A lean Christmas this year as Brent Council cuts costs

The leaders of Brent Council will tonight propose cutting children’s social workers as part of a bid to save an additional £18.8m over the next three years.

Brent Civic Centre, where local councillors will tonight propose nearly £19m in cuts
Brent Civic Centre, where local councillors will tonight propose nearly £19m in cuts. Source: David Gregg

The cuts will be part of a wide range of measures launched at a 14th December meeting at Brent Civic Centre.

These will include: cutting one in five jobs in the ‘Community Services’ department, charging residents more for waste removal and setting up pay-as-you-go WiFi hotspots on lamp-posts and rooftops.

These £18.8m savings are in addition to a previously agreed package of £28.3m savings. This means over the next three years, the council will make cost-saving measures worth £47.1m.

Cllr. Mohammed Butt, the Labour leader of Brent Council, said: “The proposals we’re publishing today try to squeeze the very last penny out of the money we have to spend on services, by being more efficient and modern in our approach, driving down costs, and maximising income from our commercial assets.

“We are doing our best to keep the negative impacts on front line services to an absolute minimum but there will be significant changes given the budget position.”

CUTS IN FUNDING

Brent Council has seen a 16per cent fall in its budget since 2010/11. After George Osborne announced that central funding for local government would decrease by over 50%, local councillors have been forced to make even more drastic measures than originally planned.

Previously agreed cuts included £420,000 saved by encouraging elderly residents to move from home care to living in sheltered or supported accommodation. This will allow the council to spend less on residential nursing.

£900,000 will be saved in children and youth services mainly by altering structures and delivery of social services, but the threat of job losses remains. A further £500,000 will be saved by reducing the number of agency children social workers from 70 to 40.

The removal of a grant to the popular Tricycle Theatre, along with cuts to Willesden Green Cultural Centre, will save £280,000. The loss of this grant will mean the theatre can no longer perform its local outreach work in schools.

This will mean the end of the theatre’s sometimes controversial relationship with Brent Council. Tricycle Theatre refused to host the UK Jewish Film Festival in 2014 due to its links to the Israeli Embassy. This decision was reversed after an investigation was launched by John Warren, leader of the council’s Conservative group. 

INCREASES IN REVENUE

In addition to cutting costs, the council is looking at a variety of measures to raise revenues. There is a possibility of a 4 per cent increase in council tax, half of which will be ring-fenced for social care. Increased ‘charges and fees’ will raise 1.99m from local residents.

When asked for comment, Brent Council said: “On fees and charges, we’re obviously being selective about increases – and we’re required to assess the likely impact on various groups. We take a targeted approach to mitigate negative impacts.  We’re more interested in maximising income from commercial income – such as advertising, sponsorship, and  room hire rentals.”

The council are being tight-lipped about exactly where this money will come from but possibilities include charging for previously free waste removal services and increased rates for sports facilities.

The council also hopes to raise an extra £300,000 in revenue from additional advertising and sponsorship of Brent Civic Centre, as well as lampposts across the borough.

Lampposts in Brent look to be the council’s big moneymakers with plans to raise £50,000 a year from selling access to lamppost based wireless hotspots.

Alexandra Kulikova, a global stakeholder manager for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the group which helps maintain security and stability of the Internet, said: “While it may make economic sense, WiFi hotspots are often unsecured meaning they can be hacked into. Unless appropriate security measures are taken, users may be at risk.”

The Cabinet meeting to consider these proposals takes place tonight, and the full budget will be set on 22nd February 2016.

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