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'Austerity far from over' says Brent's leader calling public to join consultation on £26m cuts to services

PUBLISHED: 19:12 09 October 2018

The local council election count taking place at the Brent Civic Centre

The local council election count taking place at the Brent Civic Centre

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Street lights might not be going out - but all 17 children's centres may close and pot holes take longer to repair as part of Brent's proposed £26million budget.

Brent Civic Centre (Picture: Nathalie Raffray)Brent Civic Centre (Picture: Nathalie Raffray)

More austerity is promised for certain people in Brent – and now the public has the chance to say what stays and what goes.

Council chiefs will discuss a list of savings proposals at a cabinet meeting on Monday at 4pm at the civic centre where people are invited to “come and ask questions”.

Speaking to the Brent & Kilburn Times, council leader Muhammed Butt was at a loss to explain the impact of cuts on local people – other than “it will be hard”.

Seventy individual proposals are being consulted on, divided into four categories – from “recommended”, which includes stopping catering at member meetings and increasing the price of landlord licensing – to the “most difficult”, which include reducing the provision of day care services, slashing 30-minute care home visits to 15 minutes, and reductions to the council tax support scheme, which stops the most vulnerable paying the full bill.

The closure of the Abbey Road Recycling Centre and the reduction of “some of” the library opening times are also on the table.

Brent says it is forced to find about £40m in savings over the next four years due to cuts in government funding.

Cllr Butt said: “These are really tough choices. This government has cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, and said austerity is over – but how’s this over? They have given us no clarity, no certainty, no indication, nothing about how much money they’ll put back in local government.

“Local government has been cut by £164m since 2010. We’ve been screaming at central government: ‘Do not cut any more – you are now going to be hurting the most vulnerable residents in our society.’ And this government has not listened and continues not to listen.”

Asked which voluntary groups will stop receiving money, he said “all of them” – the same with the 17 children’s centres, 14 of which have been run by Barnardo’s with council subsidy since 2015.

He added: “If I don’t tell people these are the stark choices that I have, people are not going to realise the implication. Everything is on the table. Do I take that million or that million?”

Money the town hall receives through council tax and business rates, set to increase with the number of developments being built in the area, has been lessened by the related population growth and strain on public services.

The council will raise council tax by the maximum amount permitted without triggering a referendum.

This will be either 3.99 per cent or 4.99pc, pending an upcoming government decision, and will cost the taxpayer an average £60 a year.

Cllr Butt admitted there were ways to generate money including selling IT services to other councils and organisations, and dimming but not extinguishing street lights after midnight. Further savings could come from expanding litter patrol activity, where income is made through fining people.

The council’s Met Patrol project, which has funded 12 police officers, may also go.

“Go outside and people don’t feel safe,” said Cllr Butt. “I’m investing in CCTV cameras. That £4k [for the Met Police officers] we are spending is the government’s responsibility – why should I be taking the blame if it goes?”

He admitted: “After some of these meetings I can’t sleep at night.”

Deputy leader Cllr Margaret McClennan, who was also at the meeting, added: “After the meetings, people are ashen faced. Not one of us came into government for this. We came to make people’s lives better.

“I hope we decide our front line services are the ones we protect. Yes, it might take longer to fill potholes, but we’d rather make sure people who need our help are protected.”

The first Brent Connect meetings will take place in Harlesden (Tuesday, Tavistock Hall, 7pm), Willesden (Wednesday, Willesden Library, 7pm) and Wembley (October 23, Patidar House, London Road, 7pm).

Future meetings will be listed in next week’s paper.

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