Revised Council budget revealed

From The Argus:

Disabled workers and residents reliant on care are set for a reprieve under the revised terms of Brighton and Hove City Council’s proposed budget.

Members of the city’s Green administration say they have listened to residents, unions and volunteer groups and have pulled proposals to cut £280,000 from Home Care services and subsidies to disability employer Able and Willing.

But the revised budget plans published yesterday have been criticised by opposition groups for sticking with a proposed 4.75% council tax increase, with councillors pointing out that a no vote in the referendum will cost the city more than £1 million.

Meanwhile unions have called on the two opposition parties to stand aside and let the public decide.

The revised budget follows initial plans for a 2% council increase announced in November, which included dire warnings that care homes could close, support to people with learning disabilities could be cut and dozens of members of staff laid off.

The Green administration say a 4.75% council tax increase would raise £2.75 million to support adult social care services and grants to third sector organisations.

The new budget proposals also resolves a £2.5 million budget deficit identified in December with extra income from the council tax increase, a reduction in pensions contributions and £500,000 of new savings identified.

The revised budget also retains other measures previously set out in December 2013, which include a freeze on citywide parking charges, a freeze on councillors’ allowances, funding for a £7.65 per hour living wage for council staff and the continuation of the £1 million fund for homelessness.

In the bid to find £24 million worth of savings up to 150 council posts may be lost.

While some of these positions are already vacant or will become vacant through staff turnover the council report states it is likely at least half may have to come through redundancies.

Leader of the council Jason Kitcat said: “Over the last two months we’ve listened to the feedback from residents, unions, the community and voluntary sector and others to improve the budget.

“85% of residents have said they wanted to increase funding for Adult Social Care or at least maintain it at current levels.

“The council is in a more difficult financial position than ever thanks to mounting Coalition Government cuts and rising demand for social care.

“With both Labour and the Tories committed to cutting national funding for councils to zero by 2020 it’s crucial we as a city debate what we are willing to do to support our grandparents, parents and siblings, who need care now and in the future.”

The prospect of a referendum remains slim with both Conservative and Labour groups indicating they will not support such a move.

Conservative group leader Geoffrey Theobald has criticised the cost of a no vote in the referendum, which council officials indicate will cost £213,000 to hold and £350,000 in extra staffing and re-billing costs.

He said: “We know from The Argus polling and from what we are experiencing from knocking on people’s doors that very few people are in favour of this, I think it is running about three-to-one against.

“On the first of April people aren’t going to pay it and the council will be left with a reduction in income because people are not paying or only paying a proportion.

“Added to the costs is the extra worry that people are going to experience when they get these bills.”

Coun Theobald said the 4.75% increase was proposed “very late in the day” in a bid to unite the Green party, claiming party members refused to support the initial budget cuts to adult social care.

He said: “We have always said that we wouldn’t support a referendum, which we see as a very, very costly exercise, which would not succeed.

“Officers have been working all along on a 2% rise so presumably that will be dusted off the shelves.

“That won’t be the problem, the problem will be opposition parties have very little to amend what is presented to us.”

Labour leader Warren Morgan said the proposals showed the Greens know they have “failed the city, its residents and the services they rely on”.

Coun Morgan said the administration had failed to make savings of £2 million, which were identified in the last two budgets, failed to get better value from council social care contracts and failed to give consultants enough time or enough scope to make savings to offset cuts.

He added: “Now the Greens want to pass on responsibility for their failure to residents in a referendum costing £300,000.

“They want to pass on the costs of their failure to the most vulnerable in our society.

“They want to pass on the cost of £23 million in Tory cuts to those who can least afford it and who are struggling to pay their bills.

“They are using vulnerable people as an excuse to make a political gesture.”

GMB branch secretary Mark Turner called on the other two parties to stand aside and let the public decide on the proposed 4.75% increase.

He said: “Clearly the other two parties aren’t going to support the referendum and I think that’s a shame and a missed political opportunity.

“I understand what the other political groups are saying about people’s ability to pay but that’s for the public to decide and that’s why the Government brought this in.

“The people of Brighton and Hove are very intelligent and are perfectly capable of making up their own minds.

“If they decide they don’t want to protect these services it would be very difficult for the public to then turn around and criticise the politicians in 2015.”

He added he was “pleased” the revisions in the budget were moving in the “right direction” but raised concerns about the impact on reducing overtime for city parks staff would have on the clearing away of litter, glass and hypodermic needles from children’s playgrounds and cuts of £200,000 to the council’s “under-staffed” planning department, which will impact on workers health and future developments in the city.

He said there were also concerns about plans to reduce five posts from problem-hit rubbish collection company City Clean.

He said: “That is five fewer people cleaning the streets.

“The statement in the budget says they plan to increase mechanisation but they are not doing that, all they are doing is replacing existing vehicles that have come to the end of their lives.”

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