Brighton and Hove’s Labour council leader sets out his stall as budget meeting finally gets under way
The Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council gave a “state of the nation” style address as he made the case for his £760 million budget for the coming year.
Councillor Warren Morgan set out his stall as the council’s annual budget meeting started an hour late after attempts by the three political parties to hammer out a deal.
Although Labour is the largest party on the council, it doesn’t have a majority. Realistically, it needs help from either the opposition Conservatives or Greens if it is to pass its budget.
Councillor Morgan said: “Can I begin my speech today proposing the 2017-18 budget by expressing thanks, on behalf of myself as leader of the council, on behalf of the administration, and I hope every elected member here, to all of the officers and staff of Brighton and Hove City Council for their part in bringing it before us today and delivering it.
“From the chief executive and the executive leadership team, to department heads and frontline staff, they have met the challenge of putting together the most difficult and challenging budget in this council’s history.
“They have put in place savings of over £20 million through innovation and hard work, through modernisation and service redesign, through stepping up and doing more.
“Some staff, as is inevitable with savings of this magnitude, are facing up to a future outside of the council.
“None of this budget, none of what this council does every day, would be possible without our officers and staff, from the executive director bearing huge legal responsibility, to the Cityclean operative making sure our streets are cleared and our refuse collected.
“So before we begin our debate today I’d ask all members to join me in showing our appreciation for what staff do.
“It is one of the three key priorities of this administration to get the basics right within the scope of our reducing resources. That means investment, innovation, savings, new partnerships, service redesign – finding ways to do more, to do better with less.
“If we are asking our residents to pay more in council tax, we have to meet this challenge, not shy away from it.
“We are investing in the basic services people use every day – new wheeled recycling bins, replacement communal bins, new Big Belly compactor bins to make our streets cleaner, new parking meters with card and contactless payment to give people even more easy parking payment options, fines for litterers and fly-tippers to crack down on those who pollute our public spaces and expect others to pick up the cost as well as the mess.
“Commercial waste collections, garden waste collections and vehicle servicing are bringing in new revenue to maintain and improve the services we provide. In-house textile recycling is now raising money for local charities.
“The £7 million invested in modern street lighting will mean our network is more energy-efficient and will cost less to run. Our recycling rates are again increasing. This budget contains no cuts to frontline Cityclean staff.
“The ‘big conversation’ has led to proposals for a new City Parks Foundation and new partnerships with sports clubs to make their activities in our parks – football, tennis, bowls – sustainable.
“I pay tribute to my colleague Councillor Gill Mitchell for driving these changes through and delivering success after success after success.
“We have continued to improve residents’ satisfaction with our services – in fact, we are the only public sector organisation in the city to achieve this and it should be applauded.
“We will in the period of this budget revolutionise our customer services and our relationship with the residents of the city, with Digital First delivering new online bulletins for residents and staff, improved transactional services and a better website, alongside a significant element of the planned four-year savings through digitisation and streamlining of hundreds of functions in this authority.
“We want to drive customer satisfaction still higher so we are reviewing the top 20 interactions that residents have with us as a council, to ensure that even more customer journeys are positive ones.
“Councillor Emma Daniel is leading our neighbourhoods work, taking the council back out into communities, taking forward the work of the Fairness Commission we established, helping join up our services across council teams, tackling issues at an earlier stage to improve outcomes and save money, getting the local right.
“I thank her and her committee for the innovative work she is leading in helping transform this council and the way it works with all our residents, all our communities.
“We are succeeding in delivering the schools our young people and our economy need. Under Councillor Tom Bewick and Councillor Daniel Chapman we have seen the number of schools rated good or outstanding increase by 10 per cent to 92 per cent overall, above the national average for the first time. We are now in top 25 authorities for primary schools nationally. We should praise all in our schools for their efforts to make this happen.
“We plan to redesign the early help system and modernise the special school provision across the city. We’ve seen awards for our LGBT work in schools recognised as the best in the UK and we’ve doubled free childcare. For those leaving school we will deliver 1,000 apprenticeships in 1,000 days.
“As soon as we balanced the budget we restored over £200,000 to the youth service budget that was proposed in December, half of that recurrent every year.
“As a council we will still be funding services to young people by over £2 million to promote routes into employment, better mental health and work to keep young people out of substance misuse and crime.”
He said that he hoped to increase that amount, adding: “Under Councillor Alan Robins we have taken up the challenge of implementing the libraries plan agreed last year, we have maintained the number of libraries, extended their opening hours and set them on course to be the hubs at the heart of our communities.
