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e-democ / e-gov notes from JK

Openness & Transparency: What the Green council has achieved so far

As we approach the one year mark for the Green administration’s term in office, I’d like to reflect on where we are with advancing the cause of openness and transparency in everything Brighton & Hove City Council does as it’s one of my Cabinet responsibilities.

Here’s the run down:

  • The Council has adopted the Open Government Licence as its default license for all publications. This means our work can be re-used by others around the world without cost or permission being needed. It is a licence compatible with Creative Commons and Open Data Commons licenses.
  • By default the Council is now publishing information in more detail than before. This is an ongoing process of changes in internal culture and practices. With the 2012/13 budget setting process far greater detail on every aspect of the proposals was published, earlier than ever before.
  • We are in process of procuring a new Public Sector Network jointly with partner public sector bodies. This network will be platform agnostic and will link with the networks of other councils in the South East region to allow us to jointly procure and run IT services.
  • We are working with MySociety to adapt their WhatDoTheyKnow system to support a better workflow for Freedom of Information requests, and proactive publishing of everything we release.
  • We are publishing increasing amounts of open data, in open formats, including map data  for councils services and assets.
  • Council rules and protocols have been significantly amended to now allow re-use of meeting webcasts, to allow use of mobile devices in meetings and to permit audio recordings of meetings.
  • The Council is now using open source software in some areas, for example OpenOffice for some teams. We are seeking to phase out the current blanket, long term Microsoft licensing arrangements we inherited in favour of more cost effective, open and service appropriate packages.
  • This May we will deliver on our manifesto commitment to move to a committee system of decision making. This will involve councillors of all parties and provide a more open way for decisions to be debated and voted on.

There’s still plenty more to do, much more data to open and we could be more systematic in how we do that. There’s lots to do with our software and in progressing cultural change. We’re also working with our webcasting provider to move to a more cross-platform video solution that enables people to access meeting webcasts on a greater array of devices.

Let me know your thoughts on progress so far and what more we could be doing next.

 

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notes from JK

Passing the first Green council budget

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.

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notes from JK

Budget shadow boxing

The end of January saw councillors pile into a full council meeting at Hove Town Hall. It was the final opportunity for full council motions and petitions before the budget council meeting on 23rd February.

We’ve seen yet more rhetoric on the budget from all sides. The huge contradictions in the positions the opposition are taking have been particularly notable. In the same meeting Greens were accused of being ideological and making U-turns – which is somewhat contradictory! Either we’re making choices out of belief, regardless of context, or we’re changing our minds in response to feedback but it can’t be both.

Similarly we’ve seen both Tories and Labour oppose a wide range of our revenue raising ideas: fees & charges, changes to parking tariffs and council tax plans. Yet they’ve also opposed many of our ideas for saving money. The result would be a hugely imbalanced budget. We’ve yet to see any suggestions on how they would fund their ideas and make the budget balance.

Meanwhile the number of councils following our lead on rejecting the tax freeze is up to 27. These include some huge councils like Surrey and Cambridgeshire Counties and include Labour and Conservative led authorities. As the list has grown Tory ministers have grown more frantic. They’ve behaved like sulky children who haven’t got their way: Huffing, puffing and whining. The level of rhetoric has been extraordinary, but in the end they have revealed their hand. Two Tory local government ministers, Bob Neil and Eric Pickles, have both now publicly admitted that the tax freeze will see reduced funding for councils and will fundamentally lower their tax base. In other words it’s another cut. This is what Bob Neill wrote in a letter to councillors and MPs:

I appreciate that savings this and next year will have to be made to help achieve this [the tax freeze] – but this is also for councils to reform, restructure and innovate, and lower your spending base permanently.

This is the same old Tory policy, reduce government by hook or by crook. So no real surprises there, though dressing it as a tax freeze is a nasty bit of spin. What I find extraordinary is how the Brighton & Hove Labour party continue to support this Tory policy. Again and again they back Tories locally and nationally by supporting this freeze which will mean £5.4m less over two years to protect council jobs and services in our city. The branch secretaries of the the local GMB, Unison and NUT unions support the Green tax plan, but Labour aren’t listening. For them to protest the cuts yet actually support one of the most cynical Tory slashes is extraordinary.

Last year, in opposition, Green councillors published an alternative budget to further the council budget debate and explain our position. This year both Labour and Tories say they couldn’t do such a thing and so they continue to make nothing but un-costed claims. It’s a shame they haven’t felt able to participate more meaningfully in the council budget dialogue. We will persist with a more open budget process and I hope in coming years opposition parties will take a greater role in building informed debate.

