Today the draft city council budget for 2015-16 is to be announced. And this time, warn Brighton & Hove Greens, the coalition government cuts are sadly going to hurt.
In 2015-16 alone the city is losing £18M of core government grant funding
Laying out the background to the budget, Councillor Ollie Sykes, Green lead member for finance, said: “The bulk of the council’s general fund money each year comes from central government and over the past four years the coalition government has cut its funding to us by a frightening 32% in cash terms. After taking into account inflation and increasing demand, this means we have £70m less this year, for services, than when we came into office.
“And with council tax held down below inflation – which means it has fallen by 12% in real terms – the rest of the council’s income cannot even begin to make up the shortfall.
“Other councils have also been cut, though historically Brighton & Hove has been cut hardest in the south east. And other councils are not coping: many have closed essential services, from libraries to welfare services, and the National Audit Office last week reported that more than half of councils in England are at of risk financial failure within the next five years. This week, Newcastle has warned of ‘impossible cuts leading to social unrest’.”
Councillor Sykes continued:
“Until now, Brighton & Hove has escaped what other cities are suffering. This Green administration has ensured that only a very small fraction of those cuts have so far been passed on to the front line of council services.
“We’ve done it by getting the basics right, managing resources, rooting out inefficiency, greening the council’s building stock, and with great support and hard work from council staff. We’ve kept all libraries and children’s centres open, imposed no compulsory redundancies on council employees, continued a fair proportion of financial support for the third sector and even increased spending for the city’s most vulnerable. We’ve also brought in unprecedented external funding to for city improvements, such as The Level and Seven Dials.
“This year is different. The government cuts are so huge and there’s nothing left to squeeze. It means that business will no longer be as usual. Unlike the past, some council services will have to shrink or go. There will be redundancies and there will be protests against those redundancies.
This is what coalition government cuts are now about to do to our city.”
Turning to the Greens’ response, Councillor Sykes says:
“This is not a budget we’re proud to see before us. But we can’t print money or ask officers to spend what we don’t have. Despite everything, though, we are doing what we can as a minority administration.
“Over the coming weeks, we will be calling on the government to reinstate our full grant and examining all possible ways to put the pressure on. We hope our Labour and Conservative colleagues will join us, for the sake of the city. What the coalition is doing to our most vulnerable residents and our communities is frankly immoral.
“We are asking the city to approve our proposals for a general 5.9% rise in council tax. This will not solve the problem but it will raise more than £4m to help maintain crucial services and avoid the imposition of a much sharper tax rise for the most hard-up people in the city.
“And we are making a series of pledges to keep open such core council services as libraries, children’s centres and public toilets, to protect the city’s most vulnerable from the worst of the cuts and not to introduce anything that will contribute to the further transfer of wealth from the least well off to the wealthiest in this country.”
Caroline Lucas MP for Brighton Pavilion has tabled an Early Day Motion on the cuts to try and initiate a debate in the House of Commons in December:
- This House believes, under the guise of austerity, central government is slowly but surely putting an end to local government as we know it;
- Notes that from 2010/11 to 2015/16, core central government funding to local authorities has been slashed by 40%, whilst local government responsibilities increase; further notes demand for council services is growing and people are suffering under Government policies harming the poorest and most disadvantaged such as the bedroom tax, cuts to tax credits and benefits and the increase in VAT;
- Further notes the National Audit Office report criticising the Government for failing to properly assess the effects of further cuts to funding of councils by central government and the cross-party Local Government Association warning over plans to stop funding Local Welfare Assistance Schemes that “If the government pulls the plug on funding, many local authorities will be unable to afford to make up the difference at a time when we are tackling the biggest cuts to council funding in living memory” which will cause three-quarters of councils to scale back or scrap their schemes;
- Therefore calls for the cuts to local Government funding to be reversed and for local government to be protected from further cuts to enable local authorities to provide cherished community services as well as vital social services such as support for looked-after children, care-leavers, users of adult social care, older people, homeless people, low-income families in crisis, disabled people, those with special educational needs and emergency help to survivors of domestic violence.
Brighton and Hove singled-out for cuts: http://www.brightonhovegreens.org/news/brighton-and-hove-%E2%80%9Csingled-out%E2%80%9D-for-cuts-says-city-council-leader.html
National Audit Office warning on the impact of the cuts on local government: http://www.nao.org.uk/report/financial-sustainability-of-local-authorities-2014
Leader of Newcastle council decries impossible cuts and warns of social unrest: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/nov/24/funding-crisis-newcastle-impossible-cuts-social-unrest
More details on what a 5.9% council tax budget would protect: http://www.brightonhovegreens.org/campaigns/budget-2015-16/2014/11/28/why-are-the-greens-proposing-a-5.9-council-tax-rise
Budget FAQ and background information: http://www.brightonhovegreens.org/campaigns/budget-2015-16/2014/11/28/council-budget-2015/16-briefing-and-faq
For further information please contact the Brighton and Hove Green Party office on 01273 766 670.