Brighton and Hove Labour Council Leader resigns: comment

Greens have responded to news that the Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, Warren Morgan, has resigned.

Convenor of the Green Group of Councillors, Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, commented:

“Labour’s Council leader has been ousted by his own divided party. But look around the city and signs of Labour’s self-implosion are everywhere. Graffiti, grime and litter have spiralled out of control. Plans for the Royal Pavilion are in tatters. School catchments reversed after huge public outcry. Despite pledging to end rough sleeping, Labour has failed to get a grip on homelessness, as temperatures plummet.

“At last week’s budget Labour made a deal with the Tories to pass on £12m of cuts while hiking Council tax by 6%. Labour voted down Green proposals to reverse cuts and provide more emergency homeless accommodation.
Instead of opposing Conservative austerity, plots to boot out their leader have been given priority.

“Greens are focused on making Brighton and Hove a city fit for the future. Our concern, is as ever, for residents, who will continue to suffer the consequences of the Labour party’s incompetence.

“What should worry everyone is that the favourite to replace Warren, Dan Yates, as Labour’s lead on health has made no effort to oppose cuts and the privatisation of our precious NHS. Everyone who supports our health service will be alarmed to hear this. Tweedledum will be replaced by Tweedledee.”

 

In a blog post on his resignation, Warren Morgan stated he “would have wished to lead the Labour group […] However, the local Labour Party and others have made it clear they do not want me to do so.

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Labour and Conservatives vote down Green proposals to reverse cuts and fund homeless prevention at Council budget setting meeting

Greens have condemned a decision by the Labour Council to vote against their budget proposals, which put forward more than £2m of funds that would have seen the Council able to protect social work services, fund more homelessness prevention work and support environmentally friendly energy options for the city.

An additional Green proposal that sought to remove free Councillor parking at a cost of £30,000 in order to reverse part of a planned cut to school transport for vulnerable children was also rejected by both parties.

Ahead of the budget setting process, Greens put forward six proposals that would have seen over £2m returned to the council’s coffers without taking money from other key services. Greens slammed the Labour administration for preparing a deal with the Conservatives in advance of the budget to ensure it would pass, a pact they labelled a ‘purple budget coalition.’

The Labour and Conservative groups rejected proposals on increasing park security, boosting litter collection and bringing costly emergency accommodation in-house. The Council spends over £4.1m paying private landlords for emergency accommodation for rough sleepers.

Green finance lead Councillor Ollie Sykes said:

“The Greens are incredibly disappointed, but after the collusion between the Labour and Conservative Councillors, not surprised to see our positive suggestions for city’s residents be rejected at budget Council. Labour tried to wriggle out of voting in favour of our ideas by saying our work to reverse their cuts were ‘too complicated.’ What is complicated about stopping cuts to learning disability services, funding home to school transport, about warmer homes, more park security or ending the practice of outsourcing our emergency accommodation to money-guzzling private companies?

“Greens engaged as early as possible with both parties as soon as our amendments were submitted; gave them all the time they needed and frankly we hoped for more from fellow Councillors for our residents. Smiles from the Labour group as Green amendments to prevent homelessness and to end fuel poverty fell were shocking. Greens improved the Labour group’s budget – but they would rather oversee over £12m of cuts than put our plans for the city first.”

 

Convenor of the Green Group Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty added:

“Gleeful cheers from the Labour Councillors as their £12m cuts budget was voted through – thanks to a deal with the Tories – is a shameful outcome. It’s our residents who lose out. Green amendments identified funds for vital services without robbing one to pay for another- but Labour would clearly rather hand down massive cuts than support this approach. At the end of the day their grubby deal with the Tories to pass a cuts budget will affect our marginalised residents the most. They will now be left to endure increased cuts for another year, with yet more to come.”

 

Green amendments are available to view here: http://bit.ly/GPBudget18

£2m to prevent homelessness in Green budget proposals

Grn Cllrs with petitioner John Hadman homeless buildings

Green Cllrs David Gibson, Tom Druitt and Alex Phillips (r-l) successfully campaigned for new homeless shelter with local petitioner John Hadman. Now budget proposals will put £2m of investment into preventing homelessness

The council can bring costly emergency accommodation services ‘in-house’ and reduce rough sleeping, say Greens.

The Green Group of Councillors have revealed budget proposals that fund solutions to the homelessness crisis gripping the city.

Greens are calling on the council to use funding found by their budget proposals to purchase emergency accommodation for people at risk of rough sleeping, an issue currently costing the council up to £4.1m each year in payments to private landlords.

Green amendments in this year’s budget take action to prevent homelessness, provide adequate emergency accommodation, increase Council resources for housing and support for vulnerable people. With costs of such accommodation continuing to rise, Greens want to see public money used to provide services to those at risk of rough sleeping rather than given to private companies.

