Proposed Council Cuts – Association Response

 

Response from The Pinner Association to the “Take Part – Help Shape Your Harrow of the Future” Harrow Council Budget Consultation – November 2014.

The Pinner Association

Registered Charity 262349 

Response to the Harrow Council “Take Part – Help Shape the Future of Harrow”

November 2014

THE PINNER ASSOCIATION (Registered Charity number 262349) is an amenity society founded in 1932. Its aims are to conserve and enhance the quality of life in Pinner, and it has a membership of some 3,500 households in the Pinner and Pinner South Wards.

The Pinner Association Executive Committee has reviewed the proposals in the Harrow Council consultation document “Take Part – Help Shape the Future of Harrow” and has the following comments:

1]            Percentage Reduction in Budget and Actual Monetary Savings to be achieved by the Different Options Proposed:

On page 4 of the consultation document it is stated that the Council is seeking “Cutting £75 million over 4 years” from a current discretionary budget of £141 million per annum. It is then stated that “This leaves a budget of £141 million from which the Council needs to save £75 million over four years, a saving of 53%.”

These statements are ambiguous and do not give a clear indication of what exactly the amount to be cut in each of the next four years is to be, nor of what the actual amount of the Council’s discretionary budget will be in each of the next four years.
After making enquiries with Harrow Council officers and councillors, which still did not unambiguously resolve the exact figures for the cuts to be made, this response from The Pinner Association has been written from data supplied by Carol Yarde, Head of Transformation and the Business Support Service, Community, Health and Wellbeing, Harrow Council, to Bernard Wainewright of the Hatch End Association:

Year Annual budget reduction Cumulative budget reduction Annual budget reduction Cumulative budget reduction
Y1 – by 31/03/16 £24.740m £24.740m 17.5% (£24.740/£141m) 17.5%
Y2 – by 31/03/17 £20.765m £45.505m 14.7% 32.2% (£45.505/£141m)
Y3 – by 31/03/18 £15m £60.505m 10.6% 42.9%
Y4 – by 31/03/19 £14.495m £75m 10.2% 53%

This means that over the next four years the actual discretionary budgets would be would be (assuming no increase or decrease in Council Tax nor in Harrow’s grant from central government), from the figures given in the table above:

2015/16               £116.260 million

2016/17                £95.495 million

2017/18               £80.495 million

2018/19               £66.000 million
In the consultation document none of the twenty three different options for services that may be cut give any indication of what level of monetary saving may be achieved by cutting the service as proposed. Without such figures it is very difficult to have a sound basis on which to make considered decisions between the different options proposed, particularly as the cut in the Council’s discretionary budget is proposed to be so severe.

2]            Comments on Proposed Options for Budget Reductions:
(Based on the information in the “Take Part” leaflet and the Harrow Council document “Options for first round cuts”.)
Reduce grass cutting in public spaces.
Response: We strongly oppose this proposal. When the Council has previously tried reducing the frequency of grass cutting of verges and open spaces this has resulted in problems: the grass cutting mowers broke down because they were not designed to cut long grass; the hay of uncollected cut long grass formed into clods which then blocked the street drains; people were unable to use open spaces for sports or walking due to the over long grass and it being impossible to see dog faeces left by irresponsible owners hidden in the long grass. We suggest that due to the above problems very little money would actually be saved by this measure and strongly oppose this option.

Home owners should be asked to cut the grass verges outside their properties which would reduce the need for regular cutting of street verges.
Cut the number of senior managers in the Council.
Response:   We support the reduction in the number of senior managers in the Council; to justify the re-appointment of a Chief Executive at a very high salary plus on costs, this expense and much more must be saved by reducing the layers of management below this top level.
Closure of Emergency Relief Scheme due to removal of Government grant.
Response: We oppose this option.
As is stated in the Council’s own document on the “Options for first round cuts” that “there are not many users of this scheme” this would save only a very small amount of money, but the effect of withdrawing these grants would be disproportionately severe on those would do urgently require short term support.
Negotiate with suppliers to cut what they charge the Council.

