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.
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.
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