Council tax in Brighton and Hove is likely to go up by 3.5 per cent next year, the Greens said today (Thursday 1 December).
The government has offered Brighton and Hove City Council a one-off £3 million if it freezes council tax next year (2012-13).
But this was dismissed as a gimmick by the Greens’ cabinet member for finance Jason Kitcat.
Councillor Kitcat said that the council would be left with a gap in its finances in future years as a result – and this would mean more and deeper cuts to jobs and services.
The council already expected to receive £10.5 million less in “formula grant” – the main source of funding from the government – in the coming financial year.
He outlined the key elements of the council’s budget for the next two years with council leader Bill Randall.
They presented a lot of detail much earlier in the annual financial cycle than usual, they said, to try to encourage as many people as possible to contribute to the budget process.
Councillor Randall described the proposals as “a fair budget for tough times”.
The Greens have already had preliminary discussions with their Conservative and Labour rivals on the council. The two opposition parties outnumber the Greens and could vote down the budget although this in unlikely.
And the council has created a “budget simulator”, which can be found on its website, to encourage voters to try their hand at setting tax and spending levels. More than 2,000 people have so far taken part in the exercise. Those who haven’t are being urged to try it.
Among the significant elements of the budget are a 3.5 per cent rise in council tax next year and the year after. Councillor Kitcat pointed out that inflation was 5 per cent.
He said that council tax rose by 3.5 per cent or more in almost every year since 1998 – under Labour and the Conservatives – while inflation was lower.
All sorts of fees and charges are likely to rise, from parking to burials and cremations. It won’t just be the cost of living that goes up but the cost of dying too.
Public toilets are to be closed, streets cleaned less often, roads less well maintained and the CD 1 numberplate on the mayor’s car sold.
While financial realities have curtailed some of the Greens’ pet projects, others survive. An extra £50,000 a year will be spent on managing downland owned by the council. And £500,000 is being budgeted to test food waste collections to try to improve recycling rates.
Solar panels are still likely to be fitted to council buildings. But Councillor Kitcat says that this will only happen when it can be justified in financial terms – and that’s been made harder as the government is cutting the relevant subsidy.
“Nevertheless, in this draft budget we have honoured our manifesto pledge to protect services for the most vulnerable men, women and children in the city as far as possible.
“We have kept our plans on course to make Brighton and Hove the UK’s greenest city, despite the government’s deep and short-sighted cuts in solar feed-in tariffs.”
He said that the rise in council tax would “help keep Brighton and Hove a safe and healthy place to live”.
He said: “It will also help us protect jobs and support carers.
“The money will be used, for example, to help care for older and vulnerable people, the rising number of homeless people in the city, children in care and members of the community living with HIV/Aids.”
Councillor Kitcat said: “Our principles in setting this budget are
- to prioritise services for the young, elderly and vulnerable
- to promote efficient use of public money
- to support partnership working with public, private and third sector organisations”
He said that the council would rationalise its property portfolio by using fewer offices.
And it would operate with a flatter management structure which would lead to the departure of one of the four strategic directors who were appointed last year.
Subsidies for buses and the school music service were likely to be cut.
Councillor Kitcat added: “These are difficult times and councillors are faced with painful choices.”
Conservative opposition leader Councillor Geoffrey Theobald called the proposed budget a wasted opportunity and said: “The last Conservative administration protected frontline services and froze the council tax.
“This Green administration has wasted the last six months by failing to continue with our value for money programme and seems to be pursuing a policy of hitting frontline services and substantially increasing council tax.”
Councillor Les Hamilton, Labour’s deputy leader and finance spokesman, said: “They want residents to pay for their failures with a 10.5 per cent council tax increase over three years while refusing the government money on offer to freeze the level of tax to help hard-pressed families.”
He said the Greens were “squeezing £1.3 million more from residents and local businesses in parking fee increases”.
He added: “We will be scrutinising every aspect of the Greens’ Tory-style cuts budget and making alternative proposals.”
The official council budget papers in full can be found at http://bit.ly/vaekpR.
The Green Party’s press release announcing the budget proposals can be found at http://bit.ly/BHBudgetAnnounce.
A summary of the budget proposals can be found at http://bit.ly/BHBudgetSummary.
Sample FAQs (frequently asked questions) can be found at http://bit.ly/BHBudgetFAQs.
And the Greens have produced a “mythbusters” guide at http://bit.ly/BHBudgetMyths.
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