Response: We strongly support this option, but this should have already been done and it should be an ongoing process.
Cut funding provided to the voluntary sector.Re
Response: This option is strongly opposed and we feel it would be false economy.
The voluntary sector has already taken on much of the work in “Adult Social Care” that in the past was done by local councils, and to now cut their funding may result in real hardship for those who are dependent on their assistance. It is stated that “these are largely prevention focussed services which provide information and advice”, but without this preventative information and advice many of their clients may find themselves in real difficulties and may require the input of Harrow Council’s Social Services, resulting in additional expense for the Council.
The voluntary organisations already find it difficult to recruit volunteers, as people are retiring later in life and those in work do not have enough free time, and to cut the training and volunteer support structure by closing “Harrow Community Action” would compound this problem.
Switch off some street lights, or reduce the hours that they are on for.
Response: We support the option of dimming street lights and the phased installation of efficient LED across the borough.
Reduce the number of staff answering the main switchboard. This means the average waiting time will increase.
Response:   The proposed reduction of up to 22% in the number of staff answering calls at “Access Harrow” is regrettable but would be acceptable if really necessary. If this cut is made the Harrow Council website must be improved to be fully searchable, clearly laid out, and kept up to date.   E-mail enquiries must be allowed (and not just questions or reports from predetermined menus) and must be answered in a short time period.
With these provisos we support this option.
Removal of the Friday and Saturday night Environment Health noise nuisance response service and a reduction in the size of the team (maintaining minimum service levels for Environmental Health).
Response: Again if this service is not cost effective then it should be reduced, but residents must be able to access Environmental Health via the Harrow Council website and get a timely and personal response to e-mails. Sufficient staff should remain to deal with problems that arise, so that residents in these areas can have their amenity restored if a nuisance is caused.
With these provisos we support this option.
Close the Harrow Arts Centre and look for an alternative space for it to continue from 2016 onwards.
Response: The Pinner Association strongly objects to the proposal to close the Harrow Arts Centre in Hatch End. We agree with the response from the Hatch End Association to this proposal.
The transport links to the Hatch End site are exceptional and moving the Arts Centre to another site (even if that really happened) could lead to many of the users of this facility no longer being able to attend classes, etc.. Some of the users of the Harrow Arts Centre are potentially vulnerable older persons, and without the stimulation and human contact that their classes and clubs provide, they may well become lonely and depressed and hence would require substantial input from Harrow Social Services, which would negate any money saved from closing or moving the Arts Centre.
We agree with the Hatch End Association that the Arts Centre could be run more efficiently and commercially to reduce the running costs and retain it in Hatch End; e.g. promote even wider use of the Elliott Hall for weddings, events, conferences, etc.; increase room hire rates; arrange management by a not for profit organisation.
If the Arts Centre closed in Hatch End what would happen to the listed and other buildings on the site? The Hatch End Library is now housed in these buildings, so would that close? Would the Council seek to sell off the Arts Centre site to a developer for redevelopment, which would be a great loss of an important, much used and loved, facility for all the residents of the borough?
Cut the number of Council committees.
Response: Strongly support that committees that do not have a specific purpose or statutory requirement to exist should be reduced.
However, would much money be saved by closing many committees such as the Conservation Areas Advisory Committee, which is manned and chaired by volunteer professional persons who freely give of their own time to assist the Council?
Committees such as the Planning Committee are essential to ensure that local democracy is maintained and so that residents may have their views heard in a public forum.
Close or reduce some of the Council’s early support services to families, including Children’s Centres.
Response: We strongly oppose the closure of Children’s Centres.
These facilities provide a good start for children who may otherwise require interventions by Social Services, together with accessible places where parents of young children can gain advice and support. More use could be made of these centres; for example the registration of births could take place at Children’s Centres, so that Health Visitors and Social Workers could identify any babies who may benefit from early intervention and thereby prevent more serious problems which may cost much more to the Council in the future.Child
ren’s Centres should be used as the one-stop contact point on all matters relating to early years education and development, and thus may save having duplicated efforts in other Council facilities.
Close the Harrow Museum.
Response: Strongly oppose.
On 23rd October 2014 Harrow Council submitted a planning application (P/3797/14) in part to allow “Repairs And Accessibility Alterations For Conversion Of Headstone Manor House To A Public Museum”.   Headstone Manor is a Grade 1 Listed Building, and we agree that it would be good to find an ongoing use for this historically important local asset. Using the building to house the Harrow Museum, thus freeing up the Great Barn to be hired out for commercial uses such as weddings, would seem to be a very good use of these resources. The money raised from the hire of the Great Barn, and other proposed commercial uses of the Headstone Manor buildings, should cover any costs of running the Harrow Buy Tramadol Online Museum. Harrow Museum has been manned by volunteers for many years, so the cost to Council must be minimal, and the Council would have to maintain the structure of Headstone Manor in any case, so little would be saved in money terms by closing the Harrow Museum. However, much may be lost to cultural life in the borough if the Museum was to close.
Don’t provide as many short respite breaks to children and carers as we do now.
Response: We feel that sufficient respite care should continue to be provided to avoid carers suffering from excessive fatigue and stress, hence avoiding extra costs falling upon Harrow Council Social Services and the local health services.

