Tag Archives: Budget

Faced with huge Budget challenges, we are delivering for Brighton and Hove

received_10154080748042534.jpegCan I begin my speech today proposing the 2017/18 Budget by expressing thanks, on behalf of myself as Leader of the Council, on behalf of the Administration, and I hope every elected member here, to all of the officers and staff of Brighton and Hove City Council for their part in bringing it before us today and delivering it.

From the Chief Executive and the Executive Leadership Team, to Department Heads and front-line staff, they have met the challenge of putting together the most difficult and challenging Budget in this council’s history. They have put in place savings of over £20 million through innovation and hard work, through modernisation and service redesign, through stepping up and doing more. Some staff, as is inevitable with savings of this magnitude, are facing up to a future outside of the council.

None of this Budget, none of what this council does every day, would be possible without our officers and staff, from the Executive Director bearing huge legal responsibility, to the Cityclean operative making sure our streets are cleared and our refuse collected. So before we begin our debate today I’d ask all members to join me in showing our appreciation for what staff do.

It is one of the three key priorities of this Administration to get the basics right within the scope of our reducing resources. That means investment, innovation, savings, new partnerships, service redesign – finding ways to do more, to do better with less. If we are asking our residents to pay more in council tax, we have to meet this challenge, not shy away from it.

We are investing in the basic services people use everyday. New wheeled recycling bins, replacement communal bins, new Big Belly compactor bins to make our streets cleaner. New parking meters with card and contactless payment to give people even more easy parking payment options. Fines for litterers and fly-tippers to crack down on those who pollute our public spaces and expect others to pick up the cost as well as the mess.

Commercial waste collections, garden waste collections and vehicle servicing are bringing in new revenue to maintain and improve the services we provide. In-house textile recycling is now raising money for local charities. The £7million invested in modern street lighting will mean our network is more energy efficient and will cost less to run.

Our recycling rates are again increasing. This Budget contains no cuts to front-line Cityclean staff. The Big Conversation has led to proposals for a new City Parks Foundation and new partnerships with sports clubs to make their activities in our parks – football, tennis, bowls – sustainable.

I pay tribute to my colleague Cllr Gill Mitchell for driving these changes through and delivering success after success after success. We have continued to improve residents’ satisfaction with our services – in fact we are the only public sector organisation in the city to achieve this, and it should be applauded.

We will in the period of this Budget revolutionise our customer services and our relationship with the residents of the city, with Digital First delivering new online bulletins for residents and staff, improved transactional services and a better website, alongside a significant element of the planned four year savings through digitisation and streamlining of hundreds of functions in this authority. We want to drive customer satisfaction still higher, so we are reviewing the top 20 interactions that residents have with us as a council, to ensure that even more customer journeys are positive ones.

Cllr Emma Daniel is leading our neighbourhoods work, taking the council back out into communities, taking forward the work of the Fairness Commission we established, helping join up our services across council teams, tackling issues at an earlier stage to improve outcomes and save money, getting the local right. I thank her and her committee for the innovative work she is leading in helping transform this council and the way it works with all our residents, all our communities.

We are succeeding in delivering the schools our young people and our economy need. Under Cllr Tom Bewick and Cllr Daniel Chapman we have seen the number of schools rated Good or Outstanding increase by 10 per cent to 92 per cent overall, above the national average for the first time. We are now in top 25 authorities for primary schools nationally. We should praise all in our schools for their efforts to make this happen.

We plan to re-design the Early Help system and modernise the special school provision across the city. We’ve seen awards for our LGBT work in schools recognised as the best in the UK, and we’ve doubled free childcare. For those leaving school we will deliver 1,000 apprenticeships in 1,000 days.

As soon as we balanced the Budget we restored over two hundred thousand pounds to the youth service budget that was proposed in December, half of that recurrent every year. As a council we will still be funding services to young people by over two million pounds to promote routes into employment, better mental health, and work to keep young people out of substance misuse and crime.

Under Cllr Alan Robins we have taken up the challenge of implementing the libraries plan agreed last year, we have maintained the number of libraries, extended their opening hours and set them on course to be the hubs at the heart of our communities. All of our decisions are difficult, but we have to put the long-term benefit of the city at the heart of our decision making.

In pursuit of that benefit we have protected the Royal Pavilion and our museums for future generations by placing them in a trust that can access the charitable and lottery funding they need.

We will see in the coming months the continued construction on Phase 1 of £18m refurbishment of the Royal Pavilion Estate.  Our familiarity should not breed complacency when it comes to what is, alongside our seafront, the heart of our tourist and cultural offer.

