Leader’s Budget Speech 03/03/2014
Good evening Mr. Mayor,
We all know that these are tough times for Brent.
Over the last four years, our borough and communities across the country have weathered the biggest cuts in public spending since before the Second World War.
In setting a budget for the upcoming financial year we must make savings of £18 million.
In the two years to follow, it’s estimated that we will have to cut another £53 million from our budget.
This means that by 2017 the council will have £133 million less to spend on the vital frontline services which local people rely on.
£133 million less than we did in 2010.
That’s £877 for every household in Brent.
And £321 for every citizen of our borough.
But numbers, no matter how shocking they may seem, could never begin to tell the real story of how local people’s lives have changed in Brent since David Cameron and Nick Clegg came to power four years ago.
The real story of our borough under the coalition is of families struggling to get by as wages have been frozen and benefits have been cruelly slashed even as food and energy bills, rents, fares and petrol prices continue to rise.
It is a story of parents skipping meals so their kids have enough to eat, and elderly people choosing between eating and heating their homes.
It is a story of a prolonged recession which devastated our local economy and a recovery built to benefit the few but not the many-
Of local people forced to work two or three jobs just to get by-
It is a story of hard working people who live less fulfilling lives, face more anxiety and have less hope than they did when George Osbourne was handed the keys to the Treasury.
Few could have predicted four years ago just how grave a situation we in Brent would now find ourselves in.
Few could have predicted the cost of living crisis which is now ravaging communities across the UK.
Few could have predicted the severity of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government’s punitive welfare reforms, or the blatant disregard and unconcealed contempt with which they have treated the most vulnerable in our society.
And few could have predicted the extent to which this government would single out local councils to bare the brunt of their swingeing cuts-
But anyone could have predicted what did happen as a result of the coalition’s disastrous decisions and profoundly unfair policies.
A stumbling economy. A cost of living crisis.
Throw in brutal welfare cuts and broken public institutions and you have a recipe for social ruin on a scale that Thatcher couldn’t even have dreamt of.
A recipe for another generation of young people wasted to unemployment.
For a return to Victorian slum housing across London.
For increased poverty and diminished life chances across communities such as ours.
And I want to be clear- it didn’t have to be this way.
The unprecedented cuts which the reckless ConDems have foisted upon this council are not the result of overspending by any government or even of the global financial crisis.
These cuts were never inevitable.
They were – and are – a choice.
The damage to our community perpetrated by the parties opposite is no accident.
They decided to turn their backs on the poorest people in the poorest places.
They made the decision that Brent should sustain almost ten times more cuts than the green and leafy Tory shires.
They chose to increase VAT for ordinary people whilst cutting income tax for millionaires.
They chose to impose the hated bedroom tax on the sick and disabled.
And they chose to close 500 Sure Start centres which gave children living in even the most deprived areas a decent start in life.
These cuts are no accident.
They are the deliberate result of an ideological experiment designed by the Tories and shamefully supported by the Liberal Democrats.
An experiment which the people of Brent will never forgive.
These cuts are the result of a core political belief that the disadvantaged do not deserve their support-
That people should be left to sink or swim regardless of the challenges they face or the economic circumstances that surround them-
That government should roll over and let the rich get on with getting richer whilst the poor barely get by.
Well, I have a message for David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the councillors sitting opposite.
I passionately believe that government can change things for the better-
That local councils can make things better for their residents-
That by working together we in Brent can build a fairer and more prosperous borough.
The coalition may have abdicated its responsibility to our residents, but not this council. Not this Labour council.
Whereas the millionaires in the cabinet have chosen to inflict cuts on the most vulnerable in our society whilst making life easier for those with the broadest shoulders-
We will redouble our efforts to protect our poorest residents and to lighten the load of local people just trying to get on.
It was once said that in tough times Labour-run local authorities should act as shields for their residents.
Shields dented inevitably by the slings and arrows of the Tories’ sustained assaults on our communities-
But better a dented shield than no shield at all.
The last line of defence for people fearing for their futures in the face of ConDem cuts.
Tonight the parties opposite have cut £18 million from this council’s budget, and made 18 million more dents in Brent’s shield.
But it’s at moments such as these that the real worth of a council governed according to Labour values shines through.
I grew up in Brent. I know the challenges people are facing throughout our borough-
And I know the true value of the services provided by this council.
