The next financial year in Brighton & Hove will see a first… the first ever Green council budget will be the basis of how our council runs.
Last night was the budget council meeting where we Greens proposed and passed our budget. In the face of the government’s harsh, ill-conceived austerity programme it was a budget of political hope. To show that change is possible, that Labour and Tories don’t have an unbreakable grip on political power. Our budget showed up the opposition’s favourite lie, that Greens aren’t up to the job of governing.
In the face of above average government cuts our budget protected so much that the vulnerable and needy in our city depend on. We protected grants for the third sector, the adult social care eligibility criteria, the parks service, support for carers, staff terms and conditions, the living wage for our lowest paid staff, the preventing homelessness budget, youth services and branch libraries. We’ve expanded joint working with the third sector and public sector both in and out of the city. Overall the budgets for children’s and adult social care budgets will see no decline over two years.
We produced this budget in a new way – more open, more inclusive with more detail than ever before. We produced a two year budget for the first time, publishing earlier than ever before. We involved the opposition parties, unions and community & voluntary sector more often and in more detail than ever before.
For the first time there is a carbon budget, we have expanded the equality impact assessment process and extended the Value For Money programme to find greater efficiencies.
The capital programme also had a huge amount of positives, the Local Transport Plan funding almost doubled and completely protected for use on improving city infrastructure for the first time in living memory. Funding for new school places, a new library, solar panels, investment in social care buildings and much more.
Yes, due to government cuts, some services will be reduced, fees will go up, efficiencies will be found – but so much has been protected. We acknowledged the concerns of allotment holders over free increases there, which is why we responded by spreading the increases over two years. Over the next year I’m committed to working with the allotment community to expand concessionary rates, open new allotments and address the issues they’ve raised.
We had new initiatives too like £300k to fund 3rd sector youth services, £120k from auctioning the mayor’s number plate to fund 3rd sector capital investment, pilots for food waste and commercial waste collections.
We also proposed to reject the Tory tax freeze. Our 3.5% council tax increase, one of the lowest increases in this council’s history, would protect our funding base and help us to offset the worst of the cuts. A tax position supported by GMB, Unison and NUT unions and followed by 30 councils around the country. They all could see that the one-off tax freeze the Tory government wanted us to take this year was a con trick, which would leave us worse off in the long run.
And so it proved to be, we will be worse off in the long run now. Sadly, and I truly mean that, the Labour group — despite our repeated attempts to negotiate with them — produced an amendment which was almost identical to the Tory amendment to introduce a tax freeze. They have started to think just like Tories. So whilst shocking Tory amendments to close a nursery, axe union officers and slash support for those experiencing benefit cuts were defeated, Tories and Labour voted together to adopt the tax freeze.
You expect Tories to cut government, that’s what they do. But for Labour, when we’re experiencing above average cuts as a city (indeed the highest for our region), to push more cuts on this council is utterly shocking.
Their amendment slashed funding for our sustainability team, cut funding for training staff, reduced council communications with residents, cut funding for bringing private empty homes back into use whilst adding an additional £3.6m cut to next year’s budget – without any attempt to explain how they would pay for that.
Despite having made so much noise on City in Bloom, public toilets, sports fees, children’s centres and more none of these were in their amendment. In fact they never even submitted a petition on those issues – they were just leaflet fodder for them. This city has seen New Labour become Blue Labour as they’ve shifted hard right, falling into the Tory trap of the tax freeze, which leaves our council worse off for years to come.
Labour also have made false claims that they’ve saved the mobile library. They haven’t. Their amendment to fund a new vehicle is £40,000 short on the running costs. Unless they can identify that money there’s no new mobile library – another financial gimmick is all they could offer.
Clearly I am disappointed that the tax freeze was imposed on our budget. But that’s democracy, the other two parties voted for a Tory policy and voters will know who added to the burden of cuts and austerity in our city. We voted against the amendments. There were many, many speeches last night, some of them good. My wife and ward colleague made her mark with a witty maiden speech rebutting some nasty xenophobia from the Tory benches. Not everyone likes the theatrics of council meetings, but I think it’s important every councillor is given the chance to explain their views and position if they so wish. I personally do enjoy hearing the views expressed, even if they do sometimes exasperate.
With only one amendment passing, we were left with an over 99% Green budget. None of us want there to be cuts, Greens adamantly oppose cuts and austerity, but sadly our system of government gives the council little choice on the reductions passed down to us. The Green budget was a fair budget for tough times, protecting vital services. Clearly the other parties agreed, joining us in voting through our financial plans for the next year.
My door remains open to opposition councillors wanting to begin the co-operative working they’ve so far felt unable to embark on. But first and foremost I’m focussed on delivering our Green manifesto and budget to build a better, fairer city for our future.