At this evening’s Budget Policy & Resources Committee meeting, Labour Councillors raised concerns around the current cost of living crisis, and some of the proposed fee hikes and service cuts existent in the Green administration’s budget papers.
Labour also voted against the Conservative amendments which sought to raid funds earmarked for carbon reduction projects and transport infrastructure.
At Budget Council on 24 February, Labour will be bringing forward its own amendments, focussed on supporting those who are struggling, and restoring basic council services.
Here were the key speeches of the meeting this evening.
Responding to the budget papers:
“Here we are again. Another year, another proposed maximum increase in Council Tax and Adult Social Care precept.
“And what do we get for it for our residents?
“Nothing extra. Nothing. We will all have to pay extra, no, not just to stand still, but to actually make savings and increase fees and charges, just like last year, the year before, and the year before that.
“I can’t tell you how angry that makes me. We did not become Councillors so that we can say to you year after year, pay more and you will get less, did we? I’m sure no one in this room did.
“In the context of rising costs of living and especially rising fuel bills we are more than aware that the planned local tax increases will be hard to swallow and a stretch for many of our residents, whether they are working or not.
“But more about that in a couple of weeks’ time when we come to Budget Council.
“I thank officers and colleagues across the room for putting together a set of difficult, but on the whole sensible and very comprehensive set of proposals. I wanted to highlight a couple of positives, before I hand over to my colleagues.
“The proposals relating to setting up a letting agency on page 139 are more than welcome, as are the proposals to continue investment in Housing First – both will ensure some of our most vulnerable residents are protected and supported in the ongoing housing crisis that is solely of the Conservatives making. We are very pleased that a business case for proposing our own in city domestic abuse victim accommodation is included in the proposals – this could make a huge difference to victims by offering an in city refuge without unsettling whole families. We have set out a clear goal of carbon neutrality, and the proposals on page 140 will help move us toward that goal. Sadly, we do not have more funds to direct towards that goal. We also welcome the proposed investments on page 141, which again will serve to protect some of our most vulnerable citizens.
“Let’s turn to some of the savings proposed to make the budget balance.
“I am not convinced that charging above inflationary fee increases to those that are struggling most in the city are a way out of our budget crisis, and the Labour Group will be bringing some alternative proposals to Budget Council. In detail, the proposals to reduce ward councillor budgets are shameful – they are relatively small member led grants that go to the smallest organisations such as local foodbanks, a holiday meals service, homeless outreach, a parkrun or other ward based local organisations who would otherwise not be receiving funding. I would strongly urge colleagues to think again, and we will not support this saving at Budget Council.
“We must prioritise, and Labour aims to support those who are struggling the most and to get our basic services right.
“I will leave it to my fellow Councillors to speak to the Conservative amendments.”
Cllr Carmen Appich, co-leader of the opposition and Labour’s finance lead
Responding to the budget papers:
“Chair, I’m somewhat disappointed and surprised to see that the budget today presents a line to remove £48k from Arts Award. This information wasn’t evident in the FCL papers discussed with members in late November, so it’s an unpleasant surprise for us. This cut will in effect decimate this service.
“Arts Award works to young people within the city who are supported by a family coach or social worker. The scheme particularly focuses on young people who have mental health issues that impact their education, training or employment. The service is also offered to young people with care experience.
“The Arts Award inspires and encourages young people to grow as artists and arts leaders. It’s creative, rewarding and accessible. It’s a flexible scheme enabling users to achieve an Arts Award in any area of the arts, from fashion to digital art, pottery to poetry
“Arts award qualifications offer three levels of qualifications:
- A Bronze Award is a Level 1 qualification and is recognised nationally. It should take you about 60 hours to complete and there are four parts to completing Bronze: Take Part, Be the Audience, Arts Inspiration, Arts Skillshare;
- Silver is a Level 2 qualification: and
- Gold a Level 3 qualification (which is like an A-Level or BTEC National). Gold carries 16 UCAS points which can help you with university application.
“I have heard from users and parents that have informed me how vital this scheme is when other more mainstream educational provision isn’t available due to an individual young person’s needs.
“Some of the benefits of the Arts Award are that:
- It is an accessible scheme for young people when others aren’t accessible due to individual needs.
