Labour’s budget for Brighton and Hove criticised by Conservatives as ‘lacking in imagination’

Hove Town Hall
Hove Town Hall

Some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove will be hardest hit by the council’s budget for the next financial year, according to councillors.

Concerns centred on support for the families of disabled children as councillors took a first look at Brighton and Hove City Council’s 2019-20 budget proposals.

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Central Hove Conservative councillor Andrew Wealls raised worries about a £140,000 cut in funding for respite care for disabled children, giving much-needed short breaks for parents, foster parents or carers.

He told the council’s policy, resources and growth committee about the importance of respite breaks, citing stories that were shared at the annual general meeting (AGM) of Amaze, a Brighton charity supporting the families of disabled children across Sussex.

Cllr Wealls said: “At the recent Amaze AGM we heard powerful stories of the challenges faced by families of disabled children and how close they come to breaking down.

“I am bewildered by the challenges they have. How confident is the director the budget is set at the right level?”

The executive director of children’s services Pinaki Ghoshal said that the budget for children’s social care had increased with parts of the budget going up and others going down.

He said: “There are changes in staff ratios which reflect the reduction in the number of children we are working with at the moment.

“Also we are making investments through the DSG (dedicated schools grant) for additional support for families through schools and the three special needs hubs by extending day provision and therapeutic intervention.”

Further savings had been made as the council no longer employed agency social workers.

Mr Ghoshal told councillors that the council had saved £1 million a year by reducing its reliance on agency social workers.

Budget in numbers

Proposals for the 2019-20 budget include a 2.99 per cent increase in council tax, which is the highest before a local referendum is triggered.

During the past four years the council has made £111 million in savings to cover £55 million in increasing demands and costs as well as £16 million for normal pay, pension and price inflation.

Director of finance and resources David Kuenssberg described money as being reinvested in priority services including adult and children’s social care.

The budget requires £14.9 million in savings, with £5.5 million to meet pay and price increases in adults and children’s social care.

At this stage £12 million in savings is identified with a budget gap of £2.15 million

Over the past four years the authority has faced a £39 million cut in funding through the ‘revenue support grant’ from the government.

The council was expecting to hear from the government about next year’s grant on Thursday (December 6) but parliamentary business has delayed the announcement until next Tuesday (December 11).

Conservative group leader Councillor Tony Janio told the committee that no deals had been made between his group and Labour councillors this year.

He described the budget as ‘a good officer budget lacking in imagination’.

Cllr Janio said: “I am sure money, at the end of austerity, will be coming into the city.

“I am concerned about Labour’s fiscal incontinence of spend, spend spend.

“When the money does come down and austerity does end, we are going to need to spend this money wisely.”

He asked where there were details of the grants from central government, suggesting there were political reasons for details being buried in the report to councillors.

Labour council leader Daniel Yates said that it was an imaginative use of delivering £30 million investment and £70 million of savings.

Cllr Yates said: “I have not instructed officers on how to write the report. I may have given political advice but that is my job.

“Next year when we are in a majority administration there will be more investment.”

Cllr Yates added: “This is the draft budget. It is just the beginning, not the end.”