|From the report on the budget consultation|
Brent Council is to implement a budget reduction of £20.9m out of the total of £26.2m it recently consulted on. Finance Director, Conrad Hall, claimed that they had gone for the ‘least worse’ of the options in terms of service reduction. Cabinet will consider the proposals at its meeting on February 11th.
Council Tax will be increased by 5.77% bring it to an annual £1,582.25 for Band D, £30.44 a week.
As with government budget reviews those responsible expect to fight for their departments. In Brent Council’s case Environment, lead member Cllr Krupesh Sheth, seems to have lost out.
The cuts most likely to be noticed by the public are ending litter picking in residential streets and removing their litter bins, reducing parks maintenance to a ‘reactive’ service, dimming street lights, reducing the opening hours of the Recycling Depot and a review of staffing in the Regeneration and Environment department equal to £1.5m in 2019-20 and £450k in 2020-21. This would remove 48 full time equivalent posts and would be accomplished by voluntary redundancies followed by compulsion if too few people come forward. The report does not make clear what the impact of this staffing reduction would be on services saying only: ‘This would be a ‘downsizing’ exercise that will make teams leaner and would require a remodelling of structures to mitigate the impact on service delivery.’
Officers admit that the proposals on litter would have a negative impact on ‘customer satisfaction’ and that reduced hours at the Recycling Depot may lead to more dumping of waste.
The report on the outcome of consultation on the proposal notes:
The most popular theme was in relation to the local environment where over 20% of respondents stated refuse collection and clean streets were important to them.
EARLY YEARS HELP CUT
In Children and Young People services there is a proposal to cut Early Years help by two staff and to charge more for the service. The stated risks are:
· Quality of local provision as measured by Ofsted declines. This is mitigated through ensuring charging is applied equitably and continues to fund high quality training for providers. The potential to join up Early Years services within the existing Setting and School Effectiveness and the Forward Planning, Performance and Partnership services is explored.
· Nurseries and childminders negative reaction to service changes. Mitigation in implementing the learning from recent Customer Services reconfiguration that provides a greater focus on a digital offer of support to childcare settings.· Challenge to secure and maintain sufficient place provision to meet the 30 hour entitlement.
CHILDREN’S CENTRES CLOSURES
Even more worrying for people who believe that the previous Labour Government’s Children’s Centres were a success in terms of early intervention is the proposal to close Children’s Centres in 2020-21. At present there are 14 contracted out to Barnardos and 3 council run. The total will be reduced to 8 with just 2 council run left. They will be replaced by ‘Family Hubs’:
· The aims and objectives of the Family Hubs will closely align with the agreed Outcome Based Reviews that considered children on the edge of care and involved in gang activity. The objectives will be closely aligned to key Public Health outcomes related to children and their families.
This will leave a lot of families with young children out and the report recognises under ‘Key Risks and Mitigations’:
· Disproportionate impact on most vulnerable families. The risk is mitigated by the creation of family hubs that will widen the age range of support available to families who require support and target the hubs in the areas of the borough that have the greatest level of need.· Early intervention outcomes worsen for children. The risk is mitigated by ensuring the design of the new family hub model uses research findings to make best use of available resources and that these are broadened to cover school age children. This will allow greater reach of new targeted services into families than is currently possible with the existing model.· Public reaction following service redesign. This will be mitigated by ensuring effective consultation and engagement with local communities and engaging them in the design and delivery process.· Quality of work provided to families from the new model deteriorates due to lack of investment. This risk is mitigated by moving to a targeted model, focusing the available resource on those families who most require support
A risk worth taking with young lives when there is so much evidence that early intervention can stop problems occurring later in life? Look what tops the list of the themes (screen grab above) that emerged from the consultation!