We were elected to deliver a council that works for everyone, a council that gets the basics right, universal services delivered, and essential infrastructure improved.

The second of our key objectives is protecting the most vulnerable, focusing the resources we as a council and as a city have on those in priority need. It is a duty incumbent on us all.

I would like to thank my colleagues Cllr Karen Barford and Cllr Daniel Yates for their incredibly hard work and able leadership in health and social care, the largest and most challenging element of our budget. So much of their vital work is behind the scenes, but essential to the future of our council and its care services, how we work with the NHS, how we deal with the needs of an ageing population.

Despite the immense financial challenges, the message to our residents is clear. Where need is identified, we will continue to provide a service. We will help you stay fit, healthy and active, but when you need our help we will be there.

We are funding projected demand pressure for adult and children’s social care and temporary accommodation to the tune of an extra £12 million. Providing these care services alone will cost over £160 million next year, far more than the £127 million we will receive in council tax.

I am incredibly proud of the work being done by Cllr Caroline Penn on behalf of this Administration on improving the mental health of this city and tackling stigma. As a nation we are recognising the impact of mental health, the need to look at it in a new way, and to put it at the heart of our health and wellbeing agenda.

Elsewhere, we have saved £350,000 by increasing our in -house foster care placements, we have signed up to ethical care charter, and we have backed the Fast Track Cities initiative on HIV/AIDS. We have been recognised for tackling fuel poverty that costs so many tenants in the city so much and is so fundamental to overall poverty levels in the city.

I am pleased that whilst we wait to determine the full impact of benefit and tax changes locally, we in this Budget will maintain a significant discretionary fund to help those who do find themselves in poverty, supporting the vital work done by our neighbours in this building from Money Advice, the Credit Union and Citizens Advice.

I am proud that in this Budget we are protecting funding for domestic violence services, with over £600 thousand going in to community-based interventions, prevention and recovery services, and refuge and floating support. All the time I am Leader of this council, this will remain one of our top priorities.

On housing, the private rented sector and rough sleeping I commend the work done by Cllr Anne Meadows, Cllr Tracey Hill and Cllr Clare Moonan. We’ve won agreement for a thousand affordable homes in our joint venture, our pledge to build 500 council homes is on track, a new allocations policy has been set, and the ground-breaking Rent Smart initiative was launched across a wide range of partners.

Our Rough Sleeping Strategy has been adopted and implemented, we have boosted our temporary accommodation with two new in-house schemes at Oxford Street and Stonehurst Court, and we have launched the joint Make Change Count appeal raising funds to help people off the streets.

Whether it is health or housing, care or communities, renters or rough sleepers, we are working hard to help those who need it.

The third objective we have committed this council to is growing an economy that benefits all.

Brighton and Hove is open for business. Apprenticeships are up by 19 per cent in the city, putting us above the national average for the first time. Retail is set to get a massive boost with John Lewis coming to the city, Redevco investing in the new Lane and Hanningtons estate, Standard Life investing hundreds of millions into the Churchill Square extension, and Ikea proposing a store on land in our city region owned by Brighton and Hove Albion.

Our colleges and universities continue to equip our young people with the skills and innovation needed to compete in the local, national and global market, and I have forged ever closer working relationships with them in partnership work that benefits the city as a whole.

I’d like at this point to commend in particular Cllr Julie Cattell, Chair of Planning and Deputy Chair of Economic Development, for the immense work she and all our dedicated planning officers have done in the last 18 months to turn our planning department around – to have it running at pace is key to business confidence and the continued growth of our economy. Cllr Jackie O’Quinn is also doing a fantastic job at the helm of the Licensing Committee.

We are bringing in billions of pounds to the city in regeneration projects, including the Waterfront arena, Shelter Hall, Preston Barracks, and King Alfred through bodies such as Greater Brighton, Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, and Brighton and Hove Business Partnership. We are campaigning for the Brighton and Hove Living Wage, opposing zero-hour contracts, growing career opportunities and working to deliver the full potential of all our residents. We are putting in place a new Civic Office to bring further inward investment into the city.

Brighton and Hove is indeed a place to invest, a place with a talented, trained and innovative workforce on which to draw, a unique location for business to spark and grow. We are open for business, we will grow an economy where everyone shares in the benefits of that growth.

I would like to use this opportunity to make two new announcements today, ones which I hope will command support across this chamber.

