06/11/2011 The Politics Show South East


06/11/2011

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We look at plans to turn down �3 million from the government in

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favour of a rise in next year's council tax in Brighton and Hove.

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At Hastings lunch is an innovative scheme to help her first-time

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Apology for the loss of subtitles for 2218 seconds

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00 welcome to The Politics Show in the south-east.

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Coming up: Third free government money versus a tax hike. We ask why

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Brighton's Green Party plans to put the financial burden on its

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residents. Find out why one local authority

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wants to give first-time buyers a leg up on the property ladder.

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And why are waiting times getting longer and so many Sussex

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hospitals? If you live in Brighton and Hove,

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you will probably pay more for your council tax next year because your

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leaders are the only ones in the country so far to refuse to agree

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to a freeze. The government has promised them �3 million if they

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keep council tax at last year's levels, but the ruling Greens in

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Brighton and Hove say they can make �4 million by increasing bills by

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3.5%. Surely, we will find out what they plan to spend that extra �1

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million on and whether it will justify an increased tax burden

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when times are already tough on a A three �3 million from the

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government, or an extra �4 million from local residents? That was the

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dilemma facing the Green Party leadership of Brighton and Hove

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City Council. The decision made made is not necessarily the obvious

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one. What we are talking about his council tax, and Brighton and Hove

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is planning to increase it instead of taking a payout from the

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government, which is being given to all local authorities that frees

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council tax next year. They are offering councils that he attacks

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the same the equivalent of a 2.5% rise. -- council tax at the same.

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At the last cabinet meeting called we agreed to keep the council tax

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at the same level as it is now, so no increase. We decided to do that

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after discussions and canvassing. It was prior to the government

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announcement and it is unusual to have the additional government

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money, but we have been decided upon doing it because that is what

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we have been asked by the electorate. But even though it

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looks like every other local authority in the country is taking

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the government up on the offer, the Green Party leadership in Brighton

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and Hove is proposing not to, instead choosing to increase

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council tax by 3.5%. They say they need the extra �1 million they will

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get from doing it this way to protect local services. But critics

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claim the Government's �3 million would have given a much-needed

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boost for the local economy and lifted the burden on residents.

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Instead, the proposed tax increase will affect those on lower incomes

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more. There is no doubt that council taxes regressive in the

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sense that it generally takes a larger share of people's income the

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less they earn. For those on council tax benefit, most or all of

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the council tax is paid. It won't be progressive. But for people who

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are what you might call not quite poor, it will take a larger share

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of their income than somebody living in a very large property

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with a big income. I think the Green Party would see itself as

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being a left-of-centre party, therefore progressive and in favour

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of helping those on lower incomes and taxing those more who have high

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incomes. Pushing up the council tax is not a very progressive thing to

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do in that sense. It is not wholly consistent with the idea of

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progressive taxation. The Greens say that if they took the

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Government's money, they would end up with a huge shortfall between

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the council tax charge to to residents and the amount they need

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and would therefore have to impose a with massive hike in the future.

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But some day -- some say that they would never come. They can't

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possibly predict what is going to happen in a future year. Nobody

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knows that and so to make that decision now on - did turn down �3

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million of government money because of what they think is going to

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happen in the future - is absolute nonsense. We have made it clear

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from day one that we would freeze the council tax. We stand by that

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view. That is perfectly possible, and that is what should happen for

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our residents. So, are the Greens hoping to make a statement by going

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against the grain? There are relatively few green councillors.

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This is the first Green controlled council and so I have no doubt they

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want to make changes and stand out from the crowd to show they are

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different. They're always potentially advantages for being

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different and to looking different, and being shown to stand up to

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powerful central government. On the other hand, the impact on

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individuals is real because council tax is the most visible tax most

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people pay and therefore it is a genuinely... A decision that will

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have an impact on the way people vote.

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The council thinks that Brighton and Hove's residents won't mind

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paying more to protect services, even at the expense of forfeiting

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government money. The Greens clearly want to make an impact, but

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are they kidding themselves? Joining me now from our Brighton

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studio is the green cabinet member for finance at Brighton and Hove

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City Council, Jason Kitcat. You heard a leading expert on local

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government saying that increases on council tax in Pat Moran poorer

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people than wealthier people. Why are you doing this? He is not

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exactly right because the poorest do not pay council tax at all. It

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is a few pence extra a week. The key thing to understand as the

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Treasury have been very clear that the grant they or offering is for

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one year only, so next year we would be too 0.5% behind where we

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would ordinarily be. Brighton and Hove City Council is being cut way

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above the national average. We have to take �20 million of our budget.

