An immediate, knee-jerk reaction to the Brighton and Hove City Council Budget Meeting

And so there we have it: the Brighton and Hove City Council budget for 2011/12. Here is my immediate and largely unconsidered knee-jerk reaction (nothing new there).

The amendments put forward by Labour and the Greens have been passed. That’s some good news at this time of harrowing cuts elsewhere. There are two ways of looking at this. One, put forward by @sandyd68 on Twitter, is that it is soft cuts as opposed to hard.  (Those supporting this view were calling, until the final vote, for Labour and Green councillors not to vote in favour of the amended budget.) The other, put forward by some Tories, is that if the Tory budget had remained unamended, elsewhere in the country people would be jumping for joy.

The reality is that the substantive budget put forward by the Tories was a clever election budget. There are 3 key matters that the Tories will now latch onto in the election campaign. One is the reversal of the Council Tax cut. It provides them with a useful headline and a rallying point for Grizzlies and the Estate Agent Tendency in Goldsmid. Two, the defeat of the parking permit cut will be used by the Tories in town centre wards, now the stronghold of the Greens. Fortunately, the Greens are too strong in these areas for this to make a difference. Three, the cutting of grass verges – £100k cut from that budget. Tories in the leafy suburbs will make hay while the grass grows. It could cost some votes in one or two areas of Hollingdean and Stanmer, but then that is largely a fight between Labour and the Greens. It could, however, make a difference in Labour / Tory contests in areas such as Hangleton and Knoll (now that Dawn Barnett and Brian Fitch have found common cause on the top deck of the No 5 bus).

For the Greens, the victory regarding the cycle lanes in The Drive and Grand Avenue is a two-edged sword. It preserves two cycle lanes (although not the greatest in the world) but denies the Greens a fantastic campaign issue for their campaigns in Central Hove and Goldsmid.

For Labour, they have the comfort of being part of something that wasn’t defeated by the Tories. However, they ame across as the minor partner in this budget coalition. On the whole, the Green councillors made stronger and more impassioned speeches. Some of the Tory speeches were ill-tempered and amounted to name-calling. It would have been better had more Tories made speeches that were positive about their budget rather than speak about Labour’s 2007 budget. Who the heck cares if it was Simon Burgess or Gill Mitchell who presented Labour’s last budget (it was Simon, for the record). Garry Peltzer Dunne is a very amiable chap to spend time with, but his speech was something else, not sure what, but something else!

The final twist of the evening came with Labour abstaining on the final vote on the budget (thereby ensuring it was carried).  The Greens voted against.  The Greens will be seen as carrying through its principles with Labour allowing the Tory budget through.  The Tories, of course, voted for the amended budget since it was largely theirs.  On balance, it was a good night for the Tories, Greens and, to a lesser extent, Labour. For the Lib Dem Group of One, opposing the Tory budget at least avoided political suicide.

The final word to @sandyd68 on Twitter.  “Labour sell out. Left wing coalition, my arse!”

38 Responses

  1. Here in Patcham we can contemplate the long grass on the verges from the top of the No 5 bus …

    In some ways, though, losing the 1% Council Tax cut is not a bad campaigning outcome for the Tories. It would have been a small cut and might be more than offset by the increase in the police precept – in other words, no reduction at all. Now they can dangle the prospect rather than defend the reality.

    • True. This is a good outcome on which to go campaigning. Once those grass verges start growing in the Spring and the cyclists use the roads (as opposed to the cycle lanes) in Grand Ave/The Drive, tempers will rise. Also the complicity of Labour & Greens might be an issue.

      • I don’t get it. What’s wrong with letting the grass verges grow a bit? Chuck some wild flower mix in there and get a bit of colour.

        At the risk of getting a bit ‘big society’ about it, I might even go out and plant some seeds myself (well I would if I lived near any grass verges)

  2. Labour are finished in this city, after saying they will vote against the budget and then letting it go through. Shameful.

  3. “The Greens will be seen as carrying through its principles with Labour allowing the Tory budget through”. What is principled about the Greens voting against their own proposals which formed the substantive amended budget?

    • What’s principled, Craig, about voting for a Tory cuts budget when we had a perfect opportunity to defeat this? We would have had another week allowing more time for us politicians, trade unions, community and voluntary groups, and the public in general an opportunity to make more of a difference to what is still an appalling budget outcome.

      We jointly managed to tweak it, but don’t pretend for one minute that you beleive this to be a good budget. Your face in particular was one of thunder when you realised what you were being whipped into voting for, and the fury was barely contained in the voices of your colleagues when they abstained. You cannot be proud of what you have achieved tonight, you threw away a rare chance, and it will be noted by the public as we approach polling day. I wish I could understand why you did this – but I don’t think you really understand it either.

