- Meeting of Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee, Thursday 7 February 2019 7.30 pm (Item 10.)
- View the background to item 10.
The Budget Scrutiny Panel reviewed the Cabinet’s draft Budget proposals published in October 2018 and produced a report setting outs its recommendations. The Resources and Public Realm Scrutiny Committee considered and endorsed the Panel’s recommendations at its meeting on 15 January 2019. The Committee will now consider the final Budget proposals, which are then due to be considered by the Cabinet at its meeting on 11 February 2019.
The committee reviewed the council’s budget proposals for 2019/20 and 2020/21 which were due to be considered by Cabinet at its meeting on 11 February 2019. The committee had considered a previous iteration of the budget proposals at its meeting on 15 January 2019, when it had reviewed and endorsed the report of the Budget Scrutiny Panel. The Chair highlighted that the views of the committee, along with the recommendations of the Budget Scrutiny Panel, had informed the current version before members. In particular, the Chair welcomed the adoption of the a number of key recommendations of the Budget Scrutiny Panel including rejection of the proposals to reduce library opening hours and rejection of the closure of Abbey Road, Brent Reuse and Recycling Facility. There remained however, a number of areas where further feedback would need to be sought from Cabinet.
It was noted that the Budget report set out details of the consultation, scrutiny and equalities processes undertaken with regard to the proposals and revealed the overall financial position facing the council over the following four year period, including risks, issues and uncertainties. The Chair informed the committee that Councillor McLennan (Deputy Leader) and Ravinder Jassar (Head of Finance) were present to address members’ queries.
In the subsequent discussion, the committee noted that there was a history of certain departments overspending and underspending, and assurance was sought that this was appropriately accounted for when setting the budgets for these departments. Members questioned whether consultation via Brent Connects was productive and queried whether the council could do anything to attract a greater level of engagement, including reviewing the accessibility of locations. Clarification was sought on how the anticipated additional licensing income from events held at Wembley Stadium would be distributed and whether consideration had been given to compensating the residents most affected by the events. A member suggested that improved public transport signage and indicators would be beneficial to the borough. Highlighting the committee’s suggestion made at its last meeting that consideration be given to developing a more strategic and co-ordinated approach to Neighbourhood Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funds, the committee questioned how this could be considered as part of the budget formulation process. Assurance was sought that the £600k ‘pothole’ fund provided by Central Government would be used solely for the repair of the Brent’s roads. The committee questioned whether the council was consulted about the increase in the Mayor’s precept and the impact that this increase was likely to have on Brent’s residents. Members queried who would be affected by the reduction in council tax support, proposed for 2020/21, and sought details of the council’s policy with regard to using bailiffs to collect unpaid council tax.
In response to the questions raised, Ravinder Jassar confirmed that the budgets were correctly set at the start of the year. The departmental overspend for Children and Young People was borne of an increase in the numbers of Looked After Children and children subject to child protection plans. The underspend for Regeneration and Environment was a result of early savings and in-year vacancies. Councillor McLennan advised that funding for Children and Young People was a cross-London issue and London Councils was lobbying for greater funding from central government.
Councillor McLennan welcomed any suggestions for enhancing future budget consultations and explained that whilst Brent Connects meetings were a major forum for consultation, they were only one medium through which face to face consultation had been undertaken. Going forward there would be a greater use of social media and other online platforms to increase the council’s reach.
Addressing a number of queries, Ravinder Jassar confirmed the anticipated additional income from Wembley Stadium events was not ring-fenced and assured members that the £600k pothole funding would be spent on Brent’s roads, adding that the council was required to evidence this to central government. The council was not consulted on the increase in the Mayor’s precept, as the GLA had its own consultation process, however, the council had made it clear that the overall increase facing residents was 5.7 percent. Councillor McLennan confirmed that Brent’s Council Tax Support Scheme would remain the same for 2019/20 and was currently being reviewed for 2020/21 to ensure it was fit for purpose following the roll out of Universal Credit. Going forward the emphasis of the scheme would be to ensure those who were in work but on low incomes were supported. Members heard that council tax collection had been brought back in-house and that the Council Tax Protocol ensured that Bailiffs were only used for cases where prosecution was deemed appropriate.
Concluding the discussion, the Chair thanked everyone for their contribution and reflected on the challenges facing the council and the strategic value of setting a two year budget. The committee was advised that a statement of the committee’s views with respect to the budget proposals would be submitted to Cabinet for consideration at its meeting on 11 February 2019.
During the discussion, the committee requested that the following action be undertaken:
- a meeting be arranged between Councillor Nerva and Councillor Tatler (Lead Member for Regeneration, Highways and Planning) to discuss implementing a co-ordinated approach to the use of Neighbourhood CIL.