There has been a lot of discussion and speculation over what happened at the Budget Council meeting last Thursday (25 February) and what it all means. Let me put the record straight.
Despite the cuts of over £20 million and council tax increases forced on us by the Conservative government, there are a huge amount of positive measures in the budget on things like grants to the community and voluntary sector, social care services and basic environmental services that we needed to get approved. Adding in the money for schools, housing and capital, the total budget is around £800 million.
There were six amendments from the Conservatives, including two that between them cut the number of funded trades union posts in the council from the ten that were established in 2009 under the Tories to around three.
The money saved was to direct funding to a range of things including gully cleaning, verge cutting and public toilets. In total the money involved was roughly £400,000.
The Greens said publicly well in advance of the meeting that they would vote against the budget as a whole, whatever happened, as they could not support a budget that contained any cuts.
That gave the Conservatives the certain knowledge that they had a majority – 11 Greens and 20 Tories – to outvote the 23 Labour councillors in the final vote.
Finally, and despite pledging not to get involved in the budget at all, the Greens indicated the day before the meeting that they would be supporting two Tory amendments.
So my Labour administration went into the budget knowing that the Tories would win two amendments and the Greens and Tories would unite to vote down the budget as a whole.
That is exactly what happened.
At that point in proceedings, several crucial things took place. Despite us having voted down the Tory amendments cutting trade union time, as soon as the budget was voted down by the Green and Conservative groups, all of the Tory amendments were put back on the table, including the cut of six to eight union posts.
The Greens said they would play no further part, would not negotiate and would still vote as planned against the budget.
The Tories insisted that they would continue to vote the budget down too, knowing that if one was not set, the government would then step in and make even deeper cuts instead.
Going to a second budget meeting would simply have taken us to the same point, with higher stakes.
I had a choice. Negotiate or be voted down by a Green/Tory alliance. Two parties with a common aim – to score a political hit on the Labour administration while distancing themselves from the consequences of their actions.
I negotiated a deal that protected nine of the ten union posts but which made over £240,000 in further cuts to “management and administration” demanded by the Tories.
That sounds painless enough, but in reality that means more jobs lost.
Whether a senior manager, admin assistant or street cleaner, the effect is the same, someone loses their job to fund some grass mowing.
The fact is that none of those further cuts were necessary. All those posts lost in the negotiated settlement – including the trades union post – could have been saved. The Tories could easily have been deprived of their ability to push for further job cuts in order to get verges cut.
All that had to happen was for the Greens to abstain on the main budget vote. They did not have to support the budget, simply abstain, to give the Labour administration the ability to vote down Tory amendments and have a three-vote majority to pass the budget. They refused.
Next time someone says Labour and the Greens should work together to prevent Tory cuts, remember this sorry and shameful example of Green councillors putting their own political interests ahead of people’s jobs.
Councillor Warren Morgan is the leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.
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