“All of our decisions are difficult, but we have to put the long-term benefit of the city at the heart of our decision making.
“In pursuit of that benefit we have protected the Royal Pavilion and our museums for future generations by placing them in a trust that can access the charitable and lottery funding they need.
“We will see in the coming months the continued construction on phase 1 of £18 million refurbishment of the Royal Pavilion Estate.
“Our familiarity should not breed complacency when it comes to what is, alongside our seafront, the heart of our tourist and cultural offer.
“We were elected to deliver a council that works for everyone – a council that gets the basics right, universal services delivered and essential infrastructure improved.
“The second of our key objectives is protecting the most vulnerable, focusing the resources we as a council and as a city have on those in priority need. It is a duty incumbent on us all.
“I would like to thank my colleagues Councillor Karen Barford and Councillor Daniel Yates for their incredibly hard work and able leadership in health and social care – the largest and most challenging element of our budget.
“So much of their vital work is behind the scenes but absolutely essential to the future of our council and its care services, how we work with the NHS, how we deal with the needs of an ageing population.
“Despite the immense financial challenges, the message to our residents is clear. Where need is identified, we will continue to provide a service. We will help you stay fit, healthy and active, but when you need our help we will be there.
“We are funding projected demand pressure for adult and children’s social care and temporary accommodation to the tune of an extra £12 million. Providing these care services alone will cost over £160 million next year, far more than the £127 million we will receive in council tax.
“I am incredibly proud of the work being done by Councillor Caroline Penn on behalf of this administration on improving the mental health of this city and tackling stigma. As a nation we are recognising the impact of mental health, the need to look at it in a new way and to put it at the heart of our health and wellbeing agenda.
“Elsewhere, we have saved £350,000 by increasing our in-house foster care placements. We have signed up to the ethical care charter and we have backed the Fast Track Cities initiative on HIV/AIDS.
“We have been recognised for tackling fuel poverty that costs so many tenants in the city so much and is so fundamental to overall poverty levels in the city.
“I am pleased that while we wait to determine the full impact of benefit and tax changes locally, we will in this budget maintain a significant discretionary fund to help those who do find themselves in poverty, supporting the vital work done by our neighbours in this building from Money Advice the Credit Union and Citizens Advice.
“I am proud that in this budget we are protecting funding for domestic violence services, with over £600,000 going in to community-based interventions, prevention and recovery services, and refuge and floating support. All the time I am leader of this council, this will remain one of our top priorities.”
He congratulated Hove MP Peter Kyle for his successful campaign to change the law so that domestic abusers cannot cross-examine their former partners in the family courts.
Councillor Morgan also said: “On housing, the private rented sector and rough sleeping, I commend the work done by Councillor Anne Meadows, Councillor Tracey Hill and Councillor Clare Moonan.
“We’ve won agreement for a thousand affordable homes in our joint venture, our pledge to build 500 council homes is on track, a new allocations policy has been set, and the ground-breaking Rent Smart initiative was launched across a wide range of partners.
“Our Rough Sleeping Strategy has been adopted and implemented, we have boosted our temporary accommodation with two new in-house schemes at Oxford Street and Stonehurst Court, and we have launched the joint Make Change Count appeal raising funds to help people off the streets.
“Whether it is health or housing, care or communities, renters or rough sleepers, we are working hard to help those who need it.
“The third objective we have committed this council to is growing an economy that benefits all.
Open for business
“Brighton and Hove is open for business. Apprenticeships are up by 19 per cent in the city, putting us above the national average for the first time.
“Retail is set to get a massive boost with John Lewis coming to the city, Redevco investing in the new Lane and Hanningtons estate, Standard Life investing hundreds of millions into the Churchill Square extension and Ikea proposing a store on land in our city region owned by Brighton and Hove Albion.
“Our colleges and universities continue to equip our young people with the skills and innovation needed to compete in the local, national and global market, and I have forged ever closer working relationships with them in partnership work that benefits the city as a whole.
“I’d like at this point to commend in particular Councillor Julie Cattell, chair of Planning and deputy chair of Economic Development, for the immense work she and all our dedicated planning officers have done in the last 18 months to turn our planning department around – to have it running at pace is key to business confidence and the continued growth of our economy. Councillor Jackie O’Quinn is also doing a fantastic job at the helm of the Licensing Committee.
“We are bringing in billions of pounds to the city in regeneration projects, including the Waterfront arena, Shelter Hall, Preston Barracks and King Alfred through bodies such as Greater Brighton, Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, and Brighton and Hove Business Partnership.