      I feel sorry for you, being a member of a party that has lost it’s way so much (but thanks for reaffirming why I am a Green not Labour member). But most of all I feel sorry for the service users and council staff you have let down so badly tonight.

  4. The cuts that you let through Cllr Turton.

    Greens can come from third place and take East Brighton on this.

  5. I agree with Mr Turton. If you are committed to rejecting a motion, you do that and no more. Why amend something you are committed to overturn. That is not a point of principle but a case of wanting your cake and eat it too. The vulnerable individuals that will benefit from these amendments would have been left without any clarity had the budget been rejected.

  6. Sven, we achieved reversing the 1% council tax cut, the parking fee cut, and preventing the council wasting money on taking out a cycle lane – all issues with which Greens agreed with us on a few hours earlier.

    • But, Craig, your party didn’t vote for the final budget with those amendments either. Instead, you did the cowardly thing of abstaining. You were therefore complicit in ensuring that the final Tory budget passed.

      I’m sorry but Sven is right, we had an opportunity to force the Tories into drawing up a new budget, in full view of public and press scrutiny. We no longer have that opportunity, thanks to you and your Labour colleagues.

  7. No desire to intrude on personal grief here, but you must understand that most people are not even aware that the vote was taking place last night. For many people in the city, to have failed to set a budget after all the time to either plan the budget itself or plan for amendments, would have reflected badly on the whole of the political classes. All four parties would have claimed some form of moral high ground and the confidence in politics would have further ebbed away at a time when it is at a very low ebb.

    • Good point Ian. Prolonged uncertainty would not have served the interests of council officers or of the city as a whole.

      Giving the Tories another bite at the cherry would just hand them back the initiative, and lead to gridlock that could last all the way until May. Is that really a responsible position to take?

      • How is abstaining responsible? Yes, last night’s meeting was brutal, but politics isn’t about making easy or light decisions for the sake of them.

        Was last night’s Tory budget good for the city? No, I don’t think it was and neither did the Labour councillors.

        The Greens took a stand against the budget and they kept to their word. Labour, I’m afraid, didn’t and will now complain about what the Tories will be doing to local services without voting against their proposals.

  8. My personal feeling is that Labour emerge from this with more credit than the greens. The Council has a responsibility to pass a balanced budget, and like it or not there is less money from central govt. Therefore labour have been the bigger party and done what they had to. Also, looking at it tactically, its better to get this years cuts out of the way (minus the most ridiculous excesses that were amended away) and pass them off as being Tory cuts. Too much delay and arguing means that any new administration would have to take ownership of this years cuts – not a great way to start.

    • What is big about abstaining? You’re essentially telling the voters you can’t make a decision.

      If the budget wasn’t as bad as Labour said, why did they not vote for it?

      As I said, if they voted against it with the Greens (as Elgood and Watkins did), the Tories would have had to make a budget in full view of public and press scrutiny.

      I don’t think the electorate would be as kind to Labour as you are HP.

    • What you suggest, HP, might be more politically astute, but the vote I took last night was one in which I sought to protect residents of the city to the best of my ability. Labour had been telling us that they would be voting against the budget right up till the last minute. I have no idea what discussions Gill Mitchell had with Mary Mears, but she came away from her meeting having changed her mind, and so disappeared the chance to spend another week looking at the budget in more detail, with the unions, with the voluntary sector, with the public all getting some say in what had previously been perhaps the most secretive budget process I am aware of.

      It was not a credit worthy performance by Labour, it was spineless. They have sold out at so many levels, sold out their principles, sold out the trust that people put in them, sold out the workers of the council who will lose their jobs, and sold out the service users who will lose their services, or suffer from a worse service as a result of their craven kow-towing to the tories.

      Yes, maybe whoever gets in next year can say ‘Oh this is because of the Tory cuts’, but that misses the point, that we needed to protect people NOW. Politics is not always the same as a principled defence of the public we are elected to serve, and in the clash of those two forces last night, Labour showed theselves to be weak, the Greens were prepared to work harder to see what further progress could be made, and if necessary take the flack for what comes next year. We were denied that chance.

  9. I guess the difference is that the Green Party actually opposes the cuts programme overall, whereas the Labour Party’s position is that the Coalition’s cuts are too deep and too fast, but that cuts are ultimately necessary.

    Certainly in the run up to the General Election, we seemed to be being asked to choose between cuts now (Tories) and cuts later (Labour). In Brighton Pavilion, we made a different choice.

    Thanks to our barmy electoral system, that option wasn’t open to voters in most other constituencies, but that doesn’t mean people actually want their services cut, NHS dismantled and public service workers made redundant. I am pleased and relieved to see that the Green group on the council stood by their principles last night.

