Councils ‘operating in the dark’ amid Brexit and funding uncertainty

Cllr Daniel Yates
Cllr Daniel Yates

Fears around a no-deal Brexit and delays in funding projections mean local authorities are ‘operating in the dark’, Brighton and Hove City Council’s leader said.

Labour leader Daniel Yates made the comments today (November 28) as he announced a 2.99 per cent council tax increase is on the cards for Brighton and Hove residents. It comes as local authority budgets continue to shrink.

In the final year of the Labour administration’s four-year budget plan for Brighton and Hove City Council, a further £14m of savings will have to be found in 2019/20.

Since 2016/17 the council has already made £57m in cuts in response to ‘reductions in funding, increasing costs and growing demand’, with £111m saved in total over the past four years.

With uncertainty around Brexit and local government funding for beyond 2020, council leader Daniel Yates said: “We’re operating in the dark.

“After 2019/20 I can’t tell you what money is going to be available from national government to local government.

“I know that they have been slightly distracted by Brexit.

“Brexit, that’s where the biggest genuine threat comes to local government.”

He pointed to a report by Chatham House and the University of Sussex on what a no-deal Brexit would mean for Sussex and Hampshire.

“That piece of work quite frankly is frightening,” said Cllr Yates.

“The impact of a no deal Brexit is stark. It could cost 4,000 jobs in our three constituencies [Hove, Brighton Kemptown and Brighton Pavilion].”

But despite uncertainty ahead, the Labour leader was positive about his administration’s record, and said: “We’ve protected the city’s services from the worst impacts of austerity.

“We’re in a slightly better place than some of the counties.”

He was speaking today (November 28) as the council’s draft budget proposals were published.

The final budget will need to be approved by at least half of the city’s 54 councillors at Budget Council on Thursday, February 28 2019.

The proposals set out savings of £12m, with another £2m to be found.

It includes the loss of 70 council jobs. The local authority says it hopes to find the savings through vacancies and voluntary redundancies.

Cllr Yates explained how the council has seen a £39m reduction in Government funding through the revenue support grant since 2016/17 – next year it will get just £6.5m.

In response to this, fees and charges are set to rise for local authority services, as well as a rise in council tax.

Brighton and Hove taxpayers have seen council tax rises of almost 10 per cent since 2016.

Cllr Yates said: “I don’t want to be putting in place above inflation charges year on year on year.

“It’s 2.99 per cent, but I know on the doorstep people are wanting to see their services protected. We’re trying to protect their services as much as possible.

“We’re not doing this because we want to, it’s because we have to.”

The council leader said the budget also hopes to reinvest cash where it is needed most into adult social care, homelessness and housing.

“Anyone rough sleeping in the city is one person too many,” Cllr Yates said. “We want to do something dramatic to address that.”

He said more announcements would be made in the coming weeks about rough sleeping.

He said the draft budget was the ‘starting point of a discussion with organisations across the city’.

Cllr Yates said: “This is a budget which brings together four years of financial planning and sets our city in a position to maintain services when many others have not been able to do so.

“We’re dealing with a huge pressure in terms of the ongoing drop in grants from central government combined with increased demand and cost of services we have to protect vulnerable residents.

“These proposals reflect a clear grasp of the financial situation combined with a determination to reinvest in key services for the good of residents across the city. We are still exploring all options to protect services further into the future.”

To find out more about the council’s budget proposals, visit: www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/content/council-and-democracy/council-finance/current-council-budget