“We are campaigning for the Brighton and Hove Living Wage, opposing zero-hour contracts, growing career opportunities and working to deliver the full potential of all our residents. We are putting in place a new civic office to bring further inward investment into the city.
“Brighton and Hove is indeed a place to invest, a place with a talented, trained and innovative workforce on which to draw – a unique location for business to spark and grow. We are open for business. We will grow an economy where everyone shares in the benefits of that growth.
“I would like to use this opportunity to make two new announcements today, ones which I hope will command support across this chamber.
“The loss of a child is one of the most unimaginable things any family could have to bear. I pay tribute to the campaign led by Carolyn Harris MP in the House of Commons, which has won support from all parties, to end funeral fees in the case of child deaths. A number of councils have responded positively to this campaign.
“While we do not charge for child burials or cremations, we do charge for the grave plot and the headstone, meaning families can face costs of almost £170.
“I am asking council today to support me in saying that this will be the last budget where we will set charges for the burial of children and that we will take the necessary steps to end child funeral costs in the city council budget as soon as possible.
“I would like to pay tribute to the former chair of the Children and Young People’s Committee Councillor Tom Bewick for the work he did in that role during the first two years of our administration, in particular, his instrumental role in setting up a Care Leavers Trust for young people who have not had the benefit of a stable family environment as they start out in life.
“All of us have a responsibility as corporate parents to those children and young people in our care and leaving our care. That is why, Mr Mayor, I would like this council to support the campaign by the Children’s Society and exempt fully all local care leavers from council tax until the age of 25. We will be bringing forward proposals to enable that during the course of the coming year.
“I want at this point to address the broader issue of local government funding.
“Mr Mayor, it is the fault of successive governments that no sustainable solution to the funding of council services has been devised.
“The removal of the revenue support grant between 2011 and 2020, over £100 million a year in our case, leaves us increasingly reliant on council tax and business rates. These are two property taxes based on outdated valuations, regressive in their impact and utterly insufficient to fund the services local councils are charged with providing.
“Let me be clear on the proposals in this budget to raise the council tax level in Brighton and Hove by 4.99 per cent.
“I opposed similar rises in the past and I stand here proposing this increase with a very heavy heart.
“This rise will hit people on lower incomes hard at a time when they are seeing living costs increase and benefit support reduced.
“It is right that we maintain a substantial discretionary fund to support those pushed towards poverty, homelessness and the food bank.
“However, with the pressures of social care costs increasing here as they are in every top-tier authority, we have little choice but to apply the full 3 per cent social care precept as we try to close the gap and ease funding pressure on other services.
“Calling for a national funding review, my West Sussex counterpart Councillor Louise Goldsmith said at their budget meeting last week that nationally social care services are ‘seriously, seriously underfunded’ and that the social care precept provided ‘just a few drops of help in a vast ocean of need’.
“Lord Porter, the Conservative peer who heads the Local Government Association, said this week: ‘Social care faces a funding gap of at least £2.6 billion by 2020. It cannot be left to council taxpayers alone to try and fix this.
“‘Councils, the NHS, charities and care providers remain united around the desperate need for new government funding for social care. By continuing to ignore these warnings, social care remains in crisis and councils and the NHS continue to be pushed to the financial brink.
“‘The government cannot ignore this any longer. Genuinely new government money for social care is urgently needed. Without this, our most vulnerable continue to face an ever uncertain future where they might no longer receive the dignified care and support they deserve, such as help getting dressed or getting out and about, which is crucial to their independence and wellbeing.
“‘Councils face an overall £5.8 billion funding gap by 2020. This will push councils perilously close to the financial edge over the next few years and force them all to make significant reductions to the local services communities rely on, including filling potholes, collecting waste, maintaining our parks and green spaces and running children’s centres, leisure centres and libraries, to plug growing funding gaps.’”
“Chief executive of the LGIU, Jonathan Carr-West, said: ‘Local government finances across the country are in a dire state. Everyone is expecting someone to fail. They are just hoping it won’t be them.’
“Thanks to the work of this administration, our officers and the support of members across party in this council, it will not be us. But we are far from the least affected.
“The government has said that from 2020 councils will retain all of their business rates, rather than the 50 per cent they do at present. Although that in theory offer this authority the prospect of in excess of £50 million, it is clear that revaluation, rebates and redistribution may mean we see no net benefit.
“This will not be anything other than a fiscally neutral move by the Treasury, leaving them no worse off and local government no better off as a result
“Over the last four years this council has saved £76 million in order to ensure that we keep pace with the demand and inflationary cost of social care and temporary accommodation within an envelope that is shrinking as the result of diminishing funding from central government.
