This week Brent Council held its first debate on the Council’s budget for 2016/17. This is the speech I gave – let me know what you think.
“Madam Mayor, if I may I’d like to take a moment to join you in reminding everyone that it is White Ribbon Day on Wednesday. And to encourage all Members, especially male Members, to support this vital campaign to stop violence against women.
Thank you Madam Mayor.
Turning to the budget …
The report in front of you is very comprehensive. Very detailed.
But it is neatly summarised by paragraph 1.7.
I quote, we face: “an unusually high level of material uncertainty which presents difficult issues for planning the budget strategy.”
The report does its best to be neutral and balanced.
But it is evident that the unusually high level of uncertainty we have to contend with is the direct result of half-baked, ill-conceived Government policies.
Announcing an expansion of nursery places with no clarity about the funding.
Brutal cuts to benefits with no regard to the impact on housing costs.
Trumpeting the forced sale of Council homes without a clue how this will work in practice.
This report lays bears a Government solely interested in grabbing headlines.
They dump their half-baked polices on us and expect us to pick up the pieces.
They have absolutely no regard for local Councils and the services we provide.
They claim to support devolution.
But they are control-freaks who try to micro-manage everything that we do.
We have a school places crisis.
But they ban us from opening new schools.
We have a housing crisis.
But they ban us from borrowing enough to build the new homes we desperately need.
And just in case we get any ideas: they cap Council Tax.
A Government who preach devolution but practice control-freakery.
* * *
But I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.
This is also a Government which claims to be protect the NHS.
But which is brutally cutting funding for Public Health.
A Government which claims to be for working families.
But wants to slash Working Tax Credits.
A Government which boasts about its local term economic plan.
But is so short term that it can’t even tell this Council what our budget will be in April.
A hypocritical Government leaving us to clear up their mess.
* * *
And what a mess, Madam Mayor. What a mess.
Twenty billion pounds more cuts nationally this Autumn.
Ten billion falling on Local Government.
Madam Mayor, in response, this budget report carefully details our work to meet all possible funding scenarios in anticipation of up to fifty-five million pounds more cuts in 2017-19.
* * *
Madam Mayor, I’d like to say a few words in response to the speeches we’ve heard from the Opposition Parties.
Cllr Warren, you made an excellent speech at Cllr Filson’s funeral and I commend your honesty. You reminded us how Cllr Filson unpicked your shadow budget last year and laid it bare for what it was: an unsustainable cut to Council Tax funded from reserves.
Madam Mayor, we all dearly miss Cllr Filson and his expert forensic skills. But we won’t be needing them tonight as the Opposition responses were so weak.
Cllr Maurice, you made an interesting speech on the London Borough of Wandsworth. We look forward to hearing what you think about Brent, as you forgot to mention it.
Cllr Warren, you said the budget report is full of good news. I don’t know which report you’re reading. This report details £40-55m more cuts to this Council’s budget. If this is good news, God only knows what bad news looks like.
Cllr Warren also said there was no need for budget consultation or to take the budget to Brent Connects. If I had to defend the settlement his Government is giving this Council, I probably wouldn’t want to face the public either.
I’ll give him one thing. Spending £2.5k to get Jo Coburn to chair the budget consultations wasn’t the best idea in hindsight. So that’s £2.5k saved. If he can now show where the other £50m of cuts will come from we can have an honest conversation.
* * *
This is a prudent, detailed report.
But let me make crystal clear: we will not simply pass these cuts onto our residents.
We will not passively slash services.
Our next budget will be built on Civic Enterprise.
At its core will be creativity and dynamism.
We will generate more money than ever before from advertising and sponsorship.
We will build upon the superb work of our IT Department to share our best services with other Councils.
We will develop a new Investment Strategy to harness all the resources of this Council and to find innovative investments to reduce our ongoing costs.
We will introduce a new social value policy so every company working with us will uphold high ethical standards and will contribute to our community.
And Madam Mayor, we will campaign with fresh energy to highlight the terrible injustices of this heartless Government.
We will join with Labour Councils across London – from Enfield to Croydon – to campaign together through the new Red Lines initiative.
And we will campaign much more closely with our Trade Union friends.
* * *
Madam Mayor, we are proud to call the Trade Unions our friends.
Democratic organisations committed to representing local people.
It is disgraceful that the Government is trying to demonise their good work through the wretched Trade Union bill.
And I look forward to all Councillors supporting Cllr Stopp’s motion on this later tonight.
* * *
Madam Mayor, this budget report shows what we are up against.
A hypocritical Government with no regard for local Councils.
No regard for public services and no regard for Brent residents.
In response …
We will bring forward a creative, dynamic, forward-looking budget which we can all be proud to vote for in February.
Thank you very much.”