Brighton and Hove council leader gives ‘state of the city’ budget overview

Posted On 22 Feb 2018 at 5:56 pm

Councillors in Brighton and Hove are debating the budget for the coming year this afternoon (Thursday 22 ) and setting the council tax for the coming year.

The debate was opened by Brighton and Hove City Council leader Warren Morgan at Hove Town Hall.

Here is what Councillor Morgan said …

The budget is a time to reflect on the past 12 months and to set out a programme for the city council for the year ahead.

The Medical

In the third year of this Labour administration and our four year financial plan there is no slowing of our resolve, no pause in our work, no diminishing of our desire to drive this council forward in the provision of essential basic services, care for the most vulnerable among us and in securing economic growth for the benefit of all in each and every one of the communities we serve.

I want to begin by expressing my thanks, on behalf of myself as leader of the administration, to officers and staff of Brighton and Hove City Council for their hard work in getting us to this point.

On the back of two years where we have had to save in excess of £40 million, our teams have worked with members to identify a further £12 million savings in this budget – a task that becomes harder with each year that passes.

None of this would be possible without the huge commitment of staff from the frontline social worker all the way through to the executive team.

My thanks, and the thanks of this administration, goes to all the council staff who keep this organisation going, who help deliver over £2 million worth of services, day in and day out, for the people of this city.

I want to acknowledge and put on record some landmark achievements of the city council in this current period.

Just a short distance from here is one of the country’s oldest leisure centres in continual use. The King Alfred is long past its natural lifespan and thanks to our partnership with the Starr Trust, Crest Nicholson and a successful bid for government funding, the end of a decade and a half of effort is now in sight and a high-quality public leisure centre fit for the second half of 21st century not the first half of the 20th is a deliverable reality.

Preston Barracks, derelict for 20 years, sees completion on the deal tomorrow and the start of construction on a major new £300 million regeneration project delivering 1,500 new jobs, nearly 400 new homes and over £280 million in economic growth for the Lewes Road area over the coming decade.

Last summer we launched a campaign to save the Madeira Terraces. Many believed we would not reach our goal. Many doubted our resolve to save this iconic structure and give it new life.

Others pitched in with pledges, fundraising efforts and tireless volunteering work. But reach it we did and save it we will.

Our city’s heritage is not something to be remembered, it is something to be lived.

Critical to the success of this city, vital to our public services, essential for business and so important to the health and wellbeing of our residents is the availability of good quality and truly, not just policy compliant, affordable housing.

It is perhaps the biggest challenge we face. We are meeting that challenge.

In the current 12 months we will have completed and handed to tenants over 130 new council homes, the biggest annual total in 30 years.

And soon we will see the first three sites come forward in our “Living Wage” housing project which will deliver in partnership with Hyde housing association a thousand homes to rent or buy at genuinely affordable rates, in the communities that need them, for the local people that need them – a truly transformative housing programme I’m proud to stand behind as a real and meaningful achievement for this Labour-led council.

Let me move on to our biggest project. In the 1960s and 1970s, our predecessors helped secure the economic future of this city by creating a conference centre and concert venue that has served us well for the last four decades.

As the place where I began my working life, saw my favourite bands, met my first girlfriend, it is somewhere close to my heart.

It has served us well for 40 years but it is time to plan a new conference centre and concert arena fit for today’s needs.

In the 1990s and 2000s our recent predecessors helped secure the economic future of this city by recreating and extending our 1960s shopping centre so that it could compete in the modern retail world.

For the past two decades it has outperformed its rivals and been the beating commercial heart of our city, complemented by the Lanes, the North Laine and our independent traders across our communities. The time for a retail renewal has arrived again.

Through the partnership we have with Standard Life, we as a council will undertake both these tasks again, simultaneously, in a two-site, half a billion pound, decade-long project that will secure the economic future of Brighton and Hove and for generations of local residents.

As many in the city follow UK success at the Winter Olympics, we should be inspired to do more to promote opportunities for Olympians of the future.

I remain committed to the long-term goal of delivering a permanent ice sports arena in the city and invite anyone with deliverable proposals to achieve that goal to come forward.

Jobs in construction, jobs in retail, jobs in management, secure and well-paid jobs for young people growing up in Brighton and Hove, being educated in our schools and colleges – these should be our goals and our ambitions. But we need to aspire to more.

