The Conservatives believe the budget is a litmus test for the performance of any council
The performance of Brighton & Hove City Council will come into sharp focus in the coming weeks as attention turns to setting a budget for the next financial year.
The Conservatives believe the budget is a litmus test for the performance of any council and Cllr Joe Miller will be leading the Conservatives’ scrutiny and response of the administration’s proposals.
Brighton & Hove residents elect its council to manage a £777 million City Budget to deliver essential services for residents.
Last year the Labour administration put Council Tax up by the maximum possible amount, hitting residents hard.
Ahead of this coming year’s budget, council financial officers have advised that the City is facing a budget shortfall of £12.4 million to £12.9 million that will have to be addressed.
In response to this news, the new Green Leader of the Council has – in this newspaper - quick as a flash blamed the National Government for the financial position the council is in and signalled that he wants to raise council tax further.
But is this correct or fair?
Or is this simply a continuation of a blame game employed by this council, designed to deflect responsibility to others for the position the City finds itself in?
Let’s review the evidence.
Over the last 12 months the pages of The Argus have reported on several examples of taxpayers’ money being wasted by Brighton & Hove City council as a result of policy decisions or lack of attention to service delivery.
Chief among these examples has been the ideological council decision to ‘insource’ the city’s housing repair service, which has cost nearly £10 million so far and is currently subject to ongoing industrial action. It is likely that this industrial dispute can only be resolved with further financial losses for the council.
Labour’s meddling with the City’s Home to School Transport policy on similar ideological grounds - which resulted in the collapse of a service for disabled children to get to school - cost council taxpayers losses of over £1 million.
In June The Argus reported on a £3 million overspend at City Clean in the two years to the end of March, with Auditors saying that they had not been able to count all the costs of the problems with the council service.
In August The Argus reported that Labour and the Greens’ controversial decision to close Madeira Drive and implement the A259 Cycle Lane would cost over £800,000 for the 6 months these measures were in place in lost parking revenue. This money would usually go towards concessionary bus passes for the disabled and over-65s as well as subsidising bus routes, some of which operate in areas of high social-economic deprivation.
In December it was reported that a council error had cost Brighton & Hove schools £3.3 million – the council has said that it pass 43% of the costs of this error onto schools and local taxpayers will pick up the rest of the bill.
And because of the council’s failure to manage its staff, a temporary housing director employed by Labour has cost the City £1200 a day for 6 months.
These examples reach a total of £16 million in self-inflicted harm by council mismanagement and policy failures, outstripping the council’s declared shortfall for next year.
A better-run council, that didn’t make such ideologically-charged mistakes, would be in a much better financial position and would not be looking to pass the buck onto taxpayers in the form of council tax rises.
Our neighbours in Wealden District Council are a case in point.
The Conservative-run Wealden District Council recently confirmed there will be a zero increase in council tax for the next year.
The Conservative Leader of Wealden Cllr Bob Standley when announcing this said:
“Thanks to many years of careful financial management, we are able to meet next year’s extra costs from our reserves. This is the rainy day we have prepared for.
“I know that many households across the District have seen their incomes affected by the Covid pandemic. I hope this is one of a number of pieces of good news we can look forward to in 2021.”
This is a shining example of the Conservative approach to the budget management.
At the other end of the spectrum, Labour-led Croydon Council recently went bankrupt.
The Government has already provided Brighton & Hove City Council with £35 million extra funding during the pandemic.
Ultimately it is not the Conservative Government’s fault if the council wastes money on policy errors and then cannot balance it’s budget.
It is time for the Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council to end the blame game and take full responsibility for the City’s finances and his Council at the upcoming budget.