Building a fair, balanced and progressive budget is one of my key responsibilities. The process for approving that budget has to be as open and inclusive as possible. That’s my personal preference, and also the best way to make decisions on the incredibly difficult choices ahead.
So at next week’s Cabinet meeting I’ll be presenting a report setting out our thinking on the budget process. In summary we’ll be seeking to invite cross-party involvement throughout the process, not just at the end; and we will be reaching out to citizens, unions and the third sector to feed into our thinking too.
We want to give council departments the space for longer term thinking and more sustainable changes than annual ‘salami slicing’ of budgets. So I’ve asked for them to present two year, rather than just annual, spending plans. I’d go for longer if I had greater certainty about what central government will do with our funding in future years.
The previous Conservative administration had budgeted on 2.5% annual council tax increases for the coming years. The Green administration are seeking to move that to 3.5% per annum. This is equivalent to 85p more per week for a band D property. At 3.5% the rate is below all the measures of inflation recorded by the Office for National Statistics.
Greens believe council tax is an unfair tax, but Government does not allow us to use fairer alternatives, such as land value tax. We do not take decisions to raise the tax rate lightly, and we are committed to spending the money raised carefully. That extra 1% will help us to protect key services from the cuts.
Meanwhile the council will be seeking spending savings of up to 15% over the coming two years, while also dealing with significant pressures from increased costs in a number of key services. Our principles in judging how to meet these challenges will be:
- To prioritise services for the young, elderly and vulnerable
- To promote efficient use of public money
- To support partnership working with public, private and third sector organisations
I want to emphasise the importance of the public engaging in this process, as a first step to greater community involvement in budget setting as we begin to pilot more neighbourhood decision-making. I know it’s going to be hard, but I passionately want to see more citizens discussing and understanding the council’s budget.
We also will be seeking to publish carbon budgets of some form. It is early days but, as with our program of public involvement in budget-setting, we hope the carbon budgeting will improve significantly each year.
While we will inevitably disagree on some proposals, I hope all parties will work with us constructively to face the challenge ahead of us. The Coalition government have imposed on Brighton & Hove huge, unnecessary cuts to our funding. All councillors are united in their passion for this city and I hope we can collectively move from tribalism to constructive working to come up with the best possible outcomes.