Agenda item



The Leader of the Council, Councillor Colin Smith, and the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Commissioning and Contracts Management attended the meeting to respond to questions from the Committee.


The Leader provided a brief overview noting that things had been “thrown sideways” last year following the Russian invasion.  This has lead to increased inflation resulting in additional costs to the Council.  Whilst it had been possible to manage inflationary pressures within contracts, the additional costs to the Council were likely to result in an increase in Council Tax.  The Leader paid tribute to staff for “sticking with us” over salary increases.  It was acknowledged that inflation had meant that the previous pay settlement had not reflected pressures around the cost of living, and this would be reviewed during consideration of the budget report during the Executive meeting on 18 January 2023.


The Leader reported that the Council continued to challenge the Mayor of London’s proposed ULEZ (Ultra Low Emission Zone) extension as aggressively as possible.  In addition, the Environmental Team were braced for potential bad weather in the coming days and issues with potholes were being addressed.


Turning to the Council’s finances, Bromley had received a reasonable settlement from the Government and senior Members and Officers continued to lobby the Government over fairer funding.


The Portfolio Holder for Resources, Commissioning and Contracts Management highlighted that the unprecedented financial situation has made it difficult to forecast and the Council had seen many of its costs increasing with very few options for increasing income.


Officers had worked hard on the Operational Property Review and the Portfolio Holder highlighted that it was reasonable for the Council to review how services were provided and the estate it required.  Once again, the Portfolio Holder reiterated that the Council would not be engaging in fire sales of any property deemed surplus to requirement.


The Meadowship 2 scheme had been delivered which was positive news.  Delivery of the scheme had been made more challenging by volatility in the gilt market in September, however Officers had overcome these challenges.


The Portfolio Holder remarked that a low point had been receiving a further challenge from Biggin Hill Airport Limited.


The Leader and the Portfolio Holder then responded to questions, making the following comments:


  • In relation to the ULEZ, the Leader confirmed that along with 4 or 5 likeminded outer London boroughs, Bromley continued to challenge.  The Council would continue to follow legal processes and legal advice was being sought in relation to whether the Mayor of London needed permission to instal signs and equipment on non-TfL roads.
  • The Leader confirmed that, in his view, it was unlikely that the outcome of the fairer finding review would be known this side of a general election.
  • In relation to property disposals, the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Commissioning and Contracts Management provided reassurance that assets would have a reserve price.  The Leader highlighted that it was difficult to predict the direction of the commercial property market and any reserve price would be the “best guesstimate” but it was clear that it was not the intention to give away free money to speculative purchasers.
  • The Leader highlighted that it was highly unlikely that there would be a reduction on the statutory obligations placed on Councils.  In recent years there had been an increase in regulations and higher safety standards all of which placed increasing pressures on local authorities to deliver more in an ever-tighter funding envelope.
  • The Portfolio Holder for Resources, Commissioning and Contracts Management confirmed that he was comfortable with capital commitments as they were for the medium term.  There was however no spare capacity.
  • In response to a question, the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Commissioning and Contracts Management confirmed that it was not just Biggin Hill Airport Limited that was concerned about the impact of the Civil Aviation Authority’s decisions around Runway 03, residents were also concerned.  The Council was actively considering the issue and would instruct external counsel as appropriate.
  • In response to a question around housing, the Portfolio Holder explained that in an ideal world the Council would not consider taking on any debt, however, were the Council to do so there had to be a net benefit.  It was possible that borrowing could be considered to reduce the costs of temporary accommodation but there needed to be detailed consideration of how any debt would be serviced.  The Portfolio Holder was clear that the Council would not be undermining its general principal of remaining debt free.  The Leader confirmed that all options that represented the best deal for the Council would be considered.
  • The Leader highlighted that for many years the Council had been lobby for improvements to public transport in the borough – extensions to the DLR and trams into Bromley – but every request had been turned down.  In the current climate big infrastructure projects looked unlikely but it would be helpful if the Council, with cross-party support, continued to push for improvements to public transport.  The Leader also highlighted that consideration had to be given to the sustainability of the current funding model for public transport.
  • In response to a question concerning potential threats to Bromley’s status as “London’s Best Borough”, the Leader suggested that one of the key threats was compulsory housing targets, which could threaten the green belt.  It would help if the affordability index was reduced as this could increase the supply of housing.
  • In response to a question around what it meant to rethink the relationship between the citizen and the service, the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Commissioning and Contracts Management stated that Bromley was fortunate to be a settled borough with a settled population.  As such there was a plethora of community groups all of which made a huge difference to the quality of life for residents.  As a Council, Bromley was able to leverage the various partnerships in order to continue to deliver better outcomes for residence.  One such example of this was the One Bromley Partnership.
  • In response to questions from the Chairman around the pending office move, the Leader explained that the intention was to move staff in phases starting in June.  Phases 1 and 2 would involve relocating Bromley staff.  In terms of the amount of office space required, a 50/50 balance of working from home and office based had been decided upon by the Chief Executive and the Director of HR.  The situation was fluid and in response to a question from the Chairman, the Leader confirmed that staff had not been mandated to return to the office.  Phases 3 and 4 of the move could involve the potential relocation of other agencies but before all the available space was taken elected members would be consulted on the eventual office/working at home balance. 


The Committee thanked the Leader and the Portfolio Holder for their updates.