Labour announced their council budget proposals this week. While Labour were quick to disguise their fingerprints in this year’s budget the reality is that on top of £93M cuts made in just three years, many services will not withstand another swing of the axe. It comes to the backdrop of councils losing one in two pounds in real terms funding since relentless Conservative government cuts began in 2010.
The real test of this budget is what political choices the Labour councillors make to balance the books locally and we must scrutinise some of their grim decisions. These include: huge cuts to sexual health services despite our city having some of the greatest numbers of sexually-transmitted infections in the country. Fostering cut by five per cent despite the disproportionate number of children in care. Domestic violence services will be cut by £50,000 in a city with almost 5,000 domestic violence incidents and crimes in 2016/17.
Conservative-led West Sussex recently tried to decimate domestic violence services and we are appalled Labour here appears to be following suit. The size of the cut to the libraries budget has convinced many this is Labour’s ‘Trojan horse’ to close Hove library. Again. Cuts to services that were in the firing line last year - such as family support at the Clermont centre - are back on the table. Quickly a picture is painted that it is the most marginalised in our city who face the heaviest repercussions from this budget.
Green councillors will try and reverse some of the budget’s worst elements. Again we find ourselves campaigning for a budget approach that ‘prevention is better than cure’ – as the lesson has yet to be learnt. Residents reliant on local services will pay the price for the dreadful austerity experiment and this is where the budget proposals fall short of the different approach needed. As well as challenging the council leadership for failing to act for the most vulnerable, we will continue to push the Labour Council to put the evidence about prioritising preventative services ahead of their concerns about making savings in this year’s budget.
Cllr Phelim Mac Cafferty is the Convener of the Green Group on Brighton and Hove City Council