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Monday, 22 December 2014

Public Health Budget Options

One of the more surprising aspects of the budget proposals published earlier this month, is the very general way public health is treated.  The total budget is listed as £18,848, but there is no systematic review of how this money is being used.  Given that this has transferred to the Council recently, it strikes me as a core area for the Council to examine.  It would be very surprising if there are no opportunities for synergies.  If Brent had a functioning scrutiny system, I would think this would a number one target.  I find it extraordinary that it is not.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Brent Council Lettings Agency

I have been doing a series of posts on Brent Council's budget options since they were published a couple of weeks ago.  Compared to previous years, these are being considered late in the year.  Overall, I have suggested that the Council needs to be seen as acting in a very difficult context. 

Nonetheless, a theme I keep coming across is that I am not sure how achievable these savings are.

In particular, I look at the proposed income from the Lettings Agency, and I wonder whether it will ever happen.  The two sides for income generation appear to be fines and control of demand.

Fines are inherently hard to predict.  We don't know how many bad landlords are out there.  Or how easy it will be to get hold of them and make them pay up.  For example, I recall one landlord that managed a property through a brass plate company that was virtually impossible to contact.  Actually getting a fine paid from such a company might be very hard, and require a certain resource to achieve.

Controlling demand in an area with such a transient population is also hard to predict.  The theory is that early intervention and gate keeping can do the work.  Early intervention may not help if people move in and out a lot.  Gatekeeping can be hard if there are hard luck cases out there (which there always are, especially in housing).

I really wonder if the difficulties of this kind have been fully thought through.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Brent Council Relying on Iain Duncan Smith

A common theme I have identified in Brent's budget options is that many of them appear to be very hard to deliver.  Nowhere is this more true than in the proposed changes around benefit processing. 

This assumes that, under the inspired leadership of Iain Duncan Smith, we can all rely universal credit going forward as planned.  Given that everyone apart from the minister thinks universal credit is going to be a disaster, this does not inspire me with confidence.  Nonetheless, Brent proposes reducing capacity on the assumption that switching people to electronic claiming will work and happen on time.  This despite the fact that so far nothing of the kind has happened

It further worries me that Council reserves are earmarked specifically in advance.  Effectively, that means they are not really reserves, but allocated resources for specific spending.  In other words, the level of reserves is being cut for an entirely predictable one off expenditure.  That is a misuse of reserves

Friday, 19 December 2014

Half Measures in Kilburn

In Kilburn High Road recently, I noticed that part of the Brent part of the street appears to have some rather miserable Christmas decorations attached.  I wonder why that is, as Brent Council to cancel such arrangements back in 2011.  Wherever the money has come from has seen a cut in another part of the budget, and such cuts should be made in an open, transparent and accountable manner.  It also looks a bit odd that there is nothing on the Camden side.  As I have remarked before, Brent and Camden really should work together on Kilburn High Road. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Possible Abolition of Ward Ward Working

Hidden away in the Brent Council Budget options is the drastic reduction, or perhaps total abolition of ward working.  One of the fears I have about options such as this is that people only understand the full implications once they have been voted through, and it is too late to change them. Abolishing ward working would not only undermine the role of councillors in the community, but also social cohesion and arts funding.

It is also an example of highly visible Council activity that benefits the community as a whole, which is something coming under greater and greater threat as budgets tighten.  Essentially, the balance of spend is going increasing towards a smaller number of people with severe needs and less towards universal services that are visible to everyone.  This is importnat as it damages the credibility of local government with the public as a whole, since the public see less and less Council activity that directly impacts themselves.

UPDATE

For the benefit of the commentator below, many of the posts on this blog are about possible savings, and I think I have probably made more suggestions on how to make savings, and been more willing to defend them than anyone else.

The key thing is to work out what your priorities are, articulate them in a strategy, ensure that your favoured proposals will deliver them credibly and then defend them with a degree of fortitude when challenged rather than being blown off course.  Many of the problems that some councillors feel are through not sticking to such a course.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Was Susan Hill Inspired by Thomas Hardy?

I wonder whether the Susan Hill poem being used in BBC Radio3's Carol competition was originally inspired as a riposte to the Thomas Hardy poem I quoted last year. 

Council Tax Lessons from Scotland

I note one of the counter-arguments to a Council Tax rise in Brent is that the government gives a grant not to raise Council Tax which offsets most of the loss.  This is true, but to look at why it is not as simple as it seems it is worth looking north of the Border.

Scotland, under the SNP, pioneered the idea of a Council Tax freeze, and suggested it to the Tories to the South.  This was introduced in 2007-8.  As the grant has been extended for freezing each year, the cost to Holyrood has gone up with each year.  For 2015-16, it stands at £560 million, and the cumulative cost 20 £2,520 million.  In my judgement, Holyrood is likely to decide at some point that the burden is no longer affordable.  At that point, Holyrood can simply not renew the grant and leave Councils to make up the gap.  Since Councils are effectively limited to a 2% Council Tax rise by the referendum threat, that effectively means that they could only make up the gap with a further round of spending cuts equivalent to several years worth of potential Council Tax rises.

That is what I mean by Brent Council digging its own grave.