Business should be for good. Business should have broader social benefits than just profit. Today I am setting out two “business for good” aspirations I have for this city.

A Labour administration elected in 2019 would look to develop social enterprises in partnership with local employers and the voluntary sector that would employ homeless people, giving them a route out of the poverty, rough sleeping and hopelessness that blights their lives.

A Labour administration elected in 2019 would pursue the community wealth model pioneered in the UK by Preston’s co-operative council, championed by the Co-operative Party and supported by John McDonnell at an event this month, ensuring a greater proportion of local spend stays in the local economy.

The approach in Preston has resulted in six large public bodies committing to buying local goods and services. These spent £38 million in Preston in 2013. By 2017 the number had increased to £111 million, despite a reduction in the council’s budget.

Overall, more than £200 million was returned to the local economy and supported 1,600 jobs.

Securing the economic future of our city, creating good jobs for our residents, growing business for good, building a Brighton and Hove where everyone benefits from growth.

This is the task of the city council and with these projects we can and will deliver the strong economic future that Brighton and Hove deserves and needs.

Since I stood here last we have had 12 months in which this government has tried and failed to win a majority in the Commons – a year in which nothing has been done to address the twin crises of underfunding in social care and in local government.

And yet it has been a year in which this government has committed billions to the black hole of Brexit, with no deals done and little comfort or hope for the businesses and individuals in this city who stand to suffer most.

Some in my party say the Conservative government are evil. I disagree and disassociate myself from that view.

As Jo Cox said, we have more in common that that which divides us. Despite the stereotypes, most of us on whichever side enter politics for the right reasons.

What is unconscionably worse than malicious intent though is lack of planning, absence of strategy, sheer incompetence.

No clear plan for funding local government, no clear plan for funding social care, no focus for anything save for Brexit – and even then they are as clueless and directionless as they are on so much else.

No map, no satnav, not even a back-seat driver to give directions, this government is asleep at the wheel. It is dangerous, it is negligent and it is unforgivable.

Lord Porter, Conservative chair of the Local Government Association has warned that the majority of councils have little choice but to increase council tax bills again this year.

He has also warned the government that “there cannot be a sustainable NHS without a sustainable social care system” and called for “significant new investment into our social care system” to stop the winter crisis becoming an “all-year round NHS crisis”.

Figures published by the Department for Education have revealed that a child is referred to social services every 49 seconds.

The LGA are pointing to a £2 billion funding gap by 2020 on children’s care services alone.

Like me all members will also have been concerned to read that some councils are now using school reserves to balance their budgets.

It’s come to something when councils are forced to gamble with the future of their young people just to make ends meet.

Brighton and Hove should be looking at a bright future. Instead the outlook is clouded by Brexit, by ongoing austerity and by a real threat to the financial sustainability of this council, the services it runs and the fabric of our city.

This council is the stitching that holds the garment of our place together. It cannot be allowed to unravel, to come undone.

Having made £40 million in savings since 2015, and with a further £12 million next year, the demands upon our services are now stark.

This administration does not want to increase council tax by 5.99 per cent. It’s an increase few can afford but the inaction from central government leaves us no choice if we are to keep our services running. It’s a choice almost all councils have had to make.

Our neighbours East Sussex are increasing council tax by 6 per cent while making £17 million in cuts, their deputy leader saying: “We believe this is the best set of options in the difficult circumstances we face. We face a further £31 million of savings over the next two years. It will be a very difficult time for our residents.”

Our neighbours West Sussex will increase by 5 per cent with over £19 million in cuts, their leader saying they were having to “adapt and change” in the face of an uncertain financial future for local government, with the government’s approach to funding “fit for the past” and not the future.

In Kent, a 5 per cent increase, with £48 million in cuts. “Every year that goes by the government’s austerity programme becomes ever more challenging,” said their leader this week.

In Surrey another 6 per cent increase, £66 million in cuts, with their leader saying: “The simple fact remains that demand for our services continues to rise but government funding continues to fall.”

Damned by their own side, by their own council leaders, in every part of the south east. No map, no direction, no destination.

Under this Tory government, councils are on a road to nowhere.

Local councils are far more than a set of numbers on a balance sheet on a computer on a desk in Whitehall.

They are what our communities depend upon. They are part of the fabric of daily life.

Councils, this council no less than any other, are the embodiment of public service, of civic duty, of pride in the places we live.