However, if there are some savings that could be made without causing additional problems then these should be considered. Without the benefit of being informed of the proposed amount of money to be saved and what proportion of the respite care currently available would be discontinued, it is not possible to make a considered judgement on this proposal.
Remove additional road/pavement sweeping near shopping parades.
Response: We oppose this proposal.
Much effort is being expended by local traders’ and community groups to promote local shopping areas, and reducing the street cleaning in these areas resulting in an untidy, litter strewn, appearance, would do much to undo this good work.
However, would support an initiative to encourage local traders to clean the street in front of their premises and to take a pride in their local shopping area.
Introduce a separate weekly food waste collection and charging for a fortnightly collection of garden waste.
Response: We strongly oppose these options.
The bin stores designed to comply with recent planning consents for residential houses have been constructed to accommodate three standard sized wheelie bins only. To introduce yet another bin to be stored on the premises of individual houses would create even more clutter in front gardens, to the detriment of the street scene, and many houses would not have the space to store even a small additional wheelie bin.
At least one “Brown” wheelie bin of garden waste is generated weekly by employed gardeners at many houses with larger gardens, so a fortnightly collection of garden waste would mean even more bins being stored (two or more “Brown” bins), often in front gardens.   Charging for the collection of garden waste would possibly be not cost effective if the charge for this service was modest, and if a large charge was required this could greatly increase the incidence of fly tipping and bonfire nuisance. How would “Brown bins” for which a charge had been paid be correctly identified, and as the bins must be left out early in the morning (effectively overnight) and are not lockable, how would the illicit deposition of another house’s garden waste into a “Brown bin” be prevented should the waste be charged by weight or volume?
Stop locking park gates, increase biodiversity in parks and cut the number of times litter is picked up. Move to community management of parks.
Response: We strongly oppose these options.
In the past when park gates were not locked problems arose with vandalism and anti-social behaviour in parks after dark. If parks become less pleasant places to visit due to graffiti and damage then they will be less well used by the general public, thus lessening the multiple health giving aspects of parks and open spaces.
If “increasing biodiversity” means a complete lack of maintenance of parks and open spaces this will not result in the idealised description in this proposal. Wildlife friendly landscapes require specialised management when in constrained sites. Harrow Council would have to re-employ a Biodiversity Officer to oversee the management of these areas.
Litter picking from parks should be maintained at least at the current level, and preferably at more frequent intervals during busy periods such as school holidays, bank holiday weekends, etc.
The Pinner Association has liaised and cooperated with Harrow Council over the maintenance and enhancement of Pinner Memorial Park since the 1950’s, so community involvement in the management of parks and open spaces is not new. The Harrow Heritage Trust manage and do practical work in many open spaces in the borough and “Friends” groups at other sites likewise are actively involved with their local parks. However, to expect a volunteer group to become responsible for all the maintenance of a park would be a great burden, as they would have to directly employ professional services to cut grass and maintain shrubbery, etc., with all the insurance and other problems that this may incur. The long term commitment of the volunteers who took on such a task may be sorely tried and recruitment of new volunteers may be a problem as voluntary organisations are already finding it difficult to recruit volunteers, as people are retiring later in life and those in work do not have enough free time.   Harrow Council would have to give complete control to the “Friends of” groups while continuing to provide access to professional advice and services such as grass cutting. Cl
Close some of Harrow’s libraries
.
Response: We strongly oppose this option.
The option below “Do more online and by email to cut the costs of postage” would require constant, affordable, assisted and reliable access to computers for those in the community who do not have access to their own internet service. This means that all the borough’s libraries should remain open, and have increased opening hours.
Libraries should be used as the local interface hub to all Council Services, with officers from other departments deployed to libraries where appropriate.
The costs of providing the libraries should be offset by making them more commercial by charging for the private use of computers for non-essential matters, and providing print out and copying facilities, etc., at competitive rates.

