Monthly Archives: February 2016

How the Greens handed the Tories the power to cut more jobs

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There has been a lot of discussion and speculation over what happened at the Budget Council meeting last Thursday, and what it all means.

Let me put the record straight.

Despite the cuts of over £20 million and council tax increases forced on us by the Conservative government, there are a huge amount of positive measures in the Budget on things like grants to the community and voluntary sector, social care services and basic environmental services that we needed to get approved. Including the money for schools, housing and capital, the total budget is around £800 million.

There were six amendments from the Conservatives, including two that between them cut the number of funded trades union posts in the council from 10 to around 3. The money saved was to direct funding to a range of things including gully cleaning, verge cutting and public toilets. In total the money involved was well under £500,000.

The Greens said publicly well in advance of the meeting that they would vote against the Budget as a whole, whatever happened, as they could not support a budget that contained any cuts. That gave the Conservatives the certain knowledge that they had a majority – 11 Greens and 20 Tories – to outvote the 23 Labour councillors in the final vote. Despite pledging not to get involved in the Budget at all, the Greens indicated the day before the meeting that they would be supporting two Tory amendments.

So my Labour Administration went into the Budget knowing that the Tories would win two amendments, and the Greens and Tories would unite to vote down the Budget as a whole.

That is exactly what happened.

At that point in proceedings, several crucial things happened. Despite us having voted down the Tory amendments cutting trade union time, as soon as the Budget was voted down by the Green and Conservative groups, all of the Tory amendments were put back on the table. Including the cut of 6-8 union posts.

The Greens said they would play no further part, and would not negotiate. The Tories insisted that they would continue to vote the Budget down too, knowing that if one was not set, the Government would then step in and makes even deeper cuts instead.

Going to a second Budget meeting would simply have taken us to the same point, with higher stakes.

I had a choice. Negotiate or be voted down by a Green/Tory alliance. Two parties with a common aim – to score a political hit on the Labour administration whilst distancing themselves from the consequences of their actions.

I negotiated a deal that protected 9 of the 10 union posts, but which made over £150,000 in further cuts to “management and administration” demanded by the Tories. That sounds painless enough, but in reality that means more jobs lost. Whether a senior manager, admin assistant or street cleaner, the effect is the same, someone loses their job.

The fact is that none of those further cuts were necessary. All those posts lost in the negotiated settlement – including the trades union post – could have been saved. The Tories could easily have been deprived of their ability to push for further job cuts in order to get what they wanted.

All that had to happen would have been for the Greens to abstain on the main Budget vote. They did not have to support the Budget, simply give the Labour administration the ability to vote down Tory amendments and the 3 vote majority to pass the Budget by not taking part. They refused.

Next time someone says Labour and the Greens should work together to prevent Tory cuts, remember this sorry and shameful example of Green councillors putting their own political interests ahead of people’s jobs.

A Budget for Brighton and Hove

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Madam Mayor it is an honour and a privilege to propose the first Budget of this administration, the first Labour budget in nine years, and one that sets a course for this city in the most challenging of financial conditions.

We face unprecedented reductions in our funding, unprecedented demands on housing and infrastructure, an unprecedented need for new and imaginative answers to the challenges we face, and unprecedented opportunities to build a better Brighton and Hove for the future.

There is no hiding the scale and extent of the cuts we face this year and in the next three. Let there be no doubt that jobs will be lost and services will be hit. We will no longer be able to do what we did in 2010 in 2019. However we do not, as a local authority, stand alone in this crisis.

The crisis in local government funding stretches far beyond our boundaries. The policies of the current Government on council funding seem to many incoherent and unfair, let alone sustainable.

The head of Solace, the organisation of local government chief executives said of the Local Government settlement: “Many of these measures do not make local services sustainable in the long term. Without more fundamental change to how local services are paid for and provided, the support individuals and communities receive will be drastically curtailed.”

Conservative peer Lord Porter, Chair of the Local Government Association, said last Summer: “Even if councils stopped filling in potholes, maintaining parks, closed all children’s centres, libraries, museums, leisure centres and turned off every street light they will not have saved enough money to plug the financial black hole they face by 2020.”

