COUNCIL tax looks set to be frozen for a sixth successive year in Brent, as town hall chiefs finalise plans for a two-year budget which will go before a full council vote next month.
If the council tax freeze for 2015/16 is agreed, as recommended in a report going before the council’s cabinet on Feb 23, it will mean the average bill will be 15 per cent lower in real terms compared to 2010.
However, cuts in central government funding to local authorities have also left the council with the huge task of finding nearly £54million worth of savings by 2017. These savings are in addition to the £89million already delivered since 2010. In total, the council’s main source of central government funding will be around one third the current level by 2018.
In that context and following widespread local consultation, the council will need to decide which services should be protected and where savings are to be made.
Despite the financial challenges, under-threat services for young and vulnerable people, including Brent’s Children’s Centres, Youth Services and the New Millennium Day Centre, are all recommended to be spared from closure in the report. Rough sleeping services and the borough’s CCTV network are also recommended for a reprieve, as is the Brent Connexions careers advice service for young people.
A proposed 20 per cent reduction in social care staff should be halved to ten per cent, with these savings coming from reduced use of agency staff, according to the report and the proposal to limit home care visits to 15 minutes is also set to be shelved.
The report outlines how there should be no cuts in funding for respite care services, day care, or in the free swimming programme for young children and pensioners. If approved by the Cabinet on Feb 23, the budget plans will be put to a final vote of the Full Council on March, 2.
Councillor Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council, said “Many people we spoke to are still feeling the effects of stagnant wages and high costs so I hope that a sixth council tax freeze in a row will go some way in alleviating these pressures. Just 18% of the local people who responded to our survey wanted to pay more council tax.
“However, given that our net budget is being cut by between a third and a half this has left us with some very tough choices on which services to protect. Most people will understand how difficult it would be if your personal income fell by a half. You simply would not be able to spend money in the same way on the same things. You would need to tighten your belt somehow and find different ways of functioning.
“We have undertaken one of the most comprehensive listening exercises ever in Brent and, as a result, I am confident that we are spending our dwindling resources on those services that residents have told us matter the most. We are working hard to make sure every pound spent delivers maximum value and we are also finding better, more efficient ways of working and looking to maximise the use of new technology wherever we can.
“Not everybody will be happy with the decisions we need to take given the dire budget situation but by working together and pulling in the same direction I wholeheartedly believe our wonderful, diverse borough can still look forward to an even brighter, more prosperous future.”
Savings that are recommended to be taken in the report include: reducing the size of the senior management team to save £1.4m a year; increasing visitor parking charges; negotiating with contractors to get a better deal on adult social care and sharing some services such as registrars and regulatory services.
For more information on the council budget visit www.brent.gov.uk/budget