Greens react to Brighton and Hove Budget Proposals 2018-19

Brighton and Hove’s Labour Council leadership have now published the blueprint for the city’s budget (Policy, Resources and Growth Committee papers, available here: P&R Papers). Green Councillors have reacted to the announcements, raising concerns about the number of services and members of staff facing damaging cuts.
The Green Group Finance Lead, Councillor Ollie Sykes commented:

This is another salami-slicing budget from Labour that proposes cuts to many areas of council work: from services to vulnerable children and adults, services to families such as family coaches, through environmental health and licensing, to essential back room support in finance, audit and human resources. Presenting this as having no impact on front line services is disingenuous and ignores the council’s own impact assessments.

Obviously the principal blame for cuts lies with Conservative central Government for its political and economic mismanagement of the country, with perpetual austerity devastating public services and at the same time contributing to increasing demand. But Labour locally should be doing better. Greens over the past couple of years have blocked the worst of Labour’s expensive pet projects, for example £300k for councillor ward budgets. Greens have also found additional resources to protect essential services, to the tune of nearly £2m over the past couple of years. Pity Labour didn’t do that when Greens were in power. Our interest will always be to put the city first.

It’s a disappointing budget that we will be scrutinising closely over the next few weeks with an aim to propose positive changes. Fundamentally we think it makes sense for central government to provide a decent level of funding to local government; in the absence of movement there we will do what we can at a local level.”

 

Green Group Convenor Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty added:

We are appalled that while local Labour held a press conference to inform journalists about the budget, opposition Councillors were kept in the dark until this afternoon. Not one Councillor from the Labour administration is quoted in the council’s budget press release on the city’s finances. It might be Labour’s budget – but they are ashamed to put their name to it.

“The budget picks up where last year’s left off. Of the 80 redundancies that the Labour administration are proposing our understanding is that 18 of those are compulsory. That for Greens is an absolute red line on any budget and we had not one compulsory redundancy in any of the Green budgets.

“Although Labour have been fast to downplay the impact of their budget, a closer look it reveals that cuts will take big lumps out of our communities:

DIGITAL EXCLUSION

“The Revenues and Benefits department is attempting to move online but I am worried about people being excluded because they simply don’t have any internet access. According to Age UK 3.8 million people aged 65+ have never used the internet.”

ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR

“Money that was used to support communities to fight anti-social behaviour and hate crime is now proposed to be cut.”

HOMELESSNESS

“Despite all of the rhetoric from Labour on the chronic problem of homelessness their budget proposes cuts to frontline staff in the Housing department. According to the council’s own Equality Impact Assessment this will ‘impact on groups such as families with dependent children or pregnant women.’

SEXUAL HEALTH CUTS

“There are huge cuts to things like chlamydia screening, which is the most common Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) among young people. While we know already that a push to make cuts and move to so-called ‘self testing’ will result in higher levels of Sexually Transmitted Infection and HIV- which in a city with some of the highest levels of STIs is completely unacceptable. We are very alarmed to hear Labour’s cuts in this area might put the Brighton Station Health Centre clinic at risk.”

CUTS TO CHILDREN’S SERVICES

“Similar to last year, again our children and young people are expected to take a hit for Labour’s budget:

“There are serious threats to things like home to school transport. Regardless of income families could be expected to contribute to the cost of travel for pupils.

“Early help for families and young people with complex mental health needs is being hit with family coach posts proposed for cuts. These are people who work with families who need help early on, who do not qualify for social work support.

“Children centre groups are being cut, which has an undue impact on the city’s BAME communities and women who use them most – groups who are already being disproportionately affected by cuts across all of our public services.

“As a city with a disproportionate high number of kids in care, we have to do everything in our power to look after them. But Labour is cutting the budget that supports foster carers to adopt children. We should all be worried that the budget Equality Impact Assessment says that cuts in this area will deliver an “insufficient budget to appropriately financially support new adopters coming forward.”

 

“So behind the rhetoric, Labour’s budget will be really damaging to some of our most oppressed communities.We will be looking in much more detail at the budget proposals and preparing a fuller analysis in the coming weeks.”

 

You can view the Impact assessments of the budget plans here: http://phantom.brighton-hove.gov.uk/Published/C00000912/M00006705/$$Supp28021dDocPackPublic.pdf

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Greens on Autumn statement: “The best way to solve our housing crisis is to let our Council build.”

It is bizarre at best – and cruel at worst – that councils can borrow to build a swimming pool or a hotel, but not for desperately-needed homes, writes Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty on the upcoming Autumn budget 

November 22nd is the Autumn Statement. It is vital that the Government takes this opportunity to deal urgently with the housing crisis as it is hitting Brighton and Hove.

And we need strong action. Since 2010, the number of people under the age of 45 who can afford their home has fallen one fifth. More is being spent today throughout England and Wales on repairs of homes than on building new homes. Escalating rents have meant that the biggest cause of homelessness is evictions in the private rented sector. Just last week we were reminded through Shelter’s report, ‘Far From Alone,’ that 1 in 69 people in Brighton and Hove are homeless. Our city is ranked 20th of UK cities for homelessness, surpassing many London councils.

