Brent Cabinet will be putting forward a budget to Full Council which includes an overall Countil Tax increase of 6%, equating to £109.20 increase on a Band D property to £1924.45. The amounts for all the bands are shown below:
Recognising that the rise will hit residents the report to Cabinet outlines current support:
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 £32m of support for around 28,000 households who are financially vulnerable. This support will be supplemented in 2023/24 from the Government’s £100m Council Tax Support Fund, which will enable Brent to reduce bills for Council Tax Support claimants by up to a further £25. In addition, the Council’s Resident Support Fund has made available additional funds for residents who are having difficulty due to unforeseen financial circumstances as a result of COVID-19 and the cost of living crisis.
The Council Tax increase includes an increase of 4.99% (the government maximum) by Brent and 9.7% by the GLA.
Council Rents Rise by 7%
The Council will be raising council rents by 7% as set out below:
The rents for residents of the former Stonebridge HAT, now managed by the Hyde Group also rise:
The gross rent for NAIL (New Accommodation for Independent Living) includes service charges and rises by 7%.
Service charges - some increase by up to 100%
Rent of course is not the only charge to tenants. There are additional charges which vary according to the accommodation with, for example, some of the new properties having a concierge.
There is no increase for grounds maintenance, laundry and TV ariel but other charges rise, particulalrly those hit by the energy crisis. The heating and hot water rise is actually more but has been capped by the council at 100%.
District Heating Network in South Kilburn charges up by 196%
Wembley Matters has previously reported on concerns over District Heating Charges in the light of surging energy costs. The rise in tariffs justifies the concern.
'Savings' NOT 'cuts'?
The Scrutiny Committee's Recommendations LINK are included on the agenda but do not appear to have affected the report, which is not surprising given the time scale. Cuts by the Labour council are still referred to as 'savings' although the Tory Chancellor does make cuts:
The additional resources provided in the provisional local government finance settlement have resulted in a reduction in the savings requirement for 2023/24 and 2024/25 to £21.0m, profiled £13.5m in 2023/24 and £7.5m in 2024/25. This enables the deferral of £4.5m of the savings previously identified for 2023/24 to be deferred to 2024/25. Based on current estimates, this leaves a budget gap of £3m in 2024/25. However, this settlement also deferred many of the spending cuts that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had set out as necessary in his Autumn Statement to return the nation’s finances to a sustainable position over the medium term. Therefore, it remains likely that further savings will be required from 2025/26 onwards and this will be kept under review and reported to Cabinet throughout 2023/24.
School budget deficits and potential staffing cuts
School budget funding comes directly from government according to a formula and for local authority schools is distributed via the local authority based on decisions by the Schools Forum. Academies and Free schools received funding directly from the government.The budget report notes the difficulties some schools are currently facing previously covered on Wembley Matters. This will result in staff cuts and there is a possibility of school amalgamations or reductions in forms of entry:
The number of Brent schools experiencing difficulties in 2022/23 has increased with 67% projecting an in-year deficit. 23% of these schools’ plan to use over 50% of reserves to balance their budgets in 2022/23. Schools are feeling the impact of rising inflationary costs, including increases in energy prices alongside teachers’ pay increasing by 5% in 2022/23 and starting salaries rising by 8.9% to £30k. A number of Brent schools are also experiencing falling rolls and as a result have had significant reductions in funding. This is requiring schools to make strategic decisions to mitigate the impact of this, including the consideration of staffing restructures. Alongside measures to support schools, such as capping admission numbers, the Local Authority has established a School Place Planning Working Group to review the sustainability of provision in primary planning areas.
Use of Strategic Infrastructure Levy for major projects
The amounts allocated are not listed here but I will endeavour to find more details. I am particularly interested in the allocation to the College of North West London for its new building in Wembley Park which followed a deal with the council.
S106/Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) will be utilised to undertake major infrastructure projects meeting the conditions or terms for funding. The capital programme includes CIL funded schemes totalling £46m. The total CIL allocation includes contributions towards the fit out cost of 3 medical centres, a new facility in Wembley for the College of North West London, the new Morland Gardens educational facility, a new pedestrian and cycle bridge in Alperton and contributions towards community facilities in Stonebridge, Preston Community Library, Learie Constantine Centre and Brent Indian Community Centre
Full Council Decision
Given the top down nature of the Cabinet system of local government and the huge Labour majority, adoption of this budget by Full Council is inevitable. The Tory and Lib Dem groups may put forward alternatives and they will be voted down.