For this year, the list of tax freeze rebel councils keeps growing, and we’ll keep talking with residents as the budget council meeting approaches.

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notes from JK

Open letter to Labour councillors

We sent this to Labour councillors:

Dear Labour colleagues

In the coming weeks we will be immersed in debating proposals for the next two years’ worth of council budgets. This will be incredibly challenging as the coalition government is forcing massive cuts on our council. The council will have to reduce its spending by about £20m this year and £17m next year.

The local Conservative party clearly support the cuts being imposed by the coalition government. They would like us to cut an additional £5.4m in services over two years to pay for a one-off council tax freeze.

Greens believe in protecting public services. What does Labour believe? We call on Labour Councillors to work constructively with us to set a budget which protects services and refutes Tory policies.

Residents, staff and service users need a clear, orderly budget process in these difficult times. Will Labour Councillors put tribal party politics to one side and work with Greens to protect vital public services, especially for the most vulnerable in our city?

Yours sincerely
The Green Group of Councillors
Brighton & Hove City Council

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notes from JK

Rebutting Labour lies in Westbourne

Labour have got themselves in a tizz saying that I’m somehow “intimidating the opposition”  by tweeting that they were lying. Is one tweet from me so scary?!

 

They aren’t happy about my statement in relation to their campaigning in the Westbourne by-election. Rather than sensibly backing away from their falsehoods, I shall have to expose them further in public. Labour were serially dishonest in both last year’s general election and the local elections this year. It did them a great disservice and the results spoke volumes as to how ineffective their approach was. I suppose I should be thankful as Greens did well out of it. But I think we are all reduced when political discourse descends into outright falsehood. Each party have their own great traditions and histories – they should build on that to make their distinctive cases for how they can improve the city. Lying about the competition doesn’t help the voters decide and it doesn’t move the debate forward.

 

Let’s look at the claims, some of which are on their Facebook page, others are in their leaflets which aren’t online.

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Greens refused government funding for a new school in Hove.

GREEN ANSWER: False. The government aren’t offering funding. If we want a new school then all we are allowed to do is run a contest for which independent providers bid to run an academy funded direct from central government, not through the council. There would be no democratic control over this school and they wouldn’t need to use our city-wide admissions scheme, so there would be no guarantee it would solve the problems. Labour’s “proposed co-operative school” would be an academy which teaching unions, the Greens and now even Jamie Oliver* oppose as a retrograde step for public education.

Furthermore Labour were the ones who caused the schools shortage. When in administration they ignored warnings from midwives and GPs that a baby boom was starting in 2005/6. Even worse, only five years ago, they actually closed a major secondary school in Brighton (Comart). Which is why there aren’t enough places to absorb pupil numbers.

There are actually enough school places for everyone but the real issue is that they might not be at a parents’ first choice school. Building a new school would not solve that. We are working hard to solve the issues in the school system. Labour have some gall claiming to have a solution to the problem they caused!

*Oliver has flagged that academies don’t need to adhere to national school food standards, and many academies aren’t.

LABOUR CLAIM: The Greens promised a new secondary school and new primary school for Hove.

GREEN ANSWER: Debatable. We did not promise these in the May Council elections. We said it during the 2010 parliamentary elections before the Tories came to power and stopped local authority school funding. We did not get elected to the City Council on this ticket as by then we knew the school-building programme had been ground to a halt by Michael Gove.

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Labour will put an end to portakabin classrooms.

GREEN ANSWER: False. There are no portakabin classrooms in Hove at the moment. This is just dishonest scaremongering. And Labour are the smallest party on the council, so how exactly would they propose to change matters?

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Greens have plans to cut Sure Start funding at Conway Court

GREEN ANSWER: False. The Sure Start programme created children’s centres. There are no threats to the Conway Court children’s centre which was funded by Sure Start.

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Labour are “campaigning to protect the NHS from Tory cuts and privatisation.”

GREEN ANSWER: Highly debatable. When Cllr Sven Rufus and I presented a motion to full council opposing NHS privatisation, the Labour group of councillors voted AGAINST it and the most vociferous speech against the motion was by a Labour councillor.

Furthermore BBC Newsnight and the Spectator have both shown how Labour’s own economic plans are less than 1% of GDP away from the Tory cuts plans now underway. They planned to cut by nearly as much.

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Labour are against Green’s “record Council Tax”

GREEN ANSWER: Really?! In the ten years of Labour control, council tax rose 120%. Greens are proposing a below inflation increase of 3.5%. If Labour are supporting the Tory government’s tax freeze grant then they should list the £5.4m of additional service cuts they support – which is what the council would need to do to be able to afford the grant, or an at least 8% increase in council tax the year after. Which is it Labour?