We must fight against their erosion and ultimate demise. We must demand of this government the action that is urgently needed.

Let me send a message to the Prime Minister today as clearly and as bluntly as I am able.

Give us the means to fund our services now and into the future.

End the austerity measures and suspend the welfare changes that are putting people on our streets.

Enable us to build the new affordable homes this city needs. Not by subsidising developer profits, but by backing providers.

Both in partnership and alone, there is no better provider of truly affordable housing in this city than this city council. And most of all, lift the HRA (Housing Revenue Account) borrowing cap, Mrs May. Lift it now.

Give us the freedoms and flexibilities we need if we are to be financially self sufficient.

Allow us to keep all of the money paid in business rates in Brighton and Hove to fund our services and support our local economy.

If devolution and localism are concepts consigned to history along with David Cameron, then say so and tell us what replaces them.

Give us the solutions to the twin funding crises we face. That, as a government, is your job.

Set up a royal commission to establish a system of social care that can meet demand, deliver decent services with well paid staff who work in those services and dignity to those who use those services.

Set up a royal commission to establish a system of sustainable and fair funding for local government that meets local need, taxes according to the ability to pay and enables councils to meet the needs of local residents, the aspirations of local communities and the ambitions of local businesses.

Northamptonshire in crisis, a dozen others including Surrey on the brink, councils around the country putting up council tax by 5 or 6 per cent on residents who in many cases cannot afford the increase.

We are not yet at the point of crisis, thanks to the sound management of this authority’s finances by this administration and our excellent team of officers. But we cannot go on like this, Prime Minister.

Time is fast running out on the funding, structures and services of local government in town halls and county halls and city halls of every political colour across this country.

Don’t wait for a crisis, don’t wait for a collapse, don’t wait for for an election, Mrs May. Do these things and do them now.

You don’t need to take my word for it when I tell you that, in contrast to this directionless government, we have a clear focus on getting the basics right.

A diverse range of performance measures tell the story. Customer satisfaction as recorded by the City Tracker has improved once again.

More people agree we are delivering value for money, and spending what we have wisely.

Recycling rates are up. The effectiveness of our planning service is much better. Our auditors have commended us for our approach in securing value for money and indeed we are delivering a balanced budget in the current financial year despite the challenges that we face.

What is more, we have not rested on our laurels and continue to find ways to modernise and improve the experience for these same residents.

This budget provides for the new “field officer” role which will revolutionise the way we deliver services and tackle problems in our communities and neighbourhoods.

Digital First continues to roll out apps that make engagement with our services ever easier.

Our libraries remain open and their offer to residents is improved. Supported bus and school routes remain in place. Our procurement team is resourced to deliver ever greater savings from the contracts that we operate.

We are protecting the front line through reducing management costs by more than £1 million again this year.

These are but just a few features of what a well-run council looks like.

Once again this administration’s budget protects the most vulnerable in our city. It provides more than £9 million in pressure funding to cover the increasing demands and costs for adult social care, people with learning disabilities and children’s social care placements.

Our budget also sustains children’s centres, early year’s nurseries, support for care leavers, support for carers and solid backing for the city’s valued community and voluntary sector.

To support those that have become financially marginalised, often as the direct result of the government’s remorseless welfare reforms, we are putting over £400,000 in place to provide discretionary welfare payments, council tax discounts, specific support for those adversely affected by universal credit, support for the Community Banking Partnership and East Sussex Credit Union.

Turning to the young people in the city, this budget contains a series of measures designed to alleviate the problems that many face, such as increasing levels of mental health problems and exploitation, for example, in the form of criminality and the unwelcome emergence of “county lines”.

The third pillar of our commitment to this city is “business for good”, growing an economy that benefits all our residents.

I said it last year – and I make no apology for saying it again – Brighton and Hove is open for business.

We are active in pursuing all opportunities that will sustain the economy of the city for all of our residents, by creating jobs, and an environment where creativity, ambition and talent can flourish.

Our schools continue to thrive and, through working with them, our universities, and our colleges, we are preparing a work force that will take advantage of the major projects and investments I referred to earlier.

With our partners in the Greater Brighton City Region, now expanded to include Crawley and Gatwick, and the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership that takes us to the threshold of London, we are putting in place the infrastructure and resilience to meet the impact of Brexit and secure the city region’s economic future.

