There was a disappointing, but not surprising, end to the Budget Council meeting here in Brighton & Hove last week. Disappointing for the residents of this city who will now be faced with an increase in their council tax of just under 2%. Not surprising because the Green and Labour parties are natural bedfellows whose first instinct at the first sign of trouble is to turn to the taxpayer to bail them out.
Our relatively modest and sensible proposal to freeze council tax and claim the Eric Pickles grant by making an additional £780,000 of savings – largely by extending the council’s existing voluntary redundancy scheme – was voted down by the Greens and Labour on the grounds that it would lead to cuts to the frontline. This is a plainly ridiculous argument when you consider that £780,000 is just one one thousandth of the Council’s total budget.
This notion, widely pedalled by the parties of the Left, that the only way to protect frontline council services is to raise council tax, is fundamentally flawed. A growing number of Conservative councils up and down the country have shown that by thinking outside of the box, by being prepared to use private and voluntary sector providers and by showing ambition in working with other organisations, services can be maintained – even improved – at the same time as keeping the council tax low.
One Labour councillor wrote in our local paper recently that residents will have been ‘horrified’ to hear Conservatives say that Brighton & Hove City Council could learn a thing or two from the Council that has become the bête noire of the Left – Barnet. We were pilloried by them for simply suggesting that the Green Administration should be market testing all council provided services to see if other providers, apart from in-house council teams, can deliver them at a lower cost to council taxpayers.
I think that what residents will be horrified by is not our insistence on testing the market but the dogmatic and closed-minded refusal of the Labour and Green parties to even contemplate anything other than the tired old model of the Council funding and delivering its own services.
At the Budget meeting, we also made another attempt to reduce the considerable amount of council taxpayers’ money (around £¼ million) that is spent on Trade Union Facility Time at the Council. Our amendment proposed spending some of this money instead on reducing the cost of Trader and Business Parking Permits in the city – thus boosting the local economy.
Sadly, the Left wing alliance rose up once again to defeat this sensible proposal, and, despite me challenging them, not one Labour Party councillor declared an interest. I am pleased that Eric has now released guidance on this issue of public funding of Trade Unions and I have written to the Council’s Chief Executive asking that she implements it in full.
It is my belief that what is behind this lurch to the left is the geography of Brighton & Hove politics. Ever since the Greens got their first MP in the central Brighton area and became the largest party on the Council they have been engaged in open warfare with the Labour Party to hold on to the radical left-wing vote in the city. Both parties so desperately need these voters on side in order to prosper at joint national/local elections in 2015, that all other considerations, such as what the majority of residents in the city might want, go out of the window.
So, rather than taking the sensible decision to help hard-pressed residents by freezing what is one of their largest domestic bills, Labour voted against our proposal (and all our five other amendments) out of fear for how the Green Party would portray them on leaflets in the run up to 2015 (‘Blue Labour’ ‘in bed with the Tories’ etc.).
This is no way to run a city and I hope that the voters will punish them for it.