    If either Greens or Labour find themselves in the position of forming a minority administration on the council after May, then they will be the ones putting forward a budget next year. I hope they can come up with a way to use that as an opportunity to resist, rather than deliver, the Coalition’s ongoing cuts strategy.

    • I’ll be intrigued to hear where you will drum up the cash to resist the cuts strategy. over to you…

  10. But the Greens don’t say what the plan was going to be afterwards if the budget had been defeated last night. What were they proposing to do? Set a deficit budget and defy the government? They don’t even believe in that strategy themselves still less get NuLab on board. Actually, Labour’s abstention made perfect sense in their terms – they weren’t going to set a budget without the £25m of cuts, so why bother prolonging matters?

    The opportunity which is being missed here by all of the non-Coalition councillors is to say to an increasingly weak and divided government, “we are not going to pass on your cuts”. Were the Greens ever going to do that?

    • I agree Andy – think what you like about the cuts, the fact is the govt has local authorities on a pretty short lead in that they give the LA a large proportion of its money. Therefore at a local level all you can do is argue about how you are going to implement the cuts that central govt has passed on to you (the ‘devolved axe’). Given this, I don’t really see how there is any way of saying ‘we are not going to pass on your cuts’ – no matter how much we might want to. It’s not accepting the cuts agenda to set your own budget with the money you have – it’s just dealing with the hand you’ve been dealt.

      Labour recognised this, so worked to get rid of the worst elements and lived with the rest of it. Saying that, they don’t have to be happy about it hence the abstention. In response to Luke Walter, I would say that an abstention is not about saying you can’t make your mind up, its saying ‘I don’t like it, but I have to go along with it’ (in the words of Peter O’Hanarahanrahan). And as to the question of how kind the electorate will be to them, I would contend that 90% of the electorate don’t have a clue what happened last night (or wont remember by May) and will be voting on national issues and general mood music perceptions of the parties – not the voting record at full council.

      • Maybe. But I think the Brighton electorate is different.

        Most people seem to forget we won our first council seat in 1996 when the Tories were at their most unpopular and New Labour was giving everyone, including Rupert Murdoch, an orgasm.

      • I think it’s a bit wishful thinking on Labour’s part that people will just ignore how they voted at the *critical* council meeting of this year.

        Of course many people won’t be that bothered. But those motivated enough to vote, and read the newsletters which will surely go out on this matter, will be able to make their own minds up.

        I did lay out last night what Greens proposed to do after voting down the budget. I’ve repeated it on my blog:

      • Jason – your comment about people reading the newsletters rather suggests that the reason for the absurdity of voting down your own proposals was to create some artificial distance from Labour. The idea that another week of discussing would have made any difference is nonsense. The Tories, and in particular Mary Mears, were laughing at the opposition last night – and both parties appear to have played right into their hands.

      • From the telly room at the Town Hall, which did not give any reaction shots or general mood, it looked as if the Tories were on the ropes. They kept mentioning the other parties, tho’ not the LibDem.

        That sounded like it was the spirit of overs for the Tories. They do not have to lose many seats for their side of the seesaw to bump against the ground. That was clear from their faces, and the multitude of rants.

        That’s of course if seesaws are not cut from playgrounds…

      • What he said, basically.

        A new administration can change some more of the priorities set by the Tories and left unamended, but it can’t change the level of cuts being passed on by Pickles, Osbourne and Cameron.

        Would we have wrung any more changes out of the Tories in 5 days and a second meeting, maybe. But we would have risked scuppering the gains we did make last night, the most important of which was the reversal of the tax cut, giving a new administration more money to use in offsetting some of the cuts.

  11. I should clarify – in saying that it wont affect how most voters cast their votes in May, I wasn’t saying Labour will romp home and the Greens will be cast into ignominy. The Greens are in a good position, being untainted by the cuts agenda (in that they are neither doing them, nor being perceived as being to blame for any profligacy that led to them) and with a Labour party still yet to find its feet in terms of public perception under a less than inspiring Ed Miliband leadership.

  12. Am I missing something here? Labour and the Green Party put forward an alternative budget, which was voted on and agreed. They therefore achieved what they had set out to do, and with a good deal of cooperation. Having achieved this, the Green Party then voted down its own proposals, and the Labour Party abstained from supporting their own proposals. What was the point of the alternative budget? If it was to ameliorate the worst excesses of the Tory proposals then that was achieved, so support the budget you put forward. If it was to to be able to pretend that that was the aim, but the real aim was to to be able to shout at each other afterwards in order to put some artificial divide between the parties, and scupper any chance of a coalition, then neither may be worthy of support.

