current affairs

The budget cuts in Brighton & Hove and the continued failure to empower local government

For no good reason other than showing how tough they are – a sort of budgetary chest thumping – we have cuts being imposed now. Even if you accept the need for cuts (which Greens do not), it doesn’t seem to me that we are getting the best value or service quality from rushing through in-year cuts. During the general election only the Tories were arguing the cuts should happen this year. How the LibDems have changed their tune.

At a recent Cabinet meeting I called for the local Tory administration to publish details of their budget plans as soon as possible, with councillors from all parties being involved in the process. This fell on stoney ground.

All we know at this point is what officers have been able to glean an announcement by Eric Pickles about 2 weeks ago. In summary for this year the council is obliged to cut £3.55 million from the budget already balanced and passed at the February budget council meeting.

That we’re being asked to change a budget in-year is less than ideal, it is threatening many long-planned projects and adds a great deal of uncertainty to council staff. Currently they are being told to carry on with planning but implement as little as possible.

However, and here’s the kicker, as long as the Tory cabinet manage the budget reductions within departments and don’t push money across departmental lines then none of the cuts will have to come to full council for decision. Instead they can sign them off at the Tory-only Cabinet-level meetings. In any circumstances, but especially for a council of no overall control, this is not the inclusive, democratic decision making that I believe residents deserve.

Additionally, pushing these cuts onto local government is confirmation that the Tory/LibDem government are intent on continuing the emasculation of local councils that the previous Labour and Conservative governments undertook with relish.

All the talk of ‘localism’, devolving power and such like from Tories and LibDems is immediately shown to be completely false. If they truly believed and understood these issues they would not have imposed swingeing cuts on local government without also granting new local powers. Let us not forget that local government had nothing to do with creating this budgetary deficit and have been delivering Gershon efficiency savings of 2-3% a year.

Local government haven’t been showered in cash the past years. The least the government could have done is offered local councils some new powers, perhaps alternative models for fundraising or a fairer local taxation system before cutting off our funds. Certainly the government’s only gesture to councils of removing the ring-fencing from a motley collection of grants is not much of a tonic in the face of these cuts.

Greens will oppose the cuts all the way, but it looks like the Tories will make sure we won’t even get a chance to vote on them. What sort of open politics is that?

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