I would challenge anyone to find a better team anywhere in local government than the one I have the privilege to lead. I am fiercely proud of their work over the past year and the measures they are putting forward in this Budget today.

Councillor Gill Mitchell has protected all of our 19 subsidised bus routes for the next four years, frozen almost all parking charges, invested in our parks, in new bins and in air quality improvements.

Despite funding constraints, residents satisfaction with our city environment services is going up, a vital contribution to overall wellbeing in the city.

This budget is testament to Councillor Les Hamilton’s sound stewardship, with compulsory redundancies kept to zero under this administration and a budget balanced despite the ongoing cuts and additional pressures the government has imposed – all the while reducing back office costs to protect the front line.

Councillor Anne Meadows has delivered over 130 new council homes this year, has over £95 million in housing projects in the pipeline, is buying back former council homes, all alongside making significant savings as our lead on procurement.

Councillor Daniel Chapman has led our family of schools on a continued journey of improvement, and in this budget protected council nurseries, children’s centres and services for care leavers.

Councillor Emma Daniel has taken the lead on county lines and safeguarding young people from criminal exploitation, where this budget invests over £150,000, and trouble-shooting field officers to tackle problems in our communities at source.

Councillor Alan Robins has presided over an increase in our visitor numbers, work on the new arts and culture strategy.

Councillor Daniel Yates and Councillor Karen Barford have been working tirelessly with the health service to identify the benefits of health and social care integration. It’s an immense task with enormous implications for the health and wellbeing of our city.

With Councillor Yates’s backing we are the UK’s first Fast Track City tackling HIV/AIDs and Councillor Barford has shown great leadership implementing our adult social care direction of travel.

Councillor Julie Cattell has continued the rapid improvement in our planning service, and announced an open book from developers on affordable homes.

We have given notice to developers that they must meet our targets on affordable homes or account for why they cannot in a transparent and honest way.

Councillor Caroline Penn has used her lead member role to champion better mental health in the city, with the council playing its part in new mental health work in local schools, now also an agreed priority with the Conservative group for extending to colleges in securing £70,000 in further funding in this budget and is keeping our Digital First programme on track.

Councillor Tracey Hill has supported the Rent Smart partnership, has worked with planning enforcement so family homes are not lost to unauthorised HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) and is leading on our landlord licensing projects aiming to make life better for thousands of private rented sector tenants in the city.

Councillor Clare Moonan has worked tirelessly on meeting the growing and complex challenges of rough sleeping and the street community.

Through our Make Change Count campaign, our Winter Night Shelter and steps which have taken 1,200 rough sleepers off the streets this year and helped a further 2,000 facing homelessness, we are making a difference.

But we will do more, with this budget adding an extra £165,000 to tackle the human tragedy that is rough sleeping.

Councillor Jackie O’Quinn has been keeping our leisure and night-time economy running as Chair of Licensing, with a strong focus on safety issues, and has also promoted more training for Licensing Committee members.

I’m fiercely proud of this Labour team, of the work we are doing to lead this city, to secure good quality basic services for all, to ensure the right care for the people who need it and to guarantee a prosperous future for the many and not the few.

So in summary, we’re building 500 council homes, and will be delivering a thousand more at truly affordable rents, buying back council homes lost under Right to Buy.

We’ve abolished council tax for care leavers and ended burial fees for children.

We’ve for the first time put trade union recognition on a formal written basis.

We’ve protected libraries, supported bus services and children’s centres from Conservative cuts.

We’ve opened a winter shelter for rough sleepers, started a joint fundraising campaign, and protected over 3,000 people from homelessness in one year.

We’ve not privatised any council services, with libraries, refuse and recycling still in-house and staying in-house.

We’ve prevented compulsory redundancies in our workforce despite 40 per cent Tory cuts to our funding.

We’ve secured £50,000 extra for domestic violence services and protected funding for our voluntary sector partners.

We’ve set aside £400,000 to support the credit union and help people hit by universal credit.

We have risen to the challenges given to us, we have taken the tough decisions, put the resources we have left where they can be put to best use, employing our principles to direct our pragmatism.

As Aneurin Bevan said: “The  language of priorities is the religion of socialism.”

These are our priorities. This is our municipal socialism. This is the budget we put to council and to the city of Brighton and Hove for the year ahead.

I’m proud to move it, vote for it and to deliver it for our wonderful, vibrant and diverse city – the city I am so privileged to lead.

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