No private business can absorb £25 million in cuts and increased costs year on year, as we are in this council. Few businesses of comparable scale can add £25 million to their profits each year, every year. It is not a sustainable or viable situation.

The Government challenging all councils to be financially self-sustaining goes to the heart of who we are and what we do. Are we a public service or are we a private business whose primary function is to generate revenue?

Any private business that charges its customers more can expect demands from them for better services in return. We, like other councils, face charging our residents more in council tax, fees and charges, in return for less.

We will no doubt hear from the Conservative Group today about inefficiencies, about trades unions, about managers and about waste. We will hear from them about the need to be self-sufficient financially and about how we should achieve that, somehow without increasing council tax, fees and parking charges on local residents.

We will hear them say that what is happening beyond Brighton and Hove, about what their fellow Conservative councillors are doing with their council tax levels, is none of our concern. But it should be.

The Conservative led Local Government Association said in September that Councils have withstood a fall in core central government funding of 40 per cent over the past five years.

Having already made £20 billion worth of savings since 2010, there is limited scope to keep protecting services through making further efficiency savings. If spending reductions follow a similar pattern over the next five years, councils will be facing a £12.4bn funding gap by the end of the decade.

Despite finding over £300 million in “transitional funding” for mostly Conservative-run shire counties, not that we are not grateful for our £30 thousand share of that, the LGA says “most councils will continue to have serious funding gaps”.

Why did Brighton and Hove receive just £30 thousand in so-called transitional funding last month, when Surrey County Council got £11 million? Yes, they have four times the population as Brighton and Hove, but why get three hundred times the funding?

I’m sure the letters of protest from Tory leaders and threats of rebellion from Tory backbenchers played no part in that decision at all, or indeed the petitioning by Mr Cameron’s mum and aunt against closures in his own constituency.

Madam Mayor, why does the Chancellor not use some of the £20 billion windfall from lower inflation and falling borrowing costs he will announce in his budget next month, for local government? Just a fraction of the unpaid corporation taxes from highly profitable multinationals, with whom the Chancellor has frequent meetings, would go a long way to address the financial crisis councils face.

Local government of every political stripe is feeling the pain, paying the costs of austerity at a point when the Government says austerity measures are coming to an end. No let up, no reprieve. And it is residents, till now shielded by the remarkable efficiencies of local government, who will feel the pain most. In their parks and streets, in their schools and children’s centres, in their care homes and day centres.

The Tory government can, as they did last week, find £80 thousand for printing laws on vellum, but they can’t find money to fund our essential front line services.

Madam Mayor I’d argue, and I’m not alone, that this is local government reorganization by the back door, slash and burn reform, survival of the fittest, a bonfire of the civic values that have made Britain’s towns and cities great over the last two centuries.

The 2016 State of Local Government Finance survey, conducted by think tank the Local Government Information Unit and published last week, found that 89% of the 132 councils surveyed say they will have to increase charging in 2016-17. Nine out of ten councils are increasing car parking charges.

The number saying they will have to dip into their reserves has risen sharply, from 55% in 2012 to 82% this year. And nearly 40% say cuts in their frontline services will be evident to the public.

At the very least, as called for by LGA Vice Chair Nick Forbes, the planned £700 million of new funding from the Better Care Fund should be brought forward to 2016/17 in order to help alleviate growing social care pressures.

The full retention of business rates is held out as an answer, but it won’t come until 2020, long after our Revenue Grant has gone, and after a revaluation that could see revenues fall. Whether we will actually benefit from an additional £50 million, after appeals, remains to be seen. However it will only go part way to offset the loss of almost £150 million from this councils funding in the decade that precedes it.

Madam Mayor, with no freeze grant on offer, nine out of ten of England’s unitary and county councils are increasing their council tax by 3.99%, including the 2% social care precept, as we are proposing, yet three-quarters of them say that the money raised from residents will not be enough to keep pace with increased costs.

Even our neighbours in Conservative-led West Sussex, who have frozen council tax increases for the past six years, are putting up their bills by the same amount as we are in their 2016 Budget. So we will take no lectures from the Group opposite about the council tax increases we propose today.

