Every 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).
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