Brent Council Leader’s Budget speech in full

There is a fundamental divide in our politics that gets more extreme each year.

It’s a divide between the majority who believe that politics has the power to radically improve people’s lives and the vested interests who think that the best thing politicians can do is to get out of their way.

It’s between those who believe that everyone can and should make a positive contribution to our economy and our community, and those who believe that some people must always lose so that they can win.

The Government have made it crystal clear which side of this divide they are on.

They have irreparably cut the services that our most vulnerable residents rely upon and have slashed the benefits that make it a little easier for our poorest residents to eat and keep warm.

These are the actions of people who believe that Government itself is a problem, and that people should be left to sink or swim regardless of the disadvantages they face or the economic climate that surrounds them.

I profoundly disagree with this view.

I believe with every bone in my body that Government can make things better.

And what’s more I believe that local government has this power too.

We can make a material difference through the services and benefits that we provide, but just as importantly through the leadership we give to the rest of society, the signals we send to the other sectors and through the influence we have within our communities.

And that is exactly what we have done with this budget.

We have taken action to make our Borough a fairer place, to fight for more jobs and growth and to strengthen our community, but we have also sent a strong message to our residents, our businesses and to our community that we expect them to do the same.

ECONOMY

The three years since Labour took back power in Brent have been far from easy.

Recession, double dip-recession and now a probable third recession.

The consequences of a Government knowingly sucking demand out of our economy with no plan for growth and no plan for recovery.

But three years of low growth figures on a piece of paper in the treasury is not the real story behind our struggling economy.

The real story is three years of wage freezes and three years of inflation that has caused a drastic drop in living standards for our residents and seen average wages fall as low as 15,000 pounds per year in our poorest wards.

The real story is a mass migration from full time work into part-time work and the debilitating instability this has created for families across the UK and that means unemployment continues to rise in Brent.

The real story is about families being squeezed between rising energy bills, the rising cost of petrol, the cost of food, and the cost of housing, which see’s average rents in our Borough now take up over two thirds of the average income.

It is the story of thousands of Brent residents who live less fulfilling lives, face more anxiety and see less hope now than they did three years ago.

At times like this ordinary people look to their government to help protect them from the wild swings of an economy over which they have no control.

They look for a plan for recovery and growth.

They look for protection for the most vulnerable and struggling.

They look for a little help to get them through tough times.

With this coalition Government they have found none.

Any party in power would have had to make cuts over the past three years.

But it is the choice of what to cut and what to protect, that separates Labour from the parties opposite.

There is a myth that needs to be dispelled.

Not all cuts are the same.

And the cuts that this Government have chosen are simply wrong.

They have chosen to inflict the cuts on the poorest and most vulnerable people in society while making life easier for those with the broadest shoulders.

They chose to increase VAT to 20%, hitting the poorest the hardest and devastating small businesses in Brent.

They chose to push hundreds of thousands of hard working people into poverty by cutting benefits to those that need them to survive.

They chose to close over 400 sure start centres that were giving poorer children a head start towards a brighter future.

And at the same time, they chose to give a massive tax cut to millionaires.

They chose to take money away from the poorest parts of the UK and give it straight to the wealthy Tory shires.

These are the choices of the parties opposite and their government.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

So the burden has fallen on local government to do everything we can to protect our vulnerable residents, as the Coalition has abdicated its responsibilities.

No-one else is going to help them.

But this Government is making life as difficult as possible for local authorities too.

We have taken by far the biggest share of cuts across the whole Government budget.

Eric Pickles, a man who hates local government, has offered up our budget on a plate.

On top of this, cuts in other Government departments have fallen most heavily on their funding of local government too.

And to make matters even worse, they have chosen to cut the Councils with the poorest residents the most, while protecting the budgets of authorities that have the wealthiest residents.

This is utterly shameful.

The impact on boroughs who serve the poorest people in the UK like Brent has been truly devastating.

CUTS

In 2010 the Government announced that it would cut our budget by 28% between 2010 and 2014.

That’s £100 million taken away from the services we provide to some of the poorest people in London.

That’s £160 less for every single resident in Brent.

But what really makes me angry is the comparison with other areas of the UK.

Over £160 less per person for Brent, but only £26 less per person for Wokingham, only £34 less per person for Windsor and only £39 less per person for leafy green Richmond.

This is indefensible.

Both the parties opposite should hang their heads in shame for what their Government is doing to our borough.

And they haven’t stopped at the 28% cuts they first announced.

In December, Eric Pickles moved the goalposts yet again, and has slashed our budget even further.

In 2014 we now face over £19 million pounds of cuts in a single year – that’s almost 12 % of our total budget.

