Green Party Councillor Hits Out at Lambeth in Budget Response

24 February 2017

Councillor Scott Ainslie (The Green Party, St Leonard's) has hit out at the budget produced by Labour-dominated Lambeth Council, which passed without amendments at last night's meeting of the full council.

 

In his official response Councillor Ainslie questioned the budget's compatibility with the stated aims of the council's Borough Plan to reduce inequality, achieve sustainable growth and create strong, sustainable neighbourhoods. Local people, he said, are being priced out of their homes and businesses, while local estates are being starved of repairs "to prop up a risky bid to enter the property market facing costly legal challenges". Ainslie claimed that cuts to public health services are both greater than the reductions in the central government grant and falling unduly on those most in need.

Councillor Ainslie said, "I see lots of ideas that haven’t been thought through that have the potential to end up costing more money rather than saving it."

He also called into question the council's accounting practises, promising to "open up the books to proper & independent scrutiny" should The Green Party become the majority party on the council, following next year's local elections.

Full speech, including references:

It’s hard to see how this budget reconciles with the Borough Plan.You talk of:

Inclusive Growth – when people are being priced out of their homes and businesses.

Reducing Inequality – when many of the cuts are inflicted on social care, public health and children. - The reductions you’ve made in public health are greater than the reductions in the central government grant

Strong and Sustainable Neighbourhoods – When you starve estates like Cressingham of repairs to prop up a risky bid to enter the property market facing costly legal challenges

I see lots of ideas that haven’t been thought through that have the potential to end up costing more money rather than saving it. (9).

Over 2 months ago, I raised an ME about the budget for the New Town Hall. Despite being told over a month ago I could have the information the reasons for further delay is due to ‘providing narrative’!

Lambeth have to publish every payment they make over £500 on their website. Up until last week this was done on a monthly basis. When you look at the 3 spreadsheets for October, November and December these show that Muse (Town hall developer) were paid £3.9M for these three months. But according to the new system, which consolidates payments into quarters, shows Muse were paid £7.5M for October-December. Which is it?

Your excuses are feeble and your figures are completely unreliable.

And perhaps instead of spending yet another million pounds on updating the financial software system (12) you should get the basics right and make sure that the figures going into the system are robust in the first place.

The idea of producing an alternative budget in this context is anoxymoron.  So I am pleased to announce that when the Greens form the majority party on the council – something that would happen if the Gipsy Hill by-election result were replicated across the borough – the first thing we would do is open up the books to proper & independent scrutiny.

There is plenty of pain in this budget for:

      The disabled who will receive care according to banded payments rather than their actual need (1)
      The 35% cut in the youth music service, all for the sake of saving a measly £10,000 (2).
      The £1.2M cuts to the youth and play budget (3).
      The loss of bed spaces for supported housing (4).

The list goes oo, yet there is next to no mention in this budget of the councils running their contracts more efficiently.

By its own admission, the council’s governance statement (5) for 2015/16 stated “We found significant deficiencies in the control framework for key areas of the housing management function.

By the council’s own admission when the mechanical and electrical works were eventually re-tendered last year the report states “Returned tenders indicate a saving of at least 5% over final invoices issued for similar works in 2012/13”. (6)

That’s a million pounds a year that you are openly admitting you could have saved over the last four years.

How many more poorly run contracts like this are there out there?

The external auditor’s report last year (7) stated “We have concluded that the Authority has not made proper arrangements to ensure it took informed decisions and deployed resources to achieve planned and sustainable outcomes for taxpayers and local people.”

Does the Council ever listen to its OSC? In October 2015 they recommended:

All Council contracts once signed should be public documents; there should be coordinated oversight through a named individual over a whole project and that new major developments should learn from previous contracts and put in place a clear business system to monitor them.

The OSC raised further concerns over the continued high reliance on agency staff, especially Foster Agencies, saying: ‘this puts pressure on services and impacts on our most vulnerable clients. The council needs to move towards a permanent workforce for reasons both financial and of service continuity. '

The council should put right its mismanagement of contracts and its own workforce rather than:

Review and reduce care packages supporting disabled and frail older people at home,cutting Youth Council funding by 50%,reducing the school nursing service by 10%

Or Come up with ridiculous ideas like turning cherished public libraries into Gyms that no-body wants.

At the October 2015 cabinet meeting and at the subsequent call-in that I made, the concern was raised about the writing of a blank cheque for the cabinet member’s housing SPV and we were promised by the lead officer, a direct quote from the minutes:

“The cost of the SPV would be put forward in a future business plan.”

A year and half later and we have still not seen the promised business plan. Yet we are being asked to sign off a budget with no visibility of how much money is being used from the HRA to prop up this SPV.

Just last week we learned that Lambeth has the 2nd highest compensation bill for disrepair claims in the whole of the UK (15), having paid out nearly £11 million in the last 5 years.

So bad is the situation that the council saw fit to increase its litigation provision last year by an additional £1M (16).

That additional £1M could have wiped out the savage cuts to youth services.

The recent Peer Review highlighted concerns about your ability to deliver on objectives; that you have not brought residents along with you on many projects and that you have a level of “Corporate Disobedience’ which seems to carry on with impunity…

If this budget’s intention was to invest in problems for the future, this budget will do a sterling job!

It’s time to take a clean Green broom and get Lambeth’s house in order.

ENDS

NOTES:

(1) Budget Appendix 4. Reference 17.18.A&PH-004
(2) Budget Appendix 4. Reference 17.18.CHN-012
(3) Budget Appendix 4. Reference 17.18.CHN-016
(4) Budget Appendix 4. Reference 17.18.A&PH-005-010
(5) Governance Statement issued with annual accounts 2015/2016-Page 6
(6) Mechanical electrical tender report: https://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/documents/s80198/Procurement%20of%20Capital%20Programme%20for%20Mechanical%20and%20Electrical%20Service%20-%20REPORT.pdf Annual spend is £17-£22M x 5% =£1M per annum.
(7) KPMG External Audit report dated 26th September 2016 Page 16
(8) Cabinet Budget Papers-Graph on Page 23
(9) Budget Appendix 4. Reference 17.18.A&PH-001 Integrating teams-“Will 
have a potential risk of delays”; Reference 17.18.A&PH-002 Reablement “It is therefore possible that the cost of provider model will be higher than previously anticipated” etc etc
(10) https://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/documents/s85189/Appendix%201%20-%202017-2020%20Saving%20Proposals%20v1.pdf Reference 17.18.CI-001
(11) Appendix 4 Reference 17.18.CI-001
(12) https://moderngov.lambeth.gov.uk/documents/s86176/GW3%20Oracle%20SI%20appointment%20CMD%20report.pdf
(13) http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/shocking-waste-of-7500-council-homes-lying-empty-in-london-a3256401.html
(14) https://icasework.lambeth.gov.uk/cus/servlet/ep.getImg?ref=DIR172402&auth=10002
(15) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-leeds-38914352
(16) Audited accounts 2015/2016 Page 53






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