Labour state that Tory cuts should not be passed on to residents through council tax. They also claim to be against inflationary increases in parking fees, yet when in administration Labour increased tax and parking charges with great gusto. Balancing the budget in the face of cuts with no increases in fees or council tax would require devastating service cuts. I look forward to Labour explaining which ones, I’m sure the unions would like to know too.

The table below shows the council tax increases for every Labour-led budget in Brighton & Hove since the city council was created. The Green proposal of 3.5% is below EVERY SINGLE ONE of their tax increases.

Year % Increase
1997/98
1998/99 9.8
1999/00 7.2
2000/01 12.5
2001/02 6.0
2002/03 10.9
2003/04 14.5
2004/05** 7.7
2005/06 4.8

** Includes notional adjustment for Fire

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Greens are pushing Brighton & Hove to be the only council in the country to refuse the government tax freeze grant.

GREEN ANSWER: False. A recent survey showed that up to 20% of councils are likely to refuse the tax freeze grant. We are not the only ones and this has been widely reported in all the major media.

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Greens promised to “resist all cuts”.

GREEN ANSWER: False. We didn’t and I have repeatedly told Labour this is a lie, but they persist. As Labour well know, the law has changed and if councillors do not set a budget then the government will impose one on us. Greens promised to “resist, to the greatest extent possible, the service cuts and privatisation imposed [on us]” and that is what we will do.

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Why did the Greens say before the elections they wanted Brighton and Hove to be a “zero waste city”, but now insist that is “clearly impossible”?

GREEN ANSWER: False. We have never said it is “clearly impossible”. They also seem to not know what this refers to. In 2008 the then Labour environment minister Hilary Benn announced that councils could get pilot funding to become a “zero waste place”. Our proposal was to achieve this funding, however the new government have currently stopped this programme. We remain absolutely committed to reducing waste.

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Greens set the date of the by-election.

GREEN ANSWER: False. The by-election was called by the unexpected resignation of a Conservative councillor. When the by-election is held is at the discretion of the Returning Officer (the Council’s Chief Executive) within limits set down by law. It is NOT at the discretion of the Green administration, which would clearly be inappropriate.

 

LABOUR CLAIM: Greens wanted the by-election early to avoid debating the budget.

GREEN ANSWER: False. The budget will be published on 1st December, the earliest a detailed budget plan has ever been published by this council. We want to debate and consult on the proposals. This date is well before any possible date for the by-election could have been.

 

I make that 8 outright lies and the rest are debatable. So no Labour, I won’t retract my comments. But now that I’ve pointed out your dishonesty, will you may any retractions or correction?

UPDATE: To include link explaining Jamie Oliver’s views on academies.

UPDATE 2: Added table of Labour council tax increases during their time in administration.

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notes from JK

The £3m grant that would cost our council £5.4m

At the Conservative Party conference this autumn ministers announced a new gimmick: a council tax freeze grant. If councils agreed to keep council tax at the same rate as the previous year they would get a grant worth the equivalent of a 2.5% increase, for one year only.

On the face of it a clever way to show that Conservatives care about the squeezed middle classes in the face of increased inflation. Yet the harsh reality is this scheme doesn’t make financial sense for councils, and is yet another way the government are slashing budgets for local services. And in the long run it would likely lead to even greater council tax increases.

It’s absolutely clear to me that Greens were voted the largest party on Brighton & Hove City Council because of our commitment to public services and resisting the Tory agenda of “small government”. Residents expect us to use our Green values to fight for the fairest possible settlement in the face of unprecedented cuts from central government.

The tax freeze grant is another attack, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, which we oppose.

Why is it bad for the council? Because it would over 2 years cost us £5.4m, and more over the longer term. Let’s explore that in detail with an imaginary council called Picklesville with a £100 of income this year from council tax.

For the next year the councillors in Picklesville can either take the government’s grant worth a 2.5% increase or go with the Green option of a 3.5% increase.

If they take the government route they will receive £100 + £2.50 = £102.50 (£2.50 being the 2.5% grant from government).

If they go the Green route they will receive £100 + £3.50 = £103.50 (£3.50 being the 3.5% increase on council tax).

The next year the Picklesville councillors again need to decide on council tax. If they went for the government grant, that is now gone. So to catch up in the face of continued reductions in their formula grant (the other main source of income for councils other than charges) they decide to put council tax up by the maximum allowed, which is 3.5%. However because of last year’s freeze the starting point hasn’t moved. So they will receive £100 + £3.50 = £103.50 (£3.50 being the 3.5% increase on council tax over the previous year).

