Conservative budget management pays dividends
As Conservatives we believe that the state of our City stems from the financial management by its City Council.
Between 2007 and 2011 the Conservatives ran the most fiscally responsible Council in Brighton & Hove’s City Council’s history.
When Conservatives were elected to run Brighton & Hove City Council in 2007, it was the first time parts of the City had seen a Conservative-run council for 20 years.
Residents gave Conservatives a mandate to give the City a new broom – and our Councillors took this seriously.
We started by taking a thorough look at the City’s finances.
For our Conservative team in 2008 the choice of a Finance Cabinet member to take on this task was an obvious one: Conservative Councillor Jan Young, a trained and experienced accountant, was appointed to run the ruler over the City’s finances.
Jan quickly set out about this work, starting with a look at the payroll.
What she found was that basic budget management had not been being carried out by Labour for some time. Almost immediately Cllr Young found £40 million in savings from taxpayer’s money that was being wasted by council errors.
The Conservatives found that the Council was paying people who had died, left the council or didn’t exist; while Labour had given council officers credit cards with no spending limits on them and the council had insurance policies for 360 cars that couldn’t be traced.
The biggest scandal was a £6 million ‘vacant posts’ fund which was accumulating taxpayer’s funds and effectively being used as a slush fund with poor oversight.
After delivering these early savings the Conservative administration set about putting in place a more comprehensive programme to deliver savings to benefit the City.
The Conservatives’ Value For Money programme challenged the Council to look at how as an organisation the Council could do things differently.
Initially there was some hesitancy and resistance among Council Officers to this concept – but Cllr Young and Cllr Mears provided the leadership required to get the programme under way.
The Conservatives’ Value for Money Programme provided major dividends for the city, saving £75 million over 4 years and £92 million before it was stopped by the subsequent Greens’ administration.
In addition to savings, the Conservatives also prioritised creating new revenue streams, generating revenue by building new beach huts and investing in the Brighton Centre following on from the previous Labour administration who had wanted to close the diary.
By exercising good financial management, the Conservative Administration of 2007-11 was able to deliver a dividend for the City, easing pressure on taxpayers while guaranteeing service delivery and providing continuity of employment for staff.
The Conservatives were able to deliver Zero % increases in Council Tax over each of the 4 years it was in administration in Brighton & Hove, easing pressure on residents. There were no strikes or industrial action.
It is worth noting that all this was achieved in the middle of a global financial crisis.
The Conservatives were able to resolve the Council’s Equal Pay gap which Labour had failed to deal with during its years in power, while also improving services – a recommendation had been given to the Administration to close and board up the King Alfred but we invested £2 million to keep it open and running, while also restoring the iconic seafront bandstand to its former glory.
And the Conservatives were also able to provide additional resources towards improving the state of the City and restoring civic pride, including a rolling programme for painting railings, adding extra grass cuttings and purchasing a machine to remove chewing gum from the pavements.
The positive work resulted in the Conservative Council Leader Mary Mears being recognised with a national Local Government personality of the year award following the completion of the Conservatives’ four-year term.
With the Council’s Budget around the corner, it is worth reflecting on these achievements of the 2007-11 Conservative administration as they go to show that the State of the City doesn’t have to be the way it is at the moment.
After 10 years of Labour and the Greens, we can only wonder what the current state of the books is like at Brighton & Hove.
We know from media reports over the last 12 months that there have been examples of £16 million being wasted on overspends and ideological policies – a sum higher than the declared budget shortfall for next year - and that the Council is planning another council tax rise this year following Labour’s maximum rise last year.
With community disillusionment with the Council at high levels and The Argus reporting that a petition of no Confidence is being circulated by residents, it may be that the time is coming again when voters will turn to Conservatives to sort out the mess the City is in.