Tag Archives: Brent Council

Where do they stand? Budget speech to Full Council February 2019

This is now my third budget as a Councillor in Brent, and the toughest I’ve seen. This time the weight of government cuts forces us to cut down to the bone. In community safety we have seen the impact of Tory austerity at a national level, with the withdrawal of the current offer for Met Patrol plus as a result of cuts to the Mayor’s policing grant. We are working on long term alternatives to fill the gap and will be coming forward in the spring. My colleagues have similar experiences themselves.

Whilst we can tell positive stories about the opportunities in reshaping things, or what we can defend, the truth is that there are very few things contained in this budget that myself, colleagues and residents would have preferred not to cut. We will prevent damage to service users as best we can, but let’s be clear – the real responsibility for stopping cuts to the local services people need so desperately lies with central government, with Mrs May in Westminster. It’s a responsibility that her political party locally have completely failed to even acknowledge. Where do they stand?

As I’ve said it’s my third budget. I now know exactly what to expect from the opposition benches. Though the alternative budgets of the other Tory faction from the last term have gone, with their innumeracy and over-reliance of punctuation, the same themes remain.

Our Tory opponents will now recommend a series of small savings to money that was spent on a one off basis, as if this offers some sort of solution to costs in services which run day to day, year to year, and depend on continued revenue.

They will try to coax us into spending the reserves, so that if, god forbid, this council is stuck by an emergency, there will be nothing left in the chest to help our residents.

They will attempt to blame Gordon Brown for the global financial crash, or to convince us that despite all of the evidence of the last nine years, that austerity offers some sort of answer to the problems we face as a county or to the system failures themselves.

They will have nothing to say about the fact that their party has shifted so much of the weight of cuts onto Councils in a cynical attempt to turn Labour and trade union activists against their own representatives and allow the Tories to escape the blame. They will ignore what they’ve done to Councils who dare to stand for the poor and the working class, even though their own ministers are currently scheming a further 15% cut to London and its deprived boroughs in order to fund financially incompetent Councils in the Tory shires. As if this can simply be ignored. As if it isn’t real.

But councils face by far the biggest cuts…

…and it’s people like us taking the brunt of it.

Our absent friends in the Lib Dems will have nothing to say. Where do they stand?

The former colleagues of both parties here today who are now in the independent group will be there to make excuses for the coalition’s record on these issues to, under the pretence that in this age of division and inequality it will all get better if we all just come together and pretend that austerity has not deepened at of the country’s divides in class, attainment, health, education, or wages. The independent group think that George Osborne, and I quote here from Anna Soubry, ‘did a wonderful job’. These people live on a different planet to the people of Brent.

The Labour Party has its own problems at the moment. But it is the only party which seems to admit that austerity even has any effect at either a local or a natural level. From the Tories to the Lib Dems to TIG, there is an unspoken conspiracy to mislead, and when that doesn’t work, a conspiracy of silence. Where do they stand?

Silent is something that we in the Labour Party will never be, and if you are one of the many residents who agrees with this, you should join us and get involved. We need to re-route the British economy. We are not just the only party who proposes this, but the only one who will even admit that for years when we have needed to re-route, the driver has been taking us down completely the wrong track.

Speech on the launch of Brent Faith Covenant

It is a momentous time. This year we mark the anniversary of the October revolution, which sparked on of the greatest repressions of religion and faith in history. But let us remember the inspiration for this comes from a profound misunderstanding or religion’s role within society and the words of Comrade Marx. He is famous for invoking religion as the opiate of the people, but to take this in isolation means the opposite of the point made. Religion offers us an escape route from the relentless ethos of consumerism and profit, the hard edge of soulless types of logic at the expense of spiritual and material wellbeing. This has been a frequent theme of Pope Francis, but it is present in the logic of the reformation, in the epics of Hinduism, in the Exodus story of Judaism and in the logic of the protestant reformation as it brought religion closer to the people it was always there to serve.

It is a means of community resistance in the face of the things which divide men and women from our brothers and sisters. The famous line about being the opiate is preceded by the words “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” In this sense, faith is a respite and a guiding point; even as a secular humanist myself, it is very plain it is important for us as humans to have something to live for and something to live by.

This time is also momentous because of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. The EU is intricately bound up with the ECHR, and has therefore stood as a barrier between religion and the state in a way which is positive for faith.

Article 9 ECHR – Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

We might be losing our relationship with the EU, but this ethos is one which we will preserve in Brent at all costs. All people have a right to their faith and we will protect that.

And the final part of what we celebrate today is not the rights that accompany faith, but its obligations. The golden rule that we treat others as we would wish to be treated is the foundation of the ethics, laws and spirit of faith – the beating heart of faith itself. Regardless of our own relationships with god or morality, we find ourselves bound to it, and compelled by the spirit of these ideas to carry out good works – something also represented in the Jewish term tikkun olam – the idea that we must act to heal the world. It compels us to work together and to respect each other.

I often look to the Christian socialist concept of the brotherhood of man – a notion from faith which expands beyond any individual creed. Locally in Brent and in the world more widely, we look to people of faith to provide leadership in creating a world which is just, sustainable, and better for the soul. We look to you to help us build a place where relations between faiths and ethnicities are tolerant and rich. The people of Brent expect this from leaders of faith, and in the spirit of the faith covenant, together we must make the shared commitment that they will not be let down. Thank you all for coming.

A wildflower meadow

Helping Brent become cleaner and greener

In my role as the cabinet lead in Brent for stronger communities, I find myself covering areas like crime and safety, arts and heritage and community cohesion. These are all pretty fertile areas for someone on the left to throw around ideas and implement their vision, along with that of the Labour Party. One minor frustration though is that in roles like this you can never really reach a full expression of what your politics is about.

I’m a convinced environmentalist. I believe that global warming is the major threat our entire species faces. Further, when you consider the impact of global warming on food and habitation, some of the issues of migration and war we have seen for recent years will impact heavily on people in temperate climates. In my opinion, it’s not good being a social democrat or a socialist if you are not also ecologist in your thinking – a rose must grow green if it is to flower red.

But the environment is not all about big stuff. For that reason, developments like the coming together of local pressure group Clean Air for Brent are entirely welcome – around 1300 people per year are dying prematurely in London due to breathing pollution. Our environment matters because of the impact it has on our surroundings and our every day lives. So I thought I would divert slightly to talk a little about what we are doing on the Council to increase biodiversity and promote cleaner air, via the work of the Labour Party and my colleague, Cllr Southwood. Continue reading

Brent to discuss sixth Council Tax freeze in a row

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