Again an extract from consultation submissions make you wonder how much notice was taken:
Other popular choices included Children Centres and services around childcare and children. Over 10% of the respondents so far are in favour of keeping Children Centres. With reference to Children Centres one respondent stated:
‘Children Centres are very important to me and many others. It has been my link to gaining information and advice since my baby was born. I have made friends and shared experiences with other parents, I am a single mum and sometimes you feel so alone. The centre have been amazing I even did a course whilst my child was being looked after to understand how to introduce books to your child.’
Another respondent stated:
‘I believe Brent have some of the best Children’s Centres in the country, and the training and support we offer have a positive impact on the families in our Borough.’
COUNCIL'S ROUNDWOOD YOUTH PROVISION DISCONTINUED
The proposal to stop council run youth provision at the Roundwood Centre is retained with alternative education provision being provided (it does not say who the provider would be) with the voluntary sector providing youth services as wrap-around. The council’s assessment is that the risk that central government may clawback the MyPlace funding used to build the Centre, if ongoing youth provision does not take place there, is mitigated by the fact that they have not taken action against similar schemes.
END METROPOLITAN POLICE PATROL FUNDING
These are extra officers funded by the Council.There are two proposals one to reduce the number of officers from 12 to 6 from April 2020 and the other to stop funding altogether:
The 12 Met Patrol Plus officers known as the ‘Partnership Tasking Team’ (PTT) for year 17/18 have recorded over 4000 responses related to the Safer Brent Partnership priorities; namely, Anti-Social Behaviour, Gangs, Serious Violence, Domestic and Sexual Abuse, Child Sexual Exploitation, Offender Management and Hate Crime. Such responses have included various outcomes:1900 disruptions, over 200 arrests, over 100 weapon sweeps and 200 PSPO/CPN/FPN warnings and fines being issues. As well as enforcement the PTT have also led positive Police engagement in our community, more than 120 times.
Risk and mitigation:
This service is over and above the existing borough Police provision. Borough Police have reduced numbers and focus the asset they do have on MOPAC priorities and more general targeted outcomes.We will have reduced/zero Police asset to task/deploy and focus on our priorities based on the requests/needs of our residents.
STOP SMOKING SERVICE
The Council will decommission the ‘smoking cessation service’ from GPs and community pharmacies except for pregnant women and mental health service users. in 2017-18 1,143 smokers were supported to quit. Its on-line replacement has not performed well so far.
Key risks and mitigations:
Opposition from GPs due to potential increased consultations and prescription costs for nicotine replacement therapy. However quitters would still result in cost savings to the NHS.Strong opposition from community pharmacies who would lose income (42 pharmacies received between £50 and £19,000 income from the service in 17/18)Precedents have been set: Harrow and Havering have discontinued smoking cessation services, Ealing has recently consulted on plans to do so.The Council would remain part of the London Smoking Cessation Transformation Programme which is testing on line, digital and telephone support. It should be noted the programme has produced very small numbers of quits to date but it has undoubted potential
CUSTOMER SERVICES CUTS
Brent Customer Services have already experienced considerable job cuts and changes in service and this will continue with a switch to mainly digital channels with a total cut over two years of £500k with 6 full time equivalents lost in 2019-20 and 5 more in 2020-21.
There is limited recognition of the danger of ‘digital exclusion of the vulnerable and the elderly:
Some customers unable to utilise digital offer –· Officers available to help with self-service· Expansion of Community Hibs to support vulnerable residents· Promotion of IT skills courses· Appointments available for the most vulnerable· Customers experience of self service is poor discouraging use of this· Continued improvement and promotion of the Council’s digital offer· Feedback on current self service facilities is used to improve this· Residents are involved in the design and testing of new self service facilities
These are the headline items but there are is plenty more in the budget papers. I will cover proposals re Council Tax Support separately. The proposal to cut library hours or close one altogether has been dropped along with the potential closure of all Children’s Centres. Reduction is adult social carers visit times has been dropped but there are proposals to reduce payment to providers which could result in some withdrawing or low wages being reduced further.