Why our city’s political culture needs to change or how Labour and Tories are misleading residents

The Labour Party via twitter are suggesting that Greens are ‘diverting’ money from buses to support One Planet Living.

Other than the fact that this continues to show that they don’t understand, support nor appreciate the benefits of One Planet Living for improving this city and saving the council money, it’s an outright lie.

The buses budget is a recurring budget – that is money that we spend each year on contracts with bus companies. For this financial year it’s about £1m funded from parking income.

The One Planet Living (1PL) money they refer to is how we have chosen to allocate £250k of the council’s £4 million underspend generated in the last financial year.

So you can see they are very different beasts – buses is recurring money, 1PL one-off money left over from the last year.

You cannot run a 4 year contract for buses with a sliver of one-off money. But you can save recurring money we spend each year on our water and energy bills with the input of a one-off funded spend to save project. Is that so hard for Labour to understand?

Misleading statements

It is downright untrue and misleading to the people of the city to suggest money has been ‘diverted’ from any budget to 1PL and Labour should be ashamed of making such a suggestion.

Just to run down the full history of the issue in addition to my previous post and one from my party. Back in 2004 I’m told the then Labour administration tried to make cuts to bus subsidies, including the 96 bus when times were good for councils.

Now we’re facing harsh austerity measures and yet we’ve managed to affect less than 0.33% of passenger journeys in the face of cuts and fuel inflation. And both opposition parties Tories and Labour had lots of time to engage with this issue.

Back in September & October 2011 they participated in the ‘star chambers’ for budget proposals including saving money from the bus subsidies budget was mentioned. The draft budget was then published in December 2011 and a scrutiny panel did examine buses as well as school transport. The Green administration made clear then, as we have now, that we were reviewing school transport to ensure it was as cost effective and sustainable as possible in the face of cuts.

No objections from Tories or Labour in October or February

Furthermore in October 2011 a public Cabinet Member Meeting discussed the criteria through which the bus subsidies would be reviewed and re-procured. For the first time this created a systematic process for ranking services open to public scrutiny and thereby not vulnerable to ‘pork barrel’ politics of councillors being tempted into saving services to their wards even if they were not financially justifiable (see especially appendix 2 of the reports for that meeting). The minutes show that opposition councillors present at that meeting raised no objections to the criteria which has produced the decisions we have now had to make.

Come budget council in February 2012 the opposition councillors presented a number of amendments, but none of them sought to remove the reduction in the bus subsidy. They voted for the budget including this reduction. It’s a basic concept of administrative law that you only vote for something if you support it, otherwise you abstain or vote against. Bizarre claims in recent days that the opposition “didn’t really support this” don’t wash.

As I’ve mentioned previously, both opposition leaders had two briefings at which they could have further raised issue with any aspect of the bus procurement process, but they didn’t. Then they both chose to present last minute amendments on the day of the committee meeting where we had to decide.

The Labour one failed to recognise that we did a 4 year procurement to get better prices – the £226k they wanted to raid wouldn’t even get them a year’s worth of the bus services they wanted, and we would have needed to spend months on a new 1 year procurement process. As this would take 3-4 months we would then be in a situation of having less than a year until having to do the procurement again. All costly, expensive and un-costed by Labour.

The Tory amendment was calculated by finance officers to cost at least £508k which they had not found whatsoever, and also they hit the issue of needing to do a new 1 year procurement which would result in much higher prices.

Playing around with the council’s democratic decision making

Now Labour have in a press release said that they will seek to overturn this decision somehow at a Full Council meeting. Legal advice confirms my own view that committee decisions are final (other than the call-in procedure which at most can only force a decision to be taken again). This was explicitly discussed with Labour’s deputy leader as part of the constitutional reforms: committee decisions have to be final otherwise the system won’t work, and basic principles of administrative law.

Ultimately a four year procurement was the best way to get value for money, trying to push one-off money into one year services is not going to go very far in resolving these issues which all parties long knew were coming. I’m saddened that the Coalition Government has forced councils in to this situation where services are reduced . But in times of limited cash, we cannot justify the cost of over £1,000 per pupil per year on one of the school routes that wont be subsidised any longer. We can now look at other options such as smaller, cheaper school transport options and bus companies seeking to run services on a commercial basis on the routes where subsidies have been withdrawn.

