Posts Tagged 'Budget'

A budget for the whole City

Last week we unveiled our budget proposals for 2011/12, the centre-piece of which is a 1% reduction in council tax. This would be the first council tax decrease in the history of the City Council and would leave residents in a ‘band d’ home almost £60 better off than if council tax had gone up by inflation. This is in stark contrast to the increase in council tax of 124% imposed by the previous Labour Administration during their 10 years in charge of the Council.

Other measures in the budget include:

  • A 5% reduction in the cost of resident parking permits
  • An additional £500k of new money for youth services
  • Protection of the budgets for voluntary organisations, Supporting People, Homelessness, Aids Support and respite for carers.
  • Free swimming for under 11s
  • Increased small grants for sports clubs and funding for the Take Part Festival
  • Funding to refurbish Portslade Town Hall
  • Removal of the controversial Grand Avenue / The Drive cycle lane
  • More funding for repairing potholes, pavements and street lighting
  • Establishing a new Local Homes Venture Fund for new housing

In addition, in contrast to many councils up and down the country, we have committed to:

  • No library closures and no reduced opening hours
  • No closures to Sure Start Children’s Centres
  • No cuts to City bus services
  • No closures of public toilets
  • No move to fortnightly bin collections
  • No enforced staff pay cuts and a minimising of compulsory redundancies

All this has been achieved in spite of a £17 million reduction in the Government’s Formula Grant to the City Council. This is not a cuts budget, this is a budget to support the City. At a time when residents are struggling with high fuel and food bills we think it is important that we give them some relief by reducing their council tax and parking permits. The proposals will now go before the Full Council for approval on 3rd March and I would urge the opposition Groups to think very carefully before casting their votes. I don’t think that residents will thank them if they combine to overturn this budget.

A significant part of the £24 million savings package which we are putting forward have come from the innovative Value for Money review. This review was initiated in late 2009 when it became clear that councils would be required to make a significant contribution to the Government’s national debt reduction package. Measures taken include:

  • removing vacant posts
  • improving procurement practices
  • cutting out unnecessary layers of management
  • more effective management of sickness absence
  • cutting down on the use of agency staff
  • working to share costs and buildings with other councils and public sector partners in the City.

We have been planning very carefully for these challenging times and I think that the hard work has paid off. We have managed as far as possible to cut the cost of delivering services whilst doing our utmost to protect the frontline.

This has not been an easy budget to set by any means but we have made full use of the new freedoms and flexibilities provided by the Government’s decision to remove the ringfence on almost all their grant funding. This has allowed us to protect all our Sure Start Children’s Centres and funding for vital community safety work which we would otherwise have been forced to cut.

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EU budget proposals are crazy!

Today is the first day of the latest EU summit in Brussels and I was staggered to read that the European Parliament had last week voted for a 6% increase in the EU budget for next year, as recommended by the entirely unelected European Commission.

What planet are these people living on?! Whilst countries right across Europe are having to make incredibly tough decisions about how to reign in public spending in order to redress growing budget deficits, the EU seems to be completely oblivious.

If approved the EU’s total budget for 2011 would be a whopping Euro 130 billion with the British contribution rising to over £10 billion over the next 4 years. To put this in context, this is more than the Government currently spends funding the Police nationally.

To rub salt into the wounds, five new unelected European quangos are being set up at a cost of £33 million this year, just at the same time as the UK Government is abolishing 192 as part of their efforts to save money and increase accountability.

Conservative MEPs in the debate proposed an amendment calling on the EU to freeze its budget at 2010 levels but sadly this was voted down (including by 10 of the 13 Labour MEPs).

And who was prominent in their support of this 6% increase to the EU budget? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the Green Party and their new MEP, ex-Brighton councillor Keith Taylor!

Of course, the Greens have form here. At the Brighton & Hove City Council meeting (Conservative notice of motion on public sector debt) last week they argued that cutbacks in public spending are entirely unnecessary because the UK debt problem isn’t that serious! They obviously know something that the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and the Governor of the Bank of England don’t!

