Greens return £3m into services in Brighton & Hove
Councillor Jason Kitcat, Finance Spokesperson
Like every council in the country, Brighton & Hove City Council has had to deal with relentless cuts to our central funding imposed by the Conservative-led government.
At the time of budget setting the local council was run by a minority Conservative administration. Unlike many other areas, they have taken to doing as much as possible of the budget process in secret.
When the Conservative council budget finally did emerge, it contained ghastly proposals including a 1% council tax cut, which would have reduced funds for frontline services by over £1 million. It also proposed swingeing cuts to services for children, young people and the elderly as well as spending £1.1 million on removing a major cycle lane which was only installed four years ago.
Prior to the budget information being released, the Green Group of councillors had formulated and costed a series of saving, revenue-generating and spending ideas which we had collectively prioritised. We used this to create an ambitious Green Alternative Budget which we published to significant public interest.
This alternative budget also formed our negotiating position for talking to other opposition parties, who together could outvote the Conservative administration. With Labour, we proposed a comprehensive series of joint amendments, which were strikingly similar to our own Green budget!
The joint amendments were passed at the budget council meeting, reversing cuts and saving jobs. These joint amendments have:
• Put almost £3m back into frontline public services;
• Cancelled the removal of a major cycle lane due to cost £1.1m;
• Removed the 1% council tax cut, leaving it frozen at last year's rate;
• Initiated a food waste collection pilot;
• Added support for those in serious debt and financial difficulty.
Nevertheless, the amended budget still contained £23 million of cuts, many of which we still had little information on. So Greens called for the budget to be voted down and a week of intense discussions be held with all major parties on the council, unions, the third sector and the public to build a better council budget.
Whilst Labour had suggested they would support this call, at the last minute they chose to abstain. So with Greens voting against and Labour abstaining, the Tories were able to wave through their cuts budget.
Following the May elections Greens are now the largest party on the council and we have begun an open review of the budget to see if we can make further changes to reduce harm to the young, elderly and vulnerable. Watch this space!
The Green Alternative Budget for Brighton & Hove can be viewed at http://bit.ly/greenbudget
London closer to fineFollowing the poor air quality in London, transport minister, Philip Hammond, allocated an extra £5m for the mayor of London establish a 'Clean Air Fund' to extend measures in place at the small number of locations in central London that are at risk of exceeding the daily limit value for particulate matter (PM10) including Marylebone Road.
Marylebone Road has had 30 days by April 2011 where it exceeded European daily limits for particulate air pollution. This is over two-thirds of its total annual allowance, whilst we are only a third of the way into the year. The UK is allowed a total of 35 "bad air days" a year until it exceeds European limits for particulate pollution and risks incurring a potential fine of £300 million.
The UK has already been granted a time extension until 2011 to meet the required standards, but the commission has refused to withdraw the two written warnings already issued to the UK government about its failure to meet the European limit values for PM10s since they were introduced in 2005.
Darren Johnson said:
"This is panic money which seems to be targeted specifically at those roads with air pollution monitoring stations that are likely to be above the European limits. Instead of coming up with the serious policies which could reduce air pollution across London they have been panicked by the European commission into sticking some plasters on the problem outside the few sites in London where we actually measure how bad things are. It is far too little money to do a proper job of reducing pollution and protecting the health of Londoners. If you are unlucky enough to live in an area without a monitoring station, you could be suffering an even worse level of pollution but be completely ignored."
The European commission wants some kind of emergency plan B, but that is only necessary because the mayor of London has dithered and delayed in a way that has made pollution worse than it should be. Rather than introduce ad hoc, chaotic traffic bans, the mayor should immediately restore the western extension, reinstate twice yearly inspections of black cabs and introduce a very low emission zone which only allows the cleanest vehicles to enter central London.