Opposition councillors haven’t found the money to ‘save’ services over the 4 years of the procurement we’ve undertaken, and none of us know how much more expensive the prices would be for 1 year contracts – but we know it will take months to complete that procurement which seems hardly worthwhile for just a year. Rather than creating more uncertainty for contractors and all those people affected, as Labour have done with their latest statements, we should be spending that time and resources on finding solutions.

Short-term media ‘wins’ at any cost

Just as at the budget-setting this February, we see the opposition parties going for a short term media ‘win’ at the long term expense of residents and council services. In February it was the £3.66m hole they added to next year’s finances so that they could force the council tax freeze into the budget. Of course they failed to identify how that £3.66m would be paid for nor which services would have to be cut to do so. Now with the buses there will be at least a £0.5m if not more cost over the 4 years of this bus contract if the opposition have their way. Once again there is no mention of which council services they will cut in the coming years to pay for this.

It’s a shameful way of behaving, it does a disservice to local politics in this city and all those who depend on us to make the difficult judgements necessary to balance competing needs for services in times of ever decreasing budgets.

I recognise that most people will never read this level of detail, but those interested I do think it’s important that there is an awareness of what is truly going on. We need to change the political culture in this city and I’m doing what I can about it. Thanks for reading.

5 thoughts on “Why our city’s political culture needs to change or how Labour and Tories are misleading residents”

  1. I was interested to read “we cannot justify the cost of over £1,000 per pupil per year on the one school route that wont be subsidised any longer.”

    After checking this route on http://buses.co.uk/travel/service.aspx?serviceid=1214 it looks like it’s just a shortcut to travelling via the centre. Furthermore the total route length is only 2.8 miles: http://goo.gl/maps/H92o

    I may be wrong, but I thought that pupils were expected to walk up to 3 miles before getting any travel allowances. I’m not familiar with the route but assume it would take around 20 minutes on a bicycle which might even benefit some of the students.

  2. Jason, you can play with your statistics. But the 52 is the only Brighton bus me and my family use.

    We use it for getting to work and getting to collage.

    Running only once an hour, taking 40mins to get to Brighton and stopping very early in the evenings it was probably the lest impressive bus service I have ever used. However it is the only one that links Ovingdean to Central Brighton.

    In the morning busses along the front often don’t stop because they are full. Ovingdean will have no public transport – and worse, we can’t park in central brighton due to all the local ‘residents parking’ and sky high parking charges.

    If Ovingdean is not to receive any services from the city, can you ensure we don’t pay for them either?

    Thanks.

  3. Tom — Your reasoning and the data you’ve found is one of the reasons that 96 route came out low in the rankings of subsidised routes to be kept on. However that doesn’t mean people don’t use it and rely on it to get them to school. Any secondary school pupil directed to a school more than 3 miles from home gets support, usually a free bus pass. That’s a separate matter to subsidising bus routes to help with travel generally. It does mean that some school buses are double subsidised because the council has paid for the route and the bus passes. This is all part of what we’re trying to unpack and improve with the ongoing school transport review.

    Paul — You make my point well that no matter the small numbers of routes affected, if it is yours then you will be upset – which I understand. BUT and this is important – you still will have a 52 bus service from Ovingdean, it won’t be direct to the city centre however. So your claims that Ovingdean won’t have public transport are simply untrue.

  4. Have you had any feedback from Brighton and Hove Bus company as to whether they may run the 52 on a commercial basis into the city centre? There is an increasing number of users of the 52 due to the Ovingdean Hall School. Paul makes a very good point that the buses are often full along the seafront by the time they they reach Ovingdean. Going down to the marina to try and get a number 7 bus may mean that people can’t actually make it to work on time. The 52 already wastes a lot of time going to the Marina and very few people ever get off the bus there. There is also no bus shelter at the bottom of Greenways to go North into Ovingdean. As more people are expected to wait there now perhaps one could be put in. I note you kept on the 47 bus which is primarily there to serve residents of East Saltdean who pay their council tax to Lewes District Council. Does Lewes Council make any contribution towards the 47 bus? If not perhaps if they did there would be enough money to help keep more of the Brighton bus services.

  5. Hi Mark – We don’t expect any feedback from the bus companies until the various cooling off periods have finished for the procurement and contracts process. About another 14 days to go on that. East Sussex County Council do contribute to the cost of the 47 bus along with a couple of others.

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