“No one is immune from savings and I have ensured my administration has saved £70,000 from the special responsibility allowances set by the Independent Remuneration Panel.
“Our revenue support grant will all but disappear in 2020. Health budgets for 2017-18 and beyond have not been set. It seems unlikely that the full impact of welfare reform has yet been felt.
“I am pleased to say that we are rising to this financial challenge and managing this council’s finances well. I thank my colleague Councillor Les Hamilton for his role in ensuring we are on a sound and sensible course.
“At this halfway point in our administration’s first term, in the face of unprecedented funding challenges, with 40 per cent reductions in our spending power, I am determined that we will maintain the vast majority of our services in some form, and strive to keep the number of compulsory job losses to levels below those of many other authorities in the same situation.
“Achieving that in this budget has been an immense task but, as most will acknowledge, we are not in circumstances that are unique or that are of our own making.
“We are by no means the worst off as a council but we are far from being the one with the best deal.
“As a council we are modernising and reforming, managing responsibly and competently, innovating and changing the way we do things, making savings while investing in new resources and revenue generation.
Value for money
“This year we instructed officers that a projected overspend of close to £4 million had to be reduced to within the risk provision we prudently set. We delivered.
“Our auditors, Ernst and Young, have recognised our sound financial management and recently gave us an improved and positive rating for securing value for money for the taxpayer.
“During this year we will deliver savings through sharing services with other councils via the Orbis partnerships, both in support services and legal.
“Having stress-tested the four year integrated service and financial plans first agreed in February 2015, we have identified further initiatives that will help us, for example a fresh approach to the neighbourhoods agenda and to enforcement.
“Through our investment in Digital First we will have a renewed focus on those projects that deliver the biggest savings – starting with mobile working and using predictive analytics in the adult social care service.
“We have ensured that the council’s ambitious modernisation programme will continue apace – its work streams will deliver most of the required savings for 2017-18 to add to the £17 million forecast for this year.
“We have adopted a financially responsible approach, a more commercial approach, a more co-operative approach, a more customer-focused approach.
“We are getting a grip on demand-led services, streamlining processes and delivering £2 million in management savings last year and next year.
“All of us should be proud of what this council is achieving in the face of the challenges common across local government and in the face of our own specific housing and infrastructure challenges here in Brighton and Hove.
“We are leading the city through by strengthening our collaboration with all our partners and asking the Better Brighton and Hove think-tank to research, address and solve the economic, social and public service challenges facing the city.
“In conclusion, all of us were elected to serve the residents of this city, to make it a better place to live now and in the future, to preserve our heritage and invest in our economy.
“We are the temporary custodians of a valuable and historic place, a collection of rich and varied communities and culture, a city with incredible resources and immense potential.
“We should be united in saying that government should help us do what we were all elected to do, help us get to the basic services right, protect the most vulnerable and ensure everyone benefits when our economy does well.
“We should be united in asking government to devolve to us the powers to fund what we need to do and to deliver what our residents and businesses need.
“We should be united in calling for an urgent review of how local government is funded and how it meets the challenge of providing social care services, not to apportion blame but to address a national crisis.
“I say to this council, very simply, we should be united in support of this council, our residents and for Brighton and Hove.
“We in this group will support a significant number of the opposition amendments because we recognise the work put in and the intent from opposition parties to make our budget better.
“I hope they in turn recognise our work and our intent in making the difficult choices, significant savings and sound financial decisions we have in this budget today.
“The amendments today total less than 1 per cent of the total revenue, HRA (Housing Revenue Account) and capital budgets we have in front of us today. So let us view how we vote tonight in that perspective.
“Let’s be united for care homes, nurseries and libraries. Let’s be united for those youth services we all care about, united for the 700 services this council provides for the people of this city, from the simplest cleaning job to the most complex legal social care case.
“Let’s be united in support of the social worker and the street sweeper, for the dedicated men and women employed by this council who have adapted and adjusted and upped their game year after year after year.
“Let us be united for the community and voluntary services we support, we commission and we partner with in Brighton and Hove, for the small businesses who need our support in the face of unfair government business rates rises and the council tax payer hit by benefit changes and tax increases.
“Getting the basics right, protecting the most vulnerable and growing the economy, managing the resources we have well, increasing them wherever and whenever we can – those are my aims as leader, our aims as an administration. They should be ours as a council, ours as a city with a great future ahead of it.
“I make an appeal across this chamber today. Be united. Join together. Support our city. Support our communities. Support our residents. Support this budget and be confident in the future of Brighton and Hove.”
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