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!