A push for budget transparency prompted councillors to agree that full details of the reasons for future cuts and savings must be published before the budget debate early next year.
The move came as Brighton and Hove City Council’s draft budget for 2023-24 was discussed by the Policy and Resources Committee on Thursday (1 December).
The draft budget was noted, with decisions on proposed cuts to services to be made when the debate starts in earnest next year on what was described as a “challenging” budget.
Proposed increases in fees and charges are due to be settled by various council committees next month while the detailed budget is due to return to the Policy and Resources Committee in February.
Until then, officers and councillors will continue behind the scenes to try to identify more cuts and savings. This is because there is a £19 million “shortfall” next year and a potential budget gap of £54 million over the next four years.
The “savings package” put forward and a potential 4.99 per cent increase in council tax would still leave the council £6.2 million short of a balanced budget.
So far, councillors were told, 24 full-time posts were at risk of redundancy and 38 unfilled jobs could be “deleted” as councillors and officials try to balance the books.
Green council leader Phélim Mac Cafferty started the meeting yesterday by saying that the combination of soaring energy costs, rampant inflation, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s “bewildering” mini-budget had contributed to the cost of living crisis.
Councillor Mac Cafferty said: “I note from the draft budget before us that the effect of this is expected to increase the council’s costs next year by a staggering £39 million.
“While the government’s autumn statement announced some additional resources and deferred social care reforms again, this is not nearly enough, leaving us £19 million short.
“Yet again it pushes an increasing burden on local taxpayers in order to sustain critical services.
“It is a small relief to see business rates are being frozen but we wait to see if the government will fully compensate local councils for this decision.
“I’m also relieved to see the household support fund extended to next year, without which the council would not be able to at all continue to support our food partnership or help households in hardship, leaving them facing an even greater cliff-edge.”
Green councillor Hannah Allbrooke, deputy leader of the council, said that she did not stand for election to make the “awful decisions” that the council faced next year.
One of those potential “awful decisions” was closing the Bright Start Nursery at the Old Slipper Baths, in Barrack Yard, off North Road, Brighton, by the Prince Regent Swimming Pool.
Parents and children from the nursery attended the meeting to hear discussion about its future. It currently costs the council £104,000 a year to run.
Councillor Allbrooke said: “My vision is rather than closing nurseries, we keep them open and we keep them flourishing, that we have the money we need to spend on care, that we have money to clean public toilets like the Tories claim they care so much about, that we don’t have to cut library opening hours and can keep them properly staffed at all times.
“This government has shamefully decimated our budget – stolen £100 million from us. And then they’ve caused us to cut a further £100 million, £200 million in savings from essential services our city relies on.
“It is a series of really, really difficult choices that I don’t think anyone wants to make. Well – anyone but perhaps our friends in the blue.”
A co-opted member of the Policy and Resources Committee, Anusree Biswas Sasidharan, said that many people had contacted her about the threat to Bright Start Nursery.
She said that an equalities impact assessment (EIA) noted that many of the children were eligible for the pupil premium, with 25 per cent of the families using the nursery on low incomes.
The EIA report said that 38 per cent of the children had special needs and 62 per cent were not white British.
She added: “It speaks to the wonderful richness of this nursery that half of the children speak another language other than English.
“It is really concerning because it has such a high number of children who are SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).
“It is concerning that a lot of parents find it very difficult to find a place for their children and there are concerns if this is no longer a provision available that they will struggle to find suitable places.”
Councillor Carmen Appich, the joint leader of the Labour opposition, said that the Chancellor’s autumn statement did little to solve the funding crisis in local government after 12 years of “swingeing cuts”.
Councillor Appich said: “Instead of taking responsibility for the chaos they’ve wreaked, they’re passing the buck and are forcing the difficult decisions on to local authorities.
“Councils have already lost 60p out of every £1 since 2010 and now this Tory government wants to cripple our residents further.
“I fear that across the country, it will be our high streets, our youth services, our community centres and our social care that bear the cost.”
Labour called for extra detail about the cuts – and that plea received unanimous backing.
The Policy and Resources Committee is due to discuss the budget on Thursday 9 February.
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.