Sunday 7 February 2021

Only 10% of on-line respondents agree with Brent's budget proposals as Council Tax rises by 5.99%, but to be fair only 29 people responded!


 A key table from the on-line consultation

Tomorrow morning's Cabinet meeting will approve the budget proposals set out earlier which includes an overall Council Tax rise of 5.99% and £15.1m cuts. 


Council Tax


GLA Precept

In theory the budget is not approved until it goes to a full council meeting but in effect it will be approved tomorrow as Labour hold 94% of Brent Council seats and most Labour members won't say 'Boo to a butt.'

Usually the three person Conservative opposition fail to put forward anything like a fully costed alternative budget. This will be the first time the lone Liberal Democrat will have contibuted to a budget debate.

Often the debate turns into a fairly predictable political dogfight with initial grandstanding by the Council leader degenerating into political point scoring as if he is on the national stage - which is where he wants to be, of course.

The interests of residents get lost in the sound and fury.

 Much will be made of the fact of consultation - a Scrutiny Task Force, Audit and Standards Committee, two virtual Brent Connects Meeting and an on-0nline consultation but the Report by Minish Patel, airily states:

Having considered the various comments made, including through the consultation, scrutiny and equalities processes, officers have been instructed to proceed with the budget proposals as previously set out.

It's not entirely  clear who did the considering and who issued the instruction.

The fact that 59% of the on-line respondents disgreed with the budget proposals makes no difference and might explain why so few take part. Even if more did, the Council has things covered:

Comments and feedback on the budget consultation demonstrates a wide range of views, many common viewpoints and emphasises the fact that Brent residents are concerned over what the expenditure reductions mean not only for them but also for the wider community. 

And anyway:

All of these consultation responses are important. Members need to have regard to them, but are not obliged to follow the suggestions made. It is relevant to note that the consultees are, statistically speaking, “self-selecting” and therefore not necessarily reflective of opinion in the borough as a whole, nor are they necessarily statistically significant.


On the other hand, the people who have responded have chosen to take the time to review the Council’s proposals and to contribute their thoughts, and often their views will be representative of the views of a much larger number of people.

Notice that individual councillors and backbenchers are not mentioned in the list of consultees - that would have happened at a Labour Group meeting behind closed doors with attendees instructed not to leak to blog writers.

Concern over the plight of residents faced with another increase in their Council Tax is addressed in this paragraph:

While it is acknowledged that increasing Council Tax will be difficult for some households, it should also be recognised that the Council continues to invest in the Council Tax Support scheme, which provides over £30m of support for around 28,000 households who are financially vulnerable. In addition, the Spending Review announced £670m of new funding in recognition of the increased costs of providing local council tax support. Brent’s share of this has been confirmed as £4m and will be used to support economically vulnerable people and households in the borough.

Suggestions are made each year that the Council should use some ots reserves to fund basic services rather than increase the Council Tax. Finance Officers address the issue of reserves in this section of the report:

Brent held total reserves of £398m as at 31 March 2020. On the face of it this would appear to be a high figure, but the following analysis shows that in practice the figure for all practical purposes is substantially lower. £264m (66%) of these reserves are for the funding of the Council’s ambitious capital programme. £30m (8%) is legally ring fenced for bodies such as our maintained schools and the Housing Revenue Account. £69m (17%) of reserves have been earmarked for a specific purpose or future expenditure commitment. This includes reserves managed by departments (for example unspent government grants with ring fenced commitments set aside to meet expenditure pressures) and reserves used to smooth out expenditure that by its nature will vary considerably from year to year and avoid uncontrollable under and over spends, for example insurance claims, PFI contracts, redundancy and pension costs. £21m (5%) are reserves that are earmarked to manage the future funding risks and it was primarily set aside to manage the potential impact of the Fair Funding Review. As a result of the impact of COVID-19, this reserve may be required to manage any one off pressures arising that cannot be met through the growth built into the budget, as set out in section 5.16. Finally, £15m (4%) is a general reserve which is held as a contingency against unforeseen events (for example unexpected in-year overspends, failure to identify sufficient savings to balance the budget in-year or future funding risks) and to ensure that the Council has sufficient funds available to meet its cash flow requirements. The general reserve is relatively low when compared to other London Boroughs and is only c5% of the Council’s net budget.

The Cabinet Meeting is on Monday February 8th at 10am and can be viewed via this LINK

 Details of the savings (cuts?) and other documents can be found HERE 


Anton Georgiou said...

I will not be attending Brent Council’s Cabinet meeting tomorrow morning.

