Bolder Academy, funding, finance, council tax, Lots Ait and six months in
As I suggested last week, I’ve been keeping a low profile for the last few days because I had a house guest, so not a huge amount to report upon.
Together with fellow ward councillors we had a meeting with senior education officers about Bolder Academy – the new free school sponsored by our excellent existing secondary head teachers – and mooted for Osterley. This represents the fulfilment of an important ambition, a dual sex non-religious secondary school to provide choice in the area. I am not at all keen on free schools as a concept but this is about as acceptable as they get – fulfilling a clear need, in the area where it’s needed, and to be run by experienced professional educators with a solid record of achieving results and working with the council for the general good of local education. But there’s a financial cost to it, which will have to be partly borne by the council and there are issues about access and transport: we’re very short of space for schools round here but there is absolutely no shortage of children, so whatever we do there will inevitably be compromises. The senior education officers at the council inspire plenty of confidence and our concerns were laid largely to rest (well, mine were at least).
I have also had a very valuable tutorial about finance from the council’s head of finance. The way local government funding works is pretty impenetrable, particularly given the many changes in the way central government works with councils which have gone through in recent years and which continue to develop. The bottom line, though, is that over 10 or so years the council has had to make savings of the order of £130M per annum – in other words we will be spending £130M less in 2019 than we were in 2010. These telephone numbers are a little difficult to grasp but I previously worked that out as about £2000 per household. You can set that against an average council tax receipt of the order of £1000 per year and you can see that putting one or two percent on council tax will not solve the problem! So over the years there has been serious grappling with the organisation and staffing levels, with services, with charges and with financial management and I have to say that I find it pretty astonishing that services have by and large held up well. However the environment is getting tougher year by year and it’s unrealistic to think we can sustain matters much longer. After all, even David Cameron has been moaning to his council leader about cuts to services despite rich rural areas being far less hard hit by cuts than London Boroughs: poor Dave, you just can’t get the servants these days.
I girded my loins and went out of ward this morning (Thursday) accompanied by Theo Dennison, Kath Dunne and Mel Collins across the bridge to Lots Ait – the island opposite(ish) McDonalds. Quite amazing to find that, as well as a number of residential moorings and a boatyard, they have both a theatre design and construction outfit and a guitar maker operating on the island. It’s great to see some good old-fashioned craftsmanship going on here: the premises are a touch shabby but have a quirky charm, and they are hoping to extend them in a similar style, whilst still protecting the local wildlife. I was also surprised to be told that we actually share the island with the Borough of Richmond. Good to know where we need to deploy the Hounslow militia when war breaks out with the South London savages.
The esteemed editor [ha! - Ed] has suggested I reflect on 6 months or so as a councillor (I know it’s that long as this is update no 26 and as a former accountant I can divide 52 by 2, so there). I have probably reflected from time to time in previous updates, but I suppose I’m getting to a point now where my apprenticeship is coming to maturity and I feel a bit more like somebody who has some idea what I’m meant to be doing. I still feel a little behind the game, with various things hitting me when I read about them in the press or on TW8 rather than having been aware of what’s developing in advance but I do feel I’m gradually getting there. Equally, I noticed early on that experienced councillors have good local networks of people who have different perspectives of what’s going on in the ward. I’m trying to develop mine, and I’m always grateful for people who give me their perspective on local issues: even the ones who are complaining – perhaps especially them, though of course it’s uncomfortable at times.
Over the next period I need to get my head around the Great West Corridor strategy (and ensure that Brentford Town Centre is appropriately dealt with within, or preferably without it). I also want to improve my understanding of transport, how it works and how we can work with TfL to improve it: I welcome all the input locals can give me on those things.
Meantime the day to day issues of parking and dog poo and pot holes cannot be neglected, and I remain keen to understand how we can protect and develop local business and employment. Oh, and there’s a licence application coming for a one day techno-rave in Boston Manor Park. One resident has written to me about it, and we’re busily trying to work out what it will mean to local residents and park users, if we allow it to happen.
February 5, 2016