There is no doubt it’s not an easy time to be in local government: The Tory-led coalition are imposing massive austerity measures with councils bearing far more than their fair share of the cuts in public funding. This has been complemented by ongoing public attacks on both council officers and councillors by pugnacious Tory ministers like Eric Pickles, Bob Neil and Grant Shapps. Finally councils are being pushed and pulled between suggestions of more powers being devolved, more central direction on how to do things and massive centrally decided reforms to their funding and legal powers. Local government is a bit punch drunk.
Despite all this, councils can and should deliver. In Brighton & Hove the Green administration came to power in 2011 with a very clear manifesto which we have been working hard to implement. In less than a year, Greens have made significant changes, we have:
- Introduced a Living wage of £7.19 for the lowest paid council staff. We have created a Living Wage Commission for the city that is working with the largest employers to advocate that living wage across the city.
- Won over £6m of new external funding for major improvements to the city’s transport infrastructure & public spaces.
- Protected the Children’s & Adult Social care budgets, including for carers – they will not change over two years, whilst neighbouring authorities are withdrawing care and support from many in need.
- We are building the city’s first new council houses in decades, and bringing more empty properties back into use. We are also working with local squatter groups working on ‘meanwhile’ leases for empty properties awaiting development.
- Introduced a new approach in the council that prioritises openness, democracy & participation – as shown by our budget process, commitment to open data and plans for neighbourhood councils.
None of this would have happened without Greens taking control of the city council in Brighton & Hove.
We are also unique in how much we’ve protected in our first budget, despite incredible pressure from the government, and ill-conceived amendments from the opposition parties. The Green administration’s budget will:
- Double capital funding for transport and the public realm.
- Build new non-academy school places in our best schools.
- Keep an in-house Youth Service, unlike almost every other council in the country.
- Preserve the main grant programmes for the 3rd sector at the same level as previous years.
- Create a new £300,000 grants programme for 3rd sector youth services, and a £150,000 fund to support capital investment in the 3rd sector.
- Protect Staff terms and conditions.
- Preserve parks services
- Keep all our branch libraries remain open, with an increasing book fund.
- ‘Preventing Homelessness’ funding is protected and domestic violence support increased by £100,000.
- We will be bringing forward pilots for communal recycling, food waste collection and commercial waste collection.
- We will be piloting participatory budgeting and neighbourhood councils.
- We will be consolidating council buildings down to a few hubs that will be upgraded to be super energy efficient, have solar panels and support mobile working and hot desking.
- We will be pursuing a unique bid for urban UN Biosphere status.
Whilst the government’s austerity measures are forcing back to scale back in some areas, we are still able to make good progress in many important areas. For example we are going to be working towards achieving One Planet Council status in the coming months.
As Greens we’re utterly opposed to much of the coalition’s wrong-headed policies, but we have a duty to make the best of the situation for our residents. If you have elections in your area vote Green this May for more dedicated councillors fighting for fair solutions to the challenges in their areas. Greens deliver!
[Cllr Jason Kitcat Brighton & Hove Green Party]