The loss of a child is one of the most unimaginable things any family could have to bear. I pay tribute to the campaign led by Carolyn Harris MP in the House of Commons, which has won support from all parties, to end funeral fees in the case of child deaths. A number of councils have responded positively to this campaign.

Whilst we do not charge for child burials or cremations, we do charge for the grave plot and the headstone, meaning families can face costs of almost £170. Mr Mayor I am asking Council today to support me in saying that this will be the last Budget where we will set charges for the burial of children, and that we will take the necessary steps to end child funeral costs in the city council Budget as soon as possible.

I would like to pay tribute to the former Chair of the Children and Young People’s Committee Cllr Tom Bewick for the work he did in that role during the first two years of our Administration, in particular his instrumental role in setting up a Care Leavers Trust for young people who have not had the benefit of a stable family environment as they start out in life.

All of us have a responsibility as Corporate Parents to those children and young people in our care and leaving our care. That is why, Mr Mayor, I would like this council to support the campaign by the Children’s Society and exempt fully all local care leavers from council tax until the age of 25. We will be bringing forward proposals to enable that during the course of the coming year.

I want at this point to address the broader issue of local government funding.

Mr Mayor it is the fault of successive governments that no sustainable solution to the funding of council services has been devised. The removal of the Revenue Support Grant between 2011 and 2020, over a hundred million pounds a year in our case, leaves us increasingly reliant on council tax and business rates. These are two property taxes based on outdated valuations, regressive in their impact and utterly insufficient to fund the services local councils are charged with providing.

Let me be clear on the proposals in this Budget to raise the council tax level in Brighton and Hove by 4.99%. I opposed similar rises in the past and I stand here proposing this increase with a very heavy heart. This rise will hit people on lower incomes hard at a time when they are seeing living costs increase and benefit support reduced. It is right that we maintain a substantial discretionary fund to support those pushed towards poverty, homelessness and the food bank.

However with the pressures of social care costs increasing here as they are in every top-tier authority, we have little choice but to apply the full three per cent social care precept as we try to close the gap and ease funding pressure on other services.

Calling for a national funding review, my West Sussex counterpart Cllr Louise Goldsmith said at their Budget meeting last week that nationally social care services are “seriously, seriously underfunded” and that the social care precept provided “just a few drops of help in a vast ocean of need.”

The results of The Municipal Journal and LGiU annual finance survey were published last week. Nearly eight out of 10 respondents to the survey of more than 160 council chief executives, leaders, finance directors and portfolio holders from 131 local authorities across England said they lacked confidence in the sustainability of the sector’s finances.

13% admitted there was a danger they would no longer have enough funding to fulfil their statutory duties in the coming year, with half of those based in the South East.

The president of the Association of Local Authority Treasurers Societies, Duncan Whitfield, said the next two years would be ‘make or break for some of the more beleaguered authorities’.

The survey also found an overwhelming 94% planning to increase council tax in 2017/18 and four out of five of those eligible said they were likely or very likely to take up all or some of increased social care precept. Four out of five top-tier respondents named social care as their greatest immediate pressure.

Lord Porter, the Conservative peer who heads the Local Government Association, said this week:

“Social care faces a funding gap of at least £2.6 billion by 2020. It cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix this. Councils, the NHS, charities and care providers remain united around the desperate need for new government funding for social care. By continuing to ignore these warnings, social care remains in crisis and councils and the NHS continue to be pushed to the financial brink.

“The Government cannot ignore this any longer. Genuinely new government money for social care is urgently needed. Without this, our most vulnerable continue to face an ever uncertain future where they might no longer receive the dignified care and support they deserve, such as help getting dressed or getting out and about, which is crucial to their independence and wellbeing.

“Councils face an overall £5.8 billion funding gap by 2020. This will push councils perilously close to the financial edge over the next few years and force them all to make significant reductions to the local services communities rely on, including filling potholes, collecting waste, maintaining our parks and green spaces and running children’s centres, leisure centres and libraries, to plug growing funding gaps.”

Chief executive of the LGiU, Jonathan Carr-West, said: ‘Local government finances across the country are in a dire state. Everyone is expecting someone to fail. They are just hoping it won’t be them.’

Thanks to the work of this Administration, our officers and the support of members across party in this council, it will not be us. But we are far from the least affected.

The Government has said that from 2020 councils will retain all of their business rates, rather than the 50% they do at present. Although that in theory offer this authority the prospect of in excess of fifty million pounds, it is clear that revaluation, rebates and redistribution may mean we see no net benefit. This will not be anything other than a fiscally neutral move by the Treasury, leaving them no worse off and local government no better off as a result

Over the last 4 years, this council has saved £76 million in order to ensure that we keep pace with the demand and inflationary cost of social care and temporary accommodation, within an envelope that is shrinking as the result of diminishing funding from central government. No one is immune from savings, and I have ensured my Administration has saved £70,000 from the special responsibility allowances set by the Independent Remuneration Panel.

