Labour councillor Marg Hickman today responded to the Budget debate around Mayor Marvin Rees’ £2 billion, no cuts, four-year budget.

 

*Check against delivery

 

Thank you, Lord Mayor.

 

It’s a pleasure to follow Marvin and Craig.

They do the boring well, which enables our Labour council to do the exciting and the extraordinary.

I also want to thanks all the officers who have worked so hard for today – particularly Denise.

 

The contrast  with the former Mayor’s finances is stark.

His focus on the organisation started and finished with changing this building’s name, rather than the council’s culture or values.

Bluster and bravado birthed a budget black-hole, and then Bundred.

Bristol was on the brink.

But, since then, Labour have been laser-focused on finance.

Competence has replaced chaos.

The council is credible, and achieving the incredible.

Labour’s four year, no cuts, two billion pound budget once again invests in Bristol.

 

Former VP Joe Biden says: “Don’t tell me what you value, just show me your budget.”

 

Marvin and Labour’s Budget priorities are clear.

Bristol’s libraries – all open.

Bristol’s children’s centres – all open.

The Council Tax Reduction Scheme – protected.

Care  leavers’ council tax exemptions – introduced.

City Hall top pay – frozen.

A real Living Wage – introduced.

The core cities’ tightest pay ratio – maintained.

George’s discount for second homes – scrapped.

A 300% premium on empty homes – introduced.

And hundreds of millions of pounds for new affordable homes – unprecedented.

 

Jeremy Corbyn has picked up on this, highlighting our innovative policies around children, ethical care, parental leave, and our continued fight against modern slavery and austerity.

But, as you’d expect, our side of the chamber wishes the budget was even bigger, so we can be even bolder.

With a Labour Government, it will be and so will we.

We’re proud to wear our LGA Labour Group’s Breaking Point campaign badges today.

I’ve got a bag-full if anyone wants to cross the floor now, or see me in the break for one.

But it’s so much more than badges.

Marvin has rallied Bristol and repeatedly lobbied the Government for change.

Bristol’s Labour councillors signed the 5,000 councillor strong petition that called for an end to austerity.

 

Even political defections galore – and a handling of Brexit so shambolic that food is being stockpiled – cannot distract from the failure and cruelty of ongoing Tory cuts.

Thirty years ago, the poll tax brought riots to the streets and swept Margaret Thatcher out of Number 10.

 

Today, the proportion of GDP spent on local government is at its lowest level since 1948.

Graphs of doom should have been warnings, not road maps, for Westminster.

The scandal of austerity, which has made some councils go bust – together with the regressive injustice of council tax, which hits the poorest the hardest – is reaching a peak.

And, all the while, billions are being wasted on No Deal planning.

Taxpayer money would have been so much better spent on councils’ front-line services, or the two billion pound Clean Air fund which Marvin, core cities, metro mayors, and UK 100 have called for.

 

Back to council tax, which was a complete fudge after the poll tax.

But, unlike the Prime Minister’s jam, a scrape here or there and hoping for the best, just won’t do.

A fresh batch of policy is needed.

In my letter to the PM, not only did I call for more powers and resources for Bristol, but also a radical rethink of local government.

Councils are increasingly reliant on council tax, based on property bands which are older than people in this room.

More proportional bands and a revaluation are desperately needed.

 

NHS funding is now weighted away from deprivation, with Bristol suffering.

With complete silence as usual from their party members opposite, the Tories are doing the same to local government.

And they have the nerve to spin this as a fair funding review.

The reality is: it’s a stitch up for the shires, at the expense of the cities.

 

My letter, like our golden motion, also called for public health funding cuts to be reversed.

Bristol has lost £3 million in public health funding since 2016.

While life expectancy in Hartcliffe is lower than in Syria.

Labour was right at Full Council to call for change.

Marvin then spoke at a conference with Cancer Research UK.

They, and I quote:

“C R UK thanks Bristol Council for passing a motion at their January meeting which endorsed our calls for the Government to invest in public health and a sustainable health and social care system…”

They go on:

“The NHS Long-Term Plan[‘s]… aims to improve health, and ensure the future sustainability of the NHS, will only be achieved if councils have enough funding to deliver local services.”

