A Green view on the 2011/12 budget council

What an extraordinary night we had at Brighton Town Hall last night: Adjournments as the rowdy public gallery expressed their displeasure. Possibly a record number of ‘points of order’ being made by councillors as speeches got nasty, tetchy and overly personal. They mayor was always going to have a difficult time managing the meeting, and all things considered, he did reasonably well – though Greens wanted to see more public allowed in the gallery.

I won’t report the meeting blow by blow: You can watch it on the webcast, the extensive coverage on Brighton & Hove news (see related posts at the bottom of that link for more) and The Argus’ multimedia coverage.

In essence the Tories repeated the usual nonsense that the cuts were inevitable and they were all terribly responsible for implementing ‘savings’. They attacked Greens for being profligate and irresponsible with money. Yet it was the Green Alternative Budget which spent less money than the Tory budget, and put more aside into reserves, putting us in a better place for future years.

I tried to speak to our desire to reduce the number of high paid council officers in favour of protecting frontline services and increasing wages for the lowest paid workers. Our amendment to this affect had already been blocked from getting onto the agenda, but the mayor then tried to stop me even talking about the idea saying I couldn’t talk about job losses. Rather bizarre given the Tory budget was proposing to remove 250 jobs from the city!

It was excellent news that the joint Green and Labour amendments were passed through, saving some important services and eliminating the worst of the Tories budget gimmicks. These joint amendments (which I’m disappointed to see Labour claiming as ‘the Labour alternative budget‘) changed about £2.7m in the overall budget. Which, compared to the only £20,000 or so we changed last year through a last-minute Tory concession, is a big achievement. But in the context of the overall budget there were still about £23m of service reductions included.

This was a secretive budget process: papers presented late, officers restricted from talking to us about the detail we desperately needed and cabinet members not even attending some scrutiny meetings. Other councils take a much more open and cross-party approach to their budget setting.

Greens chose to vote down this Tory-cuts budget, and we had thought Labour would do so too — but they blinked at the last moment and abstained, letting the Tories push their budget through. Which is a terrible shame. We wanted to call another budget council in a week. We would spend the intervening time finding much more detail on what the proposals before us entailed. We would involved the unions, voluntary organisations and public in examining the books which we would have thrown open. Then we could have set a better, fairer budget.

Yes, it’s a better budget thanks to the joint Green & Labour amendments. It was appalling that Tories wanted to hand out a 1% tax cut (worth only 20p a week to the average tax payer – and nothing to those on benefits who don’t pay council tax) plus a 5% reduction in parking permits whilst slashing services for the young, elderly and vulnerable. How can they morally justify cutting provision for orphans (for example) whilst spending over £1 million on removing a cycle lane?

So some of that madness was averted. But with details on posts previously claimed as ‘vacant’ so deleted being revised to not vacant but still deleted, there was clearly much more we could work through if we had the time and information.

Labour’s last minute change of heart on this was bitterly disappointing, and it was plain on the face of many Labour councillors that this was not how they thought they would be voting. Tories jeered as their budget passed. They had repeatedly accused opposition parties of not understanding ‘value for money’, otherwise we wouldn’t be putting money back into services with our amendments. Putting money into a service doesn’t mean it has to spend every last penny – quite regularly departments underspend as demand fluctuates or they find more efficient ways of doing things. That is quite separate from just lopping great chunks off budgets to the detriment of services and their users.

The Tory cuts budget passed as Labour blinked, but the blows have been softened by the joint Green/Labour amendments passing. Greens stood firm in our opposition.

13 thoughts on “A Green view on the 2011/12 budget council”

  1. …..and what happened???? You voted AGAINST your own amendment proposals with Labour , and Labour abstained, and we were happy to accept them!!!! What a shambles you lot were last night. Obviously aggrieved that we got 99% of our Budget through, you couldn’t stomach that, so you voted against what you had been proposing for 5 and a half hours during the meeting.
    Labour were more of a shambles than you were, but at least they didn’t want to charge £500,000 of taxpayers’ money going in to renewable energy schemes feed-in-tariffs]like you. As I said on the night, we’ve ALREADY had firms knocking on our doors to put in solar panels on some of our south-facing municipal buildings, and that is down to us Conservatives who have taken the green agenda right away from you. That is why you don’t ever talk about sustainability issues any more, because you are a year behind what we have already done.
    Having said that, me old mucker, you did take £1.1 out of the Local Transport Budget but didn’t put it anywhere near sutainable transport policies!!

    The truth is, you know as well as I that Greens and Labour are uncomfortable tax-hiking bed partners and your left-wing consortium lasted for 5 and a 1/2 hours before spontaneously combusting.

    No wonder your supporters turned on you last night. You were traitors to your own measures.

    And when are you going to realise that any left-wing consortium/coalition/agreement/cuddling session will never nbe about you, but about the leader of tha labour group’s wish for power??? C’mon ,get real.

    All of the measures you promoted in your amendments we voted for in the end, because we were relaxed enough to do so, 99% of our own proposals being part of the night’s undoubted success for us.

    Shame you were just too tight to agree to a Council Tax cut, which is going down well with the public.

    No doubt, you now CANNOT talk about your amendments seriously again, so we’re looking forward to our next debate with you and what your next crazy policy offerings might be.

    in the meantime, I still like reading your blog and I still think you are a good bloke, so anyone out there who thinks I don’t like the Greens are wrong. At the moment , I absolutely LOVE THEM.

