Tonight’s Brighton & Hove City Council budget meeting was adjourned at 10:30pm after the budget without a referendum failed to pass.
Green councillors have issued the following statement:
“Our proposals were the only ones put forward on the night that would permanently put meaningful funds into social care services, the voluntary sector, Able & Willing social enterprise for disabled workers, plus employment support for those with disabilities. In comparison, opposition amendments were just short-termist one-off scraps of cash.
“We are the largest party and the administration – we believe that our carefully considered proposals for a 4.75% council tax referendum to protect social care services should be allowed to pass by the opposition parties.
“We recognise and appreciate that there were productive negotiations in the adjournment this evening, but they weren’t enough. We believe the people of the city should have their say in whether to help protect social care services with a referendum.
“Green councillors will not let a budget be imposed on this city by the government, so we are committed to working with all parties to agree the best budget possible for our residents.”
That statement is deeply disingenuous. In local government funding there is no such things as “permanent” – a lesson that anyone touched by the present coalition’s localism ought to realise. And the fact of the way local government works is that, yes, as it stands Whitehall does impose budgets on local authorities. It may be wrong, but that will only be changed in Government, not in council chambers.
And, just as a reminder, for all the rhetoric about austerity from Cllrs Phillips and McCafferty in particular, their votes on the opposition amendments opposed transitionary funding for Able and Willing; opposed restoring discretionary funding for community groups; opposed funding for Pride and for homework clubs. Small things in the face of the £24m worth of cuts, you might argue – but all for the sake of securing a referendum which will raise £2.75m to offset £24m in cuts, at a cost of £900k, and which there is no possibility they will win.
Green Councillors are now off to the Green Party conference in Liverpool, where they can polish their anti-austerity credentials in front of a rather more sympathetic audience than their electors in this city. Judging from reports from those who were there (I left at the first adjournment) they seemed mightlily pleased with themselves at the end of the meeting. But the price of that Party Conference applause is uncertainty for Able and Willing, for community groups, for council tax payers. And this follows their decision to put adult care up for grabs in that referendum. If this is what Caroline Lucas means by doing politics differently, so be it: but I’d argue that people in this city deserve something rather more responsible than playing party politics with some of the city’s most vulnerable people.
Last night’s vote illustrates very clearly the choice before Brighton’s electors. The Tories made it clearer than ever that they want massive outsourcing and privatisation – and, to be fair to them, whatever you think of their position at least they’re being honest about it. But the choice for progressives is between a party that will seek to defend services as far as it can, and which has the possibility of making changes in Government after 2015, and a party that can deliver a fine lecture on austerity but appears to be solely interested in playing politics. Speaking personally, I have increasingly little doubt which the city’s electors will prefer in 2015.