I do hope that David Cameron is able to get the EU to back down over their inflated budget demands. At a time like this when the UK is having to make multi-billion pound budget savings in order to pay down the massive debt which has built up over the last 10 years, it is unacceptable that our contribution to the EU should go up by one single penny.

What does the Budget mean for Brighton & Hove?

After 13 years of a Labour government, their out of control spending has finally come home to roost. Former Chief Secretary to the Treasury – Liam Byrne – was quite right to say in that infamous note to his successor that “there’s no money left.” It would be nice if he could also offer an apology to the nation for their profligacy, which we are now all having to pay for.

It is now up to the coalition government to sort out the mess and, in my view, they are quite right to get on and tackle it straight away. Leaving the debt interest to rise for another year would be a complete waste of public money and would only make the situation worse.

I have always said that there are going to be some tough decisions to be taken whoever won the general election in May and, to his credit, George Osborne had the courage to take some of those yesterday. The public sector pay freeze will be difficult for staff at the Council but I’m pleased that he has decided to protect those on incomes below £21,000. And I think that the review of public sector pensions has become unavoidable given the taxpayer liabilities that have been building up over the last few years.

But the tough choices were also mixed in with some really positive proposals. For example, thanks to our sound financial management over the last 3 years, we are going to be able to deliver on our pledge to Brighton & Hove’s residents to freeze council tax for next year. This Conservative Administration has delivered the lowest council tax rise in the history of the council for 3 years in a row now and has saved £30 million of taxpayers’ money in the process. A freeze next year will be a real boost for residents who are struggling to pay their bills, as will George Osborne’s decision to take almost a million people out of paying income tax altogether by raising the threshold.

There was also some really good news for businesses. The cut in Corporation Tax will be hugely welcome, as will the partial reversal of Labour’s proposed ‘jobs tax’ – the employer National Insurance contributions. It is crucial that we allow the private sector to prosper, both locally and nationally, as this is where the future economic growth – and taxation to support vital public services – will come from.

We will now be looking at George Osborne’s statement in more detail to see how it affects the Council’s finances. However, as always, I will do my utmost to ensure that frontline services are protected.

Conservative Spring Forum comes back to Brighton

It was a hectic week for me last week with our annual budget council meeting on Thursday and then the Conservative Spring Forum at the weekend.

I was really pleased that we were able to get our budget voted through and that there was no repeat of the ‘Core Strategy’ Council meeting last December when the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ (Greens, Labour and Lib Dems) voted us down on some key transport policies. So we were able to get through a council tax increase of just 2.5% which is the lowest rise since the Council was formed in 1997. We were also able to put some additional investment into areas such as youth work, improving the seafront, winter maintenance and replacement floodlighting for the Royal Pavilion. It is very important that we keep the City looking as good as possible to attract the visitors and tourists that the local economy relies upon.

As I said, at the weekend the Conservative Spring Forum was held at the Metropole and it was great to be able to host the party in my home town! Brighton & Hove is, for many members,  still associated with the dreadful IRA bombing of the Grand in 1984 and so it is a big step for the organisers to come back to our City. The weekend itself went very well from what I saw and also from talking to many delegates who were delighted to be here. Hopefully it will be the first of many more visits in the near future.

For my part, I took part in a session with Caroline Spelman MP, who is the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. There will be some interesting and, in my view, beneficial changes in this area if the Conservatives win the general election in May (or whenever it is called!). I hope that a Conservative Government will feel able to trust local councils such as ours with greater powers and freedoms than we currently have because I believe very strongly that at present our ability to help residents is  stifled by red tape and centrally imposed controls and restrictions. A key part of this is the pledge to abolish the whole tier of regional quangos which many of us feel are both wasteful and contrary to the priniciples of localism which we all believe in. For those of you who may be interested, there are more details in the Control Shift policy paper.


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