This was my first budget as both co-leader of the Labour group and finance lead. I found the process fascinating and, as I said in my speech, the input and support from officers was amazing.
We agreed the budget finally just before 10pm – without support from the Conservative group, which I found quite sad, as we try to have a constructive working relationship across all groups in our “no overall control” council.
It seems particularly important to try to achieve some sort of consensus when setting the budget but, unusually, they were disengaged from much of the debate beforehand.
While we didn’t agree with quite a lot of the content of the Tory amendments, feeling there was a fair bit of early electioneering going on, they did contribute a few good ideas.
And we were keen to use those ideas in a “composite” amendment that all three parties could sign up to, so it was a shame they weren’t prepared to play a part.
We did have an interesting debate, though, and everyone had their say across the political spectrum.
I focused on Labour’s amendments and am particularly proud of having found funds to support free swimming for under 18s and the abolition of children’s library fines in favour of a reading incentive scheme, which should make a difference to our residents.
We are also investing more money in basic services like additional street cleaners, cleaner toilets and CCTV as well as streetlighting to improve safety.
While I’m writing, let me dispel some allegations about residents’ parking: we are NOT increasing charges by 90 per cent.
We are supporting the administration’s increase in residential parking charges by £10 for first cars – reluctantly – and introducing a freeze for residents who are on benefits – as agreed last year though not yet implemented because the broken parking systems could not cope with it.
The increases for second and third and further cars, similarly decided last year, were also not implemented, for the same reason, which is why we have such a large cumulative impact in the coming year.
We know this may cause problems for some people who have two or more cars and we will continue to lobby for cheaper buses and better transport routes across our city to help those in outlying areas less well-served than those lucky enough to live nearer the city centre.
Investment in a city-wide strategic transport model is the key to help deliver that.
Councillor Carmen Appich is the joint Labour opposition leader on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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