All my children went to Brent schools, like I did.
My nephew has special educational needs and I know how much his family values and relies on the support of our SEN teams.
My wife is a registered childminder, and is always grateful for the advice of Brent’s Children’s and Youth Services.
I’ve lived in Wembley for almost 50 years. In that time I’ve asked the council for help with a range of issues, and I know the difference that we make.
We didn’t choose to make these cuts.
We would never choose to make these cuts.
If it were up to me every service we provide for the people of Brent would be second-to-none.
But the circumstances we find ourselves in today originate far beyond this Civic Centre, and we have no choice but to make savings.
In fact, I have something I want to say to some of the members opposite.
The Conservatives may be succeeding in their attempts to drag Britain back to the 1980s through their reckless cuts and divisive policies-
But the Labour party will not give them the satisfaction of recreating our own dark days.
We will neither defer decision-making nor go down the route of setting illegal budgets.
We will not hoist the white flag and hand this Civic Centre over to Eric Pickles and his auditors, just so they can roll back crucial services and set a budget for our borough without any concern for the impact it will have on our community.
And we won’t follow the same path as Nick Clegg’s Lib Dems and make promises that we cannot keep.
I know that poverty and inequality of opportunity remain daily realities for too many Brent citizens, and I hate that fact.
Labour will marshal the council’s resources to protect the most vulnerable people in Brent, but we will not play fast and loose with people’s jobs and services.
I understand the true meaning of the work of this council, and it’s too important.
But the decisions we make when in hard times reflect the values we hold as politicians better than those made in the good years.
Tough choices have to be made when there is less money to go around, and we have already made some hellish choices.
I don’t want anyone working for the council to lose their job.
Nor do I want to put more pressure on our staff by reducing the resources available to them.
But I will do everything in my power to protect the vital frontline services on which local people rely.
That’s why, wherever possible, this council has cut costs before cutting services.
We have scoured our spending plans to identify more efficient ways of working-
And endeavoured to develop new and innovative ways of providing services to our residents, delivering the same outcomes but at a lower cost.
My Deputy and this council’s Lead Member for Finance Cllr Ruth Moher will detail the massive efficiency savings which this council has made over the last four years.
But I want to say that I’m deeply proud of the fact that the funding for our comprehensive Early Help programme is ringfenced in this budget.
Through this programme we are reaching children who need our support sooner than ever before, and protecting our communities from the scourge of gangs.
But I know that we must and will do more than simply manage a dwindling budget.
I am immensely proud of what this council has managed to achieve despite the government’s swingeing cuts.
I didn’t go into politics to do George Osbourne’s dirty work.
I sought election as your Leader because I want to make Brent a better place to live and work for the 312,000 people outside of this chamber.
And that is exactly what Labour is doing in Brent.
Tonight I present to the council a budget that will make Brent a fairer place, create more jobs for local people and strengthen our community.
Our driving purpose is to deliver fairness in tough times.
To protect the disadvantaged and support families struggling to get by as a result of the coalition’s disastrous policies.
With the government’s cost of living crisis squeezing household budgets, we know that a bigger tax bill is the last thing Brent residents need.
We’re on the side of local people. That’s why, through this budget, we’re freezing Council Tax in Brent for the fifth year running.
By this time next year, this policy will have put almost £500 back into residents’ pockets.
And we know that, with bills sky rocketing, it’s vital that we help Brent citizens to make their money go further.
That’s why we’re helping our residents to band together to drive down energy costs through the Big London Energy Switch.
Through this collective purchasing scheme, we are standing up for – and with – our residents against the very monopolies the parties opposite refuse to tackle at Westminster.
Brent Council now pays the London Living Wage to all our staff, and we continue to urge local businesses to examine whether they can do the same.
Through championing the Living Wage, we are ensuring that people in our borough get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and delivering a better deal for some of the lowest paid workers in Brent.
The same people who get up early each morning, who spend hours travelling to work and who work hard when they get there-
But who often don’t get paid enough to heat their homes, feed their kids, care for their elderly relatives or enjoy a well-earned break.
These residents deserve to share in the results of their hard work.
I am proud of the steps our Labour council has taken to make Brent a Living Wage borough.
And I know only a Labour council will finish the job!
I’m proud that we have restricted the ability of payday lending firms to advertise in our borough.