- It is not a space for constructive debate as decisions are predetermined by members

- I refuse to put myself into a hostile environment until I’ve heard back on concerns about the Leader’s (Cllr Butt's) aggressive behaviour towards me

However, I have read the Cabinet papers, which relate to the proposed Budget, and have sent 20 questions to the Director of Finance. (I wouldn’t have received full answers in the meeting tomorrow)

Despite being the lone Lib Dem, without group rights, I’m aiming to present alternative suggestions, which will focus on the Council Tax rise element of the budget - which many residents I have spoken to are stunned by (clearly including the 29 who responded to the consultation..), particularly after the difficulties of the past year.

Having read the papers, I know that the proposed Brent Labour Council Tax hike could be as much as halved. The roughly 6% rise will devastate many in the borough. The reality is that more could be done locally, by the Labour administration, to stop this excessive rise. Why don't they?

The Cabinet papers detail monies in reserves, that should be dipped into now to offset further financial burden being placed on residents. These reserves could be used now to meet a number of items of one-off expenditure. What is the point of special and emergency reserves if they aren't used at times like these?

I reiterate, it is both possible to safeguard essential services and minimise the 6% rise in Council Tax.

I will continue working with Council officers on my suggestions and will be making them public ahead of Full Council/ the Budget and Council Tax setting meeting on 22nd February. Unfortunately, as I am not afforded group rights, I will only be able to intervene in the debate, though today I asked for clarification on whether I can speak more than once.

Alison Hopkins said...

I need to fish the minutes out, but I'm fairly sure Finance Scrutiny recommended a figure WAY lower than £400 million in reserves.

Where did all that money come from and what's this ambitious capital programme when it's at home?

Anonymous said...

If you’ve never been to a Cabinet meeting, how do you know that’s what it’s like?

Are these the first set of Cabinet papers that you’ve read?

Are these the first report-specific questions you’ve asked of a ‘director’?

How do you “know” that services can be protected without an increase in council tax?

Have you taken advice or opinion from a public finance expert?

Are you not concerned about the power your position affords you regarding your moral responsibility to publish accurate information?

Your are offering opinion dressed up as fact. There are people who listen to you that will swallow your misinformation whole.

Will you publish those 20 questions here, please?

Anonymous said...

Read the external auditor’s report.

Vast majority of the money allocated/ring-fenced for explicit purposes.

Actual spare cash levels considered on the low side.

Councils can’t run deficits, but by the nature of their local (monthly paid) tax funding, are at constant risk of negative cashflow. LA’s therefore need a sizeable overdraft to balance the year.

It’s a multi-billion pound operation on which a lot of people’s lives depend.

Do you have specific, evidence-based concerns about a particular service?

Or is it just that you don’t like the people calling the shots?

Alison Hopkins said...

As the former chair of Brent's Finance Scrutiny, I can tell you those cash levels would not have been considered low. And I'm well aware of how broken LA financing is. Successive governments for many deacdes have chosen not to address that, preferring to increase central power.

Anonymous said...

Anton, if you've never attended or particpated in a Cabinet meeting how could you know what they are like?

On the points you make, have you taken advice from a public finance expert before arriving at your conclusions?

If not, would it not be more responsible to state that these are your personal opinion and that they are things that you ''think'' rather than things that you ''know''?

Anonymous said...

In Grant Thornton's own words from September's auditor report (which is glowing of Brent's financial management under very difficult circumstances, btw):

''...the non-earmarked reserves position is relatively low but within the expected range for London borough councils.''

Anonymous said...

Alison, successive governments since 2010 have savaged local government heaping unbearable pressures on those that depend on the services councils provide. For you to try and reduce that awful reality to ''...have chosen not to address that...'' is deeply offensive.

paul lorber said...

Each 1% rise in the Council Tax extracts about £1.2 million from Brent Council Tax payers.
Labour Councillors are proposing an over all rise of almost 6% (with around 1% rise coming from the Labour Mayor of Brent).
Over the years the Council has collected Council Tax from local people to build up various reserves and these now total £94 million (The £15 million General Reserve is just one part of this).
There is for example £6 million for implementing London Living Wage. But none of this is being used this year even though Council Tax payers are being charged an extra £1.5 million by Labour Councillors for part implementation this year. Council Tax payers will also be charged an extra £1 million this year for something called "Allowance for Uncertainty" - this in effect adding another £1 million to unspecified reserves on top of the existing £15 million. The Council has also agreed to pay a bonus of £500 to each member of staff at a certain level costing over £1 million and contributing to the Council Tax rise. This is 'one off' expenditure and should be paid for from reserves and NOT by expecting Council Taxpayers to pay this year and every year thereafter. Of course Labour Councillors will say there is No alternative BUT of course there is and simply ensuring that local Taxpayers do not pay twice for something that they effectively already paid for in building up a £94 million reserve would help to halve the Labour rise to 3%. Council staff would still get their bonus and London Living Wage would continue to be implemented as nothing is being cut.

