Conservative leader Steve Bell responded to the Green’s budget proposals for Brighton and Hove City Council for the coming financial year.
Councillor Bell thanked council staff for all their work supporting people in Brighton and Hove during the coronavirus pandemic as well as the many members of the pubic who volunteered their help.
He told a virtual meeting of the council: “But here we are again, and if you turn back your mind to last year’s speeches from Greens and Labour, you may well be thinking déjà vu.
“It would have been easier to save us time if they just said ditto and ditto to all the reasons they have cut services and, yes, these are cuts and not savings.”
Councillor Bell said that the Conservative government had pumped £229.5 million into the council’s finances up to December but the Greens had not even acknowledged this financial help, adding that it sent the wrong message.
He said that the extra funding included £11 million for adult social care and the clinically vulnerable, £2.5 million towards the council tax hardship fund and £181 million to support businesses.
He said: “Let’s not hear the government doesn’t care and has not supported us.
“As you know, it was widely reported that as a council we could have a blackhole of up to £50 million this year, according to our Green and Labour colleagues – and, boy, didn’t they really try to push that message out there.
“Project Fear has no bounds when it seeks to worry our residents who have been tirelessly trying to deal with this pandemic, seeing stress over money if furloughed or if they’ve lost their jobs, worrying how they pay the bills, the rent, put food on the table – with no thought to their mental health or wellbeing.
“What did we see? A £50 million black hole? No, we saw a surplus of £4.5 million. I will say that again: No black hole but a surplus of £4.5 million.
“Colleagues need to remember when they spread these doom stories what effect it has on our residents.
“Now, I can accept some criticism from Labour who have been a party in government. But can I remind them of why we ended up in austerity – a letter from Liam Byrne, Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury saying: ‘I am afraid there is no money.’
“There was no choice after Labour’s ‘tax and spend’ put us into austerity.
“But the Greens, who have never been the party of government and have no idea of the pressures this brings or the experiences necessary, are complaining about the lack of central funding to us as a city.”
But he noted that the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas, did not vote against the local government funding settlement that allocated money to Brighton and Hove City Council and other local authorities.
Councillor Bell said that over the past year, under the Greens and Labour, £16 million had been lost because of fiscal and political misjudgments.
But despite this – and the forecast of a huge financial black hole – and thanks to government support, the council had achieved a £4.5 million underspend.
Councillor Bell said: “We could have been offering the residents of this city a zero increase in our council tax.
“But what is indefensible is the lack of vision from this failing administration, with some of the administration trying to talk down our tourist industry and speaking out against tourism which brings nearly £900 million into our economy.
“We Conservatives are full of vision and full of confidence in our residents, businesses and tourism and hospitality sectors.
“We have faith in them and believe in them which is why, with our budget amendments, we wish to make our city a city to be proud of, a city where people would want to visit and a city where businesses want to invest.
“From grass cutting to extra bins in our green spaces, from removing graffiti to painting our railings, from gateway signage to seeing the Volk’s Railway given pride of place on our seafront, from extra CCTV to Madeira Terrace reinvestment, from a disabled ramp to the beach to a disabled carriage on Volk’s Railway, we believe in delivery, pride, hope, vision and a brighter future for us who live and visit out great city.”
Councillor Joe Miller set out much of the detail underpinning the amendments proposed by the Conservatives.
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