THE Prime Minister has labelled the Green administration of Brighton and Hove a “shambles” and said the current funding difficulties faced by the authority are of their own making.

In response to questions from The Argus about the reduction in central government grants to local authorities, David Cameron said the city council budget was the responsibility of the people running the council and said they needed to explore new ways of making savings.

He also urged for the local authority to grant a council tax freeze at next week’s crunch budget talks so as not to add to the financial burden on “hard-working families”.

Council leader Jason Kitcat responded by saying it was time for the Prime Minister to tell the truth about the impact and scale of austerity cuts.

The Prime Minister was speaking to The Argus following the launch of a major new youth benefits policy yesterday morning.

The policy would see 18 to 21-year-olds carry out up to 30 hours of community work a week in order to qualify for benefits.

The Conservative leader said the new policy would mean unemployed 18-21-year-olds “most at risk of spending a lifetime on welfare” will have to carry out community work from day one of their benefit claims.

He said he wanted to get rid of “that well-worn path from the school gate, down to the Job Centre, and on to a life on benefits”. The new proposals will affect up to 50,000 young people and the £20 million delivery costs would be met from the initial savings generated by the roll out of Universal Credit.

He told the school auditorium that welfare reform was needed to save money but was also about changing people’s lives.

He added that the previous welfare system “infuriated” residents who worked to pay for the welfare of others while “infantalising” those dependent on welfare.

He added: “When you leave college, you should either be earning or learning.

“Doing an apprenticeship, studying at university or college, or doing a job.”

On the matter of the Brighton and Hove City Council budget due to be passed next week, he suggested the authority should look to recover the £14.5 million in unpaid council tax to meet its funding gap.

He said the authority should take inspiration from the council in his own Oxford constituency which had begun sharing management and back office teams with other councils.

He said: “The fact is Brighton and Hove receives an extra £101 per household than the national average.

“I would like to see them take up the council tax freeze because hard working people don’t want to see their bills go up.”

Responding to Mr Cameron’s claims, council leader Jason Kitcat said they were saving money by delivering services with other councils, jointly procuring or selling services in more than 70 different areas while the authority had “an excellent collection rate” for council tax of 98.3% which was well above the average.

He added that Mr Cameron’s Government had been repeatedly “caught out” spinning statistics and called on him to be straight about austerity cuts.

He said: “The facts are that we are one of the worst cut councils in the region and have demands on our services greater than many surrounding areas.

“Conservative ministers have cut local councils faster and harder than any other part of Government.

“In the last three years our council has saved £70 million by being more efficient but have another £100 million to find in the coming four years due to the austerity measures both Conservative and Labour support. “Contrary to Mr Cameron’s claims our record visitor numbers, booming creative and digital cluster, chart-topping new business start-ups and record employment rates all show that Brighton and Hove is blossoming under our leadership.”

The Prime Minister’s arrival yesterday follows on from visits by culture minister Sajid Javid and Conservative chief whip Michael Gove to the city last month as the Conservatives fight hard to retain their two city seats.

With majorities of less than 2,000 to defend, both Brighton Kemptown MP Simon Kirby and Hove hopeful Graham Cox will face a tough battle to retain their seats. The Prime Minister said the election would be “very, very close” and that both Hove and Brighton Kemptown constituencies would be key in deciding the make-up of the next Government.

He said the country had a choice between the “competence” of a Conservative leader or the “chaos” of a Labour coalition. Speaking to The Argus, The Prime Minister praised Mr Cox saying that with 30 years of experience with Sussex Police, he would bring a unique outlook to Parliament.

He said: “We don’t have anyone in Parliament who has served in the police for that amount of time, so that would be quite unique in parliament and his expertise could be very valuable not just for Hove but also in parliament.”

Mixed response from politicians

The Prime Minister’s announcement was predictably met with rather differing responses depending on what colour rosette you choose to wear.

Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Hove, Peter Kyle, described the speech as the “electioneering announcements of a Prime Minister on the run” and said his party offered a more comprehensive solution to youth unemployment with “more quality apprenticeships” and a “compulsory jobs guarantee”.

He said: “The Prime Minister has come to a constituency where I and the local Labour team have already pledged to end youth unemployment within five years.

“His announcement is breathtakingly timid by comparison and lacks the ambition and imagination that the young people of Hove and Portslade deserve.

“The Government abolished the Future Jobs Fund which subsidised paid, structured, work in the voluntary sector for youngsters who’d been unemployed for a year.

“That was the most successful youth work scheme ever.

“Now, five years later they announce compulsory volunteering, itself a contradiction, without any indication about whether the voluntary sector is willing or has the capacity to take on thousands of extra volunteers that will need intensive training and support.”

Green councillor Sue Shanks, chairwoman of the council’s children and young people committee, pointed to the success of the local authority’s Youth Employability Service which had overseen a reduction in youth unemployment in the city.

She added: “As a council we have been creating apprenticeships within the council including for our children leaving care.

“In my view more resources need to be available for young people in careers advice and the minimum wage needs to be raised.

“The abolition of the Education Support Allowance by the current government has made it more difficult for young people to stay on through college.

“Punishing disillusioned and excluded young people from difficult backgrounds is not the route to getting them engaged in productive study and work.”

Conservative councillor and former council leader, Mary Mears, attended the speech.

She said: “We have got a lot of young people in the city who are talented but for some reason or another have not had the opportunities.

“They are the future and it is important to change the mentality of ‘I’ve left school without qualifications and have no aspirations’.”

Policy 'could be really positive'

The Argus:

Emma Jacquest, pictured, is chief executive of the Tarner Community Project which is part of the Brighton and Hove Youth Collective.

“I think it [the new policy announcement] could be really positive as long as it is packaged right.

“It can’t be something that people feel is a punishment for not getting a job, something they have to do because they have done something wrong.

“It has to be packaged right so that people are told it’s about positive benefits, developing skills and getting work experience.

“It absolutely can’t be about getting cheap labour.

“It can be very difficult breaking that cycle when all some young people have ever known at home is both parents on benefits and brothers and sisters too.

“It’s absolutely essential if we are to tackle youth employment in the city that we keep our youth services.

“If there is nobody at home that young people can speak to, they can speak to their youth worker who is likely to be closer to them in age and can be an inspiration.”

PM speaks to youngsters at skills centre

The Argus:

Following his speech at Blatchington Mill School, the Prime Minister went to the Sussex Functional Skills Centre in Gordon Road, Portslade, to speak to youngsters currently taking on courses in lifeguard training as well as English and Maths skills.

The centre has been helping people of all ages, many of whom are referred from the city’s Jobcentre.

Paul Smith, managing director of the Sussex Functional Skills Centre, said: “It was great that the Prime Minister was here and he took a genuine interest in the people he was talking to.

“I couldn’t really tell them much beforehand but it was very good for them to meet him.

“I think if you are an employer looking at applicants, you would be impressed if one of them volunteered to take a class in maths or English, especially as some have English as a second language.”

He added: “I don’t know what effect the policy will have but I do believe that if people are presented with the opportunity for training they should take it.”