‘We have our hands tied behind our backs’ – council tax hike on the cards

Warren Morgan is the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council
Warren Morgan is the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council

Proposals for a six per cent council tax increase and savings of £13m will go before councillors next Thursday (February 22).

Brighton and Hove City Council will meet at Hove Town Hall to set its budget for 2018/19, and council leader Warren Morgan said he is ‘optimistic’ his plan for the city’s finances will be approved.

Council tax is to rise by 5.99 per cent from April

Council tax is to rise by 5.99 per cent from April

Explaining the 5.99 per cent council tax increase, Cllr Morgan said increasing costs in adult social care and government funding cuts mean local authorities had no other choice than to take the maximum increase, which will raise an extra £10m for council coffers.

The rise equates to £87.57 a year extra in council tax for an ‘average’ Band D tax payer.

“It is not a progressive tax,” Cllr Morgan said. “It affects people on low incomes. It is not sustainable, people’s incomes aren’t going up by six per cent. I am acutely aware it is the last thing people want. But we are not alone. East Sussex put theirs up six per cent, most councils are putting council tax up to the maximum allowed.

“We have our hands tied behind our backs.”

Hove Town Hall (Photograph: Eddie Mitchell)

Hove Town Hall (Photograph: Eddie Mitchell)

The council is also set to make £13m worth of savings in the next financial year, after making more than £40m of cuts over the last two years.

Savings set to be made include: staff reduction and cuts to senior management; a service redesign in respite services for disabled children; a reduction in the sexual health budget; and the move of the Royal Pavilion and Museums into a Trust.

Cllr Morgan said: “After eight or nine years of austerity the low-hanging fruit has been long taken. The savings get harder and harder to make. In the long term that’s going to be unsustainable. There will ultimately be nothing left to cut.”

He said the council will have lost £100m in government funding over a decade by 2020; in 2010 its baseline funding was £162.9m and it’s expected to drop to £65.5m by 2020. But he said Labour’s four-year financial plan for the city had given ‘stability and certainty’ for now.

Ollie Sykes, Green councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council

Ollie Sykes, Green councillor on Brighton and Hove City Council

On the Conservatives’ support for his budget, Cllr Morgan said: “They can’t attack us for financial mismanagement when we are managing the city’s finances well. I’m really pleased that despite the council tax increases that message is getting through and people are aware that we are in a very difficult circumstance and we are doing the best we can.”

The minority Labour administration needs the backing of either the Conservatives or the Greens to get its budget passed, and this year, the Tories said they would ‘reluctantly’ support the plan.

Cllr Tony Janio, leader of the Conservatives on the council, said: “The local Conservatives will unenthusiastically vote for the budget, having fought for and secured an extra £460,000, to provide enhancement to youth services across the city.”

However, Cllr Ollie Sykes, the Green’s finance spokesman, said: “Whichever way it is spun, the Labour group’s proposed current budget is a cuts budget, hacking away at preventative services such as social care and services for the disabled, ignoring sustainability concerns and doing very little to guide the city towards a more resilient future.

Cllr Tony Janio, leader of the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council

Cllr Tony Janio, leader of the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council

“The Labour group need to take some responsibility for the fact that vulnerable people, such as the young and the elderly, will be made to bear the brunt of council cuts handed down by a ruthless Tory Government. Greens cannot rescue their budget but will be making amendments that address some of these issues in the coming days.”

Cllr Morgan said: “Ultimately there is a legal responsibilty on all 54 councillors of all parties to set a budget. If we don’t the government steps in and do it for us. It is a balanced budget and a responsible budget, there’s nothing outlandish about it. I am optimistic that we can get it through.”

The council budget funds more than 700 services in Brighton and Hove, and the cost of all services in the current 2017/18 budget is £756m.

The proposals for 2018/19 include: an extra £6 million for adult social care; an extra £3 million for children’s social care services; £156,000 to tackle criminal exploitation of young people and vulnerable adults; £165,000 to provide support for rough sleepers; £400,000 for support and advice for vulnerable people impacted by welfare reform.

The budget meeting will be held from 4.30pm on Thursday at Hove Town Hall.

Cllr Morgan this week warned that the council could go bust in a few years if government funding cuts continue. Read more here.