A council tax referendum can’t be won, afforded, or justified

Daniel Yates, chair of the health and wellbeing board
Daniel Yates, chair of the health and wellbeing board

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray uses his endless repeats to rescue his career and win the girl.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray uses his endless number of repeats to rescue his career and win the girl - a classic theme of overcoming impossible odds.

In Brighton and Hove's own Groundhog Day, however, I cannot see a happy ending.

Last year, the three city council parties made their positions clear and since then little has changed. Indeed, if anything things have become worse.

Council finances face ongoing challenges that threaten services being slashed and the three parties continue to maintain the same basic positions regarding solving the funding gap.

My own Labour party continues to believe that, in the most challenging financial times, we cannot pass the burden of above-threshold tax rises onto residents. We have even made this view a crucial part of our ongoing contract with the city. The Conservatives have made clear repeatedly that they believe a council tax freeze is possible. The Greens argue that to deliver services requires a council tax rise of 5.9%.

But this is more Whitehall farce than Hollywood blockbuster.

For the Greens to deliver a 5.9% rise, there would need to be a citywide referendum. This is something one of the other parties would have to allow in order for it go ahead.

So now some Tories (keep up at the back!) are suggesting allowing the Greens' 5.9% proposal in order to have a referendum about the proposed rise. Which they believe would be heavily lost.

I agree entirely with the Labour position that this is not a referendum that can be won, afforded, or justified. Indeed, the referendum would be held on May 7 - the same day as citywide council elections and, of course, the general election. Are these not setting the agenda for the next four to five years?

But the farce does not end there; like the best farces, it has a final twist. To hold a referendum will cost more than £150,000 in election costs alone. A year ago the estimated cost of the referendum being lost was an additional £800,000, to to cover rebilling and administration.

So we have three positions: a Green administration that wishes to speculate £150,000 to "win" a three-times inflation council tax rise from the public.

Then there's a Tory group, some of whom now may wager £950,000 in the hope of losing it all and cutting our services.

I'm not a gambler with your finances - I'm Labour. I want elected councillors to do their duty and set a responsible budget for next year.

That's why backing an unwinnable referendum is a flutter too far. It will lead to an extra round of service cuts which is the last thing we need.

Happy New Year? I doubt it, but let's try.

Daniel Yates is a Labour Party candidate in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean