At tonight's meeting there was an update from the Leader of the Council regarding the strikes that will occur on 30th November. He started off reporting it in a non party political way then sadly decided to use it as an opportunity to have a go at the government. I think most people have sympathy with public sector workers but since negotiations and offers are on the table, we should be discussing things not having strikes to make things worse.
We then got on to a large section of the reports which related to Council budget reductions (cuts in plain language). The reductions are large at around £30 million. Most appear to be ones which will not affect the vulnerable but some certainly will.
I asked a few questions on this subject. For example Councils have reserves (savings) in case they need money in an emergency or difficult times. My view is that the economy across Europe is not nin a healthy state and so some of these reserves should be used to avoid making so many cuts which it did last year and many this year.
Another fact is that if you reduce your budgets by 25% then it make sense to reduce reserves by a broadly similar amount. This would allow either less cuts to vital services that affect the elderly or those most in need, or allow spending on projects that could make aspects of the Council administration more efficient. It is also very strange that the council is borrowing money for capital projects (building schools for example) when it has an underspend of nearly £10 million!
Every time you borrow money you will pay extra (the interest) for 10 or 20 years to come. So if reserves can be used to pay for infrastructure without increases in long term borrowing then that would be a more sensible approach.
A later item related to a respite service in Hanwell. The council wants to use 4 beds that are currently used for adults with learning difficulties, for short-term care placements out of London that wish to return to Ealing. The proposal will save about a quarter of a million pounds but looking between the cracks you can see some of the problems.
Although the Council would make money by freeing up space in the Hanwell location and so not paying for the generally more expensive out-of-London charges for care needs, it would mean that the Short Breaks Service in Hanwell would have less capacity and could be overwealmed. Given that most users will require use of the Hanwell facility at the same time as those coming in from out of London, it isnt obvious how this system will work.
When questions were asked about the occupancy of the Short Breaks Service at their peak (weekend) period no clear answers were given. To me it appears that we need more choice in terms of locations rather than settling for a stuggle to make the best of the current situation. I dont think the Council is trying to run down the current service I think more work needs to be done on this plan.
Crime hotspots - One of Labour's manifesto pledges was to spend money on improving lighting in areas where there is lots of crime. Not rocket science! Any way they produced a report where some items were legal considered confidential (to stop muggers finding our which streets have poor levels of light) however a lot of those roads were also mentioned (with their levels of light) in the main body of the report - the section that is available on line!
The Leader of the Council was to some degree in agreement that it was a tad strange! They chose three roads that do need improved lighting so they get my blessing but the mechanism is rather simple and even included a road that will have lighting improved from another Council budget - good to see one part of the Council is talking to another part. Not!
The last item related to a Parking Services Annual Report. Sounds interesting but a number of pages had missing or incorrect numbers. One table had the phrase: "...average transaction per week(xxxxxx)...". So when the LAbour Councillor was asked whether he read the report he stated clearly that he had! Later he said "I read a draft copy of the report." Sounds rather fishy. And so the Cabinet agreed the report even though there were missing sets of data as well as tables of data that didnt add up correctly. Call in Carol Vorderman please.