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.

14 thoughts on “Passing the first Green council budget”

  1. Hi Jason,

    As a labour member who voted Green last time and is broadly sympathetic to both counties, it is incredibly hard to know what to feel about all this. I’m a political moderate and not actively involved in local or national politics. And the truth is that I found it very very difficult to reach an informed decision on the council tax argument – the truth is that I recognised strong valid points on both sides and am unsure who I support on this. To be told that the Labour policy is a ‘Tory policy’ is irritating and alienating (it derives from a quite different place, as I’m sure you know) – and I suspect that do understand the principle that Labour were defending, even if you preferred another political solution.

    The gist of this comment is to describe the odd situation that I and many of my friends find ourselves in – desiring of a principled, articulate council and a decent opposition and increasingly concerned that we have neither. I admire much of your budget so do keep up the good work – but I wish you’d try to improve the part of your politics which returns inevitably to cheap pointscoring and endless debate with internet trolls.

    Or turnout will be way down next time…

  2. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, much appreciated. For me, if Labour produce an amendment which enacts a policy Tory ministers have desperately been trying to get all councils to adopt, then they have supported a Tory policy.

    Yes you are right there are valid arguments on both sides of the tax debate. I have no monopoly on reason, I can only make my case and let people be the judge.

    As for trolls, yes less of those please!

    I do think last night’s events showed a clear difference between the parties and voters need to decide which was acting in the city’s best interests with how they behaved over the past few months and the budget proposals they offered.

  3. Jason. I think you have an impossible job. People i talk to have been persuaded by the tiry argus that the 3.5% increase is a bad thing. It is very difficult to explain the subtleties of the green argument when superficially the freeze con offer of 2.5% sounds so good. Even a 1% increase would raise the blood of taxpayers with the present economic and media driven climate. C.tax is very regressive. Increase parking charges to make up shortfall is my advice. You won’t get any thanks from the right-wing labour or tory leadership or tory argus but at least it would be a radical green policy. Good luck. We pedrstrians and cyclists are choking in this traffic congested city. Rephase traffic lights if u can. Roll on 20mph and more cycle friendly roads. Neil. PS I Voted for Celia in general election. But for Greens in locals.

  4. Hi Jason, I voted Green in the last council and general elections. I’m really pleased to hear about this first Green budget and I am very much looking forward to what it delivers over the next two years. However I must agree with a lot of the comments made by “j”.

    I understand your frustration with Labour’s stance on the council tax increase, but to be fair how much money does the council need? Tax goes up every year and I know that we have to factor in inflation, but perhaps some savings can be made somewhere? Perhaps some of the better paid civil servants could handle a pay freeze for a couple of years?

    I realise it’s not that simple, but I’m just so bored of this constant mud throwing politics. This is a democracy and quite fairly the council chose to freeze the council tax and as a tax payer in the private sector that is generating money for the economy I approve. I’m also very pleased we have a 99% Green budget delivered democratically by the council. Let’s celebrate that and get on with the job.

  5. Thanks for your comments Joe. If the national picture was not so austere perhaps I would agree more with your thoughts on how much money a council can really need.

    But as staff are already on a pay freeze, and council funding is being cut 40% by government, it’s not a matter of how much we can find in savings, but how many local services will survive the austerity measures. That’s the context we are in for the tax position.

    Still, I take your points and warmly welcome your contributions. Thank you.

  6. I’m not sure I follow… No Green councillor voted for the Labour amendment nor any of the Tory amendments either.

    So to be clear we Greens all voted against the tax freeze amendments.

  7. Jason – a couple of things – Firstly, I don’t get why the Green councillors didn’t at least absatin in the budget vote, as you could then portray it as a Tory/Labour budget, but by voting for it you have made it yours as well. Seondly – will the Green Party be standing on a platform of restoring all reductions in local authority spending, back to pre 2010 levels, at the next General Election?

    Thanks

  8. Hi Martin

    The budget was still 99% the original Green budget motion which we had proposed so we stood by that. It was very clear that we voted against all the amendments.

    I don’t know what our 2015 General Election platform will be but what I can say is that Caroline Lucas has been very effective in showing how the government cuts are unnecessary if tax evasion was being properly tackled. Which equates, in my personal view, to showing how we would fund reversing the austerity madness currently underway.

    I hope that helps.

    Jason

  9. Thanks Jason – in relation to 2015 it sounds like you are not committed to reversing the cuts – which is disappointing, and pretty much the same position as Labour at present – although you castigate them for that. Would you at least be committed to restoring the levels of service to the pre 2010 levels, even if the budget were to be reduced?

  10. Martin – I can’t comment on future national party policy, I hold no formal position within our national party beyond being a member! All I can say is that if our existing plans were adopted then we could afford to reverse the existing austerity measures.

    So I’m not ruling something in or out, because I don’t have the authority to do so, but I hope you can see which way my personal preference would lie!

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