Madam Mayor I would have respect for those members opposite seeking to reverse cuts in their communities if they, like their Conservative colleagues elsewhere in this county, acknowledged just once that it is their Government that is removing the funding for essential local services. We are after all, Madam Mayor, all in this together.

Madam Mayor, we will hear from the Green Group about the past, about what could and should have happened and how if only we had, then that would have prevented the cuts we face today. They will say that if only we’d had a referendum on bigger tax increases, if only we had fought outsourcing and privatisation alongside them, then none of this would be happening. It is empty rhetoric.

In harking back to the budgets of the past there will however be no mention of the failed Green Administration Budgets of the last two years, where Green councillors voted against Green budgets because they could not cope with even the limited responsibility they took in office for the challenges we face. It’s an empty promise of a failed alternative.

I’m not surprised by Councillor McCafferty’s attacks on the Labour budget; they are little different to the attacks on Green budgets over the past four years. He and his colleagues have but one function setting, opposition, and they seem much happier there than in office this time last year. Empty words are easy in guilt free opposition.

Where are their answers? Not implementing cuts would mean setting an unlawful budget, and handing the running of our city over to Government-appointed bureaucrats. Putting up council tax to offset the cuts and cost pressures would mean increases of 20 to 30% on residents bills, not something they will back in a referendum, and not something I’d impose on the city’s lowest income households. But even those empty gestures remain words rather than actions, with neither proffered as an alternative here today.

Last week half a dozen Green Party members were outside an empty Treasury building, protesting against officials and ministers and a Chancellor who were not there to hear it. An empty noise outside an empty building, an empty gesture from a party that failed to deliver on empty promises when in office, one that is empty of ideas in opposition, as we can see from their lack of any amendments today.

This isn’t fighting the cuts. It’s walking away, hands in the air, leaving others to deal with things they simply can’t or won’t face up to. It is a shameful abdication of the job the voters of their wards elected them to do.

Last May the residents of this city saw through the Green Party’s empty record and their empty manifesto with its empty promises and realized there was nothing there worth supporting. With nothing but empty protest the Green Party’s utter and abject failure to propose an alternative today proves those voters right.

Instead, Madam Mayor, the people of Brighton and Hove chose substance, chose imagination and chose hope. They chose leadership that meets challenges with innovation: that meets inequality with fairness; that meets competition with co-operation. These are the values of the Labour administration I lead and these are the values that our four year Budget plan will deliver, giving clarity and certainty to residents and staff in very difficult times.

My colleagues with through the course of this debate focus on the positive work we are doing in protecting our services wherever we can, building new services where we are able, redesigning services where we can do better for less, and joining in new partnerships with the voluntary sector, communities, neighbourhoods and residents, local businesses and not-for-profit trusts, to find new ways of designing services fit for the future and fit for our local need.

Madam Mayor, I want to pay tribute to the work of my lead councillors, and the officers of this council, in bringing forward these final budget proposals today. We have listened and we have acted, we have worked hard to put funding where it is needed most.

More money for park rangers and animal welfare. More funding to tackle domestic violence and poor standards in private rented accommodation. More resources to enable change in the Playbus service and in the Brighton Centre. More money for public toilets than planned under the Greens, and funding for community groups at the heart of our neighbourhoods strategy protected.

We’ve made investments in modern customer service and online systems, in revenue-generating services within Cityclean, ever better use of our buildings and property, all aimed at bringing in funds to pay for public services.

We’ve taken tough decisions to get the £9 million overspend we faced when taking over last summer under control. We must live within our means, despite the pressures we face.

We’ve asked for our city, one of the best educated, innovative and creative cities in the UK, to put their minds to new solutions via our City Innovation Challenge. We’ve asked some of the best experts we could find to bring together and build on the work being done to tackle poverty and inequality in the city via our Fairness Commission. And we have asked some of the best business minds in the city to look at how we can unlock the talent and potential of our young people via our Employment and Skills Task Force.

We will deliver on our pledge to build 500 new council homes by 2019 – indeed we may exceed it with construction beginning on almost half by May. In the next few weeks we will seek approval for our Living Wage Housing joint venture that will deliver over a thousand homes to rent at 60% of market rates. With work to tackle an unfair and unaffordable rented market, we will meet the housing crisis in this city head on.