Proposals also include extra funding to boost the council’s delivery of Housing First, a scheme proven to reduce rough sleeping amongst people who are repeatedly homeless.  With the cost of managing rough sleeping estimated to amount to up to £26,000 per year, studies show that support provided to people through ‘Housing First’ can be up to five times more effective than other approaches.

Greens have challenged the Labour Council’s budget plans for failing to make the most use of resources it has available to expand the supply of housing, as rough sleeping continues to rise and more than 17,000 people are on the waiting lists for council homes.
 

Councillor David Gibson, Green housing spokesperson, commented:

“Too many people in our city are battling rising housing costs, poor quality homes and the risk of homelessness. As Conservative cuts and punitive welfare benefit changes show no sign of abating, housing is an issue the Council quite literally cannot afford to ignore. Currently millions of pounds are spent on paying private landlords to provide emergency accommodation. Previously all parties backed our call to bring this service in-house, a no brainer, as any rental income could be used to provide more support for homeless households at a time of crisis.

 
“On top of this, Greens have identified a budget to support ‘Housing First,’ an approach already proven to end the cycle of rough sleeping for people who find themselves repeatedly homeless. Under the scheme other costs to the police and health services are avoided, making it cost effective too. We are also putting resources into reducing cuts to council estate budgets and into providing Wi-Fi for elderly tenants at risk of digital exclusion.
“If supported, these proposals will have a genuine impact on the housing crisis gripping our city and save money for the future. With rough sleeping having more than doubled under the Labour Council’s watch in the last two years, Greens want to see serious action taken on housing. Our amendments provide a budget to make this a reality.”

 

Greens will be the only party to put forward several amendments to the Council’s budget this year. Councillors vote on the city’s budget at a meeting tomorrow, Thursday 22nd February.

 

ENDS

 

[1] Recent reports from the council’s housing statistical bulletin (quarter 3) show there were 1,666 households in temporary accommodation as of 31st December last year, with 3% placed in costly bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation.

Councillors should give up parking perks to plug cut in home-to-school transport, say Greens

Photo credit: the Local Data Company
Green amendments identify £30k from scrapping Councillors’ free car parking spaces across the city

Greens are calling on Councillors from all parties to give up their free parking spaces, saying the money saved could be used to protect home-to-school transport for disabled children.

An amendment from the Greens to the budget meeting on Thursday (22nd Feb) will call on the Council to stop providing free parking to Councillors, who are currently able to use spaces in a city centre and Hove car park at no cost. The Council could stand to save £30k a year if Councillors were prepared to take alternative forms of transport, money Greens say should go back into public services.

The Green amendment proposes this money be used to lessen a planned cut to school transport, a service provided for children who need assistance getting to school.

Councillor Pete West commented:

“It is a highly inappropriate use of public funds to offer free premium parking in commercial car parks to Councillors. The hard pressed working families Councillors are elected to serve will be dismayed. Both town hall car parks are in city central areas, where air quality from traffic pollution is poor. Yet both town halls are well served by public transport and easily accessible by bike and on foot. Free car parking for Councillors is a snub to staff and residents who are already travelling sustainably and are concerned by the health impact of air pollution. It does nothing for staff morale to see Councillors treated with arcane privilege.

“Councillors are rightly entitled to claim for travel expenses they incur as part of their work. Their work requires travel to many places across the city, not just to the two town halls. The option of a bus pass is more than adequate, both in supporting sustainable travel and in sensibly cutting down on the administrative cost of processing travel expense claims. This is not a huge change for Councillors yet will produce a genuine result for communities, and it’s hugely hypocritical of Labour that we’re looking at cutting services for the many and keeping these perks for the few.”

The Council’s own assessment on the impact of home-to-school transport stated that any cuts “may result in some pupils no longer being identified as eligible – or required to provide a contribution to the cost of providing assistance.”  [1]

Greens are also hoping the proposals will encourage Councillors to favour alternatives to car use such as cycling or taking public transport. An additional amendment from the Greens will see a boost to the city’s cycle parking facilities in a bid to encourage a greater use of sustainable transport and minimise poor air quality in the city.

Councillor Alex Phillips added:

“With the Labour Council looking to find £15m of cuts in their budget this year yet again the axe will fall on services that assist those on the lowest incomes or who are in need of extra support. I was shocked to learn that the budget for keeping car parking free for Councillors amounts to £30k when there are other transport options available. That money could be used to lessen the impact of budget cuts – not to support Councillors to drive to work in a city blighted by air pollution and well served by public transport.

“Of course where Councillors have additional needs they should be supported with their own transport but for those who don’t – our proposal is that they give up an unnecessary parking perk to boost the budget for home-to-school transport for some of our city’s most disadvantaged children. 354 children use this service. It will be revealing to see who protests against this amendment after words from both the Labour and Conservative Councillors about ‘putting the city first.”

Greens will put forward a series of amendments to this year’s budget with over £2m found through their proposals, with a vote due at budget council tomorrow Thursday 22nd Feb.

