Labour councils must act now for people who need help today

ManifestoFrontEvery day the council I lead delivers services to all of the 280,000 residents on Brighton and Hove. Roads are patched, care visits are undertaken, rough sleepers are helped into accommodation, streets are cleaned, and new council homes are being handed to tenants.

The demands on local councils are huge and they are urgent. The financial collapse of Northamptonshire County Council shows the level of crisis faced by councils like mine in dealing with rising social care costs and falling levels of funding from the Conservative Government.

The Local Government Association says there is a £2 billion funding gap in children’s services alone. Nationally there is a £12 billion backlog of road repairs. Conservative peer Lord Porter warns councils have “no option” but to increase tax bills to try and meet a £2.3 billion social care funding gap.

As the Socialist Health Association said, “Councillors cant wait for the revolution, or even the next Labour Government. They have to take difficult decisions about health and social care and protect their residents the best they can this week.”

There might be another General Election this year, but only if the Conservative Prime Minister (whoever that is) calls one (which seems unlikely given their experience last June), or the DUP abandon their £10 billion deal to guarantee the Tory majority (possible given a “hard border” Brexit, but again less than likely).

Labour needs a clear lead in the polls to win a majority, but is currently level. Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the next General Election doesn’t have to happen until 2022.

So like every other Labour council leader, I’m desperate for a Labour Government, but have a Budget to pass in two weeks time. I’ve got dozens of people sleeping rough on our streets, with more coming every day. I’ve got long waiting lists for homes and house prices continuing to rise. I’ve got residents just about managing who face the impact of Universal Credit and increased council tax bills in the next few months. I am not about to let them down.

We are building 500 new council homes, with the latest handed to tenants this month. We are going ahead with 1000 new homes on offer for shared ownership or rent at 60% of household income on the National Living Wage, truly affordable housing in partnership with a local housing association. I’ve called for the HRA borrowing cap to be lifted by Government to enable us to do much more.

We are taking hundreds of people off of the streets or saving them from getting there each month. We are investing in jobs and support to stop people slipping into poverty and protecting our core services. We are putting our most valued assets and the valued staff that run them into a not-for-profit charitable trust to protect them from ongoing Tory austerity cuts.

We may well have to deal with the crippling impact of those Tory cuts for another four years. We have a responsibility to prepare for that probability, and find what solutions we can to the austerity we face. That doesn’t mean abandoning our Labour values, it doesn’t mean privatisation or repeats of the Carillion debacle. It does mean the kind of innovation and policy development that Labour councils have consistently proven they are good at.

The people who need our help can’t wait another day for it. It is the duty of Labour councillors to do whatever they can with the resources at their disposal now, that is the municipal Socialism our communities expect and deserve.

I can’t say it better than Cllr Nick Forbes, the Leader of Newcastle City Council and of the LGA Labour Group: “As Labour councillors, elected by people who look to us for help today, we cannot wait for the next Labour government – we have to act today, and we do act, with courage and determination, and are we proud to do that for the communities we serve”.

 

While you are here – we are recruiting an organiser to help deliver a Labour majority in Brighton and Hove in 2019, could that be you? http://www.w4mpjobs.org/JobDetails.aspx?jobid=64482

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2019: Beginning The Campaign For A Labour Majority For Brighton and Hove

The fight starts now for a Labour majority in Brighton and Hove at the next local elections in May 2019. We need six more councillors for a majority, ending more than a decade and a half of no overall control.

We’ve achieved a huge amount since winning minority control in 2015, despite savage Conservative Government cuts to our funding, and two opposition parties on the council who have wasted no opportunity to delay or frustrate the positive things we are trying to achieve for our city.

https://warrenmorgan.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/10×10-our-half-term-report/

So why do we need that majority, and what would we do with it?

Our goal is to build the homes Brighton and Hove needs – affordable homes, more temporary accommodation to tackle homelessness, excellent quality council houses, homes that people need for their families, homes that businesses need for their workers. We’ll push further on our work to make the private rented sector better for tenants and better for Brighton and Hove.

We want to go further and faster on building a city economy – and city region economy – that benefits everyone. More jobs that are secure, that pay well and that give people the security they need for their families. We believe Brighton and Hove belongs in Europe, with thriving universities, creative digital companies and an outward-looking visitor economy.

We want to build a city that cares for residents from their early years through to a healthy and active later life. Social care and good physical and mental is at the heart of what we do. There is no greater challenge – and no bigger opportunity – to lead on making a fundamental difference to the lives of ordinary people here in Brighton and Hove.

We have to stand up for our city to Government, for fairer funding for the services and infrastructure we need, for the business rates local businesses pay but which the Treasury takes, and for the ability to build the homes we need. At the same time we need to innovate in finding ways to pay for the basic services our families and communities rely on, working in partnership with the public sector and the voluntary sector at every step.

We need to be a powerful voice for the infrastructure we need, from housing to health, from rail to ultra-fast broadband. The people of Brighton and Hove need us to speak up for them regionally, nationally and internationally – we can’t continue to lose out because we’ve no clear leadership and a Tory group with near-parity.

Stronger communities are, we believe, the answer to the biggest challenges we face. With so many pressures seeking to divide us, we have to lead in our neighbourhoods, across generations, against racism, homophobia, transphobia and any forces that push our communities apart. Together we can achieve more. United we can face down bigotry and prejudice in all its forms.

These are difficult times. Our challenges are great and the future is uncertain. Our job is to give people hope, hope that their home city can not only weather the storm but build a Brighton and Hove that delivers excellent basic services, that cares for and improves the lives of everyone that lives here, and grows our economy for the benefit of the many, not the few.

Join us. In the next few months we will start building our team of 54 candidates to win that majority and take Brighton and Hove forward. We’ll be recruiting a full-time campaign organiser too. If you are not already a Labour member, join here.

Don’t let the Tories – just two seats behind us on the council – hold us back. Don’t let the Conservatives win just because it is “their turn”.

We believe in a fairer, co-operative and progressive vision for our unique and exciting city, a Labour vision. If you want to be part of the next stage in our journey, then join us, talk to us, stand with us.

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.