I was absolutely dismayed at the level of hypocrisy shown by the Brent Liberal Democrats and Brent Tories at the Full Brent Council meeting this week. I tabled a motion at the meeting reading, “This Council condemns the £104 million cut to Brent’s Budget over the spending review period”, which Brent Liberal Democrat and Brent Tory Councillors failed to support.
While appearing to fight for local services they have adopted a peculiar position of apparently supporting the Coalition’s chosen method of cutting public spending which has led to more cuts to Brent’s Central Government grant than in other Councils.
There are two main arguments floating around as to why we have a large public debt. In short, one that it was a global economic crisis that led to a collapse of the banking system meaning that the Government had to borrow to stimulate the economy, bail out the financial sector and lost out on projected tax revenue income. The second that Labour public spending was out of control and is to blame for the country’s deficit and deficits of USA, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Germany, France and many more, which we have to pay for now.
Regardless of what line of argument you believe, I thought that all Councillors of all parties would be unified in condemning the scale of cuts to Brent compared to other Boroughs.
Even if you believe that the scale of cuts is necessary nationally and that the debt should be tackled within one Parliament (The Coalition Government’s original plan A on the economy), is it fair that Brent Council has to make cuts in the region of 27-28% of our controllable budget whilst other Councils are not being hurt as bad as Brent? Brent is losing out on £73 per resident whereas Guildford faces a cut of £10 a person and Richmond £5.39 a person.
If Brent Tory Liberal Councillors do blame Labour for creating the deficit, do they believe that people in Brent caused the recession more than residents from other areas and therefore should be made to pay and suffer more?
Brent’s budget is annually assessed by the Government’s Audit Commission. The Audit Commission has now reported back to the Council about their findings from the 2010 / 2011 Audit. The Audit Commission has confirmed that “the Council has proper arrangement to secure economy, efficiency and effectiveness in the use of its resources.”
It says that “significant changes are required over the next few years and tough decisions will be required to make them…. The Council’s transformation programme is helping it prepare and make the savings required for future financial stability”.
The report reminded me of the context of the cuts that Brent is making and said “Following the announcement of reductions in grant funding by government in May 2010, the Council approved an in-year savings plan of £15 million.
The medium term financial strategy (MTFS) was updated to include £106.7 million savings over the next four years to 2014/15. £41.7 million of savings have been included in the budget setting strategy for 2011/12. The Council is currently reviewing its approach to deliver the residual savings of £65 million between 2012/13 and 2014/15….. These substantial savings will have to be delivered against a background of increasing demand for council services and reduced management capacity…. The Council’s general reserves are low and earmarked reserves are falling while pressure on the Council’s resources in the coming years is significant and unprecedented. The maintenance of strong financial control will be essential if the Council is to achieve its plans. When setting its budget for 2012/13, the Council must continue to have regard to the increasing level of risk in setting its reserves.”
So with the £41 million plus cuts that the Council has already identified, a further £65 million has to be cut from Brent’s budget within this spending review period.
The Audit Commission acknowledges that “the achievement of such a significant savings plan whilst continuing to deliver quality services will remain challenging.”
Areas of improvement identified by the audit are to do with producing quality financial monitoring systems. Although there is acknowledgement that “It has been a particularly difficult year for the Council, implementing new financial systems and International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) whilst also dealing with structural change, staff losses, and a highly challenging budget settlement. This has stretched finance resources and impacted on the Council’s ability to produce good quality financial statements and working papers.”
Yesterday was the first reading of the Budget in the Brent Town Hall Council chamber.
There is a bit of a gloomy outlook with Brent having to make further cuts to the Budget as part of the wider £104 million that Brent has to make over the comprehensive spending review period.
Tory Liberal Councillors did their best to let the bankers off scot-free and set the blame on the previous Labour Government.
However, I spoke and made a contribution saying that regardless of whether you believe that the international banking crisis or the previous Labour Government and Gordon Brown is to blame for the country’s deficit and deficits of USA, Greece, Spain, Ireland, Germany, France and many more…. why don’t we think about Brent for a second.
Even if you believe that the cuts are necessary and that the debt should be tackled within one Parliament, is it fair that Brent Council has to make cuts in the region of 27-28% of our controllable budget whilst other Councils are getting more money?
How can the Brent Tory Liberals defend Brent losing out on resources while other areas are having Budget increases?
I have blogged about this before LINK.
Why should Brent have to cut more than others? If Tory Liberal Councillors do blame Labour for creating the deficit and the Coalition Government are holier than thou, are they still defending the level of cuts to Brent compared to others and supporting the damage made to Brent while other Councils are being given more money?