Former Labour leader Daniel Yates set out his party’s position on the budget for Brighton and Hove City Council in the coming financial year this afternoon (Thursday 25 February).
Here is an edited version of what Councillor Yates, who leads on finance for Labour, told the council’s budget meeting, which is being held remotely.
He said: “Firstly I would like to start with my thanks. Obviously to my colleagues in the Labour Group who have scoured this budget for ways to improve it but also to councillors of all groups who have sought to bring forward a budget that meets the needs of the city we all call home and cherish dearly.
“I would also like to thank the officers of all levels across the council who in this tumultuous year of covid have worked tirelessly to protect our communities, our residents and of course the council from the multitude of challenges we have all faced.
“Indeed, each and every resident has played their part in this community effort and it’s only right we all put on record our thanks to them and I’d also like to thank the very many residents who have been in contact with ideas, suggestions, issues and proposals to make this budget fit for purpose for them and their communities.
“Lastly though I’d like to thank personally James Hengevel, Jeff Coates, Nigel Manvell and the rest of the finance team who have worked non-stop to support us councillors bring forward the amendments and understand the finer detail and impacts of the improvements and amendments we feel that will make this budget achievable preferable and realistic for all communities across the city.
“That said, this is the time where usually you would expect me to enter into a long speech about the problems this budget causes to many communities across the city and the gaps it creates for the most vulnerable and needy across the city – and let’s face it this year has left more people, more communities and more businesses vulnerable than at any other time since the city was created.
“Usually, I would be calling the budget a curates egg and listing its many faults and barely touching on the good points but, in these times, now is not the time to do that.
“Thanks to Labour’s adopted corporate plan, our six years of careful administration and our shared working as a constructive opposition this is less of a curate’s egg than we would normally see. It’s more like a split mayonnaise if you like. It needs some careful additions to bring it back and that is what Labour has sought to do through our amendment both at previous Policy and Resources Committees and through our amendments today.
“The city and the city’s finances face many challenges not all of which we can repair tonight and many that we cannot address alone. But unity is strength and where we can work with the administration to deliver better for the city we will. If that means being accused of being not oppositional enough by a minority party who would rather drag us into the old-fashioned ‘yah boo’ politics that has dogged this city for decades then we’ve got a manifesto and the backing of our party and our communities to be better than that and to do the right thing for the whole city.
“That corporate plan with its list of key challenges for our communities has been only added to by both covid and the failure of the Conservative government to give us confidence that their new-found reliance on local government will be backed up by new-found spending plans – proper spending plans that give us stable long-term funding from central government – funding that could ensure safe and secure financial futures for our schools and for those need social care. Funding that could remove the fear of losing homes and give new-found hope of homes being available for all who need not rather than just for those who can afford it. Funding that protects communities across our city who feel excluded from taking their rightful place at the centre of our city life and taking full advantage of our city’s opportunities. And funding that could enable this city to transform itself from a city that talks the talk on climate change and achieving net zero carbon by 2030 to one that has a deliverable plan – those are the challenges that is ever present in every decision we take tonight and in the future.
“Instead, we are increasingly seeing the burden of meeting those challenges passed directly through underfunding on to local residents and businesses. More than 11 per cent of council tax rises simply to fund adult social care – we are damned if we raise this money but would be condemned if we didn’t and would be failing to address the needs of the most vulnerable. That’s why we will be supporting the nearly 5 per cent council tax rise tonight – not because we want to raise it but because we would be failing in our most important duty to the most vulnerable if we did not. It’s a tough choice but if you stand for council that’s in the unwritten job description.
“So, we are lucky to have a talented team of staff in the council who are always looking for improvements too. They aren’t faceless bureaucrats but genuine hard-working public servants whose job each day is to run our services, support our communities and protect our most vulnerable. Improving this budget makes their work more effective and gives us stronger communities and protecting the vulnerable is the pay-off for listening to worthy speeches and putting up with the brickbats.
“So on with the speech … Labour’s and, now, the council’s corporate plan has established the framework – the recipe if you like – for the next few years critical actions to deliver a better future for the city and our neighbours. And it shines out like a golden thread through this budget despite the Green administration or one might say because of our recognition of the shared priorities we found during the last set of council elections. But that doesn’t mean that it is perfect.
“I’ve always been clear that improving the budget should be the aspiration of every councillor.
“Labour has already brought forward changes to this starting point, we’ve set the corporate plan, we’ve amended with support the council tax reduction scheme which has brought more residents greater support from the ever-increasing council tax demands. We’ve worked with both opposition groups to move away from performance politics and brought forward important new support for our community and voluntary sector to give them greater security for the future. And I’d really like to put on record my thanks to councillors from both other groups for their support and engagement in that effort. But there’s still more to do.
