Tag Archives: Conservatives

The Conservative Government’s Budget will not help Brighton and Hove

BudgetThe Conservative Government’s national insurance increase on the self-employed will hit up to 20% of the city’s workforce, many of whom are already affected by benefit reductions.

The money for social care is nowhere near enough to address the crisis, and as yet we don’t know where it is coming from. On past experience it will be from the budgets of local councils already slashed by 20% in a year, or already announced money brought forward.

After big cuts to our state schools, new free schools and grammars got hundreds of millions. There was nothing for housing, nothing for rail infrastructure, nothing substantial for the NHS and nothing on the impact of Brexit. This Budget won’t help our council, our small businesses or our public services in Brighton and Hove.

Europe: It isn’t too late to think again

21505_EU-flag-missing-starIt is becoming abundantly clear in my view that leaving the European Union will be a disaster for Britain, and bad for Brighton and Hove.

As a city, we voted overwhelmingly to remain. That view now seems to be shared by many other cities and regions who voted to leave. I choose to represent the majority of voters in Brighton and Hove who voted to remain. I absolutely respect the views of those who believe otherwise and who will reject the arguments I set out here.

Opinion has been moving against “Leave” for months. A poll of nearly 5000 voters in August found overwhelming support for Britain staying in the EU, reflecting a growing belief that we we misled and that there is no plan on how to make it happen.

There is a strong argument that we should not ignore the democratically expressed will of the people. However I believe that the reasons for the outcome were based for many on misleading information, and many would now not make the same choice in the polling station.

The idea that Brexit would reverse immigration was never realistic and controls on the free movement of labour will be catastrophic for many sectors of the economy. Migration was one of the key myths on which many based their vote, but myths are easily busted, and the impact on business through much greater regulatory burdens could be severe.

The promise of an extra £350 million for the NHS has been shown to be a false one. It was a betrayal of voters and their trust. Acknowledging a decision was wrong should mean we review it, not plough on regardless.

The referendum was not binding. The result was close, so close that Leave campaigners said quite clearly before the vote that should the result go against them by a similar margin they would contest the outcome.

Brexit will have a “catastrophic” effect on higher education, a vital sector in our local economy. Analysis by national law firm Irwin Mitchell and the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) found Brighton’s economy is expected to see a significant slowdown in economic growth following the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The idea that Brexit will boost the economy and create jobs is another myth. Open Britain argue that the UK will have to borrow an additional £58 billion to deal with the consequences. Over a quarter of a million was racked up in legal fees in the first two months following the referendum, and costs of negotiating our departure over a decade are estimated at £65 million a year, at a time when social care is in crisis, the NHS is being run into the ground, local government is being starved of funds and rough sleeping is rocketing.

The respected Brookings Institute in Washington DC warned that Brexit could be “the greatest catastrophe of the 21st Century” leading to the breakup of the UK. The Peterson Institute for Economics called it a “disastrous experiment in deglobalisation.” Richard Branson said “there’s been very, very little to be gained from it and there’s been an awful lot to lose from it.”

Many claim that Brexit has had no impact on the economy, or indeed a positive impact on the economy. Of course we haven’t yet left the European Union, the worlds largest trading bloc, and predictions remain gloomy. In May of 2016 the UK was the world’s 5th largest economy. Just eight months later we have slipped behind France and India to 7th.

The resignation of the UK’s Ambassador to the EU lays bare the stark reality that the Government has no plan for exiting the EU that in any way benefits the country. The Government never had a plan because it never expected to lose the referendum. The pledge to put EU membership to the vote was entirely designed to stop the hemorrhage of Tory votes to UKIP at the 2015 General Election and secure a Tory majority.

The involvement of figures like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove in the Leave campaign was clearly more about their ambitions to succeed David Cameron than what was right for the country.

Even senior Tories now warn that “this is grown-up stuff, with consequences”. If we trigger Article 50 in March, we have just two years to successfully conclude negotiations or leave with nothing. Today the Prime Minister said she would present a plan “within weeks“, denying thinking in Government is “muddled”. I do not have faith in this Government to deliver.

