Geoffrey Theobald: Why Labour’s city budget is too timid

Councillor Geoffrey Theobald is leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove City Council
Councillor Geoffrey Theobald is leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove City Council

Our city deserves an administration that is dedicated to delivering value-for-money services.

The chancellor of the exchequer set out the government’s spending plans over the Parliament in the autumn statement last week. However, specific details on the local government finance settlement are not due to be announced until later this month.

What the chancellor did say was that local councils will retain 100% of their business rates by 2020. This will be hugely beneficial to Brighton and Hove because of the number of new business developments we’ve got in the pipeline.

Even better, the government’s agenda of devolving real power to local authorities not only means this might be advanced but real local control over our priorities and how money is spent will result.

I also welcome the chancellor’s announcement on raising much-needed additional funds for adult social care which comes on top of the generous package of additional NHS funding he announced last week.

This, together with the £420million development of our fantastic new hospital, will make Brighton and Hove a beacon for healthcare and something of which we can be immensely proud.

The policy and resources committee yesterday considered draft proposals for council savings over the next four years and an update on forecasts for resources and expenditure in this financial year.

The latter shows that our budget should be at break-even at the end of the financial year when only a month or two ago Councillor Morgan was talking about an overspend of £8.7m when he claimed the council might go bankrupt.

We’ve had similar statements by the previous administration over the last few years when we generally finished the year with a good surplus. The council actually carried forward to this year an underspend on services of £2.3m.

However, much of the improvement has been achieved by stopping things like IT purchases which is not sustainable in the long-term. This is not a substitute for real reform.

In relation to the draft proposals for savings over the next four years, I welcome the fact that Labour are now finally thinking about the radical reform of services that we have been talking about for so long. If only they had supported us when we advocated much needed modernisation, the council would be in a much better position now.

I set out examples of what other councils were doing in my letter to the October meeting of policy and resources committee. When I say now that their proposals are still too timid what I mean is why close children’s centres with no engagement from possible community and voluntary sector providers? Why set up a trust to do the hard to reach youth work when community and voluntary sector structures already exist? Why is Cityclean immune to reform?

Our city deserves an administration that is dedicated to delivering value-for-money services our communities need. The jury is still out on whether Labour are fit to deliver.