Making cuts is a deeply unpleasant thing to do.

It is not why anyone in the Labour Party came into politics

But as we have seen from the terrible decisions this Government have made, not all cuts are the same.

The choices we make when making savings reflect the values we hold as politicians.

And there such a thing as better cuts and worse cuts.

That is why I am proud of the way in which we have made the savings forced upon us in Brent.

I am proud that we have protected front line services.

I am proud we have prioritised helping our most vulnerable residents.

And I am proud that we have focused on transformation rather than salami slicing.

Finding new and innovative ways of delivering services to residents that deliver the same outcomes but cost us less.

It means we have focused on early intervention, because it is cheaper and more effective to catch issues as they develop rather than once they have become complicated and engrained problems.

It means better procurement, ensuring our contracts get the best possible value for taxpayers.

It means investing in technology which makes it cheaper to deliver services in the long run.

It means doing more online and over the phone and doing less in person.

It means reducing the amount of managers in the organisation.

SAVINGS IN THIS BUDGET

Our programme of transformation will continue to deliver the savings we need in this budget.

Our realignment of corporate and business support will save us another £2 million from back office functions.

Better procurement of our supporting people contracts will save us another £1.6 million.

Our place based configuration will save another £1.1 million pounds.

Other procurement improvements will save us £500,000 punds.

And our Working with Families program will save us £300,000 while transforming the lives of some of our most vulnerable families.

On top of these savings we are successfully keeping costs down across the Council.

Taking action to minimise cost increases in our waste tariff, in children’s placements, in school places and as a result of the government’s welfare cuts to name just a few.

But it is not the way we have managed the cuts that makes me most proud.

That is reserved for what we have managed to achieve in this budget DESPITE the cuts.

OUR AGENDA

Because even though we face the challenges I have outlined above, we have managed to deliver a budget that will make Brent a fairer place, which will bring more jobs and growth to this borough and that will strengthen our community.

We have worked around the clock to refocus our priorities on our most vulnerable residents.

We have looked at new and innovative ways to work with our partners and make the most out of collective action for the benefit of our residents.

And I am proud of what we have achieved.

A budget that genuinely helps our residents with some of the biggest problems they face.

A budget which will make a difference to their standard of living.

And a budget which lays the foundations for improving our Borough for years to come.

FAIRNESS

Our first priority has been to make Brent a fairer borough.

The recession and the Government cuts have disproportionately hit residents who are out of work or who work long hours for low wages.

While everyone has been squeezed, it those at the bottom who have seen the biggest fall in their standards of living and quality of life.

We have a moral obligation to do everything we can to reverse this.

Our focus on fairness is about giving these people both the support they need in the short term to survive, and making the long-term structural changes that will give them the best chance of improving their lives in the long run.

We know that the biggest hurdle in the short-term is the squeeze between income and expenditure.

As already low incomes fall against inflation, increases in the cost of travel, energy,  food and housing mean people have to survive on less and less each month.

For many of our residents the only answer is increasing levels of debt from loan sharks and pay day lenders who charge extortionate levels of interest – trapping people in a vicious cycle.

We have done everything we can in this budget to put money back into the pockets of our poorest residents, and give them the skills and knowledge to manage their finances as effectively as possible.

We have frozen Council tax for a third consecutive year, and announced our aim to do the same next year.

Over the four years of this administration this will save residents over £330.

That’s £330 that our poorest residents can spend on heating and on food, instead of on Council Tax.

This is a choice we have taken not to pass on the cost of government cuts to our struggling residents.

We have provided extra funding for our partners at the CAB to provide budget management and debt advice to our residents.

Because with benefits falling this year, and with wages continuing to be frozen, we need to ensure our poorest residents have all the advice and skills they need to make their money go as far as possible.

The CAB will join us in our campaign against pay day lenders, ensuring vulnerable residents know that loan sharks will trap them in a cycle of debt, and that there are other alternative sources of credit.

That is why we are working with Credit Unions across Brent to make them a genuine alternative to loan sharks for people in desperate need.

This is being led by the Council’s energetic Credit Union Champion, Councillor James Denselow.

The same principle underlines our Energy Switching scheme in collaboration with London Councils.

This is a scheme that will use collective bargaining to reduce the cost of energy bills for our residents.

We all have a responsibility over the next month to get as many of our struggling residents to sign up as possible.

People will to save up to £200 a year from their energy bills as a result.

Once again that’s £200 that can be spent on food or day to day living rather than on energy bills.

Another example of our Council making a real difference to the lives of our residents.

This year we will also become a London Living Wage accredited employer.

