Bromley Cuts Concern network organiser Ann Garrett wrote, in a personal capacity, to Bromley Council leader Stephen Carr this week. This is Ann's letter and a response from Cllr Carr's office.
Dear Cllr Carr,
I am very concerned about Bromley's proposed cuts, as it would appear that the most vulnerable people in the Borough will be most affected.
I understand that you are under pressure from the Government, but would like to suggest some constructive ideas :-
1. Cutting pay for top council executives.
2. Cutting down on glossy PR information.
3. Reducing council fuel bills by making schools, libraries and other buildings more energy efficient.
4. Working closely with other public sector bodies to cut administrative costs.
5. Ensuring council reserves are kept to the bare minimum recommended nationally and using some of the reserves to invest in projects that will produce savings in later years, and create new jobs.
6. Selling unwanted property and abandoning costly IT schemes.
You could also use your local council position influence with the Government to close the deficit by clamping down on tax avoidance, tax evasion, and failure to collect taxes. More than £100 billion a year in tax revenue is lost in these ways. £76 billion is also due to be spent on Trident renewal, another highly dangerous, polluting and costly venture.
Talking to various people and organisations in Bromley, the majority would be prepared to pay more council tax in order to save the public services under threat such as libraries, family, children's, connexions and youth centres, funding for services for the elderly, school crossing patrols, school clothing grants, and public toilets.
These cuts would be a false economy, so I urge the Council to reconsider its very unpopular proposals.
Dear Ann Garrett
Thank you for your email which Cllr Carr has read with interest. Responding to your suggestions
1. We have taken £3m out of middle and higher management in the last couple of years, with more to come next year including reducing the number of directors. This is combined with another pay freeze (and the same for councillors' allowances.)
2. Im comparison with other London Boroughs our PR budget is acknowledged to be relatively modest, but nonetheless this is certainly an area we have pruned even further, including a reduction in the number of staff employed in PR.
3. Energy efficiency is one of the Council's main priorities. It is investing £500k on energy saving projects. The Council has already cut £80k of its annual spend by reducing the electrical voltage in its buildings and ensuring street signs are only lit when it is dark. Further projects are planned which should save an additional £140k each year, including switching to more energy efficient lighting, replacing some energy intensive air conditioning with evaporataive cooling and buying software for improving the way the Council manages its computers. They are considered to be invest to save projects to demonstrate the Council's commitment to ensuring efficiency savings help protect frontline services during a time of austerity.
4. Talks are already taking place with some of our neighbours such as Croydon and Bexley to actively explore sharing services.
5. The question of the Council's reserves is often mentioned. However, the Council believes that using more of its reserves would be short-sighted as the interest accrued is actually supporting our services in the 2011/12 budget, as it has in previous years.
6. In November, in what was a first for London, we joined forces with Lewisham Council to purchase our ICT support services from a single provider, resulting in significant combined annual savings - in Bromley's case, around £500,000 a year, amounting to a 25 per cent saving on that budget. This innovative venture can also act as a starting point from which we can deliver other ICT projects together and continue to provide a more effective service at a lower cost.
Cllr Carr fully takes your point about lobbying the Government to clamp down on tax avoidance With regard to the local Council Tax, we are pleased to report that Bromley has a good track record with the majority of the money being collected on an annual basis. For the small percentage of residents that do not pay we do pursue this rigorously and in the worse case scenario they are taken to court.
Your point about people being willing to pay a higher Council Tax is acknowledged, but I have to advise that we are governed by Central Government in this regard. If a Council exceeds the percentage increase they set each year, then financial penalties are imposed on local authorities.
I hope the above information is helpful.