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Brighton & Hove Budget: Cllr Warren Morgan's speech

warrenmorgan_1_.jpgThank you Mr Mayor.

I’d like to thank officers and colleagues for their work on this Budget, one drawn up in a period of unprecedented financial challenges, political uncertainty, and growing demand.

In due course my colleagues will set out Labour’s position, but I move the Labour Budget amendments for 2015:

  • An affordable tax increase
  • No million pound referendum
  • A freeze on parking charges
  • A stay of execution for our children’s centres
  • A reprieve for our city’s valuable voluntary sector organisations
  • A guarantee of domestic violence refuge funding
  • A commitment to public toilets kept open
  • Able and Willing put on a sustainable footing
  • The mayoral office kept alive and more

First though, in this final budget before the elections, I’d like to turn my attention to the Administration and the official opposition.

Last year I said the Leader of the Council was a magician, pulling surprises out of a hat. This year he is more like a gambler, betting it all, £1.2million to be precise, on a doomed council tax referendum. It’s a last gasp throw of the dice by a Green administration clinging to the roulette table by its fingertips, an administration that has already bet the house on the i360, Valley Gardens and more. The Greens, a busted flush, their credit all used up, about to be shown the door of the casino by an electorate that took a chance in 2011, and who have regretted it ever since.

I know that some members on my right, who are known to like a bet or two themselves, have written in the local press about backing a referendum too. My view, the Labour view, is that we are elected to this council to take difficult and complex decisions, and we will not gamble with the city’s money, taxpayers money, on a referendum just to win votes on election day.

And what of the alternative Green Budget proposal, voting down the lawful Budget in its entirety. The grand gesture, the act of defiance by the Green left - middle class revolutionaries sticking two fingers up to the establishment, knowing it won’t be them that pays the price, but instead staff, service users and residents. Like some awful Eighties tribute act playing the greatest hits of Derek Hatton and the Militants, its Phelim McCafferty and the Watermelons.

I'll tell you what happens with impossible promises. You start with far-fetched resolutions. They are then pickled into a rigid dogma, a code, and you go through the years sticking to that, outdated, misplaced, irrelevant to the real needs, I am telling you, no matter how entertaining, how fulfilling to short-term egos -- you can't play politics with people's jobs and with people's services or with their homes.

All this was true 30 years ago when Neil Kinnock first said it, it’s true still today.

Whilst voting down a Budget might play well with the Guardianista devotees of Caroline Lucas, for the average working family in this city it will be their services broken up and sold off by Pickles-appointed bureaucrats, and it will be Labour who has to deal with the wreckage after May. But some Green and some Tories won’t care about that. Politics first, residents second.

Of course, as we have heard just this week, the Green Party have the solution to the whole financial crisis – selling bags of pot out of the back of the town hall.

What promise this Green administration showed four years ago, what disappointment they have bred. The promise of a Green council dashed on internal divisions, the promise of a thousand homes laid bare by the reality of just 147 built, the promise of a new school broken while not a sod of earth has been turned, the promise of a zero waste city made laughable by our fall to the bottom of the league when it comes to recycling. Mr Mayor, in the eyes of the national media the Green Party has made this city, of which I am proud, a laughing stock.

As for a new way of doing politics…Rather than plan for their next term of office and take responsible decisions that are in the best interests of the council, it’s services, our city and its residents, they have spent the past year constructing a Budget that sets as many traps as possible for Labour, a Budget that leaves a legacy of unmet challenges, over committed vanity schemes, unsustainable funding and decades of debt.

We will hear tonight attack after attack from the Greens on Labour. On the so-called poor tax they so cynically set up and then walked away from, potentially leaving another £39 million in cuts had Labour not stepped in.

On not supporting above inflation tax rises imposed on residents with below inflation pay increases, on Blair and Iraq and all the other lines that served them so well on the way up, but which sound so irrelevant now in the face of growing poverty and massive Tory cuts, cuts they want to pass on to residents claiming all they will have to do is cut back on grapefruits.

Grapefruits, mangoes, watermelons, they are all going rotten, it’s time for the compost heap.

As they line up to attack Labour, we will keep count – the more Labour is their target and not the Conservatives, the more we will be convinced it is Labour they see as the enemy, and Labour they see as the likely winner in May.

One thing that is a sure fire bet is that the Greens will see their numbers decimated in the local elections by an electorate desperate to see the back of this administration, their expensive schemes, their city centre focus and their chaotic, divided politics.