Plea to support Fabrica gallery as fundraiser begins to plug council cuts

Convenor of the Green Group Phélim Mac Cafferty has responded to news that local arts hub and charity Fabrica could face closure as a result of council cuts.

The contemporary arts gallery on Duke Street, which has been in receipt of a regular grant from Brighton and Hove City Council, has now launched a fundraising campaign to plug a £20,000 loss in its funding following council cuts. Despite efforts by the charity to introduce cost reduction measures across the last year, Fabrica now need to fill a gap in finances by the end of March 2018.
#KeepFabrica
The gallery has featured artists such as Anish Kapoor and Brian Eno and also runs a range of community outreach activities and programmes designed to make arts more accessible, including running workshops for children and young people.

Councillor Mac Cafferty has called for support for ‘a cornerstone of art in our city,’ commenting:

“A former dissenter church, where the act of disagreeing through faith has been replaced with bold questions about art, Fabrica is a powerhouse of the local visual arts scene.

“Fabrica’s bold exhibitions has brought us challenging, visually exciting art work. Some of my highlights over the last few years have included: Kaarina Kaikkonen with her shirt sculpture and Janet Cardiff’s magical re-take on the music of Thomas Tallis.

“But Fabrica repeatedly asserts that art is for all too. They helped found Men In Sheds- a project preventing isolation in older men. Fabrica’s outreach work in schools ensures our city’s kids experience art as it is created. Only a matter of weeks ago, Fabrica hosted children from Middle Street Primary School who performed with dancer, Rosaria Gracia.

“22 years after opening its doors, it would be awful to lose Fabrica. This cornerstone of art in our city must survive whatever the perverseness of political austerity. The cultural industries contribute almost £77bn to the UK economy and for every £1 spent on the arts in Brighton and Hove an additional £2 is generated for the wider economy.”

The campaign to keep the gallery open includes a range of local fundraising events, with Fabrica offering a series of incentives in return for a donation such as a film pass or an opportunity to use the gallery space for a day’s event or exhibition.

https://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/keep-fabrica/

Labour’s Council Tax rises will hit the poorest hard

Green Finance Lead Councillor Ollie Sykes

So it looks like our Labour Council administration will propose a council tax rise of just under 6% for the next financial year. These new bigger bills will land on our doorsteps in March.

Was it really only three years ago that Labour responded to the Greens’ proposals to ask the city for their thoughts on a 5.9% council tax rise, branding the suggestion ‘unaffordable for the hard working residents of Brighton and Hove?’ This new proposal from Labour now brings the total council tax rise imposed under their leadership to around 16%. So much for those hard working residents.

As an aside, in 2015 Labour also promised a freeze in parking charges. Fast forward to 2018 and some parking charges are set to rise by 30% or more in some areas. How things change when you’re in power.

Given the punitive cuts in council funding from central government – almost 40% since 2010 – the fact is that local councils nationwide are finding themselves in the unenviable position of looking at raising Council Tax. Instead of providing a nationally planned, realistic level of funding to under pressure services such as adult social care, the Conservative Government has repeatedly passed the buck to local councils, expecting them to meet rising demand with smaller and smaller budgets.

However, what’s particularly disappointing about Labour’s planned council tax increase is the undoubted impact it will have on poor and vulnerable residents. Brighton and Hove City Council operates a ‘Council Tax Reduction Scheme’ to provide some support to those that have difficulty paying this bill. We know that this is a problem for many residents – council tax arrears have driven more people to seek advice from Citizens Advice Bureaux than any other form of debt.

Greens fought hard to protect the levels of support provided under the Council Tax Reduction Scheme so that poorer residents would not bear the brunt of any increases. Yet throughout their time running Brighton and Hove City Council, this Labour administration have repeatedly increased the amount those on the lowest incomes are expected to pay in council tax by reducing the amount of relief offered under the scheme. Just last summer Labour once again prevented any possible change to the levels of council tax support by blocking consultation on the scheme.

No consultation, no change allowed – that’s the law. People in the city faced with the double whammy of universal credit, high costs of living and rising rent have been frozen out of a discussion on what level of support they might need. Instead, with the same scheme as last year, but a higher level of council tax, people clinging on to their accommodation by their fingertips might be pushed over the edge.

Greens think that council tax is a completely inappropriate way to pay for social care and for many of the other responsibilities of local government, which should be funded from progressive national taxation – such as income tax, or a more equitable local taxation system. Council tax is a regressive tax and is the deeply flawed, hastily implemented fudge resulting from the Margaret Thatcher’s failed Poll Tax experiment, which neither Labour, Conservatives nor Lib Dems have had the courage to address in the 27 years since it was introduced.

Of course we must find a way to prevent further devastating cuts to public services. The bulk of the blame here lies with the Tories – both for relentless cutting of funding for local government and also for passing the buck on basic funding for services to councils. But council tax rises can only go so far in meeting the gap. Our Labour administration should not blithely raise it without considering the impact on the poorest in our city.

Councillor Ollie Sykes is the Green Finance Spokesperson
@Brunswick_Green