Why we want to let the people decide on social care referendum

A version of this article was first published in the Brighton & Hove Independent.

Readers will know that public services have for the last few years seen significant government cuts. Here in Brighton & Hove we have so far been successful in protecting essential services by saving tens of millions of pounds through genuine efficiencies. But darker storm clouds are on the horizon.

Councils are facing what many are calling ‘a cliff edge’ in funding, and as a result huge chunks of services could disappear. Simply put, we can no longer absorb all of the government’s cuts whilst also meeting the increasing demand for our services from a growing yet ageing population.

Nationally councils have seen a 38% reduction in funding compared to Government only 8% trimming of Whitehall departments. And sadly, per head of population, Brighton & Hove has been one of the worst hit councils in the country.

We want to offer you, the residents of our city, a choice: accept the full weight of austerity cuts imposed on Brighton & Hove by Eric Pickles or else cast a vote for a fairer and more compassionate society. Let the coalition cuts take their toll, or agree to pay a little bit extra each month to fund care for older and disabled people in our community and protect funding for the city’s charities.

The increase in council tax we’re asking of residents will not only save services this year, but will improve their security for years to come. If agreed, the money will specifically go towards supporting home care, residential community care, day services, support for those with learning disabilities looking for work – as well as protecting grants to the city’s third sector.

The elderly have worked hard all their lives and deserve our continued support in their old age. And the city’s charities, social enterprises and not-for-profit organisations also provide essential services across all our city’s communities. We know that investment in our third sector benefits the city and residents many times over. Without additional funding, the Coalition’s cuts will seriously impact upon some of the most vulnerable people in our city.

We think it’s right that we trust the residents of Brighton and Hove to decide what they want from local services – particularly given the financial situation is so different to that when they voted in 2011. So we want to hold a citywide referendum in May 2014 on whether we should raise council tax by 4.75% for the coming financial year.

We ask the people of the city to vote in favour; to reject austerity in Brighton and Hove and help us to preserve a more compassionate society, one which cares for older and disabled people, supports social enterprises and protects the not-for-profit sector that is so vital to so many in our community.

The full announcement of the referendum can be viewed here.

6 thoughts on “Why we want to let the people decide on social care referendum”

  1. At the moment Green commentary simply lists the areas within social care that you want to protect (pretty much all of them) without quantifying anything.

    If your proposed 4.75% Council Tax increase releases an extra £2.75m to reverse savings identified in December, I’d like to know right now how you’re going to apportion the reversals, otherwise it just looks as though you’ve pulled this figure out of the air with no particular rationale behind it.

    I get the Council Tax increase thing and the fact that our CT base has been eroded but you, I (and our 52 colleagues) have a duty to account for every bit of the public purse don’t we?

    Whether the argument is against an average £5.30 per month increase or simply an ideological argument on tax, I would still expect your group to quantify its proposal properly and to do that right away particularly since the Green Party as a whole has gone to the lengths of launching a national campaign about it with bells and knobs on.

    You may persuade some constituents just on the basis of your headline but it has to get past councillors first and, so far unless I’ve missed it, you haven’t made a proper case.

  2. Our proposals relate to Home Care, Community Care, Able & Willing & third sector grants. The 4.75% figure hasn’t been pulled out of the air, it was carefully come to looking at areas we wanted to protect.

    The proposals will be put out in full detail for the budget P&R in February. I hope that clarifies.

  3. Jason – by presenting this as a ‘social care referendum’ you seem to be suggesting that adult social care will be the services to be cut unless the people vote for a 4.75%. Of course this is a choice not compulsory, and so also suggests that all other services provided by the Council are a higher priority to you. If this is not the case then your labelling of the referendum is just a deceitful rallying call.

    In relation to the cost of the referendum, win or lose there is a cost to be borne by the budget. Estimates of the costs vary, but £230K seems quite likely, plus the cost of reissuing all the bills if you succeed. Can you quantify your best estimate of the cost of the referendum, the cost of rebilling, and the services that will not be delivered as a result of having to meet these costs.

    Thanks

  4. Martin – What I am saying is that in the draft budget we published in December we did the best we could to protect services within the resource envelope a 2% increase provides. The feedback on that draft was clear, a few concerns in Children’s Services which we believe we can ameliorate and then serious worries about proposals in social care and for the third sector. These could only be resolved by bringing in more resources through a higher council tax rate. Thus the choice between the 2% and 4.75% budgets is primarily about social care. That’s not about other services being higher priority (which is a pretty cynical way to look at this) but about the ability to squeeze any further out of any part of the council without either real degradation of services or failure to meet responsibilities. Just to be clear there are still efficiencies to be found and we are working on them but the further we go in squeezing, the more time they take, more time than we have to meet the current budget challenge.

    As for the the costs of Pickle’s referendum process – the best calculation so far is £230k for the election stuff itself. As you say there are other issues that could be a cost – that is being worked through still – and government guidance being scoured carefully. We also expect more announcements from ministers which will affect the dynamics, e.g. threshold change.

    regards,
    Jason

  5. Thanks for your reply Jason. To suggest that others are viewing this cynically is a bit rich when the whole referendum process (previously described by yourself as ‘mad’) is being used in a completely cynical way to try and unite a hopelessly divided Green Group, and present the Labour Party as somehow in bed with the Tories.

    It is yourself who is presenting this as a ‘social care referendum’, when it is about the level of overall Council Tax. To suggest that the difference between 2% and 4.75% is going to be all about social care is just deceitful, and smacks of desperation.

    On the question of the referendum costs. Please say what will be cut in the event of a ‘yes’ vote and what would be cut in the event of a ‘no’ vote. You know that this cost must be met – so tell us what will go to pay for it.

  6. Again with the cynicism Martin…!

    This proposal is being put forward because we believe it is the right thing to do. It’s desperate spin to try and associate it with splits or anything else. Why not just take it at face value – a proposal to make things better for those who depend on council services?

    There is nothing deceitful about saying that the way we can make a big difference to the areas of most concern in the draft budget (social care) is through raising more money via taxation.

    Full details of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ budgets will be published in February in an open and transparent manner.

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