    It strikes me that the rather synthetically angry Green Party comments here suggest they are protesting rather too much. They may well have been thinking that a joint approach with Labour would lead to a Green led Council after May, and they have been outsmarted by Labour.

    But I’m still not clear – why would you work to put forward an alternative, see it succeed, and then vote against it or not support it?

  13. Dr Faust has it spot on the button here. The amendments passed in their entirety means that the fully amended budget should now be supported by the Greens and Labour. If any party had a reason to vote against or abstain, it would actually be the Conservatives who may by then be feeling that they could not support the new budget.

    If the Greens and Labour were not happy that the final budget was adequate they should have either tabled more robust amendements or tabled no amendments and voted against the unamended budget.

    Commiting public time and money to an amendment process and then voting against or abstaining is a dereliction of public duty. To then suggest that either position is a matter of principle shows how out of touch the parties really are.

    The real saddnes is that the hard work of combining together and coming up with a constructive set of proposals is now overlooked by both parties as they out posture one another. If as many expect that after the May elections that the Council has three parties with around a 1/3 of the seats each the only way of governing the city will be by finding common ground. Waste 4 years in this sort of nonsensical behaviour and the city as a whole will be the poorer by more than £2.5M and 250 jobs.

  14. But the amendments were just tinkering at the edges of a £23 million cuts package. They restored less than £3 million – welcome, but not enough to make the overall budget acceptable.

    Amending a motion you are intending to vote against is perfectly reasonable. It means you are saying that you don’t want to do what is proposed, but if you are defeated and it ends up being done, you would prefer it done in a different way.

    • I still don’t get where you’re finding the extra money from to restore the budget any more and so make it acceptable. The budget the council has to spend is what it is.

  15. Exactly, Dani. The Green Group made it clear that they would have preferred another week of discussing the budget in public. Because most of the decision making has been decided in the ‘Mary Mears-only star chamber’, other councillors form other parties had a short window in which to talk and respond.

    One of the main criticisms of the budget, including from Conservative councillors, was that the Cabinet didn’t give councillors of any party enough time to really scrutinise their proposals.

    Yes, the Greens and Labour united (along with Elgood and Watkins) to take out the worst of the cuts, including council tax and the removal of the cycle lanes, however, we just didn’t know how Watkins or Elgood would vote on the final budget. Therefore, it made sense for us to try and improve the Tory budget but still vote against it because there simply wasn’t enough time for opposition councillors to propose a full and proper alternative.

    If Labour had joined the Greens, Elgood and Watkins in voting against, then we would have been in a better position to come back with a more robust alternative.

  16. The minor amendment was clearly better than the Tory proposal. It was also important to be seen to beet the Tories. There is now a need for a united front against the cuts. How Ken Norman can say that a £6m cut to adult social care won’t result in a deterioration of service with a straight face shows either the guile of the man or total naivety. The reality is this council is administrating a central government attempt to roll back the welfare state. Front ending the cuts could well be there undoing. There are many in the Labour Party that don’t support warmongering and privatising profit whilst nationalising the debts of the rich and corporations. These cuts will be so severe that they could well cut through the complacency and, along with the arab world a fight back may well, at last be on the real agenda.

  17. I am very disappointed that the Conservative budget proposal was voted down. It was, on the whole, excellent.

    On another point,Bappy, looking at the 2007 election results plus the reaction on the doorstep tells me that it’s very much a fight between the Conservatives and Labour in Hollingdean & Stanmer.

    • Does this reaction include people not picking up your leaflets because you can’t even be bothered to post them through the letterbox?

      I should hasten to add, Hollingdean and Stanmer is more than the 1200 folk of Coldean.

  18. Dani’s argument only stands up if the budget was an optional bit of legislation that the city could afford to have defeated.

    Luke may be right that a weeks delay could be accomodated, but frankly there is never enough time and the public gallery was full to see the budget approved last night. Sometimes you have to go for doing the best within the timescale that everyone is working towards. Perhaps next time the opposition amendments should include a weeks delay as one of the options!

  19. And as for the behavior of the eight young anarchists in the chamber . . . What a shower. In the minds of the tories, they were a Green rentamob . . .true or not their appalling conduct
    did more to the Greens reputation than either their amendments or speeches.

    • Yes they really are in a knot aren’t they. There was a wide variety of very angry people in the public gallery. Including some workers facing the decimation of their frontline service by a party which claims it’s not cutting frontline services. Also the holder of deleted post which the Tories claimed was vacant. Why can the public not heckle when the politcians (particularly the Tories) apparently can?

      One of the funniest sights of the night was the puzzled look on the faces of the heckling Tory councillors when faced with a massed “Shush” from the gallery!

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