We will within weeks present a new strategy to tackle rough sleeping, and next month will see the start of a new service to crack down on the littering and fly tipping that blights our streets. We said we’d get the basics right and we will.

We will work with our service users, our vulnerable residents and their families, to design support that meets their needs. We’ve acted to ensure better pay for staff in the social care sector though the Unison Ethical Care Charter. We will work with health partners to ensure GP provision meets demand, and that mental health provision sits alongside on an equal footing.

We will work to provide school places and the highest standards in education, in the coming months begin consultation on new school catchment areas and to raise aspiration amongst our young people so that no talent in our city is wasted, no opportunities missed.

We will continue to support the arts, tourism and creative digital industries so vital to our economy, and draw in new businesses like John Lewis so we become ever more resilient, attractive and prosperous on a local, regional and international stage.

We will continue to attract and invest hundreds of millions in our city’s infrastructure over the next four years; a new arena at Black Rock, a new shopping centre next to the Grand, a new leisure centre at the King Alfred, new homes, facilities and business space at Circus Street and Preston Barracks, new seafront infrastructure at West Street, investment in our heritage at the Madeira Terraces and Royal Pavilion estate.

We will cut our own cloth as a council to fit our budget.  Almost two million pounds in savings from management costs. Tens of thousands less on councillor allowances this year compared to last. An independent review of the number of councillors to be elected in 2019.

We will win new devolved powers from Government and we will devolve power down to local residents in every community, becoming a new co-operative council that works with residents designing and building solutions to their local issues. Cuts to our funding mean we may no longer be a provider and a funder, but we will be an enabler, a partnership-builder and a leader our city’s diverse neighbourhoods.

As the leader of this council and the Labour Group I am proud to move the General Revenue Fund, Capital Resources and Housing Revenue Account Budgets for 2016/17. As a whole this Budget reflects our priorities for this council and for Brighton and Hove, our principles as a Labour and Co-operative administration, our determination to act and not just protest in the face of cuts, our determination to deliver for our residents.

These are the values, these are the actions, these are the ambitions that underpin our Budget and our plan for this council and this city for the year ahead and the years to come. This is what having a Labour Administration means for this city. We are delivering on our contract, we are delivering a council that works for you, we will deliver a better Brighton and Hove.

 

 

 

The truths and realities about your council’s budget

moneyOver the past few weeks the protests against cuts to council services have grown as we head towards the meeting to set our budget on February 25th. From day care centres to animal welfare, park rangers to parking fees, there have been many voices raised, understandably, in defence of individual services.

We have succeeded in minimizing the cuts to the park rangers, protecting community group funding, supported bus routes and the times of the older peoples bus pass. We are working to keep services going either in-house or via other means such as voluntary and community groups, cooperatives or merged services. I’ve set up our City Innovation Challenge inviting anyone to submit ideas on how we can do that; there is still time to enter and successful ideas will be used in our four-year budget.

However, the reality is that no organisation can lose 30% of its funding and continue to provide the same services. No private company, no matter how efficient, could absorb the loss of £25 million a year without making cuts.

We are working hard to replace that lost income through new sources of revenue such as retail rents, commercial waste collection and more, but we are at heart a public service, not a profit making company and could never recoup that loss.

And no we don’t make a profit from parking charges. The £9 million surplus we get from parking goes almost entirely to pay for the cost of providing free bus passes for older people and supported bus routes, and we are increasing parking charges by only 2% this year in most cases.

Added to the complete cut of our £140m revenue grant by the Government, the costs of providing care and protection services for older people, vulnerable children and people with disabilities is increasing by more than 3% a year. It is by far the largest part of our budget already and by 2020 will use almost all of our annual funding. The Government has said that you must pay for these increasing costs through an extra 2% increase in your council tax, though that alone will not be enough to close the gap.

We are asking officers and staff to undertake the incredibly difficult task of trying to manage the growing demand for care services. However we have been warned that if we do not make savings, then further cuts could put the safe delivery of services at risk. We’ve seen elsewhere the tragic and appalling consequences of that happening, and we must not risk that here.

