As Green finance spokesperson I’ve spent nearly every non-working, non-sleeping hour in recent weeks working on the budget. Understanding the detail of the Tory proposals and pulling together our own Green budget. The fruits of that work, which depended on the expertise of all the Green councillors, were published last night in our alternative Green budget. I’ve posted my introduction below, you can download the full doc here [PDF].
Introduction to the Green Alternative Budget 2011/12
Cutting local government budgets is an ill-considered policy which will harm the most vulnerable. It runs contrary to the views of the Green Party, many leading economists, fairness and common sense. Cutting spending while the economy is fragile risks a further downturn and reduces services for those most likely to need them. The national deficit does not justify the cuts Conservative local government minister Eric Pickles is gleefully imposing on us all. This deficit is by no means the largest it has been in modern times, it is not an emergency.
In the course of an economic cycle, a government shouldn’t spend more than it has, and should leave some aside in case of troubled times. The previous Labour government’s failure to properly regulate the financial sector and rein in military spending left the UK more vulnerable to economic turmoil than it otherwise could have been.
Greens, including Caroline Lucas MP, will continue to make the case that the national approach to cuts is not the right one. But locally, elected councillors have a legal duty to set a balanced budget. The alternative would be to have un-elected council officers making the decisions on spending for our city’s services.
This leaves us the incredibly difficult task of minimising the harm caused by these budget reductions imposed by the Conservative and LibDem government. Council resources are far more limited than some commentators would have us believe. Their budgets are being centrally reduced whilst being given no new powers to raise funds.
This alternative budget sets out how a Green-led council would have addressed the challenges this city faces differently. It was produced in the very limited time the Conservative council administration allowed opposition parties to review the budget papers ahead of the vote. Information about this budget has been deliberately withheld to the very last minute. In forming this budget we have battled a culture of secrecy to understand the detailed financial plans for council services in the coming years.
However, whilst not perfect, it is my view that the proposals here reverse the worst of the Conservative proposals, reduce the harm to the young, older people and the vulnerable whilst also leaving the finances in reasonable shape to face the further budget cuts we know the ministers in Whitehall will impose over the coming years. In a sense, it is the best that could be made of a bad job.