Our revenue support grant will all but disappear in 2020.  Health budgets for 2017/18 and beyond have not been set. It seems unlikely that the full impact of welfare reform has yet been felt.

I am pleased to say that we are rising to this financial challenge, and managing this council’s finances well. I thank my colleague Cllr Les Hamilton for his role in ensuring we are on a sound and sensible course.

At this halfway point in our Administration’s first term, in the face of unprecedented funding challenges, with 40% reductions in our spending power, I am determined that we will maintain the vast majority of our services in some form, and strive to keep the number of compulsory job losses to levels below those of many other authorities in the same situation. Achieving that in this Budget has been an immense task, but as most will acknowledge, we are not in circumstances that are unique or that are of our own making.

We are by no means the worst off as a council, but we are far from being the one with the best deal. As a council we are modernising and reforming, managing responsibly and competently, innovating and changing the way we do things, making savings while investing in new resources and revenue generation. This year we instructed officers that a projected overspend of close to £4 million had to be reduced to within the risk provision we prudently set. We delivered. Our auditors, Ernst & Young, have recognized our sound financial management and recently gave us an improved and positive rating for securing value for money for the taxpayer.

During this year we will deliver savings through sharing services with other councils via the Orbis partnerships, both in support services and legal. Having stress-tested the four year integrated service and financial plans first agreed in February 2015, we have identified further initiatives that will help us, for example a fresh approach to the neighbourhoods agenda and to enforcement.

Through our investment in Digital First we will have a renewed focus on those projects that deliver the biggest savings – starting with mobile working and using predictive analytics in the adult social care service. We have ensured that the council’s ambitious Modernisation Programme will continue apace – its work streams will deliver most of the required savings for 2017/18 to add to the £17 million forecast for this year.

Mr Mayor we have adopted a financially responsible approach, a more commercial approach, a more co-operative approach, a more customer-focused approach. We are getting a grip on demand led services, streamlining processes and delivering £2 million in management savings last year and next year. All of us should be proud of what this council is achieving, in the face of the challenges common across local government, and in the face of our own specific housing and infrastructure challenges here in Brighton and Hove.

We are leading the city through by strengthening our collaboration with all our partners and asking the Better Brighton & Hove think tank to research, address and solve the economic, social, and public service challenges facing the city.

In conclusion, all of us were elected to serve the residents of this city, to make it a better place to live now and in the future, to preserve our heritage and invest in our economy. We are the temporary custodians of a valuable and historic place, a collection of rich and varied communities and culture, a city with incredible resources and immense potential.

We should be united in saying that Government should help us do what we were all elected to do, help us get to the basic services right, protect the most vulnerable, and ensure everyone benefits when our economy does well.

We should be united in asking Government to devolve to us the powers to fund what we need to do, and to deliver what our residents and businesses need.

We should be united in calling for an urgent review of how local government is funded and how it meets the challenge of providing social care services, not to apportion blame but to address a national crisis.

I say to this council, very simply, we should be united in support of this council, our residents and for Brighton and Hove.

We in this Group will support a significant number of the opposition amendments, because we recognise the work put in and the intent from opposition parties to make our budget better. I hope they in turn recognise our work and our intent in making the difficult choices, significant savings and sound financial decisions we have in this Budget today. The amendments today total less than 1% of the total revenue, HRA and capital budgets we have in front of us today. So let us view how we vote tonight in that perspective.

Let’s be united for care homes, nurseries and libraries. Let’s be united for those youth services we all care about, united for the seven hundred services this council provides for the people of this city, from the simplest cleaning job to the most complex legal social care case.

Let’s be united in support of the social worker and the street sweeper, for the dedicated men and women employed by this council who have adapted and adjusted and upped their game year after year after year.

Let us be united for the community and voluntary services we support, we commission and we partner with in Brighton and Hove, for the small businesses who need our support in the face of unfair government business rates rises AND the council taxpayer hit by benefit changes and tax increases.

Getting the basics right, protecting the most vulnerable and growing the economy. Managing the resources we have well, increasing them wherever and whenever we can. Those  are my aims as Leader, our aims as an Administration, they should be ours as a council, ours as a city with a great future ahead of it.

