I noticed a new Ealing blog from Labour supporter Neil Reynolds yesterday, see here. He was commenting on the council budget and thought that it was fair overall.
Neil approvingly pulled out some key points. Rather than simply report on yesterday’s budget setting council or rehash the speech I had prepared on my blog I thought I might respond to Neil instead.
Welcome to blogging in Ealing. I would like to comment on the points you raise:
■£66,000,000 cut in funding from central government over the next 10 years.
Apparently £7.3 million of this number is the growth items in Labour’s own budget. In four budgets we put in £40 million of growth. You did not hear us describing this as £40 million of Labour government cuts. The £66 million figure is just nonsense. The actual, real cuts are a fraction of this and tiny compared to the council’s £1 billion plus spending every year (look it up, happy to explain it). For instance, adding £1.5 million to parking charges is no kind of cut.
■A council tax freeze as promised in Labour manifesto.
This freeze is paid for by £3.1 million per annum for four years provided by central government – otherwise council tax would have to go up by 2.5%. This is the 18th year that Ealing has set a council tax (it was the community charge before that!). Labour has set the council tax 13 times in that time. We welcome the first ever freeze from Labour. We froze for two years and kept rises down to 1.9% for two years before that. Practically every London council froze last year and this year. No big deal!
■Allocation of £45,000,000 in the capital budget to provide extra primary school places.
This of course carries on the existing programme which sought to provide the extra places required with high quality classrooms. The council has no choice about providing these places but we are happy that the new administration is extending this programme in the same way that we did. We are concerned that the programme may still not be big enough. The population curve keeps tilting upwards and numbers may well need to be revised again. Watch this space. We shouldn’t be thinking about £5.5 million for a car park in Southall until this question has been bottomed out.
■Money to recruit more social workers to tackle the shortage of front line staff in that area.
You are quite right. £232K added in this area. To put this in context the previous administration put in £4.8 million of growth into childrens services over four years.
■Plans to share services with other London boroughs to improve efficiency.
The only shared services proposal specifically mentioned in the budget is a future, undeveloped proposal in the area of HR. People have been talking about this for years so this is very disappointing. Under the previous Tory administration a joint procurement exercise in adults through the West London Alliance yielded about £1 million in savings. A larger, similar project in the area of childrens seems to have been kicked into the long grass. All the senior Labour team would have been aware over two years ago that there was going to have to be a radical re-structuring of the council. There is no excuse for moving so slowly on this.
■Investment in the council’s computer systems and plans to reduce office space to increase efficiency and provide value for money.
You are talking about £4.6 million of capital spending on these items plus £8.7 million (net, ie not the whole bill) on new offices. So £13.3 million of capital spending on the council machine. This shows somewhat distorted priorities and makes the opposition wonder if this is not a budget for the council officers rather than Ealing residents. Maybe the Labour cabinet are just not bright enough to spot producer interests at work?
■A reduction in the number of senior staff to reduce costs
You may not be aware but answers to questions 40-42 at the October council meeting showed that the council has 98 senior staff who cost £9.7 million a year. At the OSC meeting on 2nd December the chief executive of the council confirmed to me that the current budget proposals involved losing 7 out of 77 of the service head tier of management and none from the other tiers. So a 9% cut in middle management headcount compared to the 50% cuts in frontline services such as envirocrime officers and rangers. Again we see the producer interests at work. The officer class protected.