Sir Keir Starmer is right that we should find bold and progressive solutions to the issues that underpinned the narrow vote to leave, but I disagree with the view that the outcome of the referendum cannot be challenged. 70% of Labour voters now believe we are wrong to leave the EU, many of them now looking to the Liberal Democrats to represent their views. I believe Labour should speak for a pro-European Britain.

We have not yet triggered Article 50. The Supreme Court may yet rule that Parliament must have the final say. There are various legal options the Court could give Parliament to consider. MPs need to think about their responsibility to all of the people, the national interest and the future before deciding to carry on with what is at best a high risk leap into the unknown.

Brighton and Hove can and should remain oriented towards Europe, with 50% of our tourism coming from the EU. We are the home of the European headquarters of American Express, and other financial services groups like Legal and General. Our creative arts and digital sectors, our hotel and conference industry, our universities and language schools cannot afford barriers to trade with Europe. We can and shall remain open for business. 

I believe we should think again before it is too late, and remain members of the European Union for the benefit of our city and our country.

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

 

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.

 

Cuts are putting people in need of care at risk. The Government needs to act.

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It is wrong for politicians to be alarmist, to cause concern in order to score political points. It’s referred to as “shroud-waving”. I’ve criticised others for doing so, and I’ve thought long and hard about publishing this post. I do so not to win votes or do down the other side, but out of genuine fear both for for the people who need social care and those charged with providing it.

I posted recently about the competing campaigns against various cuts we are being forced to make to services because of the reduction and eventual removal of the Government’s Revenue Support Grant which until now has provided around a third of our funding. As that funding reduces and ultimately disappears, the cost of providing social care services is rising rapidly.

Those cost increases are down to a huge range of factors. An ageing population, increasing poverty, welfare reform, growing pressures on the NHS, growing numbers of children being identified as a risk, and more. It is right that care workers are paid the Living Wage, but the requirement on providers to pay it brings a cost.

In around four years, without a combination of additional resources and new ways of working, the costs of social care will consume the entire council budget, save for some basic environmental services like refuse collection. In the coming year almost £20 million of risk has been identified across our social care services in Brighton and Hove.

High profile failures like Victoria Climbie, Baby P or Rotherham cannot be allowed to happen again if we can possibly prevent it.

Whether it is services for frail older people, vulnerable adults with learning disabilities, or children at risk of abuse, it is your local council that is responsible for looking after them. If those council care services fail, it is the service directors who are held legally responsible. Councillors are legally and morally responsible as corporate parents for children in care.

Without a proper funding regime involving the collaboration of all agencies, any further cuts to social care budgets by the Government could, in the near future, lead to formal notification by those directors that they cannot guarantee a safe level of care.

The 2% council tax increase, ring-fenced for social care, will bring in an extra £2.2 million each year. It sounds a lot but it isn’t sufficient to meet the increased costs and demand.

Urgent action on the part of Government is needed, before people are put at risk.

We need to build affordable homes now

housingThis week I went to London to lobby government ministers for more powers to tackle the housing crisis in the city and our region. We need the power to bring forward new sites, draw in new funding, and co-ordinate work to build more affordable homes for rent or to buy.

The statistics on housing in the city are staggering. This week a report said that rents in Brighton and Hove are rising by 18 per cent a year. The average rent for a one-bedroomed flat is around £900 a month. The average price of a flat is £260,000. For a semi-detached home that rises to £360,000, and for a terraced house the average is now £425,000, some £40,000 less than London.

Four thousand people move here from the capital each year, while the student rental market eats more properties each month. With the lack of supply these factors mean house price inflation of more than 12 per cent a year.

Current council policy asks for 40 per cent of major new developments to be “affordable”, meaning on offer at 80 per cent of market rents. With rents so high, even that is unaffordable to those we seek to help, and 40 per cent of units are rarely if ever achieved.

That’s why we are looking to build 2,000 homes for rent at 60 per cent of market rent through our proposed joint venture with Hyde. We are building dozens of new council homes in Whitehawk as part of our pledge to build at least 500 council homes by 2019.

Some argue for rent controls; we are committed to a fairer rental market, with transparent fees and rights for tenants so that the few unscrupulous landlords and letting agents who give the sector a bad name can be made to clean up their acts and not undercut the decent majority.

We will look at any and all opportunities to build, and seek to offer homes of all types and tenures in the city to those who need them.

