detail as this is likely to be a major source of income in the future. For a trial period there will be a pool system for London boroughs, the 'London Investment pot' led by the City of London, to distribute the monies. At the commencement there will be a one-off windfall of approximately £4.9 million for the borough and the Task Group suggest:
One potential investment which would meet these criteria (see 3 above) would be the building or purchase of more properties for use as temporary accommodation. The Council currently spends significant sums on rents in the private sector for those in Brent who are homeless. Running more of our own properties would reduce this annual revenue cost as per our criteria above. The properties would also not be subject to Right-to-Buy legislation which currently makes it so difficult for local authorities to build true social housing, as they cannot hedge their investment over a long period of time, knowing that they may be forced to sell any of their properties at a rate below market value just three years after building it. This idea would also have a clear advantage for the most vulnerable people in our borough.
The Task Group acknowledge that the Council's initiative to raise cash through selling advertising space on its buildings has had very limited success, raising only £62k rather than the £300k anticipated. They advocate the Council fund an external partner to seek out such space.
The Task Group note that many Brent residents do not have cars and recommend that the Council introduce collection points for recycling mid-range range goods. The Recycling Centre is not accessible by pedestrians:
One recommendation that may be controversial is 12 above. The Task Group remark that there is a lack of enforcement on shops and bars that spill displays and tables out into pavement space and suggest that income could be generated through a pavement licensing system. Businesses on streets such as Ealing Road and Kingsbury Road would be particularly affected.