 

But, Bristol’s opposition said that since Labour’s motion also noted historic achievements around the Living Wage and housing, they couldn’t support it.

When jobs and housing have such an impact on health, this argument is as wrong as it is petty.

 

And, I have to say this to the Green Party in particular.

You live on Bristol’s most exclusive streets, with million-pound mansions.

But you endorse the Lib Dems’ view that affordable housing is a vanity project.

Last month, you voted to remove all mention of ‘poverty’ from our Labour motion on tackling inequality.

Please – enough is enough.

Don’t do it again.

For once, vote with the people fighting austerity rather than those who started it.

 

Now, I won’t tread too much on comrades’ toes but I do want to mention amendments.

 

First, I’ve got to explain that supporting a budget amendment is a two stage process.

You have to vote for it to amend the budget report.

That writes it in.

Then, you have to vote for the budget itself.

That actually writes the cheque to fund things.

Ten per cent of Labour’s revenue budget paid for the Council Tax Reduction Scheme.

This year, councillors can either vote for our budget or vote against the CTRS.

 

After moving a poor tax last year, the Tories are trying to save 28 grand from the council but would end up costing two million pounds.

Truly George’s financial gurus.

 

It’s also no surprise that they are trying to make more hard-working public sector workers redundant.

And sadly the Green Party are doing a copycat amendment.

They vote with the Tories, and are now pushing for a smaller state for an even cheaper headline.

Almost a decade into austerity, more than three-quarters of the opposition will be whipped to vote for more job losses at the council.

It’s nothing short of a disgrace.

 

A team pulled together from existing officer posts has saved money and supported us bringing political leadership to the authority.

And, compared with our MPs (who collectively have the same number of constituents), the Mayor’s office is even underfunded by almost one hundred thousand pounds.

 

Now – a quick bit of history.

Peter, you might remember this… please do correct me if I’m wrong…

In 1831, riots exploded in Bristol over the Reform Bill.

Toffs from rotten boroughs thought that just six thousand people deserved to vote for who ran the city.

Now, at a time when the Tory-Green Party coalition are trying to sack council staff, in a move which can be described as neither Liberal nor Democratic, others want the council leader to be directly accountable to as few as five and a half thousand people.

That’s 80 times less than Bristol’s population, and even less than the electorate in 1831 before the Reform Bill.

Some are more focused on structures than success, preferring dogma to democracy.

The Mayor’s mandate comes from all of Bristol, but some just refuse to acknowledge the remarkable record of an office which is delivering for the city.

Unprecedented housing numbers.

The One City Plan.

The Global Parliament of Mayors.

Channel 4.

All against the odds.

 

And, the Lib Dems’ amendments look even more detached from reality than last year’s.

People say charity starts at home.

But it’s still strange that the party who jumped into bed with the Tories at the first chance, and claim to regret it, are trying to donate money to a metro mayor in hiding – and at the expense of Labour’s capital programme.

This amendment, and the illegal one described by the Green Party, both invest far less in Bristol’s bus network than Labour’s Bus Deal will.

T his is our best bet to improve services now.

 

Today we’ll debate your amendments.

We’ll even accept some.

But, at that point: pass our budget, rather than invite more Tory austerity.

Don’t pass the buck when it matters, vote with us and then call for more bucks from Westminster.

After all: our voting records speak far louder than any tweet or press release.

 

To sum up… The opposition parties are confused.

They’re either rewriting history or rewriting reality.

One thinks Bristol has too many jobs and too few poor people.

They hate growth, vote against the Living Wage, oppose the airport, and reject Temple Island.

Another thinks Bristol has too much money.

They want to shut things which bring in the resources their Government is taking away, and are silent on funding changes which would devastate Bristol.

And the third think too many Bristolians can vote for who leads the council.

That’s not just backwards, it’s bonkers.

 

Labour are making history.

We’re clear on the challenges ahead.

We’re investing in Bristol.

Labour has kept all Bristol’s libraries, all Bristol’s children’s centres, and are determined to deliver a Living Wage for all Bristolians.

And only Labour are protecting local people from poverty through the core cities’ last council tax reduction scheme.

We’re fighting austerity and actively working to end it.

And we’ll vote to that effect today.

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