These companies exploit people when they are at their lowest ebb.
Brent Council will not stand idly by whilst these legal loan sharks grind down those in need into a spiral of depression, debt and dependence.
Too many local people have already been hoodwinked by their slick expensive advertising and gimmicks.
It is time for this to change, which is why this council is working to encourage residents to invest in local credit unions-
Providing an affordable and ethical alternative to payday lenders and making sure everyone in Brent can get a loan on favourable terms if they need one.
We are delivering fairness in the private rented housing sector by bringing forward plans for a licensing scheme to encourage longer-term lets and to stamp out rogue landlords and beds-in-sheds throughout our borough.
But we know that the best way to build a Brent where everybody has a chance to succeed and nobody gets left behind is to make sure all of our children have the best possible start in life.
I count the many strides this council has taken to protect and promote the welfare of our kids since my party assumed leadership of it four years ago as amongst our greatest achievements.
It’s now been almost eighteen months since the Roundwood centre opened.
I’m proud that this fantastic, modern building has already made a huge difference to young people in Harlesden and throughout our borough.
I’m proud that this council has kept open every Sure Start centre in Brent despite a 50% cut in government funding.
I’m proud that, for the last three years in a row, our borough has had one of the lowest numbers of 16-18 year olds not in education, employment and training of any area of the UK.
The tenacity and spirit of children in our borough continues to inspire me.
Brent pupils continue to out perform the national average at GCSE level with 6 in 10 achieving 5 or more A star to C grades, including English and maths.
Last year’s A-level results for Looked After Children in Brent were the best ever.
This council has moved heaven and earth to ensure that every child in Brent has a school place, and I’m pleased to report that last September we provided a place for every child whose application was made on time.
Since 2010 we've invested £45 million in expanding our primary schools-
And we’re already preparing for when those children start secondary school.
I’m proud that, through our SEN transformation programme, this Labour council has created an extra 80 school places for our most vulnerable young people.
I’m proud that we have supported the flagship Village School, a state of the art centre for pupils with severe learning difficulties, to go from strength to strength.
And I’m proud that last year we opened the Ade Adepitan Short Breaks Centre for children and young people with disabilities.
This council has taken decisive steps to protect our environment for the Brent citizens of tomorrow-
Increasing the volume of our borough’s waste which is recycled from 21% under the Lib Dems to 43%, and extending recycling to flats above shops in our borough for the first time through our new public realm contract.
We have protected our green spaces, and opened 6 outdoor gyms, new gym facilities at Vale Farm and a new swimming pool at Bridge Park to get our young people exercising and reduce health inequalities throughout Brent.
But in order to build a better future for our children we must ensure that there are jobs and training opportunities available to them when they leave school.
As a Council, one of our biggest priorities is helping local businesses to grow, creating more jobs for Brent residents as well as apprenticeships for our young people.
Because we know that the best way to help local people get ahead and stay local at a time when Work and Pensions ministers seem hell-bent on shipping the disadvantaged out of London is to help them get into work.
Through our newly established Employment & Enterprise team, this Labour council has already helped to find jobs for over almost 400 Brent residents at sites including the new London Designer Outlet.
The opening of the LDO represented a major step forward in making our regeneration vision for Wembley a reality.
Wembley is London’s biggest growth zone, and I have a message which I know will soon resonate far beyond our borough and our city, throughout the whole country.
We all know that Wembley has a particular place in our nation’s affections as the site of many historic moments-
But soon it will be known for more than just Geoff Hurst’s 1966 World Cup winning hattrick and Freddy Mercury belting out We Are the Champions for Live Aid.
Because, soon, Wembley will be known the world over as an international destination for leisure and retail, London’s economic engine room and the beating heart of Brent.
But our Wembley plan is just one small element of the programme of work this council is undertaking to transform Brent.
In the last year alone Brent Council has helped almost 130 businesses to set up shop and develop in our borough.
We have provided office space to 49 local start-ups.
We have launched the Brent Business Hub- a virtual one stop shop for local businesses.
And this Labour council has reduced parking charges across the borough to provide a much-needed boost to our high streets and small businesses.
This budget is about improving our infrastructure so that Brent businesses can come out of these tough times fighting-
And helping our borough to grow in a way that serves its people.
