The Greens trying to Juggle Council finances with both hands tied behind their back

The Green’s alternative budget for 2011/12 has been published. I can recall various alternative budgets over the years but this must be amongst the best presented I can recall. It starts with a condemnation from the Convenor of the Green Group of Councillors, Bill Randall. (By the way, I wish the Greens would just agree to have a Leader rather than a Convenor. It has done away with ‘Speakers’ nationally in favour of a Leader, currently Caroline Lucas, and it has done them the power of good!). In his opening comments, Bill Randall, a man characterised by sober thought and expression, says: “The massive and damaging spening cuts imposed on Brighton and Hove City Council by the Conservative and Lib Dem Coalition Government will perpetuate inequality in the city, victimise the vulnerable and penalise the poor. We believe the cuts go beyond necessity and are fuelled by dogma …”

In what sounds a bit like New Labour-speak (sorry Bill) he says “Fairness is at the heart of this budget. We have restored the 1 per cent cut in council tax proposed by the Conservatives, for instance, because we think the £1.1 million it yields will be used more effectively and fairly to protect services and jobs for the general good of the city as opposed to giving every household a very small reduction in what they pay.”

Green Finance supremo, councillor Jason Kitcat, “Cutting local government budgets is an ill-considered policy which will harm the most vulnerable. It runs contrary to the views of the Green Party, many leading economists, fairness and common sense. Cutting spending while the economy is fragile risks a further downturn and reduces services for those most likely to need them.”

So what are the Greens proposing? You can read the whole Green Alternative Budget here. Amongst the highlights are:

  • £924,000 of recurring funding being put back into services for Children, Young People and Families including Educational Psychologists and the Connexions careers and advice service.
  • £500,000 to kick-start investment in solar panels for council homes and offices, which would create free electricity for tenants and new revenue through the ‘Feed in Tariff’ for renewable energy generation.
  • £450,000 for a new reserve to deal with the risks of the major changes proposed to services for Adult Social Care and Children, Young People and Families.
  • £40,000 to pilot a residential food waste collection scheme.
  • £25,000 to fund extra noise patrol shifts in the city.
  • £15,000 more in grants to voluntary organisations in the city.
  • £26,000 saved from removing catering for meetings councillors attend and £18,000 saved by reforming the system of councillor allowances.

These proposals put clear green water between the Greens and the Tories. One or two items are populist (extra noise patrols which people in town centre wards, i.e. Green wards, will welcome this) or tokenistic (£15,000 more in grants to voluntary organisations – it won’t even pay for a fill time worker).

The Green Alternative Budget shows that the Greens are a credible alternative. We now wait to see what the Labour alternative budget will look like.

A final word to Dani, who says “I haven’t studied this, or the Tory budget, in detail, but I think I prefer the Green priorities to the Tory ones.”. You don’t say, Dani! With someone with your political background it is like me saying that I think I prefer strawberries and cream to root canal treatment. But I applaud her sentiment when she says: “I would rather see a defiant budget that doesn’t pass on any government cuts to local people, and this isn’t that, but it’s an improvement.” But I sympathise with all councillors when trying to juggle Council finances with both hands tied behind their backs.

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22 Responses

  1. I have found that food waste is a hot issue. People are shocked that Cllr Theobald did not know the terrible proportion of it currently in regular collections, when I asked him a Public Question about it last December.

    I am also finding, in various areas, that, with this waste subject, the spree of items in Private Eye about the Tories’ attempt to silence Jason Kitcat means that his name is very well known, and people read his website.

    I reckon that he would do very well if he stood as MP in Hove and Portslade.

  2. £15,000 wouldn’t pay for a full time worker, but it could pay for a year’s meeting room rent and insurance for five small community groups, who would otherwise go under. It’s not to be sniffed at.

    I agree about food waste. It’s pretty shameful how poor our kerbside recycling service is, compared with many other local authorities, and even with the service provided by Magpie.

    • Hi Dani, I accept your point about the £15,000 and agree about collections. BPB

    • It looks as if the £15K may simply be to allow inflationary uplifts to vol orgs – as it reverses the decision to have a 0% uplift. Only if the 0% position is maintained would any additional funding be released. Allowing an inflationary uplift would seem an appropriate way of supporting existing arrangements and securing future services, rather than seeking to expand under the present circumstances.

    • Waste recycling might be noble but it is a health hazard. In Camden they are doing this and they have a terrible plague of rats now. The smell in the summer from rotting food is awful and people don’t close their recycling boxes properly.

      Dry waste is fine but keep the rotting food for landfill.

  3. Interesting to see that half the proposals are completely unfunded…

  4. @albionhill

    All the proposals are funded and were double-checked by council finance officers to ensure they balanced etc.

    • Jason – I’m particularly interested in the reduction of cuts to the Fostering and Adoption Service. B+H have a particular issue in their heavy reliance on independent fostering agencies, and legislative changes are likely to make it more difficult to use internal services as a first option. Is this funding to expand our own service (or not cut them as much) or is it to pay for placements in the independent sector?

    • Your proposals might well be funded but can I trust you to look after our finances after the last debacle when you were in control?