The Government has said we should use reserves and capital funding to meet our service costs, and of course where we can use buildings to raise funds from commercial rents, or build homes that grow our council tax base, we will. Of course you can’t pay for day to day services from the one-off sale of assets, just as you can’t replace your salary with the money you get from selling your car.

Some argue we should be more efficient, and they are right. We took over the running of the city council last May and soon found we were facing an overspend of around £8 million in this financial year. Through the hard work of our senior officers we’ve taken some tough decisions, and balanced the budget.

Some say we should cut the costs of senior management and councillors. We are and we will; a reduction of just under £2 million in management costs are set out in the Budget, and we have already taken tens of thousands out of the councillor allowances budget.

Some argue that we should refuse to implement the cuts. That would mean spending more than we have coming in, running up a deficit and not setting a lawful budget. That would lead to the Government stepping in to take over the running, or more likely the total dismantling, of our council and local services. I’m not prepared to let that happen.

Some say this is just politics, and that Labour councils will always complain about Tory cuts. Yet now we are seeing Conservative council leaders from across the south east complaining bitterly about cuts to their funding too. The Conservative-led Local Government Association warned this week that councils “will have insufficient resources to fund services.” 

True-blue authorities like West Sussex, who have frozen council tax for years, will be putting forward 4% increases just as we will. We don’t do so willingly, council tax impacts disproportionately on people with lower incomes, but if we don’t we’d have to make another £4 million in cuts to your services.

These are the facts and the realities behind the campaigns and the headlines, these are the immensely difficult challenges we face as a council and as a city. I and my team are up for that challenge if we can count on your support.

 

Ambition, Innovation and Investment

FROM_PEIR_TO_WEST_07There’s no escaping the very challenging funding situation for our day-to day services presented in our council budget today, but there is another story, one of ambition, innovation and investment.

We promised to deliver major projects on time and in budget. This week we revealed plans for a new £40 million leisure centre on the site of the King Alfred in Hove, with three swimming pools, space for badminton and bowls, martial arts and dance, spinning and gym equipment and much, much more. The £8m the council will invest in it will come from money we are saving on maintaining the old centre, with the rest coming from new housing including affordable homes for rent through a social housing provider.

We promised to invest in preserving our city’s heritage. Work has begun on the £9 million scheme on the seafront at West Street to replace the crumbling Shelter Hall with a new one, and ensure our highways infrastructure then can withstand the pressures of modern traffic. That’s funded with a Government grant. Last week we secured £5 million of Heritage Lottery Funding to restore and improve the Royal Pavilion estate for future generations to enjoy, securing its future at the heart of our arts and tourism offer to visitors vital to our economy.

We pledged to build 500 new council homes in our first term; this week we announced that 240 of those council homes will have started construction in our first year. Next month we will bring forward our plans for over a thousand truly affordable rented homes for key workers.

We promised to focus on the basics like street cleaning and refuse collection. This week we began the replacement and refurbishment of communal bins across the city, and this month our new fly tipping enforcement team gets to work cracking down on people who dump rubbish in our streets.

We said we would boost jobs, skills and training. We have launched our Employment and Skills Task force and we are working on setting up an apprenticeship company to help small companies take on new trainees. We are working closely with our creative digital sector, City College and the universities on accelerating this work. The major projects in the pipeline will generate thousands of new jobs.

We said we would do everything we can to tackle poverty and rough sleeping. Our Fairness Commission is doing incredible work in bringing together the work to reduce inequality being done in the city and how we can take it to the next level, and our Rough Sleeping Summit last month brought a new focus and co-ordination to that urgent work.

We are working on new ideas to defend, grow and improve the services your council provides, despite the cuts. There is still time to enter our City Innovation Challenge if you have an idea that might help us do that. We are modernising our council to make it fit for the digital age, able to adapt to change and to better deliver what residents want.

With all this, the arrival of John Lewis, the Circus Street development, Preston Barracks regeneration and plans to build a new shopping centre, conference centre and arena, Brighton and Hove is under our leadership once again a place of ambition, innovation and investment.