It’s about driving forward our ambitious regeneration programmes for Kilburn, Sudbury and Alperton to fuel growth and build a brighter and more prosperous future for everyone in our borough.
In South Kilburn we have already built over 250 new affordable homes.
Almost 600 more homes are currently under construction in the area, and I’m proud that every social housing tenant who wants to stay in South Kilburn will be offered a property.
This budget is about a £100 million building and expansion programme to create more school places in Brent.
And a house-building plan on a scale that our borough hasn’t seen in generations.
It sets out our ambitious plan to construct 1,600 homes to rent at social or affordable rates and 1,250 low-cost homes for sale by 2018.
And to build 1,000 new council homes over the next seven years, whilst investing £110 million to dramatically improve the quality of our current stock.
We are clear in our resolve.
After too many years of inaction by the parties opposite, this budget will get Brent building again.
I’m proud that this is a budget that will make Brent a fairer place and create jobs for local people.
But we cannot ignore or avoid the massive scale of the task in front of us.
When I stood in the old Town Hall chamber and presented my first budget as Leader, I told you that the challenge we face is nothing short of a crisis-
That even as more local people are relying on council services-
And even as our ageing population and high birth rate mean our spending on children’s and adult social care is increasing dramatically-
Resolving this crisis will require nothing less than the complete transformation of Brent Council as an organisation.
Cameron, Clegg and their cronies have made it plain there are more cuts to come.
Cuts which will further reduce the ability of this council to protect Brent residents from ConDem policies which are hurting but not working.
Today, it is more apparent than ever that the traditional model of local public service delivery cannot continue.
And we should be clear there are some problems that local councils have been unable to solve for reasons having nothing to do with money, like the isolation and loneliness which have resulted from the loss of community ties over time.
Problems that we have been powerless to address because of the way in which we have been working.
Because over time public institutions like this council became detached from and unresponsive to the communities around them.
Which is why I have long maintained that this challenge-
Though it was borne needlessly out of the ruthlessness and nastiness of a government which doesn’t know Brent and doesn’t care about Brent-
That this grave challenge also represents an opportunity.
An opportunity to change the way the council works and to renew our borough’s sense of community.
To give local people a greater feeling of ownership over the area they live in and, yes, their council as well.
Because I don’t believe councils should be bodies remote from residents, charged only with collecting taxes, distributing planning permits and issuing fines.
I believe the council should be where local people come together as a community to achieve shared goals and create change.
In the face of devastating Tory-Lib Dem cuts, we will forge a new settlement with our residents- organising local communities to fight for the future of our borough.
Whereas the Coalition Government is seeking to divide people through economic policies and welfare reforms making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and pathetic stunts like the racist Go Home vans-
We are bringing local people together to deliver for Brent.
And I have a message for the Home Secretary about those vans and about Brent.
You’re right. We are a very diverse borough-
Children in our schools speak over 140 languages. We worship in synagogues, mosques, churches and in temples. Some of us don’t worship at all.
But in Brent we draw strength from our diversity and the vibrancy it brings.
We are one community, Mrs May, and we are home.
And this Labour council is unleashing the power of our community- helping residents to pool their resources and energies for the common good.
Alongside the Brent Council for Voluntary Services we have launched a new deal for local community and voluntary organisations.
Because we know that the voluntary sector is the glue that binds our community together-
And not only do they need our support now more than ever, we need theirs.
We will work with these organisations and with Brent residents to transform council services so that they harness the bonds between local people and are shaped around real local needs-
Giving families more say over how their local children’s centre is run-
Putting library members in charge of libraries-
And serving people’s desire for their meals-on-wheels to be provided by a familiar face rather than a stranger.
I know that by working together we can turn the challenges we face into opportunities and emerge from these tough times as a stronger, united borough.
I want to thank all those residents who contributed to this budget setting process by attending consultation workshops or using our online budget simulator.
Mr. Mayor, my friends, this is not a budget that reflects my biggest dreams or my deepest hopes for our borough.
But it is a budget that reflects my values. My Labour values of equality, social justice and fairness.
And my belief that local government can improve people’s lives and change things for the better.
This is a budget to protect the most vulnerable and vital frontline services.
To make Brent a fairer place, create jobs for local people and strengthen our community.
And to make hope possible at a time when despair could otherwise be truly convincing.
My friends, I commend this budget to the council.