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Proposed Budget Cuts Are 'Brutal,' Community Rep Tells Brighton & Hove Councillors

Monday, 12 February 2024 07:51

By Sarah Booker-Lewis, Local Democracy Reporter

Dr Anusree Biswas Sasidharan

Proposed budget cuts and uncertainty over the future of the government’s household support fund were “brutal” for those most in need, a community representative said.

Anusree Biswas Sasidharan told councillors:

“These cuts are brutal … I appreciate a council has to work with their statutory duties. It’s incredibly difficult working out what to cut.”

Dr Biswas Sasidharan, director of Bridging Change, was audibly upset as she told a town hall meeting:

“It’s just terrible, as a citizen of Brighton and Hove, with (the uncertainty about) the household support fund and how it will impact on our city.

“I’ve heard a lot of citizens in our city talk to me about this and they are finding it hard.”

Earlier, Labour council leader Bella Sankey told the meeting:

“The future of the government’s ‘household support fund’ still hangs in the balance.

“This is the over £4 million that allows us to provide, for example, free school meal vouchers in the school holidays, emergency fuel and food vouchers and much of the direct support that we’re able to give to food banks and other services keeping food in people’s bellies in Tory Britain.”

Councillor Sankey said that the council still had no clear idea as to whether the government fund would continue beyond the end of the current financial year next month.

She was speaking as the council’s Strategy, Finance and Sustainability Committee discussed the draft budget which includes cuts and savings of about £30 million.

A report to the committee said that rising costs in social care for adults and children and inflation across the board were adding to the financial pressures faced by the council.

Councillor Sankey said that the worst parts of the budget for her included the proposed 4.99 per cent rise in council tax during a “cost of living crisis” and potential job losses.

She also cited “cuts to services including those delivered by our valued community and voluntary sector”, adding that she had previously worked in the sector.

She added:

“We have sought to limit the pain as best we can but the council’s financial position is so serious that the 10 per cent cut we are making to our net ‘general fund’ is also being passed on to third sector contracts next year.”

Councillor Sankey said:

“It is also with great sadness that the ‘communities fund’ has for now been discontinued, other than the BME fund.

“We completely recognise the importance of the work done by smaller voluntary and charity organisations in the city.

“With the small uplift in our overall position, following the final local government settlement this week, we are minded to try to recreate a new version of the ‘communities fund’ with this money.”

The loss of the communities fund would put several small grassroots groups at risk of closure, threatening support for “marginalised communities” across Brighton and Hove.

The groups affected provide support to adults and children with various disabilities, to victims of domestic violence and abuse, young people generally and racial and sexual minority groups.

The Youth-Led Grants Programme, worth £80,000 is also due to be cut while the Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project looks likely to lose £11,000.

Councillor Sankey told the committee yesterday (Thursday 8 February) that she had earlier visited the Whitehawk food bank and spoken with people there about the pressures that they were facing.

She said that cabinet minister Michael Gove had written to council leaders telling them to scrap equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) training.

She added:

“I know this Tory government likes placing ill-advised bets so I’ll wager Michael Gove that this authority’s anti-racism and EDI work will outlast his government.”

Dr Biswas Sasidharan, a co-opted member of the committee, said:

“I welcome the work to keep EDI. It’s really fantastic you’ve made that stand (and) for the swimming pools, the toilets, the nurseries and the provision around mental health support in schools.”

The council is maintaining 34 public toilets and has a £4.5 million toilet refurbishment programme.

Free swimming for the under 19s is budgeted to continue until 2026 and councillors have also backed a £200,000 pilot project to provide counselling services in schools.

The council is due to agree its finances for the year from April and set the council tax at its annual “budget council” meeting on Thursday 22 February.

The meeting, at Hove Town Hall, is scheduled to start at 4.30pm and to be webcast on the council’s website.

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