This is my fifth budget response and none have been like this. All four budget proposals had been put out to consultation before the Provisional Local Government Financial settlement had been received. In the good days, early detailed dialogue was exchanged...
This is my fifth budget response and none have been like this.
All four budget proposals had been put out to consultation before the Provisional Local Government Financial settlement had been received. In the good days, early detailed dialogue was exchanged between Ministers and local politicians; Civil servants and local officers on the decisions being proposed and the effects they would have, so the Council could be positioned to respond effectively.
Not this time-the original budget proposals were consistent with the guidance provided by Government throughout the late summer and autumn. – a grant reduction of up to 40% over the next four years – cuts of £4m leaving a potential gap of over £6m.
This time, When the actual settlement arrived it included previously unannounced formula grant changes resulting in a surprise 80% cut over four years. As you well know, this left just 7 weeks to find £12.5m of savings and many are yet to be found.
The Government has also announced that the Revenue Support Grant will be phased out by 2020 and replaced by 100% retention of the Business rates. Very few details have been released, or discussed on how this will be achieved- leading to more uncertainty, so it’s downhill from now on. When service standards slip, roads become unmaintained- it will be the local Councillors that are blamed- Westminster has washed its hands of local government.
For the past 5 years all local Councils have been encouraged to not raise council taxes, and the Council Tax Freeze grant helped persuade them. Bracknell Forest did as requested. Now the government seems to be suggesting Local Councils would be more secure, with higher base rates, if taxes had been raised. Local Councils are told they can raise their taxes to meet the deficits- but the capping and need for a referendum on a 4%rise on Councils providing adult social care is still imposed. Organising another referendum, at huge cost, and almost certainly resulting in a NO vote is a no-win situation.
The budget consulted on, dealt with a deficit of £6.m and I support a rise in Council tax of 1.99% to secure front line services and avoiding the need for a referendum. I also support the new 2% increase in Council Tax to be spent on Adult Social Care pressures. This 3.99% increase would mean less than £1 a week for a band D household and raise almost £2m. There is a tax rebate scheme for those unable to meet this.
The balances at 31st March are expected to be £12m, so using some of this to fill the gap is a must, but I fully appreciate that the balances can only be spent once. The actual budget proposals put out to consultation did not mention how much of the balances would be used. The new consultation agreed by the Executive yesterday, suggested just over £5m.
There will be a lot of redundancies from all departments because of these cuts and this will certainly impact on the Council’s efficiency. I have noticed already that response is now taking much longer – even for issues such as failed legionella testing.
I support all the Council is doing to try and support the homeless by providing temporary accommodation in Bracknell. This supports families emotionally at a very difficult time, enables their children to continue their education without the need to transport them in and it reduces the pay-out to private landlords.
The proposal to cut £340K by reassessing high cost care packages, assumes many of these packages were either wrongly assessed or the client no longer needs such care. If care is removed, when will a new review be done to check the replacement package is sufficient? Huge further amounts over £1m are proposed in the next round of budget consultations. At the Executive yesterday, it was said ‘anyone who needs care will not be deprived of care.’ But of what quality and how compassionate? Care needs time and time is expensive.
Has the base line for needing support been raised?
Are we still sure it will be better for the resident to be cared-for in their own home?
Is not the Government’s extra 2% tax to improve the support given?
The fact that money can be taken out of the budget for Looked after Children reflects the success of all the interventions preventing the need to take young children into care. The pressure now is with older children and teenagers. Early Intervention is working and yet £72K is to be removed from the Children’s Centre’s budget. I am on the board of the Oaks and Hollies Children centre and appreciate the value of daily interaction between manager and families. I am not convinced that one ’Virtual Manager’ running all centres, with one Management Board, will provide robust management. Certainly responding to each centre’s local issues will be challenging.
I am very concerned at the removal of £58K from Youth Provision. I accept that the focused work done in school is very valuable and effective but there is still a need for drop in centres where young people can meet adults, chat and open up- for universal youth provision. This was recognised in the local Children’s safeguarding Board’s Annual Report. Four years ago, young people, as a result of another consultation, were promised a state of the art facility in the Centre of Bracknell – Coopers Hill. I was going to ask When is this happening- but having read the proposals later in the agenda – I now know- no when soon.
Similarly, I need not now ask about Harmans Water Community Centre. Or money for more residential parking places?
There was also no mention of South Hill Park- supporting the wellbeing of so many residents. For me, it is the Jewel in the Bracknell Forest’s Crown and, together with Coral Reef, has put Bracknell on the map.
I support the refurbishment of the Waymead flats to support our Care Leavers. I also support the LED lighting project but wish more such green energy projects had been included in the New town development. The Waitrose building was such a superb start and then…nothing.
Binfield Learning Village is an ideal education provision but I must say I regret its build demands using residents’ taxes, then it is handed over to an Academy Trust- lock, stock and barrel- and the residents are left paying the interest on the borrowed money.
School Places provision is a real pressure and I hope the Government grant for the Investment in schools reflects the increased costs in construction.
No increase in the Dedicated Schools grant is very bad news as school budgets now have to provide the increased contributions to their teachers’ pension fund and National Insurance contributions.For Great Hollands primary school this means £26K less to spend on the children.
I of course support the increase in the Bracknell Forest Supplement, helping the lowest paid employees to come off benefits.
I realise these proposed cuts are just the start and there are many and worse to come. I guess there will be two more such budget discussions after each of the consultation periods. I was going to ask about the grant to Home Start and CAB?- Again- next round!
I just ask that the Council members appreciate Early Intervention with children and their families is the very best ‘investment to save’ and has proved so very effective.
For each of the past five budgets the Labour group has proposed an amendment. These were always defeated by about 40 votes to 2 and so this year- no amendment.
Other Councils have made considerable savings by becoming paperless. Bracknell Forest would save £30K by doing this and I suggest it makes this leap as soon as possible- even though this would be a huge learning curve for me.
I recognise that this budget is like nothing before it. I do not think Local Government will ever be the same.
The Leader’s protests resulted in nearly £2m extra, reducing the amount taken from the balances.
Raising the Council tax, Using Balances but also Cutting Services and lowering standards- This is a hard time to be a Local community Councillor.
The Great British Spring Clean took place over Bracknell Forest today.
Councillors @MaryTemperton and @PaulforMP along with our teams joined the hundreds of residents at multiple locations across the borough.
A wonderful event making a huge difference to our communities. pic.twitter.com/lwKv…