Brighton and Hove council ‘can’t plan long term due to funding uncertainty’

Frustrations at the uncertainty surrounding future funding for local government means that Brighton and Hove City Council cannot plan beyond March next year.

Thursday, 20th February 2020, 11:52 am
Labour's Daniel Yates

Labour’s finance lead Daniel Yates spoke out as he presented the headline proposals for the council’s budget for 2020-21.

Councillor Yates said: “We have moved into an era of future funding uncertainty.

“We’ve seen future years’ central grants fail to be clarified.

“That doesn’t allow us to plan in the medium term for delivering savings and how to enhance our key services.”

He said the Fair Funding Review which should determine local government central funding had “failed to materialise” and adult social care funding was uncertain.

Speaking at Brighton Town Hall on Wednesday (February 19), Councillor Yates shared his continued frustration at the £100 million that the council has lost in government funding over the past 10 years due to austerity.

This year’s budget, he said, reflected the “broad common threads” of the Labour and Green manifestos and delivered a common purpose.

He said: “The old ‘yah-boo’ politics of the town hall have, to some extent, been replaced with genuine collaboration and shared purpose over some of the key policy areas of the moment.”

For future budgets Councillor Yates said that he would welcome input from councillors of all parties and none.

When asked if he would want the other parties to be involved in writing the budget, Councillor Yates said that he had been sitting down with Green councillors on a range of proposals as they had worked together on the corporate plan.

He said: “The budget is the way we finance the corporate plan. In order to do that, we need to make sure the corporate plan is supported by all councillors. It’s been accepted by full council.

“I would expect councillors, of all parties and of none, to want to come together to bring their ideas forward to make sure the corporate plan is delivered.

“I don’t care where the good ideas come from. Budgets can always be improved.

“They can be improved by people being open and honest and transparent about the ideas they have got to improve it.”

The council’s corporate plan has six headings:

• a growing and learning city

• a sustainable city

• a healthy and caring city

• a city to call home

• a city working for all

• a stronger city

Adult social care, including learning disability services, forms the bulk of the non-ringfenced budget at £104 million.

Councillor Yates said that the council was promised new funding and new approaches in the long term for adult social care to give people confidence in the services that they expect in their old age or if they become vulnerable.

He said: “It’s very worrying. We know each year we are spending more and more of our budget on adult social care services to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the city.

“Yet at the same time our ability to know what is going to happen in the future and how we’re going to carry on doing that is becoming less and less.”

He said that delivering social care was a common good and should be funded through taxation.

However, how the pool of money was made strong enough for the inflation that the country was seeing was, he said, a different argument.

Councillor Yates said: “Even today we are hearing about the threats to the costs of social care that’s being caused by us leaving the EU.

“We are losing potentially 20 to 30 per cent of our social care workforce and not being able to replace them through an immigration scheme that is going to ignore the fact we have demands for low-paid workers could potentially push the costs up even higher.

“Even higher, even faster means there are risks to that service. We need to have a funding system in place that can address those issues which is fair and balanced for everybody.”

This year 2 per cent of the council tax increase will go directly towards adult social care.

The increase is expected to raise an extra £2.9 million on top of an improved Better Care Funding grant of £9.2 million which includes winter pressure funding and the new £4.7 million adult social care grant.

One of the big spends in this year’s budget, coming under the Sustainable City heading, is £840,000 to meet the increased costs of communal bin collections and maintaining and replacing the fleet of refuse vehicles.

With a further £250,000 going towards improving the council’s garden and commercial waste collection services, this will be more than £1 million towards keeping the city clean.

When asked if this would see an end to the daily complaints from residents about overflowing communal bins and missed collections, Councillor Yates admitted that his own recycling was missed this week.

He said: “This is going to mean that Cityclean has a budget that is fit for delivering the services that people expect.

“It’s going to mean investment in additional equipment and investment in additional staff.

“We need to address Cityclean. Cityclean has to be one of our prime services that people recognise is delivering the things people expect.

“All too often, it doesn’t. I came home yesterday and found my recycling hadn’t been collected. It was collected first thing this morning.

“Even that marginal delay can have a big effect on how people perceive the services being delivered.”

Under the same Sustainable City heading, the small sum of £5,000 is to be spent on a viability study for a park and ride – something that Councillor Yates hopes will end 20 years of discussion without action.

He said that it would be determined alongside the Climate Assembly, a group of 50 residents of different ages, genders and ethnicities, from across Brighton and Hove, who will make recommendations to the council’s climate programme.

Councillor Yates said: “It is part of our work towards achieving net zero carbon by 2030.

“What we wanted to do is flag up some things this city has been talking about for ages but has never got past talking about them.

“We’ve got to get past that ‘talking about’ stage. Net zero is one of those and park and ride is a component of that.”

He said that the council needed to establish if it would help tackle problems with air quality, transport congestion and carbon footprint.

There is £10,000 for a viability report into future options for the full restoration of the Madeira Terraces – as well as the £2.4 million already earmarked for the scheme.

Describing the terraces as a “very special structure”, Councillor Yates said that the council wanted to make progress by the end of the year on the restoration of the first three arches.

The council was already bringing in heritage experts and the next stage should go before the council’s Tourism, Equalities, Communities and Culture Committee in the summer.

Homelessness and rough sleeping services have a £31 million commitment in the budget.

This includes buying back properties that can be used for emergency and temporary housing.

Under the corporate plan heading A City To Call Home, this includes £50,000 for a weekend winter shelter, £250,000 for a permanent 15-bed night shelter and 29 units of supported accommodation and £300,000 for improved facilities in short-term emergency temporary housing.

Councillor Yates said: “We are investing in bringing some of these services in house.”

Ending rough sleeping he considered too much of an ask as promises had been made in the past and failed.

He said: “Until we have a government in place who are willing to commit the funding and support to those who are at risk of homelessness as well as those who are experiencing homelessness directly, all we can do is be trying to alleviate the impact of that on a case-by-case basis.

“We need more capacity in our system. We need more housing in our city. We also need more compassion from our government.”

Brighton and Hove City Council’s expected budget for 2020-21 is expected to be £775 million.

Of this, £454 million goes to specific ringfenced spending on schools, housing benefit, transport, mental health, public health and the Better Care Fund which is shared with the NHS.

This figure also includes the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) funded by tenants’ rents, housing benefits and service charges, which goes towards maintaining and managing the council’s housing stock.

The largest amount of the remaining money goes towards adult social care followed by children’s services and social care, then housing, refuse and recycling, central council services, libraries, museums and tourism, planning and economic development, capital investment, highways, parks and leisure and finally public safety.

The budget proposals are due to be debated by the full council, in public, at Hove Town Hall on Thursday 27 February.

It is webcast on the city council’s website at www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/council-and-democracy/councillors-and-committees/committees-council-meetings-and-decision