Time and time again I’ve heard on the doorsteps that people want a different kind of politics. After 13 years of cruel Tory government, they want to know councillors are ready to stand up for our fantastic city and do whatever it takes to stop Tory cuts.
The country is now in the eye of a perfect storm: more than a decade of a brutal austerity agenda, Brexit, a deadly pandemic and soaring inflation – and now a cost-of-living crisis driving more and more people to seek out help.
With no new funding from government, it’s plain to see councils trying to support residents are at breaking point.
Last year Greens and Labour worked together to do everything possible to stem the worst. Labour voted for the last budget we put forward and presented positive ideas to improve it.
Recognising no one has the monopoly on good ideas, we staved off some of the most brutal impacts of Tory policy and kept council services running by working together.
Not that you’d know it. This week a lead Labour councillor published a piece on council finances with claims that would be the envy of Rishi Sunak – apparently the terrifying cliff edge in our council funding has nothing to do with the Tories.
This is despite a report from auditors making clear that not only were attempts to close the gap in funding last year “proven effective” but that soaring demand for adult social care, children’s services and to tackle homelessness is pushing the council’s budget to breaking point. Funding simply cannot keep up with demand.
Sadly, around the country the story is the same. Birmingham, the biggest unitary council in Europe, has recently gone bankrupt along with Croydon, Thurrock, Slough, Woking, Hampshire and Northamptonshire.
In a recent survey of 47 councils, 26 said they were facing failure over the next two years due to a £5 billion national funding gap.
Are these all Green-run cities? No. Are these cities that have worked financial miracles over the past 13 years? Yes.
Public services are being bled to death by Tory negligence. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer said recently he “doesn’t care if he sounds like a Conservative” – seemingly Brighton and Hove Labour don’t either.
Instead of coming out against the impact Tory policy is having on the council’s budget, the new Labour-run council has clearly set out its stall with a narrative of wanting all the glory but none of the blame for the last four years since they collapsed locally in 2020.
They are quick off the mark to try to heap every challenge they face on Greens – but forgetting they worked side by side with us to shape the budget and fully supported it.
It’s the same budget that secured funding for projects they now champion – such as the new affordable housing in Whitehawk, plans to protect our precious downland estate and investment in new road and active travel improvements.
Worse still, I’m concerned Labour are also undoing what progress had been made. Auditors are urging Brighton and Hove to do everything possible to increase fees and charges to help plug the gap this year.
Yet Labour has reversed parking charges and are risking projects handed to them on a plate – like completing Valley Gardens and the A259 active travel corridor – jeopardising millions of pounds of hard-won funding in the process.
The price of a bag of cement is going up every day and yet Labour are costing the city dear through delays on projects they voted for.
I urge the Labour group to face up to reality and stand with all those who are determined to challenge Tory cuts.
Since the Conservative government took power in 2010, nearly 800 public libraries have closed. Over 1,300 children’s centres have gone. Rough sleeping has skyrocketed and funding for education has been slashed.
Picking fights with people who are focused on working together to support public services will do nothing to keep our libraries and public toilets open.
We need every idea on the table that could protect our residents from the worst at the next budget. Sadly, far from their promise to listen, all Labour want to do is point the finger of blame.
The Green message to the Labour administration that worked with us cheek by jowl for the past four years to stave off the worst of austerity is clear. Stop defending Tory cuts.
Councillor Steve Davis is the convenor of the Green group on Brighton and Hove City Council.