- It helps to gently facilitates users to gain confidence and build practical and social skills; and
- the accredited award itself supports CV building, access to more education and ultimately employment opportunities.
“We must also be clear that this service is also used by Care Leavers and therefore a vital component of our corporate parent offer.
“This is a vital service that tackles disadvantage that is absolutely essential for many of our young people in our city particularly during this difficult time.
“I would urge the administration to reconsider this budget painful budget cut.”
Cllr John Allcock, co-leader of the opposition
Responding to the Conservative Group’s amendments:
“The Labour Group would be delighted to send a congratulatory card to the Queen on behalf of the residents of Brighton & Hove, but sadly that’s about as far as our support for this amendment can go.
“In these times of desperate distress for so many in this country and this city – people bereaved by Covid, people who are still ill, the health service struggling to cope, schools struggling to stay open, people who’ve lost their jobs or their businesses, people who couldn’t afford to heat and eat even before their food bills rocketed and their fuel bills were set to double. In these times, I don’t think the Queen herself would think it appropriate for us to spend £200,000 of public money in her honour.
“I’d add that we’re not opposed to the statue itself – just the suggested funding, in the aforementioned times in which we find ourselves. Perhaps the idea for a statue could be progressed through the city’s Art Investment or Cultural Recovery Plan routes?
“Even better, perhaps it could be funded by public subscription, as so many statues have been in the past? This would add a lovely touch of historical authenticity too, with those who wish – and can afford to – being involved in the creation of the public art they’d like to see.
“As for Madeira Terraces, as everyone knows, this is a project very close to my heart, as one of our greatest heritage treasures, partially located in my ward, and I will always support anything that will advance the cause of their complete restoration.
“However, as can be seen in the officer response to the amendment itself, and I quote, ‘It is unlikely that additional capital budget will need to be accessed until at least 2023/24, possibly later, and could therefore be considered in later budget rounds.’
“So, we feel there is no need to be ‘robbing Petra to pay Paula’ as David so charmingly phrased it earlier in these difficult times, when it is currently unnecessary being that there are sufficient funds already for the work that will take place in this budgetary phase.
“Overall then, I’m sorry to say we won’t be supporting this amendment.”
Cllr Amanda Evans, Labour’s deputy leader
Responding to the Conservative Group’s amendments:
“It’s absolutely right that many across the city are going to want to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee. Only this week I had at least three groups of residents indicate that they’ve got street parties planned.
“Every year I’m reminded of the Queen’s service because I was born on the same day her Father died, February the 6th, so I was born on the 21st anniversary of her ascension to the throne, and she’s served another 49 years since then.
“That 70 years of dedicated service is something we should all seek to celebrate. But at the same time, we shouldn’t be seeking to celebrate that at a cost to the future. Where we celebrate the past we should do so with a mind towards what’s going on in the present.
“It was only just before COP26 in Glasgow that the Queen highlighted the failure of politicians to act over global climate change and was quite critical of the lack of sign-up from politicians.
“As a city I don’t think we can be criticised for a lack of sign-up. We might have arguments and spats about actions, but overall the intention of the city through its corporate plan is incredibly clear, and out commitment to that is signaled by things like the carbon reduction funding that we’ve put in place, and the additional monies that have run like a golden thread through the council’s budget in the past few years, to actually play our part as local politicians in delivering against the climate emergency that we’ve all accepted exists in the city.
“As such, while I can support the intention to celebreat ethe Platinum Jubilee, and to take action to help those around the city celebrate it, and to make the city look wonderful, we’re not going to be able to support the Conservative proposals as they are.
“Because doing that by slithering money away from carbon reduction funding and taking money away from the ‘Tech Takeback’ scheme isn’t showing the sort of dedication to purpose that the Queen has shown over the last 70 years, and that she is requiring of politicians in order to act against climate change.
“I back the Queen on this one, we’ve got to take more action on climate change and worry less about stealing money for celebrations.
“Let’s get that money from somewhere, let’s make that money available and let’s take forward the celebrations.
“But let’s remember that we want to celebrate in 70 years time that we’ve addressed global climate change.”
Cllr Dan Yates, Labour member of the Policy & Resources Committee