Council leader tells opposition: ‘We must work together on budget’

Cllr Warren Morgan, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council
Cllr Warren Morgan, the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council

The leader of the city council signalled his willingness to work with other parties on passing the budget ahead of tonight’s crunch meeting (February 23).

As Labour leads the council with a minority administration, it needs the support of the Green or Conservative councillors to get its budget through - and last year it took more than six hours to thrash out an agreement.

Hove Town Hall, where the budget will be set tonight

Hove Town Hall, where the budget will be set tonight

But this year, Cllr Warren Morgan said Labour would carefully consider the nine budget amendments put forward by opposition parties.

He said: “We are grateful to the opposition for engaging with the budget process and putting forward some amendments. We are looking really closely at them and we will support the ones we can support.

“This has got to be a collaborative effort if we are going to meet this challenge.”

He pointed out that ‘the amount of money covered by the nine proposed amendments is less than £2 million - about one per cent of the budget’.

Demo against youth service cuts by Brighton and Hove City Council (Photograph courtesy of Brighton and Hove News) SUS-171001-151700001

Demo against youth service cuts by Brighton and Hove City Council (Photograph courtesy of Brighton and Hove News) SUS-171001-151700001

The council’s budget for the next financial year (2017/18) will go before councillors tonight (Thursday), with plans to increase council tax by five per cent, and cut council spending by £21 million.

Cllr Morgan said the council must make the cuts in the face of rising adult social care cuts and reducing government grants.

“We as a sector have reached a critical point,” he said.

The most controversial cut in the budget is the £700,000 cut to the youth service budget.

Cllr Morgan said: “Obviously youth services is the big issue in this budget. Inevitably taking that money, it is going to have some impact and it is going to cause some change.”

There are also plans to axe 300 council staff (around ten per cent of the council’s workforce) - with half of the posts deleted, and the other half transferred to other companies.

Defending the budget, Cllr Morgan said the £21m savings are largely made up of ‘efficiencies, investment, and redesigning services’, and the budget had sought to minimise service and job cuts.

But next year (2018/19) the council will have to find £15m in savings, with a further £11m the following year (2019/20).

“There are now no easy cuts or simple solutions,” Cllr Morgan said.

Tories table six amendments to council’s budget

Reducing the cuts to the youth service and increasing respite funding for families with disabled children will be on the top of the Conservative agenda at tonight’s budget meeting.

The Conservative Group is set to table six amendments to Labour’s budget, which will also include increased tree planting and investing in new playground equipment in Mile Oak Park.

The youth service amendment puts £190,000 back into the budget (from a £700,000 cut) by scrapping the low emission discount for diesel vehicles on resident’s parking permits (£117,000), increasing commissions in the architecture and design team (£30,000), reducing members special responsibilty allowances (£29,000), and abolishing the neighbourhoods, inclusion, communities and equality committee (£14,000)

Cllr Andrew Wealls, the Conservative finance spokesman, said: “We have been working very hard over the last few months to try and mitigate some of the damaging proposals in what has been a chaotic budget process.

“It has been characterised by a lack of strategic thinking, particularly with regard to preventative services such as the Youth Service, cuts to which will add to the council’s costs further down the line. I’m therefore delighted that we have been able to find funds to support most of the valuable work that the youth service does in some of our most deprived communities.”

Cllr Geoffrey Theobald, Conservative leader,said: “Warren Morgan never tires of saying that he has no choice but to end the youth service because of cuts in Government funding, yet we have managed to find the funding to save it.”

‘Prevention not cure’ say Greens

Green councillors shared their three amendments to the council’s budget ahead of the meeting.

Plans to reverse the youth service cuts were mitigated by saving £500,000 from the homelessness support budget, in light of a £2.5m grant from the government for that purpose.

There were also plans to reverse £643,000 cuts to supported bus services, two housing support jobs, a charity investment programme. This would be paid for by scrapping the low emission discount for diesel vehicles on parking permits (£117,000), raising fees for building control inspections (£48,000), increasing income from hoarding licences (£14,000), skip and scaffold licences (£24,000) and increasing ‘land charge search fees’ (£440,000).

Cllr Phélim Mac Cafferty, convenor of the Greens, said: “All the evidence supports the fact that if you cut services you will inherit problems in the future. This is why we are committed to a different approach, putting prevention at the heart of our proposals. Our approach requires all parties to put the evidence about prevention being better than a cure ahead of their concerns about making savings in this financial year. While we can only make amendments, and they will no doubt be challenged, our paper is about our challenge to the Tory mantra of cuts and our push for bold alternatives to protect those most at risk.”

Your council tax

The average Brighton and Hove resident can expect a £76.15 increase in their annual council tax bill in April, to £1,703.81.

That’s because Brighton and Hove City Council, which takes the lion’s share of the income, is set to increase its council tax precept by five per cent tonight.

That means an average Band D taxpayer will see a £69.47 rise on their council tax bill for council services.

Sussex Police increased its council tax by 3.36 per cent, equivalent to an extra £5 a year for a Band D property. And East Sussex Fire Authority increased its council tax share by 1.94 per cent, meaning the average Band D taxpayer will now pay an extra £1.68 a year to the fire service.

Residents living in Hanover Crescent, Marine Square and Royal Crescent pay slightly more for the upkeep of gardens, as do residents in Rottingdean for the parish council.