Public Cabinet this week began as they so often do with a report on the budget
situation by Paul Thorogood the Finance Director. There was little to report.
The forecast “remains break even” at the end of the financial year helped by an increase in NHS payments in respect of hospital discharges and after costs incurred will see a benefit of £874,000 to the Council. In the other direction Children’s Services will incur an extra £450,000 in costs due to additional demands by care leavers.
Cabinet Member David Leaf can always be relied upon to expand on the Director’s a short report and he did not disappoint. Apart from blaming the pandemic for continued financial uncertainty and a statement of the obvious on inflation and interest rate risks his two and a half minutes added nothing new.
Cabinet Member for Growth Cafer Munur likes to emulate his colleague and reported that Business Rate collection was down by 1·8%. He aims to “support businesses as much as he can through the Build Back Better economic recovery programme with £1·04 million”. Businesses have asked for the money to be spent on cultural street food, business support seminars, pop-up markets, lamp post banners, deep cleans, more Christmas lights, video, social media and advertising.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, Slade Green & Northend) questioned library opening hours (much reduced) and car parking use. Was the reduction in car parking due to Covid or the (30%) higher charges? He noted that the highways lighting spend was up. Was it due to increased energy costs?
The Leader told him that car parking issues are the subject of intense study to see if revenue is ever like to recover and the Deputy Director added that with libraries only recently reopening data is currently insufficient to see any trend.
When Councillor Nicola Taylor (Labour, Erith) stood to ask a question it was not difficult to guess that the subject would be housing. It was, specifically the take it or leave it offers. “Unsuitable or not” she said residents are “given only a matter of hours to make a decision. The real reason is [for the Council] to discharge duties and save money”.
“Is the Council looking for empty buildings that could possibly be used for housing?"
The question of only hours notice was instantly dismissed as was Councillor Taylor’s July report of some housing being verminous, without locks or function toilets. Unfortunately recent events have confirmed it. Her other questions were deferred to private correspondence, the public will remain uninformed.
Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) asked if the half million overspend on the Learning & Enterprise College was Covid related or something else. It was confirmed that “Covid had a huge impact on enrollment”. Staff costs had risen too.
There were no questions from Conservative Councillors.