Green councillors set out their priorities during the Brighton and Hove City Council budget debate today (Thursday 27 February).
Councillor David Gibson, the finance lead, spoke at the annual budget meeting at Hove Town Hall as councillors prepared to set the council tax and spending levels for the coming financial year.
He said: “At the heart of our budget proposals is a strong commitment to social and environmental justice, to fairness.
“That is fairness to future generations facing a climate and biodiversity crisis and fairness to low-income households and the most vulnerable.
“None of our proposals take from one service to pay for another. They do reverse cuts to services for the most vulnerable – such as learning disability cuts, communities and equalities and short breaks for carers – and do they raise money to spend mostly on the urgent action needed to tackle the climate emergency.
“The money is raised by an expansion of penalties for irresponsible drivers who slow public transport down and by modest increases to on and off-street parking charges.
“This provides vital staff capacity necessary to plant trees and protect biodiversity, to make transport more sustainable, to develop renewable solar energy and to ensure social value and community wealth generation is better embedded in the council’s activities.
“I am particularly excited by our creation of a £2.6 million investment fund for warmer homes.
“We intend that these funds will enable grants to benefit all residents in the city, particularly low-income households with access to cheaper more sustainable heating of their homes.
“This alone demonstrates our ‘Green New Deal’ approach – invest in the environment and you also invest in people’s futures: creating jobs, improving their quality of life and boosting our local economy.
“We have provided significant resources for our environment, for our housing crisis and for our communities.
“I would ask colleagues, is the climate emergency just hot air or do we vote for a budget that provides the staff and resources needed?
“All parties signed up to the climate emergency in December 2018. Now it’s time to act on their fine words.”
The Green group convenor, Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, official leader of the opposition on the council, said: “This week the Marmot review tells us that life expectancy itself is the latest thing that’s up for grabs in Tory austerity Britain.
“The report identifies how for Brighton and Hove’s poorest residents, life expectancy has stalled for the first time in more than 100 years – and even reversed for the most deprived women in society.
“In the sixth-richest country on planet Earth this is a frightening indictment of Tory austerity. It is also a call to action.
“We have known for some time that the poorest bear the worst brunt of not just budget cuts but climate chaos too.
“So at the heart of the Green approach to the budget is a strong commitment to environmental action alongside social justice.
“I am delighted that our four budget amendments are the building blocks of a Green New Deal for Brighton and Hove.
“And we need this more than ever as our city faces the monumental challenges of a spiralling climate emergency, an affordable housing crisis and continued cuts to public services.
“This combination puts pressure on council spending but failure to address each issue, separately or together, will have more severe and yet untold consequences, particularly for our most marginalised residents.
“This year’s budget does too little to reflect either the ambition or the resources needed to ensure we use the 10 years left to get our city carbon-neutral in the most effective way possible.
“So the Green amendments stop our city’s problem getting even worse by funding services that deliver both for our communities and our environment – for example, tackling fuel poverty through an insulation programme.
“This is a triple win: warmer homes, lower fuel bills and a reduced carbon footprint for the city.
“Today we declare that we must scale up the ambition. Our amendments provide the resources and capacity to deliver the large-scale projects that are needed to tackle climate change.
“We put our money where our mouth is. There is a crisis and Greens have found the money to fund it.
“Green amendments put back £1.34 million of recurrent and £10.2 million of one-off funding in to the budget (putting revenue and capital funding together).
“Just some of the highlights include
- transport improvements £3.9 million
- new warmer homes insulation grants £2.6 million
- community composting £20,000
- tree planting £48,000
- district heat business case £24K
- potential for at least 19 new jobs, in areas such as transport improvements, preventing flooding and tackling poverty
- reduce learning disability cuts £234,000
- extra support to Disability Advice Centre £15,000
- reverse domestic violence services cut £52,000
- reverse perpetrator programme cut £75,000
- reverse cuts to communities, equalities and voluntary group £103,000
- alleviate food poverty £49,000
“As we’ve said before, we need to focus on social and environmental justice together.
“I wanted to select an area of concern for our communities in this budget – domestic violence services.
“Police reports released last month show that domestic violence crimes in the city have increased year on year.
“Incidents have increased by 13 per cent alone in the first half of 2019-20 compared with the same period the previous year.
“Following pressure from Greens and community groups we welcome the reversal of the planned cut to the budget.
“But even after reversing cuts made this year, funding for domestic violence services still falls far below what is needed.
“Providers of domestic violence services in the city repeatedly report they are struggling to meet rising demand.
“In a council report from March last year, specialist services at times work 140 per cent above the numbers they were contracted to support.
“In the past week I have had heart-breaking conversations with Brighton Women’s Centre and Rise – two of the most important organisations in our city helping women whatever abject circumstances life throws at them.
“We must be clear: the cuts proposed in the budget still pose a threat to the safety of women in our city.
“As such we are still really worried about the existing cut to the perpetrator programme and this is why (a Green amendment) reverses it.
“But we don’t just reverse the cut. We also put in new money – £52,000 (with) £30,000 to provide additional support for Violence Against Women and Girls services and £22,000 for services offering open-door drop-ins and weekly services for women in crisis.
“This isn’t just about ethics. It’s guided by hard maths too. We must minimise the impact of cuts to preventative services and put money back into our city’s vital charity and community groups.
“Cuts actually increase costs longer term not just to the city council but also the police, courts, prisons, probation and health services.
“Investment in community and voluntary groups helps to address poverty and inequality – and means less demand on public services as well as improved health outcomes.
“I am delighted that we have been able to find the funding for women in our city in crisis who need our help now more than ever.
“I also want to talk about what our budget amendments will do for environmental justice and I want to focus on one of our key proposals on insulation.
“Our dependence on fossil fuels is causing global warming – but it’s not just the environment that suffers. 15,000 households are in fuel poverty in the city – forced to choose between the cost of heating or eating.
“Green proposals fund a new warmer homes grant programme for the city, offering insulation and fuel poverty support to residents, delivered free of charge.
“Our amendments provide £2.6 million to help the city’s residents save money, heat their homes and (ensure) our carbon footprint is smaller.
“We know that around the country, similar programmes are winning for the environment and residents.
“Working with energy companies, a similar programme in Kirklees council saved households a total of £156 million in reduced bills.
“This is a double win: for our council to tackle the environmental crisis and to keep money in our residents’ pockets.
“But this is also global and about our city doing our part to fight the climate crisis. With a climate crisis upon us and many of our residents unable to cover the cost of energy bills, we cannot afford to miss a single opportunity to create a more sustainable future.
“The ruling from the Court of Appeal today blocks the building of the third runway at Heathrow and affirms that hope is possible as the promise of a fairer and more environmentally just world awaits.
“The Green group’s ambition with our amendments today provides such a vision, underpinned with a financial blueprint that, in the decade left, will mean our city becomes carbon-neutral, our city will be climate change ready, our city will have a harmonious relationship with nature and our planet – and where we live in a city where the poorest and most marginalised don’t have to be the ones left behind.”