There is no sugaring the pill, no sweetening the message, no avoiding the truth. Your council budget in the spring will contain cuts to services and jobs unlike any seen so far. We have to make savings of £24 million in the coming year, on top of the £100 million savings that have been delivered over the past five years. At the same time it is likely that your council tax will increase by at least four per cent. And the cuts will continue until at least 2020.
I know there will be campaigns and protests over many of the cuts we are being forced to make, strong cases put forward as to why services should be spared the axe, why they bring value above and beyond their cost.
Those campaigns will be right, their anger justified and understandable.
There are no services the council provides that do not bring benefit to you, your community or our city. Any cut we make will have an impact.
So why are these cuts happening? Three reasons. Firstly the government is removing the third of our service funding it has until now provided. £27m is being cut from the money the Treasury gives Brighton and Hove each year by 2020.
Secondly, more and more people need the social care services the council has to provide. Care for the growing number of older people, people with disabilities or long term health conditions, and vulnerable children in care. It is the biggest part of our budget and we have to find £10 million more next year, and by 2020 care costs could eat our entire budget. Last year the Government added two per cent to permitted council tax increases to help fund this, but the £2 million that brings in isn’t enough to keep pace. Most Conservative-led councils agree. The government may add a further two per cent for next year, although there was no indication of it in the Autumn statement.
Thirdly, we are in the middle of a housing crisis with rising demand for temporary accommodation as many people struggle with rents due to benefit reductions. We are building new council homes and new affordable homes as fast as we can.Our joint venture with Hyde Housing due for approval in December could deliver over a thousand at just 60 per cent of market rates.
Why aren’t we making other savings, finding new income or investing to save? We are. My team of Labour councillors is working tirelessly with support from officers to find new ways of meeting the financial challenges. Almost £2 million is being cut from management budgets, and we are joining an innovative scheme with East Sussex and Surrey to share “back office” support services like human resources, finance and legal.
We are investing money from selling buildings like Kings House in better online services, and in the process saving £2 million a year in running costs. We are innovating, changing, bringing co-operative ideas to how we work with you to keep services going. In an uncertain global economy we will fight for investment in good jobs and affordable homes in Brighton and Hove. New developments bring additional business rates and council tax to fund your services. We are earning money from new enforcement fines, clothing recycling and vehicle workshop services to help fund front line refuse and street cleaning services. Over the past eighteen months we have been dashing to catch up with other councils who have been changing the way they fund and provide services for years.
Why isn’t parking revenue used to offset the cuts? Most of the money we get from tickets, permits and charges goes to fund free bus travel for older people, with an additional £300k for next year.
Why not charge students council tax or just borrow more? The simple answer is that we can’t by law. Will being able to keep all our business rates help? That won’t happen until 2020, by which time revaluations, appeals and discounts by Government may reduce what we get from local businesses significantly.
Why aren’t we fighting the cuts? The Green Administration waved placards and beat drums outside an empty Treasury, and handed petitions to No 10 that were simply ignored. That’s gesture politics.
We are making the case to ministers, both directly and with our council colleagues across the country and across the political divide, for fairer funding, for the tools we need to do the job you expect us to do. Just as you have had to find new ways of making ends meet, so should we. Ultimately, by law we have to balance the books.
We won’t fall for offers of cheaper delivery from big private companies that could tie you into second rate services. We will work hard to get the basics right, to protect the vulnerable and to grow an economy that benefits everyone.
Let’s fight for your city and your services together.
Warren Morgan is the Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.