The sustained efforts of Brighton and Hove residents mean our covid-19 rates are starting to drop.
In the seven days up to Friday 22 January, there were 40 per cent fewer new cases than in the previous week and our city now has a lower rate than the average for England and for the south east.
Yet it’s important we don’t lose sight of the stark and sad reality: deaths from the covid-19 virus are unfortunately still high as many in the city continue to battle the virus. Behind every statistic lies the loss of a loved one.
Our hospital services are still under immense pressure and as work to progress the rollout of the vaccination continues, our NHS is stretched more than ever before.
We know too that many in our city are also still facing intense hardship as a result of the ongoing crisis.
So this week, the council is exploring what further financial support can be offered to businesses and employees struggling to meet their costs as trade dwindles.
As the Conservative government has once again failed to plan for the many excluded from income support schemes, we are calling for government to continue both the job retention “furlough” scheme and the housing evictions ban – lifelines still desperately needed.
The council has mobilised to provide everything from personal protective equipment (PPE) to food parcels and assistance to our city’s care homes.
We have worked tirelessly to bring those rough sleeping off the streets and into long-term secure accommodation.
As more people become unemployed, the council’s community hub is on hand to help with bills, food and support.
Against the backdrop of a global health crisis that has created some of the deepest financial hardship in living memory, we know to weather this storm it’s vital our city is put on a secure footing and that the vulnerable have the support they need.
Yet across the country, funding for public services has been dealt a hammer blow. The closure of facilities like leisure centres and museums – and the drop in visitors and tourism has taken its toll.
The Local Government Association calculates that even before the latest lockdown, local councils were already facing a covid-driven funding gap of more than £2 billion.
It’s telling that Conservative-led councils are now finally joining calls for adequate local council funding, with many close to bankruptcy.
We were among the first to try to sound the alarm 10 years ago. Over that period £110 million has been cut from council services. The aggressive, macabre programme of “austerity” cuts has left local services struggling and seen millions pushed into poverty.
The recent budget has seen the government shift the blame for that decade, ruling that council funding should in the majority depend on increasing council tax, most of which is ringfenced for adult social care.
But what is at play is the abject failure of government to produce a long-term plan for our most vulnerable adults – four years after promised legislation and 18 months after Boris Johnson promised to “fix social care once and for all”.
It’s in this difficult context that councillors will meet to discuss the council’s budget in a few weeks.
In the six months since we took over running the council, we have worked tirelessly to help our city survive and thrive.
Ensuring a balanced budget, we are focused on protecting critical services that will help us navigate the pandemic such as youth employment support, nursery provision, libraries, services for vulnerable adults and grant funding for our voluntary sector.
A budget for recovery also means support for our events, arts and cultural sector, improving our city centre, tackling graffiti and promoting the use of local goods and services to build the wealth of our community.
We are investing in homelessness prevention and affordable housing. We will insulate homes – tackling fuel poverty, poor health and carbon emissions, as well as creating urgently needed new jobs.
Rather than bounce our residents from the pandemic into the climate crisis, we are investing in climate change prevention, parks, tree planting and sustainable transport.
As we know many are already facing a challenging year, we are ensuring that for those on the lowest incomes, council tax bills will reduce.
We know that the pandemic has hit many incomes hard. This is why we are reducing the burden of council tax on those with low incomes.
There is of course much more to the council’s budget than this and in the coming weeks Green councillors will be sharing our commitment to the city’s recovery.
Yet it’s clear: our city deserves support to recover from this pandemic so that we can face the challenges of the future together, in a stronger place.
Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty is the Green leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.
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