Brighton and Hove council leaders have their say on council tax rise ahead of Argus debate (From The Argus)
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Brighton and Hove council leaders have their say on council tax rise ahead of Argus debate
4:20am Thursday 6th February 2014 in News
Ahead of tonight's council tax debate, The Argus is printing arguments from Brighton and Hove City Council's three arty leaders on what rise they would like to see, and why.
Jason Kitcat, Green Party leader and council leader
Whether or not we use social services now, it’s a major comfort knowing that this safety net is there, should we ever need it. We should be proud to live in a caring society – one which has chosen to look after those who need it most.
However, major national groups like Age UK, Scope and the Local Government Association all agree: funding for social care is in crisis. Here in Brighton and Hove the Office for National Statistics predicts a 20% increase in over-85s by 2021, by which time Ed Balls and George Osborne will have cut all government funding for council services.
So while our ageing population creates more demand for social care services, there is less and less money each year to keep providing what our most vulnerable need today, let alone the coming years.
We’re saving tens of millions a year in every reasonable way we can. We have the lowest costs for senior management in a decade, and have brought in over £21m of external funding for projects in the city. We are also sharing and joining up services with neighbouring councils, the Police, NHS and others.
However there is only so much that can be taken from councils before there are few or no meaningful services left for those who depend on them. Given the further £100m our budget will shrink by in the next four years, we have reached a point where the city faces a significant choice: Either we don’t want to pay more to care for our most vulnerable citizens or we speak out for those who are rarely heard: the elderly, the frail, the disabled, the vulnerable.
Our proposal is for a 4.75% council tax increase to protect social care services from the worst of the cuts now and in the future. I know that times are tough, that wages aren’t keeping up with household costs and that council tax is a deeply imperfect system. However, as a city we must make the best of the situation we find ourselves in.
Our proposal is a clear, practical and principled approach to protecting essential social care services. With this major step we should trust our city, and let the people decide.
Warren Morgan, Labour group leader
Five reasons why Labour opposes the Green £6 a month tax rise:
1) Residents can’t afford it. Since 2010 water bills have gone up by 4%, gas and electricity prices have risen by over 8%, fares by more than 4% and clothing by a whopping 10%. In the same time real wages have fallen by 2.2 per cent according to the Office of National Statistics. One in three Brighton and Hove residents has rising debts. They can’t afford a £6 a month tax rise. Labour say that residents should not be made to pay for Tory cuts to local councils.
2) Residents won’t vote for it. If councillors approve a referendum on the council tax rise of £6 a month, holding the vote will cost the city £230,000. If the vote is no, then every house will need to be sent a second council tax bill, taking the overall cost up to £300,000. Labour believes that the half a million pounds the referendum will cost could be spent on better things like local services.
3) It Is about politics, not saving services. Calling a referendum is all about the Green Party making a name for themselves on the national political stage, getting good coverage in The Guardian and keeping the various squabbling factions in their Party happy. They could have chosen other areas for cuts, but didn’t. They could have talked to Labour councillors about their budget plans, but didn’t.
4) A lower, inflation-level 2% council tax increase is fairer, and the same as that set by nearby Kent and Surrey County Councils, plus dozens of other Conservative-controlled councils around the country. Meanwhile the Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner for Sussex is putting council tax up by 3.6%. If it is ok for them, why are Brighton and Hove Tories insisting on a pre-election “freeze” which would only mean even more cuts to local services?
5) Residents don’t mind paying a little more, in line with inflation, to help protect some services from the £23 million of Conservative Government cuts to Brighton and Hove City Council funding, but they don’t trust the Greens to spend their money wisely. Labour will make sure it is spent on the essential services you rely on, like having your bins emptied regularly and on time.
Geoffrey Theobald, Conservative Group Leader
It is quite clear to me when I’m out and about in the city talking to residents, that there is absolutely no appetite for a council tax rise of any kind – let alone one more than double the rate of inflation. The Argus ‘referendum’ results back this up.
After mortgage or rent payments, council tax is the biggest monthly bill that most people have and, as councillors, I believe that we have a duty to keep it as low as possible.
Council tax levels nationally and in Brighton & Hove more than doubled under the previous Labour Government, and the Labour Administration that ran the Council for much of that time regularly imposed double-digit increases. The current Conservative-led Government has recognised just how damaging this has been to hard-pressed residents and has offered councils extra money to enable them to freeze council tax for each of the last 4 years – totalling well over £10 million here in Brighton and Hove.
As a result of the Government’s extra funding, council tax has fallen 10% in real terms nationally since 2010, yet here in Brighton & Hove, residents are missing out as the Green Administration, backed last year by the Labour Group, continue to turn this money down.
There is still plenty of scope to make the required savings and maintain, or even improve, Council services. The Council’s independent auditors continue to say that our services are expensive compared to other similar councils. The Green Administration dutifully followed by the Labour Group refuse, for ideological reasons, to carry out proper market testing of the Council’s services with a view to alternative, more efficient, models of delivery. Instead, they prefer to take the easy option by going cap in hand to the council taxpayer.
The Greens’ council tax referendum announcement, and the Labour Group’s subsequent ill-thought-through motion of no confidence in Coun Kitcat, are all about political posturing ahead of next year’s elections as these two parties desperately try to outbid each other for the local left wing vote. This is certainly no way to run a city and it is the vast majority of hard-working residents who are getting caught in the damaging cross-fire of their personal battle.
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