A leading Green councillor slated Conservative claims that Brighton and Hove City Council could go broke like Croydon.
Councillor Tom Druitt criticised the Tory group leader Steve Bell over an opinion column published by Brighton and Hove News.
Councillor Bell wrote: “The Greens and Labour risk bankrupting Brighton and Hove and turning it into the next Croydon if they keep up their recent pattern of financial decisions.”
But Councillor Druitt hit back at claims about the council’s approach to borrowing, investments and financial risks.
He said that the Green administration had worked with the council’s acting finance chief Nigel Manvell and his team to create a balanced budget without “decimating council services”.
The draft budget included cuts and savings totalling £10 million and required a 4.99 per cent rise in council tax. Of that, 3 per cent would raise about £4.5 million to help fund adult social care.
Councillor Druitt said that Conservative councillors had been to all the meetings about the budget and asked “very good” questions along the way, so were well informed about the situation.
He said: “The only alternative is that there is some kind of political campaign going on to spread what they know to be lies, rumour, ill-informed baseless allegations which are really unhelpful.
“The Conservatives are playing a dangerous game. The fact these claims are not true does not seem to matter.
“They know the council’s reserves are healthy, the ‘in year’ deficit … has been eliminated (and) the proposals for next year are realistic and balanced.”
Councillor Druitt said that the Tories also knew that the council’s borrowing was a sixth of Croydon’s and the council had not overspent in the past five years.
External auditors had given the council a “clean bill of health” last October, he said, adding: “The only scheme that could possibly be said to be fraught with risk, which has been on our corporate agenda over the last year, was the scheme to invest in property to fund the Madeira Terraces restoration.
“The scheme was proposed by the Conservatives at the last budget.”
He told Tory councillors that their party criticised the i360 loan yet had voted for it when it was approved – and over the past six months, the i360 had performed better than expected and was recovering.
Conservative councillor Joe Miller said that political decisions made by the previous Labour administration and the current Green council had led to more “unnecessary expense”.
He said: “These are hitting local residents, council taxpayers and tenants of our HRA (Housing Revenue Account) properties. That is undeniable.
“Coming back to (the) commercial property venture to save Madeira Terraces, which the majority of councillors support … I find it particularly concerning that the finance lead for the Green administration decided at the last budget to vote for something that he thought was fraught with risk. That’s not particularly instilled much hope.”
Green councillor David Gibson said that the council was “not out of the woods”. But it was in a stronger position than it had been at the start of the financial year when it faced soaring costs because of the coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “I’m not one for party-political banter and point-scoring but I am very dismayed by what the Conservatives have been putting in the press. Given what has happened in Croydon, it is very irresponsible scaremongering.
“We have talked about the climate crisis and the covid crisis. There is a need for all of us to pull together to show leadership to the city and to take emergency measures.
“Here we have the smallest party trying to score party-political points and spreading fear at a time when people have plenty to worry about already. I find that very disappointing.”
Councillor Gibson urged all councillors to work together for the best budget for the council.
Labour and Conservative councillors abstained from voting for the draft budget at a virtual meeting of the council’s Policy and Resources Committee yesterday (Thursday 21 January).
The budget – and the council tax for Brighton and Hove – is due to be set by the full council at a meeting on Thursday 25 February.
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