Our economy depends on staff being able to afford to live here. Our council needs the additional income new council tax-generating properties will bring.

The government is pushing the city and our regional neighbours to build. In his Autumn Statement the Chancellor said he wants 200,000 “starter homes” built by 2020, at 80 per cent of market rates and capped at £250,000. This is welcome, though that price will still be well out of reach for many on lower incomes. The government required us to look at every option in drawing up our City Plan which must deliver over 11,000 new homes in the next 15 years.

Of course when developers bring forward plans to build, as they have done recently in the east of the city, the opposition from Conservative councillors and MPs is vociferous. Any plans to build out into the urban fringe, up in high-rise developments or on brownfield sites are opposed.

Unless we are to become a “London-by-the-sea” with properties only within reach of the wealthy, and new build reserved for overseas investors, the Conservative Government must give us the powers to intervene in the market, and Conservative politicians must accept the case for more homes to be built.

Bold solutions, difficult decisions and innovative partnerships are needed if we are to do what is needed to tackle our city’s housing crisis.

Why Brighton and Hove needs a Labour Council and three Labour MPs

10401556_922575384454226_2322285707133409745_nOn May 7th Brighton and Hove, the city I have called home all my life and one of the most unique places in the country, faces a choice. The city centre can continue to indulge in being different by having the UKs only Green MP, while the outskirts can quietly forget that they have two Conservative MPs propping up a government that has done so much harm to so many people in the last five years, or it can vote for change.

Brighton and Hove, and Portslade, Saltdean, Hangleton, Patcham, Woodingdean and all the other neighbourhoods that make up our city, have the opportunity on the same day to say goodbye to the Greens running the council and once again elect three Labour MPs as they did between 1997 and 2010. The three seats here are critical in deciding whether David Cameron remains in 10 Downing Street, or if Ed Miliband is elected our next Prime Minister.

Working together, our Labour MPs Purna Sen, Peter Kyle and Nancy Platts, along with a Labour council led by me, will do all we can to build a better Brighton and Hove, better for those currently on low incomes, those struggling to afford a home, those who have to use the foodbank rather than the supermarket.

We will eliminate youth unemployment and create more apprenticeships. We will wipe out street homelessness and build at least 500 new council homes. We will set up a Fairness Commission to ensure every possible step is taken to tackle poverty and inequality that blight the lives and restrict the opportunities of over twelve thousand of our city’s residents.

We will end the chaos on on our city’s roads and focus what funding we can draw in on securing and improving our city’s shop window and major transport artery, the seafront. We will get the basics right by ensuring that bins are collected, streets are kept clean and that more, not less, of our city’s waste is recycled. We will ensure that major projects like the King Alfred leisure centre and the Waterfront shopping centre and arena are delivered on time and in budget, with affordable homes secured for local residents as part of the deal. We will strive to create a local economy that benefits everyone, not just the few.

We won’t promise populist and unaffordable pledges like parking and council tax freezes like the Tories have done, and we won’t continue with the indulgent, unending and financially irresponsible schemes that the Greens, with Tory support, have pursued. We will be realistic in what we promise, responsible in how we manage the city’s finances, determined in what we do to deliver for all residents, but particularly those who need our help most.

Brighton and Hove is a fantastic place to live, and despite all the challenges we face, people who live here are proud of it. Labour wants to make it better, we want to restore it to the city it was a decade ago, provide strong leadership for the future and unlock the potential of every young person who wants to live and work here. Help us win on May 7th, and we will deliver a council that works for you, a city that has a past to be proud of and a future with of hope and opportunity for all.

Read our manifesto here.

Volunteer to help here.

Postscript: I’ve been challenged on promising to “wipe out” street homelessness whilst at the same time saying that our promises are realistic and deliverable. It is a fair point. Our manifesto says we will “reduce” street homelessness. Since then all parties in the city have been challenged by Andy Winter of BHT to go further. I want to take up that challenge, I want to do more than reduce street homelessness, I want to see it eliminated. No-one should have to sleep rough on the streets. Yes, it might be an undeliverable pledge, but I am not in politics to do what is easy, I’m in it to attempt what is hard. On this I would rather try but fail than not try at all.

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Promoted by W.Morgan on behalf of Brighton and Hove Labour Party, all of 99 Church Road, Hove BN3 2BE