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The hall was packed for the first public meeting held by Bromley Council in Beckenham for people to tell the council where they want their taxes to be spent. A big thank you to Jon Cheetham who had volunteered to film the presentations by Bromley Council's Chief Executive Doug Patterson and leader Councillor Stephen Carr. I understand that their presentations will be available on the Council website.
Bromley anticipates a reduction in the grant of £40 million over 4 years. Their aim is to: cut out waste, protect services and provide value for money. The controllable budget excludes schools and health which have been ring fenced by the government and statutory duties which include child and adult safeguarding.
Bromley are identifying options for managing spending reductions of up to 25% over 4 years. There has been a £1.7 million reduction in this financial year (2010/2011) of specific grants from the Government directly relating to services. The breakdown of the reductions which directly relates to services is £1.4m Children and Young Peoples Services, £0.2m Adult and Community Services, £0.1m Public Protection and Safety.
The spending challenges:
A higher than national average older population with increasing levels of complex need
Increasing numbers of people with learning disabilties
Regenerating the town centres to ensure a vibrant local economy for the future
Higher costs to collect and dispose of waste
Increases in looked after children requiring residential care and other support. (Significant increase following the Baby P case in Haringey)
Increases in clients for some services during this difficult economic period
Cabinet members with portfolios ranging from Adult and Community Services through to Resources were in attendance to answer questions. It had been agreed that the Question and Answer session would not be filmed because Bromley Council seemed unsure about what would happen at the meeting. This was a shame because of the wide ranging questions which were asked. To the credit of the Chief Executive he was keen to ensure that as many people as possible were able to have their questions answered.
A brief summary
Q. Have you considered amalgamating adults and children’s services and making a new families department?
A This is a complex and challenging area and both services have big budgets. Not an easy or short term way of reducing expenditure. 19% of the Council budget is spent on Adult and Community Services (£127.1m), 16% is spent on Children and Young People (£109.9m) and 28% on the Delegated Schools Budget (£192.6m) Potential savings could be made through shared back office services and improved recruitment and retention of social workers. Bromley is also talking to Croydon and Bexley about sharing services.
Q Could the number of councillors be reduced?
A. There are currently 60 councillors. A wider review is being undertaken by government exploring a reduction in the number of MPs and elected representatives.
Q how are local businesses being involved in helping Bromley with the cuts.
A Bromley are using the private sector wherever possible and consider themselves a “business friendly” borough. Private sector expertise is bought in when specialist knowledge is required.
Q How long will the council tax be frozen and what about using reserves?
Council tax will be frozen for this year but cannot comment on council tax levels for future years. Once the council reserves are spent Bromley will no longer have the interest available to fund future services.
Residents like living in a clean and green borough but there are obvious tensions about how environmental services will be funded when there are more urgent and pressing demands on the council budget.
Concern expressed from the floor about the danger of a “nickle and dime approach to cost savings e.g. turning off street lighting which makes streets unsafe, not collecting rubbish immediately which then leads to rubbish dumping.
People are confused about the new waste collection system and that there are problems with the contractors. Food waste is not being collected weekly (suggestion to contact local councillors), bottles and plastics should be collected weekly because there are problems with storing the quantity accumulated over two weeks. Paper is collected weekly because it generates more income for the council. The Council operate a Special Requirements List for people who have difficulty moving their rubbish to the pavement.
Councillors are very enthusiastic about local community volunteer projects and cited 55 friends of the parks and 800 street friends.
Questions about traffic management and the possibility of 20 mph street zones. Bromley not keen on this idea.
There are likely to be compulsory redundancies – it was suggested that Bromley consult with staff about more flexible working and other options which have been used by the private sector to ensure that staff at least keep their jobs. Point made that lots of people who work for the council are also Bromley residents and redundancies will have an impact on the local economy.
If the government grants are no longer available for particular projects there will be no funding to employ staff
There were a number of questions and concerns about how services for the most vulnerable children and adults in the community will be protected from the cuts. The third sector play a vital role in Bromley and cuts to their funding will seriously affect the services provided and the quality of life for service users, their families and carers.
It would be helpful to have a response from the Council to the new Department of Health Social Care Vision which promises to break down barriers between health and social care funding http://www.dh.gov.uk/en/Aboutus/Features/DH_121664
and Think Local, Act Personal: Next Steps for Transforming Adult Social Care Concordat http://www.puttingpeoplefirst.org.uk/ThinkLocalActPersonal/
There will be cuts to services e.g. Bromley will not be funding all of the children and families centres in the future. Concern was expressed about the loss of family support services because early intervention has been proven to improve the life chances of disadvantaged young children and young people. This raises a very important issue which must take precedence over shorter term political considerations. Early interventions and preventative services can be more expensive in the short term but there are considerable savings in the longer term for society.
It was impossible for people to offer considered views about what the spending priorities should be and which services should be protected without knowing the options and choices available. Decisions need to be informed by research and data. The government grant for Bromley will be confirmed by the 2nd December. Councillor Stephen Carr said it would not be possible to have further public meetings but residents were welcome to attend the relevant council meetings and contribute to the discussions.
It was suggested that, in the absence of further public meetings, Bromley should embrace the benefits of technology and consider an online consultation for residents. This could provide more detailed information about priorities and the choices about where the cuts would be made. It was also suggested that all further public meetings should have a council “tweeter” so that people unable to attend the meetings could participate via twitter.
It was agreed that the next two public meetings could be filmed in their entirety including the question and answer session. The council are developing a social media policy to encourage more engagement and discussion with residents.
Finally Councillor Carr asked whether people who held a freedom pass would be prepared to pay a higher administration charge for their pass. A show of hands indicted that most people would be prepared to pay slightly more. Councillor Carr assured the audience that Bromley did not have longer term plans to abolish the Freedom Pass.
Please feel free to add any crucial points that I may have missed in my summary of the meeting.