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25.06.15

Council warned over property plans as it mulls cutting 92.5% of posts

Plans by Bromley Council to spend close to £10.2m buying commercial property even as it proposes privatisation measures have come under severe criticism and are to be challenged next week. 

The council is accelerating plans to privatise a number of services, including learning disabilities, which will go to Certitude. On 1 June, the parks service was transferred to the Landscape Group, which announced that immediately after the transfer it would be making redundancies.

On top of this, the Conservative-led council has plans to reduce the number of employees from 4,000 to 300. This has been challenged by Unite members who have staged three waves of strikes

But in the agenda papers ahead of Monday’s full council meeting, the local authority has proposed, as in previous years, to transfer the underspends on the council’s budget to the Investment Fund. This will result in a transfer of £10.165m. 

Earlier this month, Bromley’s Executive committee was presented with the 2014-15 Capital Programme Outturn report which highlighted that a total of £32.7m had been spent through the Investment Fund to the end of 2014-15, mainly on the acquisition of investment properties, and a further total of £10.5m is due to be spent in 2015-16. 

The council is also considering the privatisation of 14 libraries, replacing staff with unpaid volunteers and handing the libraries over to charities. However, Unite stated that even the council’s own consultation exercise revealed that 83% of respondents were in favour of directly-run council services. 

Unite regional officer Onay Kasab said: “We call on the council at its full meeting on Monday to draw back from this unwanted helter-skelter to privatise services left, right and centre – and return to the public service ethos that used to be the bedrock of the council’s activities. 

“Voters expect councillors to provide public services and not gamble their money on the vagaries of property development.” 

Cllr Stephen Carr, Leader of Bromley Council told PSE that the local authority has always adopted a prudent and sustainable approach to managing the council’s resources. 

“This includes making strategic investments in higher yielding investment property.  We use capital spend for these investments, which in turn subsidises Council services. It is not sustainable to use such capital spend on year-on-year revenue spending,” he said. “The feedback from residents, including from resident association meetings and as part of our annual budget consultations is they consistently support and expect us to make the best use of our resources and adopt such a long-term approach.”

 “This should be seen against a background of having to identify a further £40m savings over the next four years from a net budget of around £200m, due to much reduced government funding for local authorities when we are being asked to shoulder additional responsibilities and face increasing demands for services.  These investments are a key strand in managing our resources to ensure they provide value for money for Bromley taxpayers and deliver the best outcomes for our residents. 

“Ensuring we continue to deliver quality services, many to our most vulnerable residents, is paramount.  Our approach also includes continuing to market test and examine all Council services.  This means as we maximise our investments we manage our contracting budgets to deliver services in the most efficient and effective way, whether in-house, through facilitating social enterprise or outsourcing. As a key part of our procurement procedure we consult and work with service users and interested parties such as carers on any proposals to change the way a service is delivered to ensure this is implemented as smoothly as possible. This also includes consultation with staff.”  

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@publicsectorexecutive.com

Comments

Cllr Angela Wilkins   01/07/2015 at 10:33

I write as Leader of the Labour Group at Bromley Council. At Monday's full council meeting we proposed an amendment to the recommendation to invest this money in yet more commercial properties. We also proposed a motion asking the council to increase transparency and honesty in its budget making processes and to reaffirm that it's primary purpose is to provide services not to hoard reserves and build up an investment portfolio.Both items were rejected by the ruling group. We accept that these are difficult financial times for all councils, and we recognise that property investments create the best returns in the current economic climate. However Bromley has already allocated £74m for commercial property purchases this year. This £10.1m is part of a windfall under spend from last year - an underspend that was, in February, predicted to only be £2.2m. This is about getting the balance right between providing services and building reserves and funds for the future and Bromley Tories have got the balance badly wrong. Playing Monopoly with tax payers money is not what councillors are elected to do.

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