I make an appeal across this chamber today. Be united. Join together. Support our city, support our communities, support our residents. Support this budget and be confident in the future of Brighton and Hove.

Getting the basics right, protecting the most vulnerable, and growing an economy that benefits all.

 

WM portrait

Our draft Budget for 2017/18 is now out. My Labour & Co-operative Administration is facing up to the harshest ever financial circumstances the city council has faced. We are making a stand, drawing a line in face of the biggest ever cuts imposed by the Conservative Government.

We are protecting:

  • Early years services including nurseries and childrens centres, child protection is our legal duty and top priority
  • Libraries, not just as a place to borrow books but as community advice hubs and assets, the heart of our neighbourhoods approach
  • Refuse, recycling and street cleaning, the basic service your council tax pays for, with £400k coming in from commercial waste collection. Investment in big belly bins, new street cleaning vehicles, garden waste are new service innovations.
  • Public toilets no more cuts proposed, none added in the current year, no additions to the closures chosen by the previous Green Administration
  • Domestic violence we are pushing back against to cuts to this vital preventative service
  • Rough sleeping we are succeeding working to prevent hundreds of families entering homelessness, and are resisting pressure from benefit cuts that put more at risk
  • Poverty proofing the school day was a key recommendation from the Fairness Commission, giving pupils a fair start at school
  • Living Wage protected at local level not the national rebranded minimum wage
  • Social care: we are reviewing and redesigning services to focus on effective signposting, build stronger communities through increased partnership working, provide preventative services and ensure people get the safe, high quality, personalised, accessible and sustainable support they need.

This is our plan, our positive way forward, building a co-operative council and city to keep vital services going:

  • Investing millions in digital customer services
  • Saving millions through managing assets better, like our move from Kings House which will save £2m a year
  • Designing neighbourhood services and partnering with other organisations to keep services going locally through local hubs, volunteer-run parks
  • Saving half a million through our new housing allocations policy
  • A £7m investment in better street lighting that will deliver a £500k saving each year
  • Placing the Royal Pavilion into a trust to protect it and enable it to raise more money
  • Joining the Orbis partnership with neighbouring councils sharing support services to protect jobs and grow capacity
  • Housing investment in new council houses and truly affordable homes to tackle poverty and homelessness, and bring in new council tax
  • Major projects – new infrastructure, economic activity, more business rates/rents
  • Revenue generation from services like commercial waste, vehicle workshops

All this in the face of enormous pressures:

  • Government grant is down by another £11 million this year. It is shrinking from £140m to £6m over an 8 year period, a 40% funding reduction in real terms
  • We have already saved £70 million in last 4 years, £20 million in current year, leaving no easy cuts, no simple solutions, no savings that are pain-free
  • We still have to make £51 million savings over next three years, £24 million in the coming year
  • We are still £3m off balancing the Budget for 2017/18 – more savings need to be found
  • The £125m income from council tax is now smaller that £150m costs of care, increasing by £7m in the coming year
  • We are putting £1.5m more into supporting council tax payments for people on low incomes as Government funding for that scheme is cut
  • We are putting £300k more into free bus passes for older people, from the £562k additional parking revenue – the total cost of free bus travel is now more than £11m
  • We are making a further £2m of management savings

Cuts include:

  • £750k from youth services, however £250k remains for advocacy, services and support for young people vulnerable to exploitation, involved in substance misuse, entering the criminal justice system or requiring emotional and mental health support. We also continue to fund Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) work, the Youth Employability Service, the Youth Offending Service, and services for adolescents.
  • £600k from parks covered in our Big Conversation, and £100k from sports club subsidies
  • £290k from supported bus routes – still leaving a £900k subsidy

We are not alone. This is all in a national context:

An additional 2% social care “precept” on council tax, above what was allowed in the last financial year, has been asked for by most councils responsible for for social care, but this was not announced in the Government’s Autumn Statement. Even if it is, it won’t be Government that pays it will be us, with them transferring the financial burden of social care on to local taxation.

LGA Chair Lord Porter (Conservative) warns that councils will face an ‘extremely challenging’ situation over the next few years to tackle the £5.8bn funding gap by 2020: ‘Many councils are faced with difficult decisions about which services are scaled back or stopped altogether.’ He said the government must take urgent action to fund social care properly, if councils are to stand any chance of protecting care services for elderly and vulnerable people. Porter said that extra council tax-raising powers would not bring in enough money to alleviate the pressure on social care services for elderly and vulnerable, and that people are at breaking point now.