The London Living Wage is the minimum hourly wage people can earn to live a decent, sustainable and comfortable life in our city.

It currently stands at £8.55 per hour.

As a Labour Council we have increased the pay of all our directly paid staff to this level.

We have also laid out our plans to extend this to our contractors over the months and years ahead.

Hundreds of Brent residents lives will be transformed as a result.

Residents who will go from struggling to pay the bills to being able to live a satisfying and rounded life.

I will campaign for as many businesses as possible to do the same, because everyone in Brent deserves to be able to survive on their wages.

I have written to all 6,500 businesses in Brent to ask them to meet me to discuss how they can move towards the Living Wage, and we have appointed Councillor Michael Pavey as our Living Wage Champion to push this forward as quickly as possible.

Again making a real difference to the lives of our residents through taking a strong lead over a vital issue.

JOBS & GROWTH

But as well as these short term measures to reduce the cost of living, raise local wages and tackle debt, this budget puts in place new measures to change the long term structures that trap our residents in poverty.

The fact is that in Brent we have a low employment, low wage and yet high cost economy.

Too many of our residents are unemployed.

And too many people with jobs simply don’t get paid enough.

Turning this around will not be a quick process, but it must be done.

In this budget, we have bought forward plans to get more of our residents into work, to create more training opportunities and apprenticeships, to continue the vital regeneration across our Borough and to help local businesses grow and prosper.

We have a new team of navigators to help our most vulnerable residents get back into work.

They will work with families who fall between the gaps of the confusing array of Government schemes that are available.

The navigators will help people through whatever processes are needed to get them back into employment and help them break down the barriers they face.

In this budget we will transform the Brent Adult Community Education Service. We will focus all its efforts on providing cutting edge training to get our resident into work.

What’s more, we will work with employers across London to ensure the training it provides is for the sectors and industries that need employees now, and that it provides our residents with the skills they need to be truly competitive for these jobs.

We will also continue to ensure that Council contractors hire as many local people as possible and provide our young people with apprenticeship opportunities.

Companies profiting from Brent should give back, and I will fight for every single apprenticeship placement we can get.

But as well as giving our residents the best chance of competing for jobs that are already out there, we will do much more to help our businesses to grow, prosper and create more opportunities and jobs here in Brent.

So in this budget we have created a new Enterprise unit within the Regeneration and Major Projects team.

This new team will forge stronger links with businesses inside and outside of the Borough.

It will provide small businesses in Brent with the support and advice they need to survive these difficult times.

It will forge links with major employers across London to give our residents the best chance of getting the jobs they provide.

And it will provide us with a strong network through which we can push for more jobs, more apprenticeships and higher wages for our residents.

But this is not all we are doing for our businesses.

I can announce today that we will be reducing parking charges across the Borough to give a boost to our high streets and small shops.

We are introducing a flat 20 pence charge for the first 15 minutes of parking and have made it much cheaper to park no matter how long you stay.

This will make it cheap and easy for residents to pop into local shops, and will benefit both residents and businesses.

It will address one of the major problems facing our businesses, and will do it without creating the budget black hole that the Lib Dem plans would, which would bankrupt our council.

Finally we will continue with our aggressive program of regeneration across the Borough.

Regenerating our high streets, our housing, our estates and our infrastructure is the most effective tool we have for changing the long term life chances of our residents.

That’s why I’m so proud of the work we are doing in Sudbury, Alperton, Kilburn and Wembley.

In Wembley our ambitious vision, that has been shared by all parties in this Council over many years, is really starting to deliver.

We have all seen the new Hilton hotel and the progress being made on the Civic Centre.

In the coming months and over the next two years we will see the pace of regeneration pick up even more.

We will have a fantastic retail shopping centre bringing jobs and opportunities to the area.

We will have new restaurants and a new cinema.

Improving the area for everyone who lives here and building the foundations of a brighter future for everyone in Brent.

STRENGTHENING OUR COMMUNITY

But strengthening Brent’s economy alone will not be enough.

A community is more than a set of statistics.

I believe that people who know each other, look out for one another and help each other out are happier, healthier and wealthier as a result.

Strengthening our sense of community and the bonds that tie us together is a goal in its own right, but will also increase the standard of living and happiness of all our residents.

For me community is about three things:

Giving our children the best possible start in life.

Building resilience and capacity into our communities to look out for each other and help the most vulnerable.

And lastly, to give local people a greater feeling of ownership over their community, their Council and the area they live in.

In this budget we have taken to action to improve all three.

This year we will be giving over £2 million in grants to the voluntary sector. This will give our community the ability to provide itself with the advice, support and services it needs.

On top of this in the next two months we will be launching a new Voluntary Sector Strategy.

