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Conservatives crucial in achieving Council Tax freeze in Brent

The Conservatives might be the junior partner in the joing administration with the Liib Dems that runs Brent Council. But they have certainly had a lott to do with achieving a Council Tax freeze. Cllr Bob Blackman, Deputy Leader and Lead Member for Resources has very much been in the driving seat and prsented the budget to the Council..

The following are extracts form his speech:

It is instructive to look at the change that we have made to the endemic culture of non-payment of the Council tax tolerated by the last Labour Administration. Under Labour we were the 30th worst
Council in London. We have instituted a policy of targeting short-term lets and other places with low collection levels to encourage them to pay.

Last year, at this stage, we had 91.27% has been collected and eventually achieved 95.5%. This year the collection rate has improved again and as of the end of February, we had achieved 91.47% an improvement of 0.2% on last year. We are therefore on course to collect nearly 96% by the end of the year. This will move us up the Council Tax Collection League Table from the relegation zone under Labour into a very comfortable mid-table position. We are not complacent and look for this improvement to continue year on year. This is a key part of our strategy to ensure that the money owed is collected so that services can be funded.

Brent is a £1 billion operation but much of the money received from Central Government is passed on directly such as to schools and benefit claimants with no involvement of Brent Council. The budget for schools has increased by 4.7% per pupil against the national average of 4.3% so our schools will do much better than any other service in Brent.

We control the Revenue Budget of £265.5 million and this is funded by £20.9 million in Revenue Support Grant from the Government, £101 million from the Council Tax and £143.6 million from business rates. So the major part of our funding comes from the business rates yet we have no control over the level of these taxes.

The position over the population level in Brent continues to be an issue. The Government still refuses to accept that Brent’s population has increased, which would lead to Brent receiving additional funding.

We have set out a plan to increase charges for the commercial services that we offer but we have frozen charges for Adult Social Care, sports provision, Children and all other services to the weak and the vulnerable.

Since the 1st Reading Debate we have identified £2.6 million efficiency savings in service areas and £2.4 million savings in central areas. 

In addition the Improvement and Efficiency Strategy will result in net savings next year of £4.4 million. We know that there will be tough times ahead for local government so we are making preparations to make our services more efficient and improve the service to the public. We have announced that the plan will save £50 million over the next four years. This does mean reducing the numbers of staff employed and 50 management posts will go at then of March and 300 posts overall over the next 4 years. However, most of these will be natural wastage as people retire, seek other employment opportunities or we remove agency or contractor posts.

 The Civic Centre and other office moves will transform the Council but it has to be delivered together with new ways of working at the same time. I look forward to the actual savings
being considerably more next year than the prudent £4.4 million we have projected.

This is a direct contrast to the attitude of the Labour Opposition. They appear to put their heads in the sand and hope that nothing happens. I note that Dawn Butler is now criticising the Civic Centre scheme. I take it that Labour no longer supports this scheme which will save Brent Council many millions of pounds over the next 10 years.

Our decision to make recycling compulsory is vindicated by the tremendous improvement in recycling rates. We still have work to do in rolling our recycling to flats and difficult to access properties and we will spend £60,000 on additional collections and initiatives to improve this still further. West London waste has increased its charges to us by £1 million and this shows how important improving our recycling rates still further is to the overall budget. Our streets are cleaner than ever before and our wisdom in dramatically increasing the spending on street cleansing is visibly paying dividends. Brent is truly cleaner and greener as a result.

We are investing a further £250k on supporting the redevelopment of Brent’s secondary schools; to improve the educational chances of our young people

We now have a sports strategy but the rate of sports participation is still far too low and we are investing £287k on sport and youth activities taking the year on year increase to over £1 million.
Conservative Councillors have pooled Ward Working funds to improve participation in competitive sport. We have announced the proposed site for a swimming pool in the north of Brent and we are providing free swimming to everyone aged under 16 and over 60.

 We have invested additional funding for new play equipment in the parks, further funding for CCTV and additional street lamps as we seek to make Brent a safer place to live, work and play.

We have increased funding to assist the team combating domestic violence, increasing volunteering in Brent and the promotion of “Green Zones”. We continue to improve energy efficiency through our Climate Change strategy which makes sense for the environment and to reduce costs. We have invested in additional surveyors to improve take up of Disabled Facility Grants.

 I am pleased that Boris Johnson as Mayor of London has kept to his promise to freeze the Council Tax precept. The original GLA precept was £122.98. It rose over 8 years to £309.82; almost trebling under Livingstone’s regime.

Last year we were able deliver the lowest increase in council tax since 1996 and pledged that there will be no increase in the Brent Council tax this year. This is of course a far cry from the bad old
days under Labour when increases of 20% plus were inflicted on Brent residents. In fact the average increase under Labour was 11.4% and under this joint Conservative/Liberal Democrat Administration it is 2.5%

The incoming Conservative Government has promised to freeze the Council Tax for two years. We have set down a programme which will mean that there will be no need for a Council tax increase in Brent for the next five years.

I note that 27 Councils in London have opted to freeze their Council tax levels this year, 3 to reduce the burden and 3 have chosen to increase the Council Tax. Kingston, under Liberal Democrat control, has once again opted to increase their Council Tax and remain the highest level in London. This once again demonstrates the impact we have had locally in preventing increases in local taxation.


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