Collaboration between Labour and the Greens on the Brighton and Hove Budget is a positive sign of things to come

What excellent news that the Greens and Labour are collaborating on challenges to the Budget at Brighton and Hove City Council. There is now a sort of clear greeny-red water between the parties of the left and the party of the right. The Lib Dems, as always, are floundering somewhere in the middle.

The Greens and Labour will try to force through two amendments at the Council meeting tomorrow (Thursday). The first seeks to raise £1.4 million by reversing the Conservatives proposed 1% cut in Council Tax (and other measures such as reducing the mowing of grass verges and not implementing the 5% reduction in the cost of residents’ parking permits. Instead, more will be spent on a range of Council services including the Community Safety Team (£150,000), the youth offending team (£90,000), the community and equalities team (£230,000) and advice and support to schools (£250,000).

The second amendment seeks to raise £1.1 million by scrapping the Conservative proposal to remove the cycle lane in Grand Avenue. The money saved will be used for items such as a co-ordinator for school’s equality and bullying work for one year (£30,000), to maintain certain bus routes (£50,000 – can this be counted as a victory for Brian Fitch in his campaign to save the No 5 to Hangleton?), and £400,000 to create a city-wide financial inclusion strategy to help those struggling with debt and avoid “loan sharks”. However, most of these measures will probably survive for just 12 months as they are being funded by a one-off saving.

The city-wide financial inclusion strategy is probably the most important item on the budget agenda for tomorrow night as it would, if agreed, help the most needy in the City. I would urge councillors of all parties to support this item.

The collaboration between Labour and the Greens is a monumental shift forward, and a tribute to the work of Green Convenor Bill Randall and Labour Leader Gill Mitchell. If, as is likely, no one party has a majority in May, then a coalition of the Greens and Labour could see an administration formed under the leadership of Bill Randall since the Greens are likely to have 4 or 5 more seats that the Labour Party.

But it is the politics of the two Budgets that is fascinating, and how matters will be played out on the doorstep. The Conservative proposal to make a 1% cut in Council Tax and a 5% reduction in residents parking permits will lead it’s election campaign, and will lead it big time. The Council Tax cut is, largely, symbolic but a good headline grabber and has galvanised Tory activists of a big society, small government mindset (such as Grizzlies and Estate Agents). Ironically, it may well be the reduction in residents parking charges that is more likely to appeal on the doorstep in town centre wards

The challenge for Labour and the Greens is to convince people that the amount being committed to protect ‘policy officers’ and ‘community safety teams’ isn’t coming at the expense of front line service delivery. Ask your average parent in the Queen’s Park playground, or the park in Marmion Road whether they would prefer a park warden or community safety partnership team, there is likely to be just one answer.

As for the Tories, the challenge they are facing, and losing heavily, is the plan to remove the cycle lane in Grand Avenue and The Drive. Credit here goes to Green councillors Alex Phillips and Ian Davey. The more the Tories defend the proposal, the deeper they dig a hole. Labour and the Greens should make this proposal the issue to counter the parking permit issue.

While I am not totally convinced by the Green / Labour alternative budget, the co-operation between the two parties is a sign of maturity and will probably have an impact longer on life in Brighton and Hove than a 1% cut in Council Tax.

11 Responses

  1. I agree, this is excellent news.

    However your comment about the Lib Dems ‘floundering somewhere in the middle’ is just lazy. It a) ignores the political reality of the last ten years, pre May 2010 anyway, and b) ignores the important point that Paul Elgood’s vote is pretty crucial on this budget and the amendments, as is that of the former Lib Dem, David Watkins.

    I trust the former to do the right thing; not so sure about the latter.

    I’d suggest to Warren or any other Labourites reading that they ought to counter, explain or contextualise this ‘124 % rise’ argument before it’s gets its boots on.

    I assume it must be a comparison with the council tax paid in the old borough of Hove, which means it is not true for two-thirds of the current authority’s area.

  2. Well, if the Tories are adding together the rises due to inflation over the period between Labour taking over in Brighton (1986) and losing control in 2007, then that accounts for a large chunk of it.
    All councils have faced “service pressures” from an increasingly older popularion, more children going into care, infrastructure costs etc. It’s just a made up statistic that does not reflect the realities of council finance.

    Paul and David are supporting the Labour/Green amendments this afternoon as far as I know.

  3. I don’t think inflation was 124% between 1986 and 2007! The rise was due to Labour’s complete inabilty to instill financial discipline, as has been demonstrated countless times, both locally and nationally.

    • I reckon if you added up the RPI measure of inflation over these 21 years it would not fall far short of 124%.

      And the RPI does not include house prices – the inflation rate for those in B&H over that period of time would be god-knows-what – 500% at least, surely?

      As for ‘Labour’s complete inability to instill (sic – only one ‘l’ needed) financial discipline’, why then were the Conservatives committed to following Labour’s national spending plans until the financial crisis hit in September 2008?

      • We never intended to stick completely with Labour’s plans, remember talk of “sharing the proceeds of growth” between spending commitments and tax cuts before the financial crisis hit? The fact remains that Labour could have done much more to reign in spending to stop those tax rises. As we’ve seen though, Labour are addicted to high spending, nanny state policies, with a structural deficit at the national level even during the good years. As the Iron Lady once said: “The trouble with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money”.

      • According to the ONS (Office of National Statistics) RPI increased by 63.4% between 1987-2007. So that is a 61.4% taking into account RPI..

        House price inflation during that period was 104.7%; a bit less than 500%!

      • So in fact less than half of this 124% rise was a rise, then.

        Actually that’s a bit of sideshow – what I should have thought to point out is that a) since 1997 the unitary authority has a great many more responsbilities, so you are not comparing like with like and b) in 1987 we still had rates – no council tax until (from memory) 1992.

        So apart from being misleading, where on earth did this 124% figure come from?

        Rob, I don’t recall there being much equivocation about that national spending commitment. What has happened since is just an excellent excuse for a bit of slash and burn on the state, and all the while reducing corporation tax for your party’s paymasters.

        Fundamentally Labour fell down not because of their failure to rein (sic) in spending but because of their failure to regulate the financial sector, or to support manufacturing industry as an alternative means of wealth creation.

        The Tories, being even more slavishly ‘pro-business’, would have gone even further down the deregulation route, and we’d be even deeper in the sh*t.

        Regarding deficits, of course Thatcher’s mate Ronnie Reagan ran up an enormous one to fund tax cuts for the rich. What lovely people.

  4. Surely the implication of the joint Labour/Green approach to the budget is that they should be ensuring that there is a Labour/Green Council after May. If the policies are the same why risk a Tory Council? Is it time for some strategic stepping aside in key seats?

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