Councillors debate the Brighton and Hove City Council budget

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Dozens of councillors have put their case for how Brighton and Hove spends about £750 million in the coming financial year.

The Labour council leader Daniel Yates proposed the budget which includes savings of almost £15 million.

Related stories: Labour’s Brighton and Hove City Council budget voted down

Budget meeting begins at Brighton & Hove City Council

It also includes extra cash to cover increased demand and above-inflation costs in adults and children’s social care and environmental services.

The Conservatives criticised Labour’s plan for a 2.99 per cent increase in council tax. Instead the Tories want an increase of 2.69 per cent.

The Green Party also put forward a series of amendments to counter what they described as Labour cuts.

Councillor Yates described the party’s period in administration as a “four-year cycle of ongoing Tory austerity and recovery from previous poor decision-making”.

He said that over the past four years the council had faced a £40 million reduction in the revenue support grant, the money received from central government, which had resulted in the need for cuts.

Even in the year ahead, the grant halves to £6.5 million from £14 million last year.

Councillor Yates hit out at the loan made to the i360 and said: “Other than the destructive impact of ongoing Tory austerity what has happened to our city over this same four years?

“The i360 which was backed by Tory and Green councillors to the tune of over £30m of public money was built, opened, failed to deliver visitor numbers and the returns expected.

“This Labour council could have delivered around 120 extra homes with that level of funding. Instead we are faced with delayed financing repayments and ongoing uncertainty over future prospects of ever seeing a return.”

Councillor Yates said that Brexit – Britain’s exit from the European Union – would put 10,000 jobs at risk across Brighton and Hove.

But he described the city’s retail industry as strong, with Brighton and Hove having the fifth lowest level of empty high street shops in the country.

Councillor Yates also hit out at Conservative plans to change the budget by cutting staff, saying that the Labour administration had not made a single compulsory redundancy during its four years in office.

He said: “It is a budget where the most vulnerable, those most affected by ongoing Tory austerity and those hardest hit by funding and welfare changes are at the top of our priorities when it comes to protecting and enhancing the services they require.

“It is also a budget where facing the future challenges of the climate change emergency starts to take shape.”

He said that council spending included £54 million for children’s social care, £92.6 million for adult social care, £10.6 million for homeless and rough sleeper services and more than £100 million set aside for housing schemes.

He criticised cuts to services in Tory-run East and West Sussex county councils as well as Brighton and Hove Conservative plans to change the Labour administration’s budget.

Councillor Yates said: “We aren’t ambitious to deliver library closures and debts piling up like Tory-controlled East Sussex.

“We aren’t ambitious to deliver drastic cuts to supported housing services like Tory-controlled West Sussex.”

Referring to Brighton and Hove’s Conservative opposition leader, Councillor Tony Janio, Councillor Yates warned of “the very real threat of Tony’s Tepid Tory ambitions for our city”.

Labour’s finance lead Councillor Les Hamilton said: “The budget provides over £14 million of resources to support increased demands, especially in adults and children’s services, and over £5 million for increases and price inflation.

“A savings and efficiency package of £12 million goes some way towards paying for these extra costs.

“In the last four years £111 million of savings and efficiencies have had to be found.

“Several posts have been deleted from the establishment, with 72 more in 2019-20, but to date there have been no compulsory redundancies.

“We still have £400,000 in the budget to provide support to those in financial difficulty with welfare reform and the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.”

Councillor Andrew Wealls started the Conservative response to the Labour budget by listing the failures of each department.

He criticised the Tourism, Development and Culture Committee chair Councillor Alan Robins for the “debacle” of proposed beach huts licence changes, which were reversed, housing plans on a nature reserve in Whitehawk, which were withdrawn, and for the lack of progress of the King Alfred.

He criticised Labour’s rough sleeping lead Councillor Clare Moonan for the number of people living on the streets.

He commended the deputy chair of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee, Councillor Daniel Chapman, for the reduction in the number of children being looked after by the council.