 

  • Cut the costs of maintaining Council buildings.
    Response: We strongly support this option.
    Cut some support provided to older and disabled people in Harrow under the Supporting People Programme.

Response: We strongly oppose this option.
It is in Harrow Council’s financial interest to keep the elderly infirm in their own homes for as long as possible, and therefore it may not be cost effective to reduce the support provided to help them to do so.

We suggest that some Council staff could be trained to be able to work flexibly and be multi-tasking to maintain these support services in concert with other departments.
Review Fees and Charges charged by the Council, including parking charges.
Response: We strongly oppose any increase in parking charges.
Parking charges, in car parks, on-street parking and for Residents’ Parking Permits are far higher in Harrow than in neighbouring Hillingdon, and are still too high to encourage shoppers to use the local retail areas.   Additional money gained by Harrow Council obtained by raising car parking charges could only be used within the allowable purposes provided for by Section 55 of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984, under which any monies raised from parking in excess of the cost of administration has to go back to transport purposes, for example repairing with potholes, improving road management, or investing in public transport to encourage people to free up the roads.
The slight increase of cemetery charges to be in line with those charged by neighbouring boroughs would appear to be reasonable, and we support this part of this option.
Likewise, increasing the minimum charge for Trade waste at the Civic Amenity Site from £65 to £80 would seem to be reasonable, so long as the enforcement of penalties for fly tipping is maintained, and we support this part of this option.
Do more online and by email to cut the costs of
postage
.
Response: With the proviso that all the local libraries remain open for reasonable hours (see above) and assistance would be given for vulnerable persons who may find it difficult to access the internet, we support this option.
Stop funding community festivals.
Response: We support this option.
The Pinner Association has for many years been organising local community events without any grants from Harrow Council, and Pinner Panto Evening is organised and sponsored by local traders and businesses and The Pinner Association without any grant from Harrow Council, and therefore we support this option.
Harrow Council, at odds with other boroughs, has not sponsored “London Open House” for the past 3 years.

If local or specific religious groups wish to organise an event then they should fund raise and bear the expense themselves.

If only one event was to be sponsored by Harrow Council then it should be “Under One Sky” as this is intended to be for all the residents of Harrow.
Share Council services with other boroughs.
Response: Where Council Services could be merged without any loss of efficiency or without restricting Harrow residents’ access to Council Officers where appropriate, then we support this option.

3]    Top three priorities for Harrow Council to make Harrow “a better place to live”:
Building affordable Housing and homes for rent
Delivering over 3,000 new jobs and 500 apprenticeships
Bringing together health and social care services so the public can have a better experience

4]            Top five options would make the most negative effect on life in our area:

  • Close the Harrow Arts Centre and look for an alternative space for it to continue from 2016 onwards.
  • Close or reduce some of the Council’s early support services to families, including Children’s Centres.
  • Introduce a separate weekly food waste collection and charging for a fortnightly collection of garden waste.
  • Close some of Harrow’s libraries.
  • Cut some support provided to older and disabled people in Harrow under the Supporting People Programme.
    5]    Suggestions for other ways for Harrow Council to save money or to raise the funding of the discretionary budget:
    A reduction in the number of councillors from three to two per ward would save in the region of £200,000 per annum (21 fewer ward councillors x approximately £8,500 allowance for each councillor + on costs). We understand that an application to the Electoral Commission would be required to achieve this saving, but the application process could be started as soon as possible.
  • Many voluntary bodies are finding it difficult to recruit and retain volunteers, as people now retire later in life and those in employment work for long hours.   Potential volunteers are more likely to be willing to undertake tasks that would enhance the amenity of fellow residents in ways that they do not consider it to be the duty of the local council to provide.
    A modest increase in Council tax, in line with inflation, may be preferable to reducing or removing the Council services accessed by the most vulnerable in the community. The Pinner Association would therefore support the option of increasing Council Tax, so long as this was in line with inflation (approximately 2%) and the extra money was used to maintain Council services, as in our responses above.

Additionally, Harrow Council should lobby central government extremely strongly, and ask for support from the three MP’s whose constituencies cover the borough, for an increase in the Government Grant for Harrow, to reflect the changed demography and loss of large employers in the borough over recent years.

The Pinner Association.                                                                                                                7th November 2014.

 

10, Crest View, Pinner HA5 1AN

[email protected]

020 8868 3988