- Meeting of Budget and Finance Overview and Scrutiny Committee, Wednesday 15 September 2010 7.30 pm (Item 7.)
The Budget Panel has requested a report about how the Council is developing a plan to provide a strategic focus to the Council’s lobbying activity.
Cheryl Curling (Head of Communications, Communications and Diversity Unit) introduced the report which had been requested by Members at the previous meeting requesting further information about how the Council was developing a strategic approach to lobbying the Government on policy and budgetary changes. She stressed the need for the Council to have a coordinated approach to lobbying the Government on policy areas that had a negative impact on the Borough and the Council’s ability to set a realistic and robust budget. Cheryl Curling then outlined the immediate lobbying priorities, which included:-
· Population estimates and Council funding. The Office of National Statistics’ estimated population of Brent of 254,000 contradicted the Council’s independent estimate which estimated the population at around 290,000 and this would impact significantly on funding
· School places, also linked to discrepancies in population estimates
· Building Schools for the Future/Academies. Lobbying the Government to overturn decisions in respect of the scrapping of the BSF programme
· Housing Benefit. The Government’s proposal to cap housing benefit could result in increasing homelessness and overcrowding as families are forced to leave their present homes which they can no longer afford.
· GPs and Health Services
· Local Government Finance
· Adult Social Care
· Regeneration, housing and employment
Amongst steps taken to date, Cheryl Curling advised that a more robust and joined up approach was being established between Policy and Regeneration and Communications and Diversity to ensure a Council-wide lobbying strategy approach was taken. Identification of who should be lobbied had also been carried out and this included Government ministers, private offices in the Government departments, civil servants and officials, local MPs, the Mayor of London and Transport for London. In addition, attracting such people to visit Brent, joint lobbying activities between Lead Members and lead officers and cross party groups of councillors working together would also send out a stronger message. Lobbying activities were also to be reported regularly to the Corporate Management Team (CMT).
Cheryl Curling then updated Members with some recent lobbying initiatives. Members heard that the Leader of the Council had met with the Schools Minister and £46.3 million had been secured to re-build the Crest Schools Academy. School head teachers had recently spoken on BBC Radio 4 about the situation concerning Brent schools following the withdrawal of the BSF Programme, whilst ITN had publicised the lack of school places in London which had included an interview with the Lead Member of Children and Families. A BBC London programme had highlighted issues in respect of the proposed housing benefit cap and had included an interview with the Director of Housing and Community Care and a lobbying letter had been sent to the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.
During Members’ discussion, Councillor Mashari expressed approval in the measures being undertaken so far, including the regular reporting of lobbying activity to the CMT and the robust approach taken following the suggestion made by the Committee. She stressed the need for councillors to cooperate with each other and officers and to use jargon free and more publically accessible wording in highlighting Brent’s situation. Councillor A Choudry concurred with Councillor Mashari concerning cooperation between councillors and in respect of the proposed housing benefit cap he enquired what action would be taken to assist those who could no longer afford their rent. Councillor Van Kalwala enquired who would take a lead in developing the lobbying strategy and he emphasised the importance in seeking leverage in both Whitehall and City Hall.
In reply, Cheryl Curling stated that the Lobbying Strategy was also discussed at Senior Manager Group meetings and would be considered at the CMT meeting on 14 October 2010. Members heard that the Director of Communications and Consultation would have overall responsibility of the Lobbying Strategy, whilst the Administration would assume political ownership. Cheryl Curling acknowledged the importance in influencing Whitehall and City Hall, whilst joint lobbying through the Local Government Association and London Councils was also being developed.
Duncan McLeod advised that increasing homelessness would also mean extra costs to the Council. Whilst there was provision to provide discretionary awards for those who could not pay their rent, funding of this was limited and lobbying to review proposals to cap housing benefit at £400 was essential.
that the report on the development of a Lobbying Plan for Brent be noted.