If they had gone the Green route then, still facing huge cuts in formula grant, they also decide to increase council tax by 3.5% so they receive £103.50 + £3.62 = £107.12 (£3.62 being the 3.5% increase on council tax over the previous year), quite a bit more than the other option.

These are of course hugely simplified numbers, but if you think in millions of pounds you can see that just freezing for one year (which every council already did for this financial year) leaves councils way behind each year, even if they keep increasing council tax. For Brighton & Hove accepting the one year freeze grant would mean £5.4m less income over 2 years. As we need to find savings of about £35m for the next two financial years, that £5.4m is money we can ill afford to give up.

With inflation running at over 5% and councils not allowed to increase council tax beyond 3.5%, council income is falling further and further behind the increasing costs our service providers are experiencing, even if we do increase tax by as much as we’re allowed.

The difference for the average council tax paying household in the city will be 57p a week, but the council can collectively use all those extra pennies to great use in protecting services and jobs the Tories would rather we axed. I’ve challenged the local Tories to list the extra £5.4m of service cuts they would propose if we adopt the grant as they are advocating.

Brighton & Hove is not the kind of place where we want to give up on the elderly, marginalised or vulnerable – those most in need of help. We believe in civilisation, in public service and the greater good.

A £3m grant that loses us £5.4m is not a good deal, how could it be? Accepting it would be agreeing to more Tory cuts, and acquiescing to the cynical politics of the Coalition government. As a Green, I resist.

(For the next 6 days you can watch the BBC Politics Show’s take on this here from the 38 minute mark)

UPDATED 26/11/2011: Revised figures now show the lost income from taking the grant would be £5.4m (this post originally had the figure at £4m). I also have clarified the difference in cost to be 57p per household (previously I referred to tax payer which is imprecise as council tax applies to properties and not people).

Local Government Chronicle has also shot a hole through Tory rhetoric that “Greens are the only ones” taking this approach, their survey shows 20% of councils (2/3rd of which are Tory led) are likely to reject the freeze grant. Furthermore many who said they would take the grant admitted it would lead to higher tax in future years. Exactly as I have said all along…

UPDATE 5/12/11: This interesting piece shows that most of the freeze grant has been taken from local government pensions funds. Completely unethical especially given the government rhetoric about the funds being a ‘burden’ which need more contributions.

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notes from JK

Letter to Eric Pickles asking for end of second home tax discounts

This week I wrote to the Local Government minister, Eric Pickles MP, requesting that councils be given the option to end council tax discounts for second homes. At the moment councils can choose the level of discount for second home owners, but only down to a minimum 10% discount. Even this 10% costs Brighton & Hove City Council £177k a year in lost revenue. I believe we certainly shouldn’t be encouraging second home ownership with tax discounts, particularly when so many struggle to find affordable main homes.

Ideally there should be complete local control over land taxation (which is effectively what council tax is) but failing that we should at least be given discretion over the discounts. Tories claim to believe in localism and that they are devolving power and autonomy down to councils. Yet they are imposing massive, unnecessary reductions on our budgets whilst failing to give us any meaningful new powers or freedoms in relation to how we generate income. Ending the nationally imposed 10% minimum discount would be a small step in the right direction.

You can read the formal press release and the full letter is copied below.

 

 

Cllr Jason Kitcat
Brighton & Hove City Council
Kings House, Grand Avenue
Hove BN3 2LS

The Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP
Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government
Department for Communities and Local Government
Eland House, Bressenden Place
London
SW1E 5DU

28th September 2011

 

Dear Mr Pickles

 

SECOND HOME COUNCIL TAX DISCOUNTS

I am writing to ask that you give councils the opportunity to opt out of providing second home council tax discounts if they so wish.

As you will know councils face challenging financial times due to your government’s imposed budget reductions, demographic pressures and inflation, particularly on energy costs. Furthermore given the desperate shortage of affordable homes, we believe some councils including Brighton & Hove City Council would, given the powers, opt to eliminate second home council tax discounts. This would signal our desire to discourage second homes being maintained, and rather that they should be available for people use as their main homes.

In Brighton & Hove it currently costs the council £177,000 in lost revenue each year to provide the second home discount (see below for breakdown of this figure). We believe these funds should be used to protect existing services rather than subsidise reduced costs for second-home owners.

I know you passionately believe in localism so ask that you give local authorities the discretion on whether to offer a second home discount on council tax.

