Finance & Governance
Services demand growing in Enfield
The unending additions made to the responsibilities of local government without adequate resources to fund them is a source of pressure on us all. Our ageing infrastructure of roads, street lights, public buildings etc is essential to quality of life but revenue to maintain them is constantly being drawn away to cover the borough’s legal duties towards children, education, housing the homeless etc
Population growth is relentless in London, a significant amount itinerant or not registered for any number of reasons. Pockets of deprivation remain stubbornly persistent. Delivering improvements to the quality of life across the borough requires management skills which are in short supply in Enfield council.
London boroughs receive a large grant from central government towards the cost of legal responsibilities, but the model used to calculate this allowance is skewed against Enfield which is pressing for a new allocation.
The borough’s tax base is expanding but slowly as more houses are built, but annual rises in council tax are constrained by government.
Debt is a resource available to the council, and Enfield now has some ¬£825m debt, all of which has to be serviced at a not inconsiderable cost, which further detracts from its ability to service the needs of its electorate.
Enfield is processing a new Local Plan which could come into force later in 2020. It admits a population increase of some 60,000 new residents by 2036. This is unsustainable. Given the current pressures on infrastructure in Enfield, and the likelihood that a revised central grant calculation will again lag behind the demands within the borough, residents face years of mismatched resources vs need.
FERAA is fully supportive of LBE’s intentions to press for improved government grants to fairly represent the cost of providing the services mandated by Whitehall.
Until this is resolved, it makes no sense for Enfield to accept the substantial population uplift indicated in current population projections. FERAA holds that the quality of living amongst the borough’s present 1/3 million residents is firstly to be improved, not degraded by spreading resources over a burgeoning population. FERAA observes that Enfield council is too often tempted to go for tax base growth to try to escape financial constraints, but only succeeds in piling further pressure on itself and its electors by so doing.
How local government works
The workings of local government can be properly described as arcane, with innumerable budgetary allocations, allowances, variations and provisions, talk of pressures, ad infinitum. Obscurity surrounds the pages of departmental budgets. Although always projecting to a year end loss, somehow the finance director massages the figures to make the budget balance, because this is a legal requirement and councils that fail in this regard face risk having their affairs taken over by external auditors. As a result non-statutory amenity and facility budgets are raided and service staff are removed; life continues but at a lower level of provision.
A budget is set and voted in by each council before the start of the new financial year on April 6th.
What to expect of your Local Authority
Every 4 years each London borough votes in a new administration. In the case of Enfield 21 wards, or geographical divisions, elect 63 councillors. Currently 47 of these councillors subscribe to the Labour party which therefore forms the administration, ie the majority in the council chamber, and take control of business.
One of the administration councillors is elected Leader of the council by colleagues. Enfield works on the cabinet principle, so administration councillors then vote to appoint one of their number to assume responsibility for each key activity – environment, social services, education, budgetary control etc. Whatever policy is proposed by each cabinet member is brought back for whole cabinet approval before being put to a vote in council.
The opportunity for the public or opposition councillors, mostly Conservative members, to question and probe policy proposals before they are enacted is a fraught issue. In recent times, Enfield council has reduced the opportunity for open debate on policy matters, and offered very limited response to proper questioning. It has resorted to questionnaires and surveys to give its policies the patina of open consultation, but in every case has constrained responses or just ignored them as suits its preconceived notion of what it wants to enact; this has been a major source of concern to residents and has resulted in serial errors as the council has misdirected itself.
Ward councillors & how to make contact through them
The councillors representing every ward in the borough are listed on the Enfield council website, with their contact details. There is also guidance as to ward boundaries. Councillors often hold quarterly ward meetings to which all residents are invited both to hear of developments affecting their areas and to ask questions. Ward councillors are the first line of approach for all planning and service issues; that is their job and residents should press for timely and full responses.
The Enfield council website contains much information on planning issues, development applications, council business, sources of reports etc and should be visited for guidance and research.
FERAA and its constituent resident associations have forged lines of communication throughout the council and pursue key items of public policy on behalf of members. FERAA takes no political stance on issues and seeks to encourage good practice whilst challenging bad decision making.