So called ‘affordable’ housing is too often anything but. National planning laws embrace so-called “developer viability” and cause huge concerns to us. Developers hide behind ‘viability assessments’ to protect their profit margins and have meant that in just 11 councils they contributed to 79% fewer affordable homes. Yet the truth is that ways to fix the housing crisis are being ignored. The Government continues to block Councils from borrowing to build more genuinely affordable housing. Homes lost under the failed ‘Right to Buy’ scheme are not replaced like for like. There are very few ways we can force developers to publish their profits when they claim they can’t build more affordable housing.

Green Councillors have been lobbying through the body that represents councils- the Local Government Association- to try and fix the broken housing market. That work has been ongoing all the time I have been elected but has intensified since the government launched its Housing White Paper in the spring. Locally we have been busy too: fighting successfully for lower rents on Council homes, putting more money in the pot to re-buy housing we lost, and to create additional night shelters for rough sleepers.

Local Green Councillors are encouraging others to pledge to ‘do all they can to end homelessness.’ Picture from Brighton and Hove Housing Coalition

The best way to solve the housing crisis is to let our Council build. It is bizarre at best – and cruel at worst – that councils can borrow to build a swimming pool or a hotel, but not for desperately-needed homes. Especially at a time when interest rates for council borrowing have been so low, we need to be able to invest in a new generation of council homes fit for the 21st century.

Greens say that the Government must take the opportunity presented in the Autumn Statement to let councils keep 100% of the receipts of homes sold under the failed ‘Right to buy.’ Councils must once again be able to provide homes to those on low incomes.

The housing crisis is an urgent priority but any new homes must be affordable, in the right places, and have adequate infrastructure and services. The Budget must deliver powers and fiscal incentives for councils to build our local economy. Last year more than 475,000 new homes in England and Wales had planning permission but are yet to be built and that means we also need powers at a local level to make sure developers build out the housing schemes they have planning consent for.

We will be following the details as they are announced on Wednesday. Two years ago, after criticising the Green Councillors for presenting a letter to Government ministers demanding a better deal for our council as an “empty gesture”, it has been interesting to watch Labour leader of the Council Warren Morgan now sending a letter to…Government ministers. The new funding he speaks of is of course desperately needed, as indeed it was two years ago. But when it comes to the Conservative Government, we don’t have the ‘shared goals’ that he refers to – or any gratitude for their work so far. And instead of accepting corrosive changes to our NHS and seeking more funding for ‘Sustainable Transformation Plans,’ Greens want to oppose them. The Government must provide better support in their budget to local people and to our city – but, on the evidence so far, we won’t get it by asking them nicely.

Whilst we remain hopeful that the Government will act, we must be determined that if they don’t, we will continue to lobby for sufficient funding and powers that tackle the housing crisis and actually make a difference for local residents. If there are concessions around housing in the next budget, the success will lie with campaigners and those lobbying hard to get the Government to wake up and listen.

Phélim Mac Cafferty is the convenor of the Green Group of Councillors in Brighton and Hove and ward Councillor for Brunswick and Adelaide

Events in our city need to pay back to our communities and respect our environment

Greens propose new sustainability criteria for city events, but Labour Councillors vote down proposals and idea to improve funding for parks and open spaces

Labour Councillors have rejected Green proposals for a fairer fee structure for events coming to the city that would have improved funding for our parks and open spaces.

Speaking at a meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council’s Tourism, Development and Culture Committee, Green Councillors Phélim MacCafferty and Tom Druitt said it was time that private events coming to the city contributed more to the community and to the environment. But Labour Councillors rejected the Green proposals for a fairer events policy, criticising them for being ‘too long’.

Green Councillors raised the examples of other Councils such as Haringey and Oxford, who levy an ‘Environmental Impact Charge’ to account for the impact large scale events have on the city including large amounts of non-recyclable waste and damage to parks and open spaces. Greens want to see this charge introduced in Brighton, with the funding ringfenced to support the many ‘Friends of’ associations who help to maintain the quality of open spaces.

Damage on Brunswick lawns

Repeated events can affect the quality of parks and open spaces – with little done to repair the damage

Councillor Mac Cafferty raised concerns that in some cases profit-making festivals on Hove Lawns could be charging double the cost of the fee paid to the Council to run just one stall, whilst measures to ensure the parks were returned to their original state are clearly not working.

Speaking after the meeting, Green Spokesperson for Tourism, Development & Culture Cllr Tom Druitt said,

“Residents have raised a number of concerns about some of the events held in the city, ranging from the direct impact in terms of noise, rubbish, and the closure of footpaths and cycle paths to the cumulative impact of the events on our parks and open spaces. Moreover, it is clear that different event organisers pay different amounts for very similar events.

“It is a crying shame that Labour voted against our proposals to address these issues, seemingly for no reason other than because they were Green proposals. In doing so they have thrown away the opportunity to create a fair and transparent fee structure for events that would have improved funding for our parks and open spaces.”