I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

Cllr Jason Kitcat

Cabinet Member for Finance & Central Services

 

 

Breakdown of lost revenue from second home council tax discounts in Brighton & Hove (2011/12)

 

  Band A B C D E F G H Total
number of discounts 191 228 269 213 198 68 49 7 1223
CT payable £988 £1,153 £1,318 £1,482 £1,812 £2,141 £2,471 £2,965  
10% x number of discounts £18,877 £26,289 £35,448 £31,577 £35,876 £14,561 £12,107 £2,075 £176,810

 

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notes from JK

The truth is out there: Debating the council budget

The response from the opposition parties to our budget process proposals and associated press release has been… interesting.

Firstly the Conservatives have been denying they ever planned 2.5% increases in council tax. They’re now claiming they probably would have continued with a council tax freeze. This is not only financially improbable given the 33% cuts to Brighton & Hove City Council’s formula grant funding imposed by central government, but it isn’t true.

At a Cabinet Meeting on 17th February 2011 the Conservative administration approved a report which explicitly included plans for a 2.5% council tax increase from 2012/13 through to 2014/15. Noting this plan was part of recommendation 2 of the report they all voted for, details are online here. Will they retract their claims to the contrary?

Two other points the Conservatives are making also deserve clarification. They make much of the £2.5m underspend delivered in the year 2010/11. However this money isn’t just sitting in a slush fund waiting to be spent. Much of it was allocated by the Conservative administration in the 2011/12 budget before they lost power. What is left of it is there to deal with the risks involved in the huge changes and funding reductions we have to face in the current budget year. That historical, one-off, underspend has essentially no significant bearing on planning for next year’s budget to cover 2012/13.

Tories also are making noise about how much the council spends on funding Union representatives. Yet they were the ones who increased the funding (reasonably in my view) to support work on ‘Single Status’. This was a complex and fraught issue to resolve historical and current pay disparities between male and female employees doing similar roles. There are still a few matters to resolve in that area but any administration would need to have reviewed the union and HR provisions as this work wrapped up. What is notable is that the Green administration have chosen to be more open in spelling out those funding streams, whilst the Tories buried them in the whole HR budget pot.

Meanwhile Labour are banging a drum about how we have broken our supposed pledge to “resist all cuts” by even planning to deal with the imposed service reductions. We are strongly challenging government’s policies and we are the only party locally to be opposing the consensus that the cuts are necessary. However we recognise that central government can force certain things on us, so we did not pledge to “resist all cuts” – I’ve checked every Green leaflet I have a copy of, as well as our web site – as far as I can see we never said “resist all cuts”. Will Labour, specifically Cllr Gill Mitchell who keeps repeating the line “resist all cuts”, either show us the Green leaflet they are quoting or retract their statements?

What Greens did say was that we would “resist, to the greatest extent possible, the service cuts and privatisation imposed [on us]”. And we will…

UPDATE: Labour are also claiming we pledged to “stop the cuts” in a Huffington Post blog, again we never pledged that. I have checked all our publications and our website, the only time that term arises is in relation to the “Stop the Cuts coalition” who we worked with and our attending a “Stop the Cuts” march. Our manifesto is online Labour, so pick something that was actually in it to bash us with!

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notes from JK

Towards building the first Green city budget

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.

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notes from JK

My priorities for finance & central services

I’ve been in post as Cabinet member for Finance & Central Services on Brighton & Hove City Council just over a week. In that time I’ve had to absorb a huge amount of information from the range of areas my portfolio covers and meet some of the officers responsible.

Last Thursday I met most of my heads of departments to introduce myself and set out my key priorities for the portfolio.

I have three top priorities for Finance & Central Services:

  1. Openness & Participation
    I want to push the council to be as open as possible in everything it does, and significantly improve citizen participation in our decision-making.
  2. Excellent Customer Service
    Expectations for customer service are, rightly, higher than ever. I believe the council can rise to the challenge and give our service users excellent customer service. In doing so we won’t just deliver great service, will improve people’s faith in the council.
  3. The Budget
    We need to meet the challenge of the central government funding cuts being imposed on us, whilst staying true to the Green Party’s ambitions and principles. No easy task.

In terms of things I’ll be doing to deliver those principles, the local manifesto is my starting point. This actually surprises some people, but yes party members democratically approved the manifesto and we plan to work to it!

There are already loads of great ideas bouncing around the council offices, and I’ve got plenty of things I’d like to see put in place. We’re going to get stuck in, and I look forward to keeping you updated here on my blog.