Monday 26 February 2018

Duffy puts forward his budget ideas for Brent

By Cllr Duffy

Over the last 10 years we have seen major cuts in government support. To a degree it is amazing how the council have successfully delivered services on many fronts particularly in Adult Social Care (indeed all social care) against the backdrop of an increasing demand. In my opinion we have also delivered improving services in our housing department, by taking the service in-house. Also the MetPatrol plus scheme seems worth while and should be affective once it fully operational , both of these without cutting workers wages.

However in my opinion the administration has made many mistakes, their first mistake was the failure to increase the Council Tax in 2014/15 to ensure we kept up with inflation and mitigated some of the government cuts. The first budget I was involved in 15/16 was frozen, while at the same time we were arguing the government had cut our grant to excessively. It is strange that the Leader of the council argued against raising the council tax with one member close to the leader saying they had to make "sandwiches for children at their school" and those pupils would suffer (they must have never heard of pupil premium ) if we put up the Council Tax by 25p a week.It very strange the same member  who is now a member of the cabinet is putting it up 84p a week tonight and says nothing now...I could never understand that argument as it lack any financial or intelligent basis and was a serious mistake. 

The mistake cost Brent Council over £4 million pound of income, over the last three years. If the Labour group had a financial and intelligent debate instead of the leadership steamrolling  the decision through, the council would be in a better financial position for the last 2 years and  would have more freedom on the level of council Tax tonight.

The administration somehow fail to understand because of government cuts it is important we produce policies that produce VFM,looked for additionally and even partnerships and above all  smart management to improved service outcomes. The Labour administration fail to understand their role is to instruct officers on the priorities of our residents and not for officers to instruct the administration on their priorities.The Cabinet continue to believe if their policies fail they can always make the resident pay via the council Tax to fund their failures.

For instances the attempted to privatise the Environment Enforcement Service employment by employing Kingdom Securities and cutting wages by 40% cost the council over £100k. So to make the money back the cabinet have decided to punish the residents for their own mistake.They have introduced a £35 charge for Household Bulky collections. The charged should be dropped because in the medium and long -term it will increase street dumping and residents should not be punished for failed policies.

The other problem remains that the cabinet have no co-ordinated approach to Environmental Enforcement, a schools environmental awareness programme or a street cleaning protocol and just rely on increasing costs to the residents. These issue are of low cost and should be funded by partnerships.

Green bins another service that the cabinet continue to increase charges to cover-up their lack of management. I have always believed the rule is  when you raise an Environmental Tax's they were based on the polluter pays. However this administration have change they rule into Environmental tax's means the recycler pays .I believe by cutting the cost to £25 a year for a bin and increasing participation to above 45% would make it cost neutral.  

It is now clear they over the last two years we having been burying many residents in builders rubble ( including Asbestos) while charging them for burial in earth The cost of that unethical behaviour will cost up to £900k in lost revenue and the removal of the contaminated waste. As usual the cabinet have come with a scheme to cover the costs by putting up burial charges for residents when that are at their most vulnerable. Again the cabinet making the residents pay for their own mistakes , they did not transport the contaminated waste to  Paddington Cemetery the council did. The increase in  burial  charges should be dropped .I believe the costs for the remedial works in Paddington Cemetery can still be managed within excising budgets over a three year period, with increase revenue for new burials once the contaminated waste has been removed. The council should not increase charges until they can guarantee the internal processes within the Cemetery service have improved.

The Conservative party argue that we should cut the reserves, in my view the reserves should stay and they are should be earmarked for the upgrading of fire prevention council housing blocks. Its approx.8 months since Grenfell fire disaster and all councillors should remember the council  took the decision that the cost would not fall on the Housing Revenue Account alone and would fall on the general rates , if the government refused to pay for the improvements .

Also remembering after the fallout from Grenfell senior politicians from all political parties said they have learn the lessons and communities like Grenfell  will not be ignored .Therefore it is important that the cabinet are not allowed to raid South Kilburn CIL which is due to the area following the regeneration works .This money was allocated to Kilburn because the residents have lived in a building site over the last few years  and is their money .The Kilburn CIL should not be used by the cabinet to cover up their inability to get additional [funding] and sponsorship and should be earmarked for Kilburn or other areas of deprivation. I hope the other 2 Kilburn councillors will argue for this and show empathy and solidarity with the residents of Kilburn and not allow much needed resources to be robbed from those in most need.

I will be voting for the 3.99% rise,  as I remain hopeful the Labour group will call the cabinet to account and stop them passing the costs of their failure onto the council taxpayer. 

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