Friday March 4, 2016
After months of consultation with local residents across the borough, the council’s budget for 2016/17 was agreed last week.
We have been able to freeze council tax bills for six years now while, at the same time, cutting council spending by £117 million as our government funding fell year after year.
Over the same period, the council has kept all 17 children’s centres open and we have begun building council homes again for the first time in 30 years. We are also expanding schools right across the borough. The percentage of schools judged good or outstanding by Ofsted in Brent has gone up from just over two thirds in 2010 to 85 per cent today. Overall 84 per cent of Brent people are satisfied with their local area and satisfaction with the council is at 67 per cent.
Because of our focus on value for money, we have managed to deliver services while freezing council tax. But now, in the face of more significant cuts in the money coming from central government, we are no longer able to do so while protecting residents’ priorities. We are not alone as around 86 per cent of councils are planning to increase council tax, according to a recent survey.
Therefore Brent Council decided to increase its share of council tax bills by just under 4 per cent in order to help protect the services our residents care about the most. This will mean an ‘average’ Band D household paying an extra 45p a week from April. This increase will raise around £4 million extra – with £2 million going straight into caring for our elderly and vulnerable residents.
As councillors we listened hard to what residents and businesses were telling us during the budget consultation. This increase will allow us to look after our most vulnerable and elderly residents, make sure the bins are collected regularly and maintain our parks and roads.
We have also set aside £4.5 million, split roughly half and half, to spend on roads and pavements as local people have said this is a priority so we want to protect this bit of our budget despite the overall cuts we are facing. In addition, we have asked officers to bring forward a further set of proposals to prioritise investment in our high streets, shopping areas and busiest roads. We have earmarked a further £2 million for this in 2016/17 subject to Cabinet agreement.
We are delivering more and more services with the voluntary sector and other councils. The budget for 2016/17 includes sensible initiatives like raising more income through advertising and sponsorship – thus reducing the need for even more cuts. We will look to increase income from the civic centre, and sell our planning and building control work. We are also looking to invest in supported living accommodation which offers individuals more independence than residential care. We are committed to getting value for money from procurement, and squeezing £8 million from all of our contracts over the next two years.
This budget, with its combination of sensible savings and a modest increase in council tax, will help to preserve the services which residents value the most.
Councillor Muhammed Butt
Leader of Brent Council