It is quite clear to me when I’m out and about in the city talking to residents, that there is absolutely no appetite for a council tax rise of any kind – let alone one more than double the rate of inflation.
After mortgage or rent payments, council tax is the biggest monthly bill that most people have and, as councillors, I believe that we have a duty to keep it as low as possible.
Council tax levels nationally and in Brighton & Hove more than doubled under the previous Labour Government and the Labour administration that ran the Council for much of that time regularly imposed double-digit increases.
The current Conservative-led Government has recognised just how damaging this has been to hard-pressed residents and has offered councils extra money to enable them to freeze council tax for each of the last 4 years – totalling well over £10 million here in Brighton & Hove. It is simply perverse of the Green administration, backed last year by the Labour Group, to continue turning it down.
As a result of the Government’s extra funding, council tax has fallen 10% in real terms nationally since 2010, yet here in Brighton & Hove, residents are missing out thanks to the two left wing parties.
There is still plenty of scope to make the required savings and maintain, or even improve, services. The Council’s independent auditors continue to say that most of our services are expensive compared to other similar councils. The Green administration dutifully followed by the Labour Group refuse, for ideological reasons, to carry out proper market testing of the Council’s services with a view to alternative, more efficient, models of delivery. Instead, they prefer to take the easy option by going cap in hand to the council taxpayer.
Council Leader Jason Kitcat, is quite right to highlight the growing problem of funding social care services, particularly for the elderly. The population demographics indicate a rapidly growing demand for care and support services and this cannot be ignored. However, his attempts to brand his plans as a ‘social care referendum’ may be clever marketing but they are misleading.
Council officers stated in a recent Committee report that adult social care services that are currently delivered by in-house Council staff generally do not deliver value for money compared to those delivered by the independent and voluntary sector.
Yet the Green administration, with backing from the Labour Group, is choosing to ignore its own officers’ advice.
Neighbouring West Sussex County Council is putting an extra £6.25 million into its Adult Social Care Budget for next year to cope with the increased demand for its services yet they are still managing to freeze council tax. With the political will it can be done. And it should not be forgotten that it is often retired people, on fixed incomes, who are hardest hit by council tax increases such as those proposed by the Greens and Labour.
The Greens council tax referendum announcement, and the Labour Group’s subsequent ill-thought through motion of no confidence in Cllr Kitcat, are all about political posturing ahead of next year’s elections as these two left wing parties desperately try to outbid each other for the far left vote in the city. That is certainly no way to run a city and it is the vast majority of hard-working residents who are getting caught in the cross-fire of their personal battle.
I continue to urge the Labour Group to support us in voting down the Greens’ costly plans by delivering what would be a very welcome council tax freeze for residents. Ed Miliband likes to talk up the so-called ‘cost of living crisis’ – so, it would be hypocritical in the extreme for Labour to spurn this golden opportunity to actually do something about it.