Trevor Ellis said...

I'd to to see comments from local residents
rather than those from Cllrs who will ( arguably) bear the strain better than the former.

Speaking from the perspective of an ordinary Band B working class resident
who is already feeling the pressure of paying a considerable amount each month towards council tax,
I don't welcome the thought of that pressure being increased just so that Brent council and The Mayor can keep things going.
Further to that, I find it extremely difficult to see where my money is being spent?
I feel as if I'm paying and getting little or nothing in return
and I'm pretty sure that I'm not the only one.

Trevor Ellis said...

I agree with Paul Lorber's comment about the "£94 million reserve"
regardless of him being on the side of The Liberal Democrats.

If what he said is true about (for want of a better phrase) an excess amount of our money that has built up over the years,
why should local residents be forced to pay more?

I don't expect to receive a straight answer to my simple question
but it would help especially if it were honest.

Alison Hopkins said...

Why are the anonymous commenters here assuming that Anton knows nothing about public finance, or governance? Anything to do with his supposed age again?

Why are they assuming he's never been to a Cabinet meeting? You do not, by the way, get to participate in them. Decisions, as Martin says, have already been taken. It's a rubber stamp excercise mixed in with a bit of willy waving and grandstanding.

Why are they assuming he's never asked questions of a service head? Could it because they themselves never have?

The attitudes from Mo's chums here are very telling. I understand entirely why Martin allows anonymity: it's been needed for protection in the past. But it's pretty shameful that the keyboard warriors on the attack are so cowardly.

As to "chosen not to address that", that's precisely what I mean: governments since Tahtcher and before have known how broken LA financing is and have done nothing.

Anonymous said...

No assumptions - all questions, easily answered.

Having attended Cabinet/Exec meetings before I can tell you that a formal request is required and ones name, etc is recorded in the minutes.

That bat-related call-in had an impact, didn't it? Power of participation.

As for anonymity, why is identity so important to you? What do you need to know about my person in order to address my points?

Anonymous said...

Let’s be honest, if Cllr G knew anything about it he’d be asking better questions and making better arguments.

Age has no bearing on competence. Effort does, though. He should give it a try.

Alison Hopkins said...

Why is anonymity important?

Simply this: it’s cowardice to personally attack anyone in such a way.

What are those who do so afraid of?

Do they not have the courage to say what they think under their real identity?

What do they have to hide?

I think I know the answer,

Anonymous said...

What is the total percentage rise in tax over the past decade? As it goes up year on year

Anonymous said...

Dear Anonymous 9 February 2021 at 18:20 Council Tax was frozen in Brent for about 5 years during the last 10, it is the Tory Government's Austerity program that has forced the Council Tax rises on us all.

Anonymous said...

Good question/good point.

In real terms council tax in Brent is about 5% lower today than a decade ago.

Cllr Michael Maurice said...

Brent has always been the borough of high taxation, I remember in 1990 the rates were £1200 a year, When the Conservatives took over the new community Charge dubbed the poll tax, brought it down to a reasonable level,

Under Labour, the Council Tax went up. Then Cameron's Government brought some stability by giving grants provided that Council's didn't raise Council Tax.

Everyone seems to blame Central Governments lack of funding for the increases in Council Tax, but where do they get the money? Its from you & I who pay our taxes.

Every year Brent increases the Council tax by the maximum it can before calling a referendum, but if you compound this over the last say 5 years the increase is actually nearly 28%. far more than the rate of inflation.

Cllr Butt says that the Council has lost x million pounds from its budget but fails to say that that was over 10 years, so infact on a yearly basis the losses have been small compared to the overall budget.

You also need to ask yourself what would have happened had Labour won the General Election in 2010. The Country was virtually bankrupt so any Government in office would have had to make the cuts or else cuts would have been forced on them by outside bodies such as the IMF.

Does that sound familiar? It should do to anyone over 55, who may remember when the Labour Government had to go cap in hand to the IMF and the IMF dictated terms which included very savage cuts. This led to the winter of discontent and ultimately Thatchers victory in May 1979.

It seems to be that Labour spend money like it's going out of fashion, then leave it to the Conservatives to mop up the mess, whilst in the meantime complaining that they have to do it.