City households face maximum council tax increase

Brighton and Hove City Council leader Warren Morgan
Brighton and Hove City Council leader Warren Morgan

Budget cuts of more than £13million can be achieved next year without a ‘massive or visible differences’ to front-line services, according to the city’s council leader.

The Labour-led Brighton and Hove City Council unveiled its draft budget proposals for 2018/19 today (Wednesday November 22), which include spending on capital projects, an extra £6million for social care, and around £3million more for children’s social care.

However even with an assumed 4.99 per cent increase in council tax bills, which includes the three per cent adult social care precept, this still leaves the council with a funding gap of £13.4m needing to be bridged.

This is due to cuts to the grants it receives from central Government, rising costs, and increasing demand for services.

The council has already identified measures it believes will reduce its spending by £12.1m, leaving it with another £1.3m to find in order to balance next year’s budget.

Speaking to the Brighton and Hove Independent, council leader Warren Morgan said: “I think you can’t take out over a ten-year period over £100m at a time when you’re facing increased costs without people feeling some impact on that.

“But hopefully people are not going to see a massive and visible difference because of the way we have programmed in these savings and dealt with them via efficiencies and reductions in the back-office support role of the council.

“It’s not sustainable but people are not going to see libraries closing they are not going to see children’s centres closing, they are not going to see a service disappearing overnight certainly not this year, that’s something we really aimed not to do even in the face of these ongoing reductions and increased pressures.”

The proposed council tax rise would mean an extra £85 a year for a Band D property from next April, before any increases levied by Sussex Police.

Cllr Morgan said they would not be alone in going for the maximum increase in council tax allowed.

He explained: “We have no option but to do so, and I do not make it lightly given that council tax is not a progressive tax as it does not differentiate sufficiently between low incomes and high incomes.

“It is not the best way of funding services and I believe we should have a different system of local Government finance.”

The council is looking to reduce its overall staff numbers by around 80 posts without the need for compulsory redundancies through retirement, voluntary redundancies, and employees being redeployed into other roles.

Alongside this the council is also aiming to reduce its management costs by about £1.5m, but also investing in new roles such as field officers, which Cllr Morgan dubbed neighbourhood troubleshooters.

These staff will be working to fix problems at an early stage and save time and money of regulatory and enforcement teams.

The run up to last year’s budget saw huge opposition to proposed cuts to youth services, a large proportion of which were dropped at the last minute.

Cllr Morgan described how they had made the budget setting process a year around exercise, and by adopting a four-year programme of savings they aimed to avoid an annual ‘salami slicing’ process.

Meanwhile given the huge rise in demand for social care services he and others have been lobbying ministers for extra funding.

He added: “I have said this is not sustainable long term. We are doing a fantastic job of managing our finances and our services in the desperately difficult situation we are in, but it’s not going to be sustainable long term.

“We certainly won’t be the first council to become economically unviable, financially unviable, which is a local Government term for bankrupt.”

The budget also makes provision for those who may be affected by the rollout of Universal Credit, with £400,000 set aside, and £100,000 made available to the East Sussex Credit Union.

He called for the rollout to be halted and described even a three to four week wait for first payments to be too long for benefit claimants.

Cllr Morgan added: “We are managing the finances well, we are not making compulsory redundancies, were are not made cuts to services like libraries or children’s centres, we are investing in ways to bring in more revenue, within the restrictions the Government places on us, we are making good use of the capital we have got, good use of our assets, I would point to the sale of King’s House and the investment of that in front-line services, in this building [Hove Town Hall] to generate more revenue which can be ploughed back into services.

“It’s absolutely challenging and we would like to do more and that’s why I will continue to lobby the Government for more freedoms, more flexibility, and more funding to provide the services that people feel they pay for through their council tax.”

The draft proposals will be discussed by the council’s Policy, Resources and Growth Committee next Thursday (November 30), and the budget would then go before council for final approval on Thursday February 22, 2018.