BY CLLR PHÉLIM MAC CAFFERTY
As we edge ever nearer to a final decision on Brighton & Hove City Council’s budget for the 2016/17 year, more information is coming to light every day as to how residents are likely to be affected. The outlook is bleak – huge chunks are being cut from vital services which will be felt by every generation, in every community. We will see vulnerable residents plunged further into poverty and desperation.
In administration, the Greens took great pains to avoid making cuts to frontline services. We implemented a tough value-for-money programme that brought about significant efficiency savings across the Council. Despite being required to make £77m of savings, we didn’t close a single library or children’s centre.
Now, the Labour-led Council has announced it must make £68m of cuts over the next 4 years. These cuts will see £22m taken from budgets to look after disabled and older adults, will see the closure of community libraries, cuts to park rangers, animal welfare, children’s centre groups, and teachers for children with special educational needs.
This is Labour’s response to massive Tory government cuts which will see the main support grant given to Brighton and Hove Council effectively disappear. Despite the Tories promising that Councils will be able to keep 100% of business rates they raise, this will not come into effect until 2020, after cuts to the support grant, and is likely to come with costly additional responsibilities such as the administration of Attendance Allowance for older people.
Labour has offered only token resistance to implementing these cuts, despite the fact nationally the party controls over 110 councils up and down the country, and could offer significant resistance to national government. Locally, the Labour Council has no coherent plan or vision beyond swingeing cuts across the board. The biggest losers will be those most in need; poorer children and families, homeless people, older people and disabled people.
There is a better way. There is more that we could be doing as a city to resist these ideological cuts. There’s also a better way to manage council finances, and it starts with a conversation with the entire city about how we can do things differently. Greens have been clear since early last year – when faced with a looming budget gap, the city must be involved in agreeing the way forward.
Sadly, the Labour Council has done the exact opposite. For the first time in years, they have decided not to carry out a postal survey of budget proposals, and have cut in-depth scrutiny of proposals by staff, service users and community groups. They have pressed ahead with proposals such as cuts to children’s centres despite massive opposition from 87% of people they consulted.
At this point, this year’s budget process has now gone too far to offer a good option, or even just a fair one. Greens are faced with the prospect of either tinkering with a catastrophic budget to strip vital services, or protesting it as firmly as possible while Labour and the Tories gleefully launch us into a new era of local austerity and inequality. We’ll be consulting with our party members as to how they want us to respond.
Greens are on the streets, listening to residents and taking the fight to both the Council last week and HM Treasury on February 13th. We are urging Labour Councillors to think again, and not to cut front-line services. Labour should join us, and join our residents, and show that they are more than just the local enforcers of a vicious Tory government.