Nick Taylor represents Withdean Ward on Brighton and Hove Council. He was elected in May 2015, gaining the seat from the Green Party.
In 2007 the Conservatives took control of Brighton and Hove City Council for the very first time in the authority’s history. For twenty years Brighton Borough Council and then its successor unitary authority of Brighton and Hove from 1996 had been run by Labour, intent on wasting taxpayers’ hard earned money.
Council Tax rises of ten per cent were not uncommon and councillors continued to bleat that there was no money left in the kitty for this or that.
It was apparent when we took charge that the Council was ripe for slimming down. Throughout four hard years of minority control we implemented a highly successful Value for Money programme which still operates to this day saving the Council £10 million each financial year with cumulative savings running into the tens of millions.
At the same time we were also able to progressively lower Council Tax rises to a freeze in 2011. We Conservatives on the Council rightly feel that this was our most important legacy to the City.
In 2011, when we moved onto the opposition benches, the minority Green Administration gleefully continued the programme realising quite early on saving money was useful to ensure their pet projects could be implemented.
However, true to form for a socialist party, the Greens allowed the Value for Money programme to run into difficulties. In 2014 the programme was only able to achieve 61 per cent of the identified savings forcing the Administration to implement a series of one-off additional measures to ensure that the Council came within budget. This year our external auditors have been unable to give the Council an unqualified Value for Money conclusion. They also consider that the Council “has not yet made sufficient progress…to secure a stable financial position over the medium term”.
This is naturally alarming to any reasonable person but as the Council has a budget gap of £100 million over the next five years we should redouble our efforts to secure our financial resilience.
Sadly, despite our group making the case again and again, the new Labour Administration looks set to return to its bad old ways. In opposition, Labour voted to spend £16 million redeveloping Hove Town Hall and consistently opposed commissioning of services, even when there was overwhelming evidence from professionals to do so.
The Council also consistently produces services at a much higher cost, has generous facility time for the trade union representatives and has significantly higher levels of staff sickness than our private sector counterparts or even other public sector bodies. A report by the Executive Director of Adult Social Services in June 2014 found that significant savings could likely be achieved by alternative delivery models.
Cllr. David Hodge is right to point out how Conservative Councils work tirelessly day in and day out to deliver efficient public services that our residents rely on.
Sadly, in Brighton and Hove we haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of savings we might achieve if the Council decided to completely reform its current culture and working practices. We live in difficult times for Local Government but I am absolutely convinced that in Brighton and Hove the problems are not insurmountable.
If the Administration was minded to, we could protect front-line services whilst delivering value for money and as a responsible Opposition, we would help. As a natural optimist I hope the new Administration will not prevaricate and deliver for the residents of my city; after all it is the residents we represent who pay the price for Council inaction.