Victory for campaigners as youth service budget largely restored

Protestors outside the budget meeting at Hove Town Hall SUS-170223-183029001
Protestors outside the budget meeting at Hove Town Hall SUS-170223-183029001

Youth services were always going to be the big issue at this year’s Brighton and Hove budget meeting, and campaigners succeeded in persuading councillors to put £440,000 back into the youth service budget.

Under Labour’s budget the service was set for a £645,000 cut, but an all-party amendment to put £190,000 back into the pot was agreed at Hove Town Hall last night (February 23).

Protestors outside the budget meeting at Hove Town Hall SUS-170223-183043001

Protestors outside the budget meeting at Hove Town Hall SUS-170223-183043001

A Conservative amendment to put £250,000 towards youth services for council housing tenants was also agreed.

The Protect Youth Services campaign tweeted last night: “80% proposed cuts reduced to 15%. £645k returned to youth services. Huge thanks all who’ve supported. More to do, but we celebrate tonight!”

The decision to restore money to the youth budget - alongside £21m cuts and a 4.99 per cent council tax rise - was agreed after a seven-hour meeting last night.

But it wasn’t without its ups and downs. The meeting didn’t even begin until one hour later than planned due to last minute changes to amendments. One Conservative councillor called it a ‘shambles’.

Councillors took more than seven hours to agree the budget at Hove Town Hall last night

Councillors took more than seven hours to agree the budget at Hove Town Hall last night

It started off fairly friendly - council leader Warren Morgan said his Labour Group would ‘support a significant number of the opposition amendments, because we recognise the work put in and the intent from opposition parties to make our budget better’.

Cllr Andrew Wealls, finance spokesman for the Conservatives, praised Cllr Morgan for his ‘statesman-like thoughtful and well-delivered’ speech.

He also said of the youth service campaign: “I’m really pleased to see so many of the young people who have campaigned for the youth services. It’s incredibly heartwarming to see young people engaged in the debate and come up with positive suggestions.”

Cllr Ollie Sykes spoke for the Greens, and referring to last-minute changes to amendments, he said: “The last minute shenanigans just before budget council caused some confusion.”

Council leader Warren Morgan

Council leader Warren Morgan

He suggested another adjournment for parties to come up with a deal on youth services, and campaigners in the public gallery used the opportunity to shower councillors with leaflets urging them to reverse the cuts.

Group leaders got around the table, and an all-party amendment was produced - putting £190,000 back into the youth service pot, as well reversing a £40,000 cut in the Early Help team, and £21,000 in the Community Safety team. It also put £25,000 towards the Easylink transport service, and £68,000 into the Communities and Third Sector Development Commission - funds for voluntary sector.

These changes would be paid for by reducing councillors special responsibilty allowances by £43,000, cutting permit discount for diesel cars saving £117,000, releasing £100,000 from homeless support and temporary accommodation in light of a £2.5m grant from government for that purpose, and increasing fees to skip and hoarding licenses saving £38,000. There was also £16,000 from increasing building control inspection fees and £30,000 through generating additional income in the Architecture and Design Team.

The three parties had agreed on something, but all was not forgotten.

Conservative councillor Steve Bell spoke out on youth service cuts and said: “The majority of this evening has been brought about the lack of leadership by Labour. You have created this whirlwind… As Storm Doris is raging outside, we’ve had Storm Morgan raging right through the youth services of our city.”

Green councillor Alex Phillips said: “This Labour administration has acted disgustingly… Threatening the city’s young people that they would have no youth services left. They should not be able to play with people’s lives like that.

“Cuts mean that people have no choice, that they must be in crisis before they can access a service.”

Conservative councillor Tony Janio said: “There’s plenty of money in this council it just needs a bit of imagination to use it in the right place.”

Cllr Tom Bewick, Labour, accused Cllr Janio of throwing around ‘alternative facts’.

After a lively debate, it was then down to the vote on amendments.

The all-party amendment was agreed unanimously - reversing £190,000 of cuts to youth services - three Conservative amendments were approved (two failed) and two Green amendments went through.

The Conservative amendments put £150,000 back in respite for families with disabled children (by streamlining housing services), secured £50,000 towards new play equipment at Mile Oak Rec and £14,000 towards street tree planting (paid for by streamlining economic and planning services), and a further £250,000 for youth services (from the property and investment budget).

Green amendments reversed £65,000 cuts to two housing support jobs, and put £35,000 towards security and basic facilities to allow the use of empty council buildings by rough sleepers, paid for by increasing land charge search fees.

The Greens also secured a further £100,000 for the empty buildings for the homeless project, taking monies from the council’s ‘Digital First’ programme.

But when it came to voting through the budget in full, it was voted down by the Conservatives and Greens; 23 for and 29 against.

It looked like the meeting would have to be adjourned - by this time it was almost 11pm - but the group leaders went into a back room to try and thrash out a final deal.

Councillors came back and a new version of one of the Conservative amendments emerged. They wanted £80,000 put back into the budget for the Communities and Third Sector Development Commission, which supports the voluntary service - although instead of the cash coming from savings in the economic and communications teams, this time the cash would come from leftover monies from the budget, or council reserves.

The amendment went to the vote, approved unanimously, and then it was time for a second attempt on the budget, plus all the amendments.

This time around, almost burning the midnight oil at 11.45pm, Labour and Conservative councillors voted for the budget, with 42 for and 10 against. The budget was approved.