“You will hear tonight from my colleagues about the critical amendments we have put forward to make this budget work better. Changes that include:
- Avoiding inflation-busting parking permits for the majority of city residents with cars
- Upping the council’s game in addressing the impact of drugs on our communities
- Getting more housing delivered from sites that need to be developed but aren’t being
- Supporting residents to engage in a zero net carbon future
- Improving our bus services to help residents have better services and reduce reliance on cars
- Helping families get the early support they need in the aftermath of covid and with the challenge of disadvantage
- Reversing proposed reductions in our schools standards service and our safer communities teams
- And investing in our seafront infrastructure and giving Portslade the same welcome as will be seen from our previous amendment in Hove and Brighton. Because every town that forms our city matters. No favourites. Just fairness.
“We have listened to our communities and bought forward amendments that build on the base budget and make it something the whole city can be proud of.
“From tackling disadvantage, combating the climate crisis, addressing drug crime, reducing the educational attainment gap and boosting the economic recovery of Brighton and Hove, Labour’s plans will deliver for our residents
“And in delivering for our residents they ensure the appropriate balance between tackling the challenges of the future generations and recognising the failures of our collective past.
“When looking at amendments from the other groups, it’s clear there is much to be lauded and that we can support as a Labour group but there remain serious concerns about the choices other parties are making and the messages that sends across the city.
“We cannot endorse or support treating racial inequality in our city as a short-term problem. It is not something for which there is a short-term solution where we can simply wipe our hands of it after five years. It’s a long-term commitment and the choice in the budget to provide funding to try to address the historical wrongs that echo through our communities today and are all too apparent.
“Similarly, to turn a multimillion-pound long-term capital investment in addressing poverty and the climate crisis into a one-off funding pot that amounts to little more than £1 per person would be an abject failure of us as a council to address those two twin priorities from the corporate plan. Our city’s young people would never forgive us if we took the route of saying that the Earth can wait. Serious action needs to start now. It needs to carry on from now and it needs to set us on the right course of achieving carbon net zero before that generation has to explain to its own children why we did not act. We have to balance our respect for our heritage with our hopes for our future and Conservative amendments do not reach that balancing point.
“Similarly, we cannot endorse the suggestion in Conservative amendment three that in some mythical future we can deliver a saving in our trade union facilities time. While that might be the case, there is no guarantee and, with increasing ever-changing demands being placed on our staff, it is only right and fair that we recognise the important role that their representatives make in keeping the city moving and ensuring that fairness and respect continue to be key to our approach to our public sector. The modernisation funding in this budget is not a slush fund to push cuts. It’s a critical investment improving our services to our residents and we will vote to protect it.
“And where money is already identified and plans in place for investment for improving and maintaining key infrastructure we will not vote to support additional spending that amounts to little more than a name check for local facilities, putting one community in inequal competition to another for tiny pots of money. That’s not fairness, that’s not long-term thinking. It’s shameless.
“And nothing can be more shameless that removing funding for the renewal of our strategy for supporting travellers and putting that money instead into basketball hoops. There’s already funding in the budget and plans afoot for our city’s parks and open spaces. Yet travellers, who experience so much racism and disadvantage throughout the country, are to be pushed to the back of the queue in favour of short-term favours.
“However, these Conservative amendments do contain clauses and ideas that are worthy of further consideration and I hope that the best parts of these amendments can be brought back before us in composite form so that the good is not thrown out with the less positive.
“Similarly, on Green group amendments, it is a really positive step from the administration to amend their own budget at this late stage to ensure that our valuable community sector domestic violence services are not destroyed after years of painstaking work but the unintended consequence of poor procurement decisions. Again although the Labour group cannot support this amendment as it takes money that we have identified for spending elsewhere. I would hope that the very positive spending proposals which we thoroughly support can form part of a composite amendment before the end of this evening so that we can fully support and endorse this.
“As an opposition Labour are proud of our record and we will work to continue to build on that. We will work cross party for the benefit of all. Not through opposition for oppositions sake but to ensure that the voice of communities across the city are heard and amplified through our actions our improvements and where required our criticism. We will aim at building consensus and improving on the hard work of officers and previous Labour administrations of the last six years or so.
“This is a critical time for the city. It’s a time for mature politics for the benefit of the city and the communities we love.
“But it is not the time to hark back to the past and forget the future. We neglect the future at our peril. We only need to look at our precious Madeira Terraces to see that.
“So, while we welcome the promise of investment in our heritage we also must invest in our future. We must refresh our city and prepare it for the future with a stronger economy built on and around our communities.
“A city that plays its full part in achieving the carbon neutral status that the whole world desires and requires. And we have to balance all of that within the means of a city where 40 per cent child poverty rates are not uncommon, where homelessness and early death are commonplace and where public sector workers and families across the city struggle increasingly to afford to live the lives they aspire to.
“That’s the future we hope to live to see for every resident current and future of this great city.
“A city by the Sea. Not a city half submerged in the sea.”
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