Posts Tagged 'council tax'

Dodgy statistics and Labour’s local election launch

So, Labour has launched their local election campaign with Ed Miliband claiming that they are “your first line of defence” against public spending reductions. An interesting thought, and I’m sure that people will be able to make up their own minds as to whether he (and the rest of his colleagues in the former Labour Government) should bear any of the responsibility for those public spending reductions. Certainly I thought that the sight of him speaking at the “Stop the Cuts” rally at the weekend, and using Martin Luther King and the Sufragettes to support his case, was one of the more cynical acts of political opportunism I have seen in recent years. (As David Cameron said yesterday – Martin Luther King had a dream and Ed Miliband is still living in one!)

Labour are also up to their old tricks again with figures and statistics. They make their usual claim that council tax bills in Labour-controlled councils are lower than those in Conservative-controlled ones. Which is of course nonsense as they are comparing apples with pears. Labour-controlled areas tend to be in the city centres which have a much greater percentage of homes in the lowest council tax bands which pay less council tax. Therefore, the council tax in these areas, averaged across all bands, is obviously going to be lower. However, if you make a proper comparison – i.e. with homes in Band D – then Conservative councils have lower council tax bills by £43 compared to Labour councils (and £114 a year less than Liberal Democrat-controlled ones!).

They also don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to this argument as they opposed the Coalition Government’s council tax freeze policy which will save an average family up to £72 a year on a Band D home.

Locally here in Brighton & Hove, of course, Labour has an even worse record on council tax – having increased it by 124% (or £743) during the 10 years they were in control of the City Council. And back at Budget Council on 3rd March, they (and the Greens) vetoed our proposed 1% reduction in council tax for next year. Do we really want a return to the days where council tax payers were constantly being asked to bail out the profligacyof their Council?

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Labour must be honest with residents over spending plans

So Labour Group Leader Cllr. Gill Mitchell thinks families will be £1,500 worse off next year due to reductions in Government spending.

This does rather beg the question then of why at Budget Council her Group voted against our proposed council tax and resident parking permit reductions which would have put money back in to local people’s pockets!

But to be quite honest, Labour do not have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticising the actions of the Coalition Government. Who was it who left the country with the worst structural budget deficit in the developed world? Who was it who doubled our national debt during their years in power? And who was it in Brighton & Hove who presided over a 124% increase in council tax (that’s £743 for a band D home) during their 10 years in control of the council? Yes, the Labour Party.

Their tactic now seems to be denying that the Labour Government had anything to do with all this – blaming it all on those nasty bankers. Well firstly, as I have argued before, the public finances were way out of control even before the banking crisis hit. And secondly, if the bankers did act recklessly and irresponsibly (as some of them undoubtedly did), then why didn’t the Government do anything about it during the 13 years when they could have regulated to stop it?

Labour’s pre-budget announcement today shows that they still aren’t being honest with people about how they would deal with the deficit – and they are still racking up new spending commitments by the week. Yes, things are going to be tough for the next couple of years but I firmly believe that the bedrock of economic growth in the future has to be getting the nation’s finances back in order as soon as possible.

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.

Bright Start Nursery

Below is the text of a statement I made at yesterday’s Full Council meeting on the future of the Bright Start nursery:

Mr Mayor, with your permission I would like to make a brief statement which I believe Council will want to hear before we start the debate proper on Bright Start.

I have listened very carefully today to the many questions on this from parents and staff at the nursery and I have received a large number of representations over the last few weeks asking me to keep the nursery open.

Mr Mayor, we launched this consultation on the future of Bright Start because we didn’t feel that it was justifiable to keep subsidising the nursery to the extent that the tax payer has been doing over the years. This is the only nursery in the City which receives such a subsidy and we don’t feel that it is a fair or sustainable situation. In particular, it is not fair on the vast majority of parents whose children attend nurseries which aren’t subsidised, nor is it fair on the council tax payers who have been funding the subsidy.

However, we have always been very clear, and my colleague Cllr. Vanessa Brown has stated this on many occasions, that no decision has yet been made and that we were open to any suggestions on the future of the nursery.

Colleagues will be aware that the  Localism Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Monday, contains provisions to enable this to happen through measures such as the ‘Community Right to Challenge’ and the ‘Community Right to Buy’. In my view, these are hugely welcome measures and really open up enormous opportunities for local communities to become more involved in the running of local services and assets which are of value to them. Mr Mayor, this represents a refreshing and long-overdue shift from the top-down, highly centralised control of public services which has become entrenched over the last decade or so.

So, what I would like to do to today Mr Mayor, in the spirit of the new Localism Bill, is to formally propose, for consultation and consideration, Bright Start as a community asset to a consortium of parents, staff or other interested local parties. I know that a substantial business-case has already been put forward by one parent and I would hope that others may come forward and engage constructively with the Council about this opportunity of taking Bright Start forward.

I have been advised by officers that in order to achieve this lawfully and safely at this stage we should extend the consultation period, which has just finished, to enable detailed proposals to be worked up. As part of this, we will issue a further consultation document in the New Year which will lay out the financial and legal implications for anyone wishing to establish a community nursery.

For the avoidance of doubt, I would like to make it absolutely clear that no decision has been made about the future of Bright Start and we have not ruled out any options. We are proposing to extend the consultation, not to abandon it. At the conclusion of the extended consultation, we will take into account all representations received and approach the issue fairly and with an open mind.

Therefore, Mr Mayor, today we shall be abstaining on the various proposals and amendments before us, as to express an opinion at this stage would pre-empt anything which might emerges from the extended consultation.

Mr Mayor, I can completely understand the strong feelings that have been expressed around Bright Start – after all, there is nothing more important than ones children. This is a genuine offer we are putting on the table today and I hope that it is taken in the spirit in which it is intended.

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.

Government grant – Brighton & Hove loses out

This announcement from the Government that they will only be giving Brighton & Hove City Council a 1.5% increase in central grant doesn’t come as a great surprise but is nonetheless disappointing for the residents of the city. We are once again at the ‘floor’ level of grant, meaning that this is the lowest possible increase we could have got. An increase of 1.5% represents roughly £1.5 million, which is a drop in the ocean when you consider that our overall budget is £750 million. Inflationary pressures alone more than wipe out this increase.

We are working extremely hard to cope with the double whammy of falling income and increased demand for services brought about by the recession. Despite the tough economic outlook, we are ensuring that as much money as possible is spent on the frontline services that so many of the city’s residents and visitors depend on. However, we are not helped in this regard by the ever increasing costs of centralised regulation, inspection and bureaucracy which have resulted from 12 years of a Labour Government which is not prepared to give councils the freedom to get on with it.

We have made over £10 million of efficiency savings over the last couple of years and we are proposing a further £7 million for next year. It is my number one priority to do everything I can again this year to keep council tax as low as possible whilst protecting frontline services. To do anything else at the present time would be to let down the residents and businesses of Brighton & Hove.


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