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We can't afford this and of the Conservatives are so keen on it,

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they should show us the cuts we have to make. If you are all about

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protecting vulnerable people - and that is where you say you will

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protect -- spend this extra money - why make poor people worse off by

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taking more council tax from them? You are robbing the poor to pay the

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even poorer. Council tax is imperfect but it is bandied, so

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those with the largest properties will pay more. We have to operate

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within the limits the government sets for us. We are facing huge

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cuts and we will use our green values to make the fairest budget

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possible. But 3.5% council tax increase will help mitigate that,

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whereas the one-off grant is frankly a gimmick and does not

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sound. Previous tax freeze grants worth of four years. They said this

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is for one year only so next year we will be far behind where we need

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to be. Maybe what you are doing is a bit of a gimmick because you are

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squeezing extra money out of your residence. You are the only council

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that has agreed to do it at the moment, as far as we know. We don't

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expect other councils to follow suit. There is an insinuation that

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maybe you are just doing this to look different. Not at all. This is

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about sound financial management. If you look at the figures and 10

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next year we will be 3 million behind what we need to be, and that

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any future increases will be worth less, it means it does not make

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sense. Other councils are different. Lewes District Council is in a

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different financial situation and we are facing above-average cuts.

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Council tax is imperfect but we believe this is the best way to

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face the cuts. We were elected on a mandate of resisting the cuts.

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weren't allowed to don a mandate of increasing council tax. You went

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over at about that. Have you done any research to suggest he will

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take residence with you? It sounds like you risk alienating them.

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was clear in our manifesto that council tax was one of the options

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before us to help mitigate the cuts. Local government has few options.

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Solar panels are not a way for us to create income because the

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government has slashed feed in tariffs. We have been far more open

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than other councils about our plans. Other councils have not dared talk

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about their budgets will their tax plans until the very last minute.

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We are already talking about it with you and the unions and the

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voluntary sector. Let's talk about how you are going to spend the �1

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million more that you will spend -- you will get by the putting this on

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council tax rather than taking the government payout. We you spend it

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wisely or visibly because there is a big difference between the two?

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That money will be spent protecting services. What we are keen to do is

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keep services going and that is what people voted us in to do.

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There are a lot of vulnerable people depending on council

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services and they are often invisible services - social care

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and children's services - and that is what we are focusing on. Tony

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Travers says he thinks you see yourself as a left-of-centre party.

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Do you? That is part of our policies but we think Green is

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different first of all and I think we have gone beyond left and right

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in politics these days. Thank you for being with us.

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Is it up to our politicians to help us get a mortgage? In Hastings, the

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borough council are going to lend local families a chunk of money for

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a deposit to buy their first home. All the buyers have to do is fined

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5% of the asking price and they will then get a favourable rate

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mortgage. Probably only between 30 and 50 families will benefit

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because the council only has �1 million to lend, so is it worth the

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risk? With me to discuss this is Jeremy Birch, Labour leader of

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Hastings Borough Council and Jo Eccles, founder and director of the

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property company Sourcing. How is this going to work, Jeremy?

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It is for first-time buyers and people who would have difficulty

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raising the deposit. The council is guaranteeing, by lodging the money

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with the mortgage company, the difference between a 25% and a 5%

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deposit. We think that will allow some people who otherwise could not

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get their foot on the ladder to buy a home. We think the council will

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be acting socially and responsibly and not really risking its own

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finances because we have taken detailed expert advice on this.

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You are obviously aware that that is the impending criticism - that

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you are putting the Government's money, which you are borrowing and

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then investing, at risk. How much of a risk do you think it is?

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Everything is a risk but we have taken advice about how to mitigate

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the risk. We will be borrowing at a rate of about 2.5%, but we will

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receive back about 3.8% with the money we lodge with the mortgage

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company. But if somebody defaults on their mortgage, you could end up

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in trouble. The but the surplus gives us a cushion, which covers us

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against what could be 2% default. We would only be faced with the

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difficulty of the property came to be resold at a loss against what it

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was purchased. But the difference would be limited from the point of

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view of what we have put him. Eccles, it is a creative idea. Do

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you applaud them for being adventurous? Well done for thinking

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outside the box, but I don't really think it is going to help the

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underlying issue. The issue is we have got affordability problems for

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first-time buyers, regardless of where they live. They simply can't

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get onto the property ladder. So if you are going to help up to 50

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first-time buyers, that is great but it is not going to help the

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underlying issues, where first-time buyers just don't have the salaries

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bursars the deposit required to get onto the property ladder. You need

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a fundamental approach across the whole nation to try and change this,

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rather than simply macro changing it for a few people. It seems hard

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for criticising it somebody who is trying to help by saying it is only

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going to help 30 to 50 people it is better than helping nobody, isn't

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it? Arguably, no, because at �1 million could be spent elsewhere

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and to throw that money to help a few people, you are basically

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supporting already inflated prices. Prices are inflated because nobody

