A 5.9% increase in council tax can help protect vital services

Ollie Sykes, a councillor for Brunswick and Adelaide, is the Green lead member for finance on Brighton and Hove City Council
Ollie Sykes, a councillor for Brunswick and Adelaide, is the Green lead member for finance on Brighton and Hove City Council

To bemoan the effect of a possible 5.9% council tax rise reflects extraordinary cynicism.

For Labour and Tories locally to bemoan the effect on working people of a possible 5.9% council tax rise, following a referendum, reflects an extraordinary capacity for political cynicism and hypocrisy. Just three weeks ago these parties voted together to impose - that’s without a referendum - a colossal 76% rise in council tax contribution on the 16,000 poorest working-age households in the city.

Local government finances around the United Kingdom are in trouble because of relentless cuts in funding from central government. That’s the opinion of the Institute for Fiscal Studies and also the National Audit Office, which this winter raised the real possibility that major councils could go bankrupt within five years. The Financial Times recently calculated that local government funding had been cut by more than any other part of government under austerity.

Brighton and Hove City Council has had to cut £70 million from its main budget over the past four years. It is likely we will see another £100 million taken in the next five years. In 2015/16 alone, the city's £26.3 million shortfall will be more than the combined annual cost of child protection, community safety, parks, planning, highways maintenance, and libraries. And, at the same time, the demands on our services are increasing daily, particularly in the services provided for adults and children in need.

My frustration is that these basic facts are simply glossed over by Labour and Tories locally.

Greens understand the situation and we are acting in response. A 5.9% council tax rise - much less than the 8.3% average under Labour’s 10 years in control here - would provide about £4.2 million in additional funding and allow us to protect vital services including children’s centres, community grants, public toilets, supported bus services, access to advice for those in need, rates relief to charities, and community safety.

But we are also very aware that no reasonable level of council tax rise can protect against the real depth of cuts to services.

The most important work now is to continue to campaign hard, together with others, for the re-instatement of a reasonable level of funding for local government. It’s unthinkable that this funding - a national mechanism for needs-based allocation of resources dating back to the 1950s - will have completely disappeared within five years under current government plans.

This is a fight for nothing less than the future of locally-accountable and locally-delivered public services. It is a fight at a national level, though played out locally, and one we cannot win before the next financial year begins.

We can, however, seek to change policies going into an election and my hope is that at least one of the local opposition parties will work with us on this.

Ollie Sykes, a councillor for Brunswick and Adelaide, is the Green lead member for finance on Brighton and Hove City Council