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty added:

“A much clearer charging schedule in B&H is needed, where we’re not curtailing community or arts events but also not being completely ripped off by events which are run solely for profit for someone else. Local Labour Councillors voted against our proposal for fairer events for Brighton & Hove that pay back to the community and respect our environment, for example by not leaving trails of plastic waste.

“In my own ward of Brunswick and Adelaide, whilst residents are very good about events, there is virtually no occasion where residents have had not their lives disrupted by events on Hove Lawns. Our open spaces are taken away from our communities, and the small amount that is charged by the City Council goes nowhere near mitigation of the impact they cause.”  

Shame on the dinosaurs on the East Sussex Pension Fund (ESPF) Board

divest now

The illogical practice of Councils investing in fossil fuel companies must stop now, writes Brighton and Hove Green Party Councillor Louisa Greenbaum

Divestment from fossil fuels is a powerful and important step towards halting climate change and yet in the two years since the Paris Accord, the percentage of funds invested by Local Authorities in fossil fuels has not significantly changed, in contrast with the good progress made in other areas of public life such as universities, faith organisations and cities.

Brighton and Hove is sadly no exception to this trend. The Green Group of Councillors put forward a motion in 2015 calling on the East Sussex Pension Fund (ESPF) to divest, but frustratingly and astonishingly this received no support from our Labour or Conservative colleagues at the time. Fast forward two years, and the Labour group put forward the same motion, which this time passed, but the ESPF, although they paid lip service to considering the climate impact of its investments by commissioning a two-page report, have done precisely nothing.

Why? Well, where there are fossils there are dinosaurs, and there is a certainly a whiff of the stone-age about the six representatives who make up the ESPF Pensions Board.

So, for the sake of the dinosaurs, let’s go over again why divestment is a no-brainer.

Perhaps they need reminding of the impacts of climate change:

  • Higher temperatures have already led to an increase in heat-related deaths and illnessrising seas, increased storm intensity
  • One-fourth of the Earth’s species could be headed for extinction by 2050 due to changing habitats and competition for resources.
  • Sea level rise from climate change could displace tens of millions of people.
  • Climate change is making floods, fires and droughts more frequent and severe.
  • In 2003 extreme heat waves caused more than 20,000 deaths in Europe and more than 1,500 deaths in India. In addition to heat-related illness, climate change will increase the spread of infectious diseases, mainly because warmer temperatures allow disease-carrying insects, animals and microbes to survive in areas where they were once thwarted by cooler weather.
  • Climate change is affecting businesses and economies at home and around the world. If action is not taken to curb global carbon emissions, climate change could cost between 5 and 20 percent of the annual global gross domestic product, according to Nicholas Stern’s government review.

People from all levels and areas of society, from the top to the bottom, are realising that this can’t be allowed to continue. As Pope John Paul said, “Any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity.” “Human beings,” he said, are “not authorized to abuse the planet, much less to destroy it.” So, what can be done?

One of the fastest moving areas in which climate change is being challenged is the Divest-Invest movement, which now represents a staggering $2.6 trillion shift in investment behaviour all over the world.

When the Rockefeller fund announced a few years ago that it was divesting the 7% of its fund connected fossil fuels, the movement went mainstream.  What these groups have all understood is that moving away from fossil fuels not only makes environmental sense, but also financial and ethical sense.

Environmental

The environmental case is the best rehearsed of the arguments in favour of the divestment from fossil fuels. 80% of the world’s fossil fuel reserves MUST remain unburned if we are to contain the rise in global temperature to 2%. We don’t have a hope in hell of achieving this if we don’t slam on the brakes. We simply don’t have time to change down through the gears and come gently to a stop over the course of a decade. The damage will be done, and we will be on an irreversible path with disastrous and fatal consequences.

We are actively contributing to global warming by investing in fossil fuels and it needs to stop now.

Economic

But this isn’t just a green issue – it’s also a financial one. The 80% of ‘unburnable’ fossil fuel reserves run a high risk of becoming a ‘stranded’ or worthless asset and a poor investment.

While climate legislation that limits fossil fuel extraction is a considerable driver for stranding these assets (which is why the fossil fuel industry is lobbying so hard against climate legislation), there are economic and physical as well as regulatory factors.

These include the falling price of oil against the increasing cost of extraction through more extreme environments or extraction techniques and the rise and rise of renewable energy.

Either fossil fuels stay in the ground and banks and commercial organisations lose billions writing off these “stranded assets,” or irreversible climate change will threaten human life as we know it. It’s that simple.

In the words of the Rockefeller heirs: “We are quite convinced that if he (John D Rockefeller) were alive today, as an astute businessman looking out to the future, he would be moving out of fossil fuels and investing in clean, renewable energy.”

It’s what Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, called ‘the Tragedy of the Horizon’ in his speech to Lloyds of London. His speech examined the impact that climate change would have on financial stability and I quote, “We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional horizons of most actors – imposing a cost on future generations that the current generation has no direct incentive to fix.”

Surely, with this huge weight of knowledge behind us, it is the moral duty of anyone in public life, and in positions of authority, to show leadership on this issue of global and historic significance.

Shame on the dinosaurs.