But he criticised the fact that none of the secondary schools in Brighton and Hove was rated as outstanding, decrying a lack of ambition.

He said that the Conservative amendments to the budget would restore Labour’s proposed £140,000 cuts to respite care breaks for families with disabled children.

He said: “Every year this proposal from the Labour administration is put forward to reduce respite breaks where those children have disabilities.

“Every year we try to reverse some of the damage that does. There is a failure to recognise the challenges these families face.”

Councillors Wealls then went on to say drivers travelling on the A259 would curse the Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee chair Councillor Gill Mitchell, for replacing the Aquarium roundabout with a t-junction.

He also criticised Labour for its poor performance on rubbish collections.

Councillor Wealls said: “I threw my toys out of my pram for the amount of times I have had to report communal bins. The collections, with respect to the improving recycling bins is woeful.”

He also criticised the move to bringing housing repairs and maintenance in house as the the council’s deal with the contractor Mears comes to an end.

He said that the move would cost tenants and leaseholders at least £600,000 extra so that “charges and rents will go up or services will go down”.

The Conservative opposition leader Councillor Tony Janio said: “Our amendments would see a cut in Labour’s tax rise, by reducing bureaucracy and waste.

“And, far from cutting services, we would invest in respite activities for children and young people with disabilities, support life-saving sexual health services, purchase more library books and provide better information for our residents to support homeless people.

“A smaller rise in council tax, set at the general inflation rate, demonstrates a clear commitment to Brighton and Hove taxpayers.

“Conservatives will deliver the services you need while costing you less.”

He said that the Conservatives would invest £1.9 million in the city’s roads and pavements and £1 million on “restructuring” the Shelter Hall project, opposite the bottom of West Street.

The Green Party finance lead Councillor Ollie Sykes said: “What’s in front of us today is quite clear – a tired ‘no ideas’ budget from Labour, populist deeply damaging blunderbuss proposals from Tories or Green budget ideas that are affordable, protect essential services for people and the environment, and enhance the city.”

He said that the Greens would not be supporting the Labour budget or the Conservative amendments.

Councillor Sykes said that the Conservatives were complaining about Labour’s proposed council tax rise of 2.99 per cent but weren’t highlighting the 14.5 per cent increase to the Conservative police and crime commissioner’s share of council tax.

He said: “This is what our proposals do as far as possible – protect essential services under threat of cuts, in particular, those that act in a preventative way (and) reduce pressure on other frontline services.

“Do this without cutting other services. This is our mandate from our local membership. Our proposals put £721,000 back into services every year.

“Unlike Tory amendments, every penny of the money we have found will go back into services.”

He said that the Green proposals would halve the proposed £242,000 cut to the city’s libraries and added that he would not trust Labour with the future of Hove Library.

Councillor Sykes said that litter and graffiti were among the biggest areas of complaint from residents and visitors alike.

He said: “We’ve created a small pot of money – £33,000 – to help keep the city centre looking good for visitors and residents.

“This is in part a direct response to resident requests for access to materials such as heavy-duty graffiti wipes.

“It will also allow us to pursue ideas such as the foam pavement cleaning tech used successfully in Lewes. It’s a small amount of money.”

He said that while the Greens agreed with some of the spending proposed by the Conservatives, his party disagreed with the way that the money would be raised – by cutting back office jobs.

Green convenor Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty described the city centre as “mired in grime”. He said: “We can’t rescue the budget but we have a plan laid out for the third year in a row in our budget document.

“With our five budget amendments, we focus on the value of prevention and reversing some of the most destructive cuts without robbing from one service to pay for another.”

He said that alcohol misuse cost the city £107 million a year, with the council saving up to £4 for every £1 it spent on drug and alcohol addiction treatment.

The Green Party also urged the council to cut free parking for councillors and use the money to clean up the city.

Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “We need creative and energetic responses to what seems like the impossible. And it’s Green councillors providing that.

“With Tory austerity continuing to hammer our city, and a Labour group unable to lead the council, it is the Greens who are united with a budget plan to lead for the future of Brighton and Hove.”