Budget Challenges in Brent

Recent Case Studies

The financial year starting in April 2011 was one of the hardest ever for English local government.  The annual budgets had to deliver 20% savings.  Big changes in service configuration and staffing arrangements were necessary, alongside high profile cuts in front-line delivery.

The London Borough of Brent (LBB) was no exception.  In late 2010 an existing Assistant Director, Sue Harper, was promoted, creating an urgent vacancy to shape and deliver the new budget.  Sarah Tanburn was appointed to cover the role during recruitment, which eventually took some eight months.The role had direct management responsibility for a diverse portfolio, ranging from managing the highways network, road crossing patrols, libraries, parks and sports.  She was a full member of the departmental team and took a lead on corporate projects too.

Sarah started in early January 2011 and was immediately responsible for finding savings of some £2m.  She successfully implemented major changes, reshaping the parks service, reconfiguring arts development and significant reductions in staff costs in highways.  The biggest challenge was the transformation of the libraries service.  This proved controversial, with both public relations and legal challenges. 

Sarah wrote a major series of reports and steered them through meetings of elected politicians and ultimately through the High Court process.  This relied on her thorough grasp of the law and relevant process, the services involved, and the facts and figures of consultation and service usage.  She also needed acute political understanding to support councillors through the budget process. A central part of the work was understanding the complex equalities issues in one of the most diverse areas in Britain.  Sarah did several comprehensive equality impact assessments, making them clear for councillors who must consider the issues when making decisions.  The High Court and Appeal Court recognised the quality of this important work when they upheld the Council's decisions.

Sue Harper, Sarah's client for this role, was very pleased with her work.  "We would have really struggled with delivering the 2011/12 budget without Sarah"' she said.  "She understood the organisation and the borough and what we needed.  Throughout this difficult time she kept strategic vision and was great at leading the staff."

After the interim role was finished, other departments retained Sarah for consultancy support in making and delivering difficult service changes.  She helped the Council reshape its nursery provision for preschool change, and prepare for a major overhaul of leisure services for adolescents.  Chief Executive, Gareth Daniel, commented "Sarah has been an invaluable resource for us.  She has brought gravitas, an enormous amount of knowledge and sheer hard work to the organisation,  yet through it all she has kept her sense of humour."