And what of the other Party in this chamber, the Conservatives? We must not forget them. Choosing their option, even with the freeze grant, would add almost another million pounds to the 23 million in cuts we already face, and deeper cuts in the years to come.

What can be said about this Conservative-led Government, and their approach to funding local authorities?

I think we’ve reached the tipping point where we can’t just eat away at our back office services any more. We are going to have to make cutbacks in a whole range of areas that people are going to really start noticing. We are facing significant demands on school places and on adult social care and children’s services. We are actively working to try and stay afloat and provide a decent level of services for our residents but it is becoming incredibly hard. That’s why we are really disappointed with the way that the Government is treating us.

When we have taken 40% out of our budget, it is extremely difficult to continue to do that. There is a limit. You can only cut local government so far. A 1% grant is not enough given the future challenges we face. To protect the services we need to increase council tax. This modest increase is unavoidable if we are to protect services for generations to come; taking the Freeze Grant would have been a short-term electioneering gesture and would have left a bigger shortfall in future years.

I don’t know why the Conservative members in the Chamber are reacting the way they are – these aren’t my words, but quotes from Conservative council leaders up and down the country who are increasing council tax this year. Mr Mayor I can’t put it any better than them.

More than 30 Tory-led local authorities are planning to reject demands to freeze tax rates, including almost half of Britain’s 27 county councils. Staffordshire, East Sussex, Devon, Lincolnshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Kent, Surrey – all have set council tax increases of 1.9%. All hotbeds of tax and spend socialism? No, sensible authorities that are putting services and residents first, not setting a Budget with one eye on the elections.

We know that the Tories and their friends don’t want to pay tax. Just ask Lord Fink or dozens of other Tory donors who have admitted avoiding tax, whether they choose the vanilla, strawberry, or double choc chip options.

Taxes pay for services we all use, they are not an optional extra for those with the resources to opt out. If costs go up then tax has to as well. Everyone pays their fair share, everyone pays according to their ability, and everyone reaps the benefit.

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy says the government is being “disingenuous” and massively underplaying the “true size and scope of the cuts,” which it says amount to an average of 6%, more than three times the official government figure. Cipfa’s calculations show that at a regional level, London councils will see an average cut of 8%, while the north-east will see a reduction of 7.8%. Meanwhile councils in the Home Counties will again see their grant go up. Individual council spending cuts range from a 10.9% cut for Labour-controlled Knowsley on Merseyside, to a 3.2% increase for Tory-run Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire.

An LGIU survey for the Municipal Journal published this week revealed

  • 93% of councils think that the current local government finance system is not fit for purpose.
  • 54% of survey respondents believe that their council is in danger of failing to fund statutory services in the coming years.
  • 49% plan council tax increases of between 1 and 2%. 82% think the government should undertake a council tax revaluation.
  • 94% of surveyed councils want to see the Barnett formula scrapped.

Labour has pledged a fairer deal for local government;

  • To devolve £500 billion of Whitehall spending to city regions to invest in housing, transport and employment. To give a fairer council funding based on need, not on politics.
  • To make five year settlements to allow councils to plan, invest and adapt.
  • To give councils the power to keep 100% of business rates generated by growth.

An extra £2.5bn a year for the NHS in England, funded by a mansion tax, a levy on tobacco companies and by closing financial services tax loopholes, to employ five thousand new homecare workers, to join up health and social care to deliver care from home to hospital and ease the financial pressure on councils.

Mr Mayor, A Labour government elected in May can’t solve all the problems we face, but it will put us back on the road to a fairer society. A Tory government would set us on course for more division, more poverty, more inequality. Unlike the Greens, Labour won’t make promises it can’t keep, won’t put forward policies it can’t cost, won’t make pledges it can’t deliver.

Here in Brighton and Hove, we have set out our priorities for a Labour administration:

  • Tackling poverty, domestic violence, inequality, lack of opportunity, homelessness, poor housing, poor education;
  • Giving power and rights to tenants, communities and neighbourhoods
  • Building an economy that benefits all,
  • Making tax and fees increases affordable,
  • Redesigning our services for the challenges we face –

These are the things I came into politics for,
These are the things Labour will set this council to work on when we are elected in May,
That’s our promise,
That’s our guarantee,
This is our Contract with Brighton and Hove.


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