So far 24 top tier councils both Labour and Conservative-led are taking up full increase in council tax allowed at just under 4%. The days of council tax “freezes” are over.

Other councils have it even worse. In Liverpool all council-run services, including libraries, sports centres, maintenance of parks, highway repairs, street cleaning and rubbish collections, would have to be cut by 50% to balance the books, with Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson warning there will soon be no funds left, even for basic services.

There is a nationwide crisis in social care:  77 of the 152 local authorities responsible for providing care for the elderly have seen at least one residential and nursing care provider close in the last six months, because cuts to council budgets meant there were insufficient funds to run adequate services. In 48 councils, at least one company that provides care for the elderly in their own homes has ceased trading.

Is the Government getting it’s priorities right? No.

  • The Autumn Statement gave £240m for Grammar Schools whilst failing to help councils with social care and basic service funding.
  • Over the course of the Conservative’s decade in power they will give away £21 billion in tax cuts for higher earners, and another £1 billion in inheritance tax.
  • In the same period they are handing over £12 billion in corporation tax cuts for big businesses.
  • All this while £7.6 billion is cut from local government. That’s councils like ours.

Find out more about our Budget and watch my Budget message here.

Sign my petition calling on the Government to reverse their tax cuts and restore council funding: https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-mp-save-our-services

 

Our team, working for you

VictoryChris Moncreiff, as a political commentator of many years experience, makes some valid points about the state of the Labour Party (Argus, Sept 8th). Some readers may worry what this means for the running of their local council in Brighton and Hove.

I’d like to reassure residents of Brighton and Hove that we are and remain a strong team focused on delivering what we were elected to do for all our residents and communities.

Cllr Gill Mitchell is leading work on tackling littering and flytipping, with new compactor bins and our enforcement team cracking down on people who dump rubbish in our streets, now ably assisted by Cllr Saoirse Horan on all environmental and transport issues.

Cllr Tom Bewick is pushing for ever better schools, more apprenticeships and equipping our young people for the world of work. Cllr Dan Chapman is leading cross-party work on schools admissions to include the new secondary school opening next year.

Cllr Anne Meadows is overseeing the building of 500 new council homes, and our new joint venture to build a thousand truly affordable homes for rent or sale at 60% of market rates, while Cllr Tracey Hill leads work to make the city’s private rented sector fairer and Cllr Clare Moonan pushes ahead with work to tackle rough sleeping.

Cllr Emma Daniel is in charge of building stronger communities and neighbourhoods, taking up the challenge of our Fairness Commission to deliver on our pledge to ensure everyone shares in the city’s success. Cllr Alan Robins now heads our efforts on supporting the arts, culture and economic development, while Cllr Julie Cattell is delivering huge improvements in our Planning service.

Cllr Dan Yates and Cllr Karen Barford are facing up to the huge challenges our city faces in adult social care and health issues, and Cllr Caroline Penn is working with partner agencies to improve mental health.

Cllr Les Hamilton brings four decades of experience on the council to the immense challenge of changing our council to meet the demands of a budget that is 40% smaller in the face of growing demand.

I’m working to build new partnerships to give us the muscle to tackle the big issues and compete on a national and international stage, and hope to be able to make a big announcement soon.

I’m proud to lead this great team leading Brighton and Hove. Despite the cuts and increasing pressures we face, despite the fact that the Greens and Tories can and do outvote us when it suits them politically, we will work every day to make a difference.

We will preserve and restore our city’s heritage, we will make our communities stronger and our society fairer, we will find new ways of funding the decent basic services you expect. Jobs, homes and schools remain at the heart of what we do.

We are here until 2019 at least, I hope longer, doing the job you expect from us whatever the national political situation . At its heart, politics is not about labels, it is about energy, ideas, aspiration and hope. We will do our best to deliver those for Brighton and Hove.

(First published in The Argus, 12th September)

Will the Greens and Tories unite to scupper Hove cinema hope, and put community libraries across Brighton and Hove at risk?

Hove Library
Could this building have housed a new art house cinema for Hove?

With cuts by the Conservative Government of over 40% to our local services, it is clear that like many other councils, Brighton and Hove cannot continue to run its current network of libraries as they are.

Rather than close or privatise them as some councils have, we proposed moving Hove library to a new, purpose built extension at Hove museum. The Carnegie building, where the library currently operates, is by far the most expensive library building to run. It is also an unsafe working environment for library staff.

By moving the library just 300 metres along the road, closer to most Hove library users, we could add a cafe and outdoor space to what is currently offered, and run a library service at a fraction of the cost. Crucially, that would free up enough money each year to keep all of our branch libraries across the city open, and indeed extend opening hours where they have been cut.