    As you say : ‘cynical, irresponsible, gimmicky’ – yep, that’s you.

    Ayas

  2. Good god – if that’s how narky and sour Mr Fallon-Khan sounds when he’s *won* a vote, I wouldn’t like to be around when he’s lost! Eye protection to be worn at all times!

  3. Mr Fallon-Khan is a councillor believe it or not. I actually thought for one moment I was reading a football supporters forum, with the fan of one team goading another about a last minute victory.

    I still can’t believe that was actually the response of a sitting councillor.

  4. Dear Ayas

    I’ve made it abundantly clear why we didn’t vote for the amended budget – it was still mostly a Tory cuts budget which we couldn’t support.

    It’s no good just talking about renewable energy schemes your planning, let’s see them! There was nothing in the budget papers about any feed-in-tarriff scheme despite our trying to encourage your administration and officers for months to engage with this issue. If you’re really doing it then I’m delighted, but let’s see the detail first. Why the secrecy?

    We’re still very much leading on sustainability — which is why we proposed the food waste collection pilot amendment (just as we did last year), and pushed it through over Conservative rants of ‘fortnightly collections will doom us all’ (or something to that effect). What about all the city centre residents who get daily waste collections from communal bins but only weekly or fortnightly recycling collections? Not very sustainable to prioritise waste over recycling, nor very economically sound when recycling is so much cheaper to process per tonne.

    Your sentence “Shame you were just too tight to agree to a Council Tax cut, which is going down well with the public.” just sums it all up doesn’t it? You’d rather cut some frontline services for vulnerable people to pay for a tax gimmick.

    That’s not a trade-off I was willing to support.

    regards,
    Jason

  5. Wow, I always thought the Tories were bonkers but that takes it to another level!

    The crap the Ayas Fallon-Khan wrote above doesn’t really need any analysis it speaks for itself.

    I think we had a good outcome for the budget all things considered. It gives me hope for after the elections that Labour and the Greens will be able to work together, as they did pretty well last night.

  6. Where Ayas Failing-Calm been for lunch before writing that bizarre comment in the middle of the afternoon?

  7. Jason – It strikes me that this is just self indulgence on the art of the Green Party, and an attempt to put some false distance between you and Labour. Unless you are going to vote down any cuts, and set an illegal budget the extra week of discussion is pointless. You would then be faced with the same decision as Labour were this week. What would you have done? Labour’s abstension gave you the opportunity to create the false impression that you are opposed to the cuts, when you will be implementing them anyway if you are elected. That might be their mistake, but it completely disingenuous to suggest that the Greens would do anything differently when the time came. A good slogan on the doorsteps, but a self serving one, which people may well see through. The Labour position was more subtle and complex, but was the right thing to do.

  8. As Mr Fallon-Khan is on the payroll as an employee of Brighton and Hove City Council, then surely it could be argued that the following is considered – that he attends a Learning and Development training course refresher on how to communicate by email. Secondly, that he is reported to HR and put on a ‘standard setting’ or alternatively, as touched upon by Barron Pepperpot that he contacts the ‘BBC Five Live 5 – 606 Rant line’!

  9. @Martin Cross

    It wasn’t an attempt at anything so cynical as you suggest ie creating ‘false distance’ between us and Labour. Until 5 minutes before the final vote on Thursday night we had the understanding with Labour that both they and us were going to vote down the budget. It couldn’t possibly have been a calculated attempt at creating distance, as we didn’t know Labour were going to abstain beforehand!

    We had a straightforward approach through this whole budget:

    1. We prepared our own amendments so that we were clear in our own views and priorities. And if Labour wouldn’t agree to joint amendments then we at least had our own.

    2. We prepared joint amendments with Labour to reduce, as much as we could, the harm caused by the Tory budget.

    3. We sought to vote down the budget so we could work on further improvements.

    The budget would have been better if we’d had another week on it. There was very little time for the opposition parties to work on it. It was an incredibly secretive process and officers were blocked from telling us much of the detail. It took two weeks to get any meaningful information, for example, on the car park investment schemes. And new information has emerged since the 28th Feb deadline for submitting budget amendments: Including over the rights of way officer and funding to the Rise domestic abuse charity.

    If the budget had been voted down we feel that the Tory group and hence officers would have been pressured to cooperate. We would have been able to assess further detail of many of the proposals and so make more changes to the budget.

    You can disagree with that approach, argue that the week’s delay wasn’t worth any changes we might win. But it was a genuine and heartfelt position that we took with the aim of further improving the budget situation for this city.

  10. Thanks for responding Jason. Perhaps I was being too harsh on the Green Party tactics. However, I really think that the idea that an extra week would have led to people to bang heads together and come up with a more acceptable budget is fanciful. What would be in that for the Tories? I do have a real problem with you voting down proposals that you had just argued in favour of. Having achieved what you could, with Labour support, your responsibility was to let the budget pass, the alternative could have been worse, and if yourselves and Labour had voted the budget down again that could have meant chaos for those most dependent on our services.

    Would you have continued to vote no, or would you have abstained the next time round?

  11. Martin, you ask “what would be in that for the Tories?” My answer is… getting a budget passed! But we shall never know how it would have played out – it’s all hypothetical. Thanks for your reply.

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