      The assets of the Council were not itemised and there was no control on your spending. Council Tax rose by 124% during our boom years after 2000. I just cannot trust you and Green to run our Council. Your credibility is shot.

      • @Linda F

        I am a Green councillor. I think you’re confusing Greens with another party, possibly Labour?!

        Greens have not yet had the chance to control Brighton & Hove City Council. I hope that after this May we may well get that chance.

        So whilst we may well make some mistakes in the future, we can’t be blamed for what happened under previous administrations here!

  5. Labour’s alternative budget was also published yesterday: http://brightonhovelabour.com/2011/03/labours-alternative-council-budget-proposals-for-2011-12/

    The Green amendments to the Tory budget are costed and are the same as ours – indeed we are putting them jointly.

    However the Green alternative budget contains a second package of measures – a wish-list – outside of what is affordable given the cuts imposed by the Tory government on the city council. That’s fine but they should be clear about the difference between what can be done this week and what they would like to do in an ideal world.

  6. @Dr Faust

    My hope is that we can not cut our own services as much with our proposal. However, one of the great frustrations for opposition councillors is the difficulty in getting full operational detail on each service area affected by the administration’s budget proposals. Furthermore there is only so much direction that can be done in a budget amendment.

    Budgets aside, as a rule of thumb Greens favour publicly-owned services over outsourcing.

    • Exactly why Green/Labour administration would be disasterous. This is the reason why the country got into debt, because of publically owned services that were not accountable, lacked productivity and were very wasteful.

      We need to encourage the private sector and create real wealth.

      Greens, you are like water melons: lovely and green on the outside and deep red inside. You are not cuddly, altustic party that you present yourself. Some of your members are, but not many I’ve met so far- in fact many in Brighton are borderline anarchists

      • Hi Linda, gratuitous insults aren’t what this blog is about. Some analysis, some humour, some criticism is fine, but not angry name calling, please. BPB

      • Linda: please explain what you mean by ‘lacked productivity’. Many public services are, by definitiion, not ‘productive’ in a way that is easily counted. ‘Or do you believe that the only purpose of any human activity is making money?

        By the way, it is ‘publicly’, not ‘publically’ and ‘disastrous’. not ‘disasterous’. Yet more from evidence that we need strong investment in education and smaller class sizes.

  7. @Warren Morgan

    Your assertion is completely untrue. The Green Alternative Budget is a completely costed and balanced budget.

    With the exception of removing the strategic directors (which was blocked at the 11th hour) everything in the document at http://bit.ly/greenbudget is in the amendments that will be presented by us on Thursday. The head of finance would not let us present amendments which are un-costed.

    On the other hand your ‘Labour alternative budget’ is actually the joint budget. Labour are only proposing one other amendment on Thursday – spending £130k on painting seafront railings.

    So at least have the good grace to admit our joint working on what is there. I personally worked up many of the items that you list on that page.

    Unfortunately there are numerous errors in that post. For example removing Tory plans to charge for car club parking bays is costing £14k not an eye-watering £214k. And £40k is being spent on a food waste pilot, not £14k. It would also be helpful to identify what is one-off and what is recurring funding.

    To clarify I’ve published my working spreadsheet on the joint amendments here so people can see them more clearly:
    http://www.jasonkitcat.com/files/joint_green-labour_budget_2011-12.pdf

    (It’s written using the same method as for the Green Alternative budget, so see the notes in that for help understanding the figures, or fire away here!)

    • Sorry Jason, hadn’t realised the full extent of the separate Green amendments. Basically you are spending some of the money twice – if some or most of the joint Labour/Green amendments pass then there won’t be the money to fund some/all of the Green amendments.

      • Thanks for the reply Warren.

        To be absolutely clear — we fully expect the joint amendments to pass and the Green-only ones to fall. The Green alternative budget sets out our view on what should be done if we were in charge, so I don’t imagine any other parties jumping in to support that!

        Specifically with the mechanics of Thursday night’s votes in mind, it is the joint amendments which will carry through thanks to both our groups voting together on them.

      • There are some good things in the Green amendments -eg renewables – and its a shame more of these were not put forward by the Greens for consideration/inclusion in the joint amendments. We can’t support them because that would mean not having the money to pay for the joint amendments, but now of course the Greens will say in leaflets “Labour failed to support money for renewables etc”. That’s politics I guess!

  8. How does the expected post election Green/Labour alliance affect all this I wonder. I think most left wing sympathisers and impartial observers are expecting this result.

  9. Clive,

    I give way on disastrous but publically/publicly are both acceptable. Sorry, it was my Brighton ’60s Varndean Grammar school and London City University education ‘what’ made me so illiterate.

    By productive, I mean public services should not waste money. These services should be run as well as in the private sector, where incompetence is not rewarded. Many people are employed to do jobs that could be done just as well in the voluntary sector.

    Tax is my hard-earned money – which I need to live- and I don’t want it wasted on half-baked social initiatives which seem to have minimal outcomes.

    • Incompetence in the private sector has been extremely well rewarded for bankers. Are you happy that so much of your hard-earned money has gone to bail them out?

      How about all the tax payers’ money being poured into PFI deals with terms that end up costing far more than the equivalent service provided entirely by the public sector – is that fine too?

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