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can afford to buy at these levels and you are helping to support

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those levels. Jeremy, do you have a problem with that? Hastings doesn't

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have particularly high prices relative to other areas of the

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south-east. The accusation is you are going to contribute to keeping

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prices high. And why does everyone need to own a home? Why are we so

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obsessed with home ownership in this country? There is no

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difference in our mind between the quality of Brenton and the quality

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of buying. However, if this allows some people who are in a socially

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rented accommodation to move out and therefore that social housing

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becomes available for someone else, but this is not �1 million we could

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spend on something else. We are borrowing �1 million and then

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lending it on and we get a higher rate of return as lenders and as

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borrowers. So this could only be used for this. But you don't think

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people who are in social housing will get a mortgage. They probably

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won't be eligible for those. It will make no difference to the

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waiting lists that are already long. People are struggling to get social

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housing. The people who will be helped are those who are in private

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rented accommodation. But those people are quite vulnerable, aren't

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they? Because it they have a child and a local school and a job

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locally, with private renting you could be turfed out with just two

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months' notice, so there is an advantage for them to get their own

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home. There definitely is an advantage: But why are we just

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topping 30 to 50 people? We should be focusing on a nationwide scheme

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that helps free up housing. There are lots of them to second homes

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that are not being used. We are not building enough properties every

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year. We need to be doing something more substantial, rather than just

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helping a few people here and there. We learned on BBC Radio Kent this

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week that Kent housing, which represents the local authorities

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and housing associations across the country, is considering its own

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version of what Jeremy is proposing with us a target of 600 families

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over five years. If more people do it does it become worthwhile or

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would you urge them not to do it? At a moment, first-time buyers

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simply can't get onto the market. They are all struggling and that is

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because their salaries are not high enough. The affordability is not

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bear, so we need those prices to correct themselves. In the short

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term, it is going to squeeze a lot of people but in the long term,

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that means the property market is opened up to everyone. Jeremy, you

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have not even launch the scheme yet but you still have some interest?

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Yes. We go live in December, we hope. All the publicity has been on

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a report on a council meeting and we have had people already on the

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phone asking how they can get involved. I am very positive.

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you both for being with us. If you need a hip operation or a

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new knee, you might end up waiting well be on the 18 weak target set

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by the government. Over half the NHS Trust in Sussex are keeping

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pace since hanging on for procedures and the problem is

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dramatically worse in some cases than it was last year. So why are

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some hospitals doing much better than others? Our political reporter

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can tell us. What have you discovered? Three out of five

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Hospital Trust in Sussex are not meeting the Government's 18 week

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waiting target. This is the target for patients admitted into hospital

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for their care. In Sussex, hospitals and places like

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Eastbourne, Hastings and Redhill, Chichester, patients find that

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there are longer delays. Why is it getting worse than it already was?

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I don't think there is one simple factor but if you pick East Surrey

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Hospital, their backlog of patients has increased from 1000 to 3,000

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people over the last 12 months, who have waited for more than 18 weeks.

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Hospital trusts have said that there are pressures on their

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emergency care and that is taking resources away from other areas of

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the hospital. But let's not forget - trusts across Sussex have been

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asked to make millions of Pounds worth of efficiency savings. The

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trusts are quite reluctant to say that financial pressures will have

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an impact, but everyone is saying this has got to have something to

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do with it. There two Trust who are doing much better and in one case,

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meeting their targets every month. Which are they? Brighton and Sussex

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University Hospital have met this 18 week waiting target every month

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over the last 12 months. The patients' Association think the

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trust who are achieving these targets are particularly good at

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what the NHS calls care path ways. That is making sure that when

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someone is being treated, the bed is not blocked, and buried

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somewhere for them to go. That means they can meet this 90% target

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of getting people treated. -- there is somewhere for them to go. We are

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not talking about cancer treatment, where people go to the top of the

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list, are we? It is what the NHS call an elective care, so it could

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be something like a new hip or a new knee and in those areas, we are

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finding - using Sussex as an example - there are 700 people

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waiting more than the 18 week waiting time.

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What other politician saying? I wouldn't mind that -- betting that

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Labour are making a field day of these figures. They have been quick

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to capitalise on these figures. They said the coalition government

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is taking the NHS backwards and all the reforms that they are trying to

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make are holding up patient care. Labour had said that we are going

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back to the days of the postcode lottery when it comes to health

0:57:130:57:17

care. What about the Patients Association? Are they criticising

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the government over funding? They said that David Cameron - they

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named him personally - has failed to keep to the 18 week waiting time

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promise. While the government will say they are meeting at nationally,

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the figures show that there are trusts that are failing so that

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some people on waiting much more than 18 weeks. Very interesting.

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Thank you for bringing into our attention.

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