So, what has the Green Administration ever done for us?
Well, the Green minority administration was elected on a manifesto pledge to minimise the impact of coalition cuts on the vulnerable people of Brighton and Hove. It’s not been easy – our city has been hit harder by coalition cuts than almost any other local authority in the South of England. But it has worked tirelessly to make the best of a tough situation – by protecting, for example, subsidised bus services and libraries; and, against that background, has actually managed to make big strides forward – like the living wage for council staff or big projects like Lewes Road and Seven Dials which make our city safer (especially for vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists – and in the case of Lewes Road, councillors and officers have done a brilliant job of bringing new funding to the city). And, as local authorities are forced to pick up the pieces from Coalition “reforms” to the benefits and council tax system, Brighton and Hove’s Green administration has really gone the extra mile to shield the vulnerable people hit by those changes as far as they can.
But the Green Administration is making cuts!
True. Brighton and Hove has been slaughtered by central government cuts – a 17% cut in income. But the Budget – on which there has been widespread consultation – proposes finding extra money to help those hit by benefit changes; ensures that all libraries remain open; finds extra cash for bodies like the Citizens’ Advice Bureau that support vulnerable people; creates incentives to bring empty properties back into use and protects staff from compulsory redundancy. Look at what most other local authorities are doing in response to the fall in funding and I think you’ll find that’s pretty impressive.
And what about the pay modernisation? Cutting council workers’ pay by thousands of pounds per year and threatening them with the sack if they don’t agree? So much for the living wage!
Ah, I see you’ve been reading the Brighton Labour twitter feed. Yes, negotiations are under way over allowances. No decisions have been taken. Yes, the Unions are negotiating hard to protect their members – after all that’s their job. But the view of the Brighton and Hove Green Party is clear.
But what about people in the Green Party who are accusing Brighton of selling-out?
Well, anybody can hand out leaflets at Party Conferences and it’s very easy when you have never run anything in the real world to generate cheap moral outrage at the compromises of real life. The fact is that the Brighton Green Party’s manifesto said clearly, and right at the front in case anybody could miss it, that the Party in office would minimise the impact of those cuts as far as it could. Now if you were arguing that the Green administration – a minority administration, remember – had failed to to that, or was in a position where it could no longer do so, and was clinging on to power as a result, you might have a point. But, as the positive budget going forward to full Council tonight demonstrates very clearly, that’s far from being the case.
And what about the parking charges? Draining the life-blood out of the city!
Evidence is a funny thing. Against every photo in the local rag of an empty sea-front on a wet Wednesday in April, one can counter the fact that Brighton has one of the lowest rates of empty shops in the country. And I know we didn’t get many last Summer, but have you ever seen the London Road leading into the town centre on a warm Saturday? Traffic queues going out two or three miles beyond the Patcham Roundabout! Yes, businesses in Brighton are suffering. We’re in the middle of the most sustained recession for a century. Moreover, the Council has listened and made some changes, especially to short-term parking charges.
Ah! A U-Turn!
U-turns are so 1980s. Let’s put away the shoulder-pads and the brick-sized mobile phones. Listening and making changes is what grown-ups do – on councils as well as in life. Funnily enough, one of the things that Labour gets worked up about is how much this council consults – remember they’re the party that tried (and failed) to create an executive mayor for the city. And there is a fundamental question that neither opposition party in Brighton has ever really addressed – about whether a local economy based on car-borne visitors is really sustainable. Do you really think Brighton and Hove need more traffic?
And all those Green pet projects we’re hearing about, while buses and mobile libraries are cut?
We’ve heard a lot about these from Labour. It’s been a while since they’ve been in office, but even so the apparent difficulty in distinguishing between current and capital expenditure is dispiriting. And many of these projects bring in external funding and create jobs. It’s a funny thing – Labour talks a lot about infrastructure expenditure nationally but snipes when the Council does it here. And yes, the administration has protected local subsidised bus services and has come up with a plan to replace the mobile library with a home delivery service that would give users access to a much larger stock of books than even a shiny new mobile library could ever expect to carry.
But Labour are campaigning against the cuts – like the mobile library – aren’t they?
Well, they’re making a lot of noise. But the facts are rather different. Labour nationally are committed to keeping the coalition cuts and possibly making more of their own. The idea of Labour as a party that will defend local authority budgets is deeply, desperately laughable. Moreover, last year at budget-time, given the clear choice between voting for a council tax freeze and protecting services, they unhesitatingly chose the former. Not only does this benefit middle-class council-tax payers at the expense of the poorest and most vulnerable who use services the most, but, because local authority funding is cumulative, it leaves less for future years. The fact is that by their budget vote last year, Labour did long-term damage to the city’s finances. They are, to put it at its mildest, the very last people to complain about cuts; austerity economics is hard-wired into One Nation Labour’s DNA.
And what’s all this about removing Mr and Mrs from council forms?
But – apart from the living wage, transport improvements, improving the public realm, protecting services and supporting the vulnerable, keeping libraries open, protecting subsidised bus services and promoting projects that bring new money into the city, what has the Green Administration ever done for us?