Brighton and Hove faces “tough times ahead” as councillors prepare to debate millions in cuts for this year’s budget.

Among the proposals being discussed this afternoon for the coming year include closing Mile Oak Library in Portslade, cutting the number of lifeguard stations and scrapping the city’s pay and display machines.

Council tax is also set to rise by almost five per cent amid a £14 million shortfall in the council's finances.

In an exclusive interview with city council leader Phelim Mac Cafferty, he said the Green administration was proposing the cuts “reluctantly” following over a decade of government austerity.

He said: “Everyone is paying the cost of 13 years of a Conservative government. Government austerity has continued and indeed worsened, taking in the region of £110 million from our budget.

“We’ve also faced the highest inflation in a generation, the cost-of-living crisis and the war in Ukraine, which has affected key things like energy. It’s been a perfect storm for local government.”

He urged people to “have patience” with the council and said the Green-led administration was doing its best in difficult economic times.

Cllr Mac Cafferty said: “We are trying our best in the circumstances and we have been very upfront about how grim the proposition of the budget facing us is.

“What I would ask is that people have patience with us. There are going to be, sadly, more tough times ahead, but I would ask people talk to us.

“We value the discussion that we’re having with communities and we’re going to continue finding innovative, viable ways to protect public services.”

Despite the pressures, Cllr Mac Cafferty said the council is planning to invest £30 million in public services, including improvements to playgrounds, public toilets and becoming the largest provider of "genuinely affordable" housing in the city.

“Key essential front-line public services will continue to be funded,” he said.

One service that has been spared is the city’s public toilets, which will now receive more investment following fierce campaigning from residents and activist groups.

Cllr Mac Cafferty said: “What we have heard through all the discussions and petitions is that people really value their public toilets.”

However, despite a pledge to keep as many toilets open as possible in key areas, he was unable to say which toilets would still close.

He said: “We will work our hardest to keep toilets in high-profile locations open. We’ve already invested in accessible toilets in the city, such as at Hove Esplanade, and we commit to doing our utmost to keep toilets in high-footfall areas open.”

As part of the proposed plans, a project manager will examine the future sustainability and resilience of public toilet provision in the city and work with community groups and businesses about their continued viability.

Cllr Mac Cafferty said: “The whole city has to get behind what’s happening with public toilets - the council is no longer in a position to be the sole provider and the sole funder, and that is why we want to have that discussion with businesses and community groups.

“If we do all value these amenities as a city, we all have to do something together.”

The Argus: Council leader Phelim Mac CaffertyCouncil leader Phelim Mac Cafferty

Councillors will discuss proposals to cut £100,000 from lifeguard stations in an effort to save money, with union Unison warning that those who back the measure will have “blood on their hands”.

Cllr Mac Cafferty, however, sought to reassure residents there would be no risk to the public from the planned cuts.

He said: “There are no job losses planned as a result of this and the decision will be based on evidence, which will determine the reduction in lifeguard stations.”

Cllr Mac Cafferty hit back at claims by Labour councillors that the council has spent money on “vanity projects” rather than public services and said people should remember what the party has voted for in the past.

“Labour voted for projects, like the low-traffic neighbourhood, so why - a few months away from the election - have they done a u-turn on this? It’s more to do with populist antics and the way they want to present themselves rather than being a genuine voice for the environment.

“We saw this when they ripped up the Old Shoreham Road cycle lane along with the Conservative Party - they agree the funding for one thing and then reverse it, which wastes money.”

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Cllr Mac Cafferty said the Green-led administration has had “reliable hands behind the wheel” and had “done our very best” to run the city despite a range of challenges, including the pandemic.

“We’re rediscovering on the doorstep that our vote hasn’t gone away and people are still with us on the journey.

“They want reliable hands and want our team, committed to social justice and the environment to continue to run Brighton and Hove,” he said.

Councillors will meet at Hove Town Hall from 4.30pm today to debate and vote on the council’s budget for the year ahead.