This will fundamentally and permanently alter the way the Council works with the voluntary sector.

Firstly we will create a single point of contact for voluntary sector organisations to access the Council, the help we can provide and information on grants and funding. Simplifying the process for them.

Secondly we will continue to strengthen the CVS Brent, the umbrella organisation responsible for strengthening and growing the sector. In this budget we will give them the resources they need to ensure Brent voluntary organisations access every single penny of funding and grant that is available from every private or public sector organisation in London or across the UK.

Most importantly, we will put the voluntary sector at the heart of the Councils decision making process. They will not be treated as an add-on to us, but instead as absolutely integral to us achieving our goals of improving this Borough.

We have also set our plans for the biggest school places building program in this Borough’s history.

We will put right the awful legacy left to us by the Liberal Democrats of too few school places for our growing young population.

They should be ashamed of their failure to build enough school places, and we are proud to be putting it right.

We will spend over £100 million in the next four years to build the world class primary and secondary school places our children deserve.

In this budget year alone we will spend over £47 million on improving our schools.

And it is not just our young people who will benefit from our renewed emphasis on community.

We are launching our new working with family’s initiative this year too.

This will focus on giving practical support to families experiencing problems.

Helping nip problems in the bud as early as possible, to protect Brent families, and stop issues growing into more complex problems

It means providing help with parenting, with school attendance, with employment and stopping ant-social behaviour.

But communities are about more than individuals or even families.

Being part of a community must involve having a real and tangible say over the future of your area.

I have always been concerned about the disconnect between our politics and the people we represent in this country.

This is particularly visible in local government.

Turn out in elections is too low.

Participation in consultation and planning is too low.

People don’t feel like they have any real power over how their area changes, how their Council is run and the decisions we make in this town hall.

It is this concern that has driven me to start a blog on our Council website to let people know what we are doing and the reasoning and vision behind our decisions.

It is this concern that has led us to start our new communications plan that will send the Leadership and Executive out across the borough to speak to people in town centres, at school gates and in community spaces.

Giving them the opportunity to question us, get to know us and understand what we are trying to achieve.

But we must go even further than this.

That is why I am proposing that we set our budget very differently from now on.

I want local people to have a much greater say on what services we provide to them, and on how we provide them.

I want our community to help us to set our budgets from this year.

In a time of austerity, when we are inevitably looking at doing less not more, it could not be more important that the people that make up our community have a real say over the Council that represents them and that protects them.

When choices are difficult, it is best to share them with everyone who they affect.

So that is what this budget is all about.

Making Brent fairer, fighting for jobs and growth and strengthening our community despite the challenges we face.

PERSONALISING THE BUDGET

But our budget isn’t a list of dry policies and decisions to be read out in this chamber, cheered by one side and jeered by another.

It is about the real lives of the 320,000 people outside of this chamber.

Our budget is about real people, their day-to-day lives and their future.

When I think about the Council, I am really thinking about my friends and family and the impact it will have on their lives.

I was born and grew up in this borough, and my family and friends, and everyone I love live here too.

So when I think about this budget I think about how it will help them.

I think about the fact that our investment in school places will guarantee my nieces and nephews have a world class education that will set them up for life.

I think about how much my uncles and aunts need the £200 a year they will save from their energy bills, and how much more comfortable it will make their lives.

I think about my cousin who has been out of work for the last year. He has been looking and applying but ahs had no success.

I am proud that he will now get the help he needs to get back into employment, and the training he needs as a result of this budget.

I think about the fact that our regeneration of Wembley will mean my wife will do her shopping in Wembley, and that my children will go to the cinema in our borough, supporting local jobs and the local economy.

I think about my friends who have had their wages raised to the Living Wage as a result of this budget. Friends who will now be able to afford to do more than just survive.

I think of my father, who owned a small business here in Brent. He was continually frustrated by how difficult it was to speak to anyone in the Council about how they could help him or make his life easier.

And then I think about the thousands of small businesses who will not have that problem as a result of our new enterprise team.

CONCLUSION

2013 will be a difficult year for my family and friends and the people of Brent, maybe even more difficult than last year.

There is little sign the economy will recover.

Inflation will remain high and wages will still be frozen.

Government cuts to benefits will come into force making life truly difficult for thousands of people in Brent.

The Governments cuts to services mean our emergency services and NHS will be placed under increasing strain.

But there is hope.

Things will get better.

And everyone in this borough will know that this Council is doing everything it can to help people get through the difficult times, and ensure we have the foundations we need to build a fairer future when things begin to recover.

We are on the side of the people of Brent.

I commend this budget to the Council.

Thank you.

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