Budget Statement 2020
This year’s budget is about as fragile a budget that I have ever seen at the Borough. Well done to all the finance officers and heads of service for making a valiant attempt to make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear. Good luck with the £1.4 million savings and 9 redundancies you have been asked to make.
I am aware that for the last few years we have failed the value for money test at audit. Some of this is historic-the unrecovered Sixfields funds. Some it is based on capacity and skill-I am thinking about the valuation of our assets. Some of it is because actually, there are better more efficient ways of doing things.
The position for us is, that even in a time of growth- we have no money. Ten years of austerity. 10 years of assault on local government finances. There is no money.
There are £200,000 savings laid against the Veolia contract. That’s interesting. Why that amount? What is going to be taken out? The 4% profit margin? The 3% inflation per year? Or is it services? Why is the saving requirement not £100,000? Then we could stop the brown bin green waste stealth tax, which it is hoped, will produce a contribution to the budget of £750,000. For a service we already pay for? And if it doesn’t produce that?
£90,000 is being taken away from the councillors’ community fund and small grants. This is money from communities at time when they need it most.
There is no money. What I am going to do is offer you four organising principles, that I think will help achieve value for money. I will then offer you some SMART, Sustainable, measurable, achievable, relevant, time based, neutral cost measures-because, you know after 10 years of Tory rule, there is no money.
1. Meeting Need
We are a growing town. Our response must be ensuring that as we grow, the needs of our citizens, young and old are met. We need to develop a really strong voice for Northampton and Northampton people based on close working with our communities. This is why in the new landscape of local government a large town council is so important.
Growth must be based on really understanding and then meeting need, building a sustainable infrastructure, planning for cohesion, robust partnership work, finding new money. Providing excellent value for money.
2. Addressing inequalities
10 years of austerity. 10 years of a shift in resources away from ordinary people to the rich. With the gap between the wealthy and the rest growing, with life expectancy going down, with increasing numbers living in poverty and growing homelessness, we urgently need an anti-poverty strategy. This will help us foreground the most important question when making decisions which is, will this decision make inequalities better-or worse? Reducing inequalities and improving lives means being proactive rather than reactive, it saves money on remedial action and provides excellent value for money.
3. An integrated strategic approach.
We tend to work in silos, with different authorities, different services looking inward to address the demands of their own area. This often means different strategies pulling against each other or a decision made in one place negatively impacting another. We need a whole picture framework. SMART budgeting can be one way of delivering this-easier with a Unitary authority. However it is done, we need an integrated strategic approach that maximises income, maximises service delivery prevents duplication, and provides excellent value for money.
4. An outcomes-based approach
The Veolia contract is a very good example of what happens when we do not have outcome-based contracts or services. For me, and all the residents of the town, having a waste free environment, clean streets is the outcome we want. We are spending £2m pounds a year and not getting the outcome.
Cost Neutral Measures to achieve my 4 guiding principles and build capacity to deliver value for money and better outcomes.
We have a climate emergency and need to be doing more tomake our town cleaner, greener and safer. Cllr. Birch will address that issue in her contribution looking at how we can achieve that, which as well as being cost neutral also gives value for money.
We need to reduce reliance on and the cost of temporary housing. That means more affordable homes, more social housing.
Affordable homes It is a disgrace that developers pay for their own independent viability test, which almost always results in our 35% target of affordable homes per development is being reduced right down, to at the worst case 6.9%. Even Homes England sets a minimum threshold of 15%. We should at least be negotiating upwards from that.
To optimise affordable housing development, we need a Strategic Viability Officer to be our chief negotiator with planning and the developers. As we go into Unitary, this role will of necessity be a specialist, full time role. I don’t need to find a budget for this. Affordable homes paid for through 106 are sold at a discounted price to registered social landlords, which should be us. The additional income raised through development, means this post will pay for itself.
We have 3000 plus on the housing waiting list, 370 in temp accommodation and in emergency housing and an unknown number of invisible homeless, sofa surfing etc. too many children in temporary accommodation.
We need to find a way of building more social housing that we can hold on to, and that is not subject to the right to buy. This can be done with grant funding. We need to be doing more to attract additional funding that is free from the constraints of the HRA. Being a Homes England strategic partner will help this process.
The cost of temporary accommodation is putting huge pressure on our budget every year. It is time to call a halt to this. Why are eligible families in need not put into permanent housing straight away? This would be kinder, cheaper, and more effective. Why are we not using the Homes First model to take people off the street and make them safe? We have been promised for over five years now that we would have a social lettings agency, we would invest in empty properties, we would bring back into use properties that are hard to let. Why are we not doing that? We need to build our stock, outside the HRA and Right to Buy. While we recognise that temporary accommodation is better than the streets, it causes stress and ill health, means children move schools, means families cannot put down roots. It is not the right solution for our housing crisis.
Maximising the time of front line staff.
Over the years admin has been reduced, giving front line staff more paper work and less time to deliver their services. This has led to difficulties in issuing charges, fees and penalties. I wonder how much we have been missing? An additional 2 admin for licensing and environmental services, for example, would more than recover costs in an increased income from charges, fees and penalties.
Maximising grant income
A quick google for LA grant opportunities for January and February shows how much we are missing out on. Our staff teams have already been cut to the bone and with the exception of housing, do not have the capacity to do their own bids. A grant officer, based in democratic services, would more than recover their own costs, and could contribute to the budgets in other services.
The Kingdom Contract is up for renewal. It makes money, but it is seen as a hostile service.
It would be better to bring the service in house so we make the money and we can further develop our relationship with the citizens of the town. They like and trust the wardens. They want enforcement action-but they see the Kingdom enforcers as hostile. We know that there will be an initial capital out lay for uniforms, IT equipment and cameras. These are recoverable costs. We know that the penalties levied by the enforcers produces a surplus. The officers cover their own costs plus. Bring it in house.
This budget is high risk, it does not meet the growth agenda, it does not look at value for money, it is cutting 9 posts that help us deliver our services, it is introducing a £42 a year stealth tax, it is not SMART or based on outcomes and we will not be supporting it.
We need to meet need, address inequalities, integrate service strategies, use outcomes based policies. We need smart budgeting and end to silo working. This is efficient, ends duplication, produces value for money.
We need an anti-poverty strategy so that we can ensure our decisions are the right ones for the people of the town.
An outcomes-based approach will mean we don’t go on paying, for example, £2million for a waste contract that leaves our roads awash with rubbish.
We need to bring in new money and that means a dedicated post that covers its own costs.
It also means we need to free up staff so they can collect charges, fees and penalties more effectively.
As contracts end, we need to consider the advantages of bringing them in house. Kingdom is this year’s opportunity. We can create a better service and make money.
How come in this Borough our strategic housing body has become a provider of services to the homeless? It really does not make good business sense. It was decided years ago to separate the two functions-Strategy and Delivery. We have a delivery arm for housing. Why are we not using them?
We need to deal with the tragedy of so many in temporary accommodation for so long. There are solutions. Permanent housing for eligible families. More affordable homes. We need an inhouse viability officer. More social housing paid for through grants to avoid the Right to Buy. A Homes First policy for the homeless.
We need to put in measures that Green the local economy, green the environment- Outcomes. A healthier environment, sustainable infrastructure, an expansion in jobs in the green economy.
This budget is high risk, it does not meet the growth agenda, it does not look at value for money, it is introducing a £42 a year stealth tax, it is not SMART or based on outcomes and we will not be supporting it.