Branch libraries are at the heart of our plan for community hubs in every neighbourhood. It is a sensible and innovative plan that has been backed by a majority of the public in two consultation exercises, and supported by full Council within the Libraries Plan.

Behind the scenes, we have been talking to an art house cinema chain about buying the building, and returning a cinema to Hove, one of the homes of early film-making, for the first time in forty years.

All the time the sale of the Carnegie building has been under discussion, this has had to remain confidential. We did however tell the Conservative leadership.

The Conservative Group on the council have been split, with some backing the move, and others, led by the would-be parliamentary candidate Robert Nemeth, opposing. They asked for more time, and more information, plus a further building survey costing the council £8,000. All of this was given, with the survey being delivered in a tight timescale, over a dozen further reports and a month of discussions.

Yet despite a thorough and sound business plan, they are still threatening to oppose the move of Hove library, simply to inflict a political defeat on the Labour Administration, in alliance with the Greens.

It won’t be the first time the Greens and Tories have joined up, having forced through the taxpayer loan for the i360 last year.

I’ve said very recently that I will always work to find a consensus in the best interests of the city and its residents. It is what people expect us to do.

Officers have made very clear in the Libraries Plan and subsequent reports to committee that the necessary alternative course of action if the Carnegie was to remain open would be to close many of our branch libraries in Saltdean, Rottingdean, Hangleton, Patcham, Westdene, Woodingdean, Mile Oak, Moulsecoomb, Coldean, Hollingbury, Portslade and Whitehawk. Our innovative plan has been designed to prevent that, I still want to prevent that and we will continue to try to work with the Conservatives and Green councilors to prevent that.

It is a very worrying time for this city and our valued libraries. It shows a real lack of civic responsibility on the part of the Greens, who we expect to act like this, but also on the part of Tories like Robert Nemeth, putting his own personal ambitions above what is right for Brighton and Hove. I’d hoped for stronger leadership from Tory leader Geoffrey Theobald, who has always said he would support innovation and creativity in providing public services.

I’m very disappointed that it has come to this with the future of libraries across the city being placed at significant risk.

The Conservatives will decide on Monday whether to back our libraries solution, keeping all our libraries open including an improved service in Hove, or to back the Greens protesting over an ageing building that isn’t fit for purpose and which costs so much to run that it threatens the future of more than half our community libraries across Brighton and Hove.

If you support our libraries plan and want to ensure the future of libraries across the city, e-mail the Conservative Group Leader: Geoffrey.theobald@brighton-hove.gov.uk

Sign our petition here: https://www.change.org/p/green-and-conservative-councillors-on-brighton-and-hove-council-save-our-libraries

 

Labour puts council finances back on track

moneyA report out today shows that despite the challenge of major Conservative Government cuts to funding, Labour have got the city’s finances back on track. Faced with a £8.5m overspend when they took over from the Green Party last year, the Labour administration prevented a budget deficit at the end of the financial year, coming within 2% of a balanced budget.

In a report going to Policy Resources and Growth Committee on 9th June, council officials will report the end of year position as being in slight surplus, a significant improvement on the forecast position at month 2 which was for the council to spend £8.5 million more than it had coming in.

We inherited a council that was spending too much and which is facing a 40% cut in its funding. It was essential we got things under control. I want to commend officers and partners for all the work that has been done to help the council achieve this in very difficult circumstances.

We are continuing to suffer financial blow after financial blow from the Conservative government, and the economy overall is far from strong, which is restricting growth in some sectors. I have no intention of exposing the city to the disasters that would arise from weak financial management.

We have to manage our risks, and have strong contingencies in place to cover all our challenges and pressures. Residents need the security of knowing what the council can and cannot deliver over the coming years. To do that we have to keep the council’s finances firmly on track.

Labour knows residents expect competence from the administration as well as vision, which is why Labour’s 4 year plan, agreed at Budget Council in February, not only set out the direction of travel for services to 2019, but also a robust approach to financial management that would be pursued throughout the administration. By February the surplus was already being factored in, and additional funds were allocated to priority service areas. Further surplus will be directed towards grass cutting and work to improve local streets.

Ten ways the Government is cutting council funding

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Photo: HM Treasury open media

Council finances are in crisis. Local Government has taken a bigger hit than any other part of the public sector since 2010, with the recent Budget making even deeper cuts than anticipated to the funds councils spend on local services. Here are ten ways that George Osborne and David Cameron have hit local government since 2010, and what the impact of those cuts have been in my own council of Brighton and Hove.

