With the autumn budget announced this week by the Chancellor and the COP26 climate summit starting, the government continues to borrow Labour’s clothing in talking about “levelling up” and “building back better and greener” after covid.
Which would be all very well, if only the figures matched the rhetoric: sadly, the words and numbers bear very little relation to each other, and as usual councils will end up struggling to keep vital services even at current levels, let alone improve them in the way we’d like to.
While Rishi Sunak trumpeted that the budget represented “the largest increase this century” in funding across all departments, the response from sources as diverse as the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the (Conservative) chair of the Local Government Association, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves, and major union leaders has been less than enthusiastic.
They have pointed out that any small funding rises in selected areas (after 11 years of swingeing cuts) will be wiped out by galloping inflation, ending up as real-terms cuts.
Even leaving aside the most disappointing aspects – a cut in taxes on polluting short-haul flights, no additional funding for adult social care – and looking for positive initiatives, it is unclear whether the government will pay, or expect councils to make more cuts to pay for promises made centrally.
One example is a plan to halve business rates for companies in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors in a tax cut worth £1.78 billion.
This, in a city like ours with a successful tourist economy hit hard by the pandemic, will be really helpful to our many arts, retail and hospitality businesses.
But will the council be funded by the government to replace the money that we lose in reduced rates income, which pays for other services?
Both Unite boss Sharon Graham and Labour leader Keir Starmer called it “a budget of smoke and mirrors”.
Sharon Graham added: “The government wants workers to pay for the pandemic … their incomes are under attack while the super-rich continue to prosper.”
Rachel Reeves declared that “bankers sipping champagne on short-haul flights will be cheering” and I say: the rest of us are very worried.
Councillor Amanda Evans is the deputy leader of the Labour opposition on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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