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Latest news from Cllr Michael Pavey
Deputy Leader of Brent Council & Labour Councillor for Barnhill
Deputy Leader of Brent Council.
I’ve been writing for months about the waves of cuts this Government has forced upon Brent Council. Now it’s time for our response.
This month Councillors will vote on Brent Council’s budget for next year. Earlier this week it was my responsibility as Lead Councillor for Finance to introduce this budget.
The theme of the budget is honesty.
For six years we have done everything possible to freeze Council Tax and to protect frontline services. We have stripped out layers of management, remorselessly squeezed the back office and renegotiated contracts.
But the Government cuts just keep coming. We now believe that we could only freeze Council Tax again by cutting truly priceless services.
So we are proposing a 4% increase, with half of that ring-fenced for supporting our vulnerable elders.
This works out at approximately £2 extra per month for a Band D home.
Sadly the reason for this is another eye-watering Government cut: £45m more cuts over the next two years. That means that the Government will have slashed Brent Council’s budget by fully 70% between 2010 and 2018.
An absolutely astonishing amount.
We cannot say it often enough: these are not our cuts, these are Government cuts.
Any organisation would struggle to balance the books in this situation, but it is particularly difficult when that organisation has sprawling responsibilities for everything from school nurses to cemeteries.
That is what this budget seeks to do: to balance the books whilst providing the best services possible.
So this budget heralds the biggest squeeze on procurement in the history of Brent Council. Too often private sector companies have seen Brent as a soft-touch. Not any more.
This budget also heralds a brand new approach to income generation. Brent Council has traditionally been uncreative and unimaginative when it comes to making money. This budget marks a fundamental change, setting in motion a new Civic Enterprise Strategy.
I’ll write in more detail about procurement and income generation next month – but combined we believe these can generate over £10m over two years. This is serious money.
The reason we’re squeezing and innovating in this way is to protect the most priceless services this Council provides.
People rely on Brent Council when they are in their greatest need. This budget guarantees that we will continue to offer them high quality support.
It ensures the survival of all the Children’s Centres in Brent.
It enables us to recruit more social workers to ensure that all the local children in care are safe and supported.
And it guarantees that no member of our community will receive a home care visit lasting less than half an hour.
These services are priceless and we are proud to provide them.
Unfortunately though, a 70% cut to our budget is just too much for us to be able to protect frontline services without asking residents to help us carry the load.
That’s why we’re asking families to pay an average £2 extra per month in Council Tax.
We are not blasé about this.
Council Tax is archaic. It taxes people with little regard to their means.
£2 per month is 50p per week. Some families spend more than that on plastic bags in the supermarket.
But £2 per month is also £24 per year. That’s the cost of a pair of shoes for a struggling family.
Council Tax doesn’t differentiate between rich families and poor families. That’s why we have ring-fenced the Council Tax Support scheme in this budget.
And after years of work to reform Brent Council and control costs, we not asking residents to pay into a black hole – but to invest in a lean, efficient organisation.
A lean, efficient organisation under unprecedented and impossible pressure from above. From a heartless Government hell-bent on cutting local services.
Last month myself and colleagues met with the Minister for Local Government. I asked him if he could offer any hope for the future to the people of Brent.
He burst out laughing. He literally laughed out loud.
We cannot say it often enough: these are not our cuts, these are Government cuts. And that Government does not care.
In response this budget is open and honest. It saves money. It generates money. It prioritises priceless services our most vulnerable residents depend upon. And it asks the rest of the community to help share the load.
Who are these “most vulnerable” residents? The Council spends a large proportion of its budget supporting people who are largely invisible to society. I met some of them last month when I visited the John Billam Resource Centre, tucked behind Preston Road.
This beautiful Centre provides services for adults with learning disabilities and/or autism. It was a real joy to meet the passionate staff and especially to get to know some of the service users.
Everything the Centres does is geared around building-up independence and supporting clients to get into the community: library visits, volunteering – even lunch in the pub.
I was utterly appalled to hear that on these visits our residents and staff often face abuse. It just goes to show that it’s not only service users who benefit from being out in the community: society also benefits by having its ugly prejudices challenged.
Labour Councillor for Barnhill
The repairs service at Metropolitan Housing finally seems to be improving – albeit very slowly! Metropolitan have committed to a rolling schedule of drop-in repairs surgeries and estate walkabouts. In addition Cllrs Choudhary, Marquis and myself now have regular meetings with Metropolitan management to oversee progress.
Anecdotal feedback suggests that there is still a long way to go. But at least things are slowly moving in the right direction. Please drop me an email to let me know your experiences.
I was sad to read this month about the likely closure and redevelopment of Fountain Studios. We need more homes in London – but we don’t need even more towers of unaffordable shoe-box apartments.
Chalkhill and Barnhill are very different places, but they both have a rich sense of community. I’m not sure that exists in the new Wembley Park developments, so it would be a real shame to lose one of the few bits of vibrant colour left in the area.
More positively, it was a real pleasure to spend a freezing cold morning watching London Netball Academy compete in the Us Girls Rocks festival. LNA is run by Chalkhill community leader Louisa Xavier, ably assisted by a team including Barnhill resident and Chair of Brent Youth Parliament, Roisin Healy. Here’s a pic of some of the young ladies, together with Cllr Marquis who volunteered as an umpire.
I’m continuing to campaign nationally against the Government’s brutal cuts to Sure Start Children’s Centres.
On the day that Parliament broke up for Christmas, the Government sneakily published a bundle of over 400 documents. One of these reports included new independent research that conclusively establishes that Sure Start really does transform lives. You can read my analysis of both the cover-up and the research here.
Last month I also joined the Dare2Care campaign against child abuse. Abuse is an ugly cycle which must be broken. This won’t just happen: there need to be targeted interventions to replace neglect with nurture.
Please take a look at my article arguing that Sure Start is the perfect infrastructure through which to deliver these interventions.
Well, this has been another bumper newsletter so thanks very much for reading!
If you’d like to get more involved we’re out campaigning for Sadiq Khan every weekend now – and we’re always looking for people happy to deliver leaflets to a street or two!
As ever, please feel free to contact me on any issues and looking forward to seeing you soon.