1) Revenue Grant: accounting for a third of expenditure on local services, this general grant will be abolished entirely by 2019. Here in Brighton and Hove that means the loss of over £140 million that the council was spending on street cleaning, libraries, street lighting and dozens of other services in 2010.

2) Council Tax benefit: this is the discount given to those who can’t afford to pay council tax. The Government is passing responsibility for paying for this to local councils, and funding an 80% discount will cost Brighton and Hove around £3 million in the coming financial year.

3) Bus Passes for Older People: introduced by the Labour Government, this keeps older people active and healthy. Again the Government has passed the cost to councils, meaning Brighton and Hove has to use almost all of the surplus from parking revenue to fund it, around £9 million. This money would otherwise be spent on subsidised bus routes, road safety, pedestrian crossings and more.

4) Benefit Changes and the NHS: cuts to benefits and healthcare mean councils have to deal with the costs of people made homeless, discharged from hospital early or thrown into debt. The introduction of Universal Credit alone is estimated to cost councils £1 billion.

5) Cuts to Social Rents: the reduction of 1% in rents for council and housing association tenants is moderately good news for the, though the main beneficiary will be the Treasury in Housing Benefit savings. However the impact on councils will be severe. Brighton and Hove will lose £16 million, money earmarked for building much-needed additional council housing.

6) Introduction of the National Living Wage: another welcome but limited boost to people on lower incomes, but one which will increase council wage bills by an estimated £834 million nationally by 2019/20. There is also the Apprenticeship Levy, which councils will have to pay at a cost of £600 million.

7) Starter Homes: the Government is requiring councils to build new housing on offer at 80% of market rates, well beyond what is affordable to most here in Brighton and Hove. However it is exempting those homes from the Section 106 and Community Interest Levy payments that developers normally pay towards new infrastructure to support additional housing. Councils will have to meet those costs, around £3 billion nationally, themselves.

8) Pensions: within five years, 34p in every pound paid in council tax will have to be spent on funding local government pension payments, and the Budget made that worse to an as yet uncosted amount. As council tax increases by 2 – 4% each year, including the levy to fund Osborne’s “extra money” for rising social care costs and to make up for cuts to grant funding, more and more pension costs will be met by councils. We don’t yet know the impact here.

9) Schools: as the Government increasingly strips councils and local parents of the powers to run schools, so funding will go too. Here in Brighton and Hove that is around £150 million a year.

10) Business Rates: the final nail in the coffin of local government. Osborne said again in his Budget speech that councils will be fully financially self-sufficient by 2020, when they can retain all of their local business rates. At present the Treasury takes half. This was already at risk from a revaluation exersise next year, and from a growing number of appeals by businesses against what they are required to pay. Yet moments after saying this, the Chancellor said that almost all small and medium sized businesses would be exempt from paying business rates from 2017. Almost all of the businesses in Brighton and Hove have fewer than 200 employees, meaning that a very significant proportion of the £100 million we might have got in 2020 will now vanish. Good new for local shopkeepers  accounting, but more bad news for councils who clean and maintain the streets in which they trade. The Government have said they will compensate councils for the loss of some £1.7 billion in revenue. I very much doubt it.

The Local Government Association estimated that even before changes announced in the Local Government Settlement and the Budget, councils would be around £10 billion worse off.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said after the Budget: “Every library that’s been closed, every elderly person left without proper care, every swimming pool with reduced opening hours or closed altogether is a direct result of government underfunding our local authorities and councils.”

People will be paying more in council tax, but in many cases seeing a reduction in services as a result. Osborne expects most residents to blame local councils, and not the Government, making his task of shrinking down local government via the back door easier.

Brighton and Hove has huge challenges in delivering affordable housing, in funding social care, and in maintaining basic services. We are probably looking at a cut of around 40% in our funding over a ten year period, somewhere in the region of £200 to £250 million when all of the above is factored in. Yet we are probably mid-table in the rankings of councils worst affected. Conservative councillors have had the hypocrisy to complain this week about grass verges being unmaintained, and a library building being sold, without taking any responsibility for their own Government’s actions.

We want a fair deal on council funding and we want local Tories to join with their colleagues elsewhere in saying so.

We will innovate. Our joint housing venture, City Innovation Challenge and cooperative schools proposal are just three of the ideas we are putting forward to challenge Tory cuts. We can’t escape the impacts, however, and in common with many councils across the country, the days of easy choices and pain-free savings are long since gone.

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.