Seagull Weekly Briefing 20/02

Budget decision, weedkiller petition, toilet concision and more

Seagull Weekly Briefing 20/02
Source: The Brighton Seagull

Good morning, and welcome to the Brighton Seagull's Weekly Briefing. Hope you're all feeling a bit better than our editor, who's been feeling a bit ill over the last few days. Thanks for all your kind wishes; she's feeling a bit better today, and we've got a cracking issue of the Weekly Briefing for you.

News This Week

Thousands sign weedkiller petition

More than 6,300 people have signed a petition calling on the council to cancel its plans to reintroduce weedkiller.

The petition, which was started the day before councillors made the decision, was made by resident Clara Usiskin.

As we shared last month, the council has voted to use a controlled-droplet application of glyphosate to manage and remove weeds from hard surfaces.

This will involve mixing the glyphosate with an oil that helps it stick to the weeds, something the council says means they will use less herbicide than traditional methods, 'while reducing the risks to other plant species and wildlife'.

The use of a controlled-droplet application of glyphosate on hard surfaces will begin this spring. It’s use will be limited to roads and pavements.

Ms Usiskin said:

There is evidence to suggest that in the years since 2019, biodiversity in Brighton and Hove has improved, for example, the starling, hedgehog and sparrow population.  

By creating and supporting biodiverse green spaces in the city, Brighton and Hove City Council is enabling vulnerable people to access nature.

Glyphosates have been described as likely carcinogens by the World Health Organisation.  The reintroduction of glyphosates in Brighton and Hove would put people and nature at risk.

While she understands the need for the city to be weed-free, 'especially for residents with mobility challenges', she says an 'effective, organic, integrated weed management strategy' should be explored further.

Councillor Tim Rowkins, Chair of the City Environment, South Downs & The Sea Committee said:

Since 2019, we have been reliant on manual weeding alone. After 5 years, the problem is now out of control and many pavements present serious safety and accessibility problems for our residents. Manual weeding alone simply hasn’t been effective and has left some streets inaccessible to wheelchair users, parents and carers with buggies and those with visual or mobility impairments.

We must balance the need to keep our residents safe and our pavements accessible with protecting the city’s biodiversity and we believe that this represents a sensible middle ground.

Council still yet to open public toilets, and propose slashing opening hours for others

The council have still not reopened public toilets in Pavillion Gardens or at The Level, despite a manifesto pledge to community union ACORN to do so before last years’ election.

The council is also proposing to slash opening hours for toilets in Hove Park, Preston Park, Hove Promenade and East Brighton Park, moving their opening times from 8am to 10am.

ACORN say not only does this leave people without toilet access for most of the morning, but it also leaves hundreds of Parkrun attendees without facilities.

The union has been campaigning since January 2023 to save public toilets in Brighton & Hove, after the previous council threatened to shut them.

ACORN branch organiser Toby Sedgwick described this u-turn as 'disappointing', saying:

Public toilets are a vital service. In our ‘save our toilets’ campaign, we heard heartbreaking testimony from people, especially the elderly and those with disabilities, saying they were unable to even visit the town centre due to lack of facilities.

We’re meeting with the council soon to demand a timeframe for reopening closed toilets and we will be raising the issue of opening hours. We sincerely hope they stick to their pledge and save our toilets.

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🖋 News in Brief 🖋

  • MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, council leader Bella Sankey, and councillor David McGregor are running the half-marathon this Sunday to raise money for The Sussex Beacon. You can find out more here!
  • The Bevy, the only community-owned pub in Brighton, is closed until further notice. They said: "We ain’t done just yet - but we do need to find a way to balance the books. It’s costing us nearly £500 a day before we even open the doors and we need to reduce that along with improve our takings."
  • The Volk's Electric Railway returns on Friday 29th March: 38 days!
If you have a story for Seagull, please get in touch with our editor at [email protected].

The Big One

Budget council to debate additional £510,000 in funding

What's happening?  Proposals to allocate £510,000 to provide a lifeline for ‘vital city services’ will be debated by councillors at next Thursday’s Budget Council.

What happens at Budget Council? The meeting, taking place at Hove Town Hall from 4.30pm on 22 February, is where all councillors debate and agree on the final budget for the next financial year.

What will the money be spent on? If agreed, the extra finances from the recent local government settlement will be spent on five key areas including early years childcare, supporting homeless prevention for young people and financial support to people struggling with the cost-of-living.

What specifically? The proposal is to allocate the money to:

  • Provide £307,000 for direct financial support for the cost-of-living crisis to help to alleviate the potential ending or reduction of the government’s Household Support Fund
  • Provide one-off funding of £100,000 for the city’s Youth Advice Centre to support homeless prevention work for young people for a further year
  • Maintain the early years childcare at Brighton Unemployed Centre and Oasis Creche, requiring £13,000
  • Reduce the proposed saving in the Supported Employment service, which helps autistic people, or people with a learning disability, find and retain work, from £0.144m to £0.094m This also releases £0.050m back to Shared Prosperity Funding to be awarded directly to local community organisations and small businesses
  • Reduce the proposed saving of Youth-Led Grants by £40,000 and focus these funds on disadvantaged programs

Where has the money come from? The extra finances come from the final local government financial settlement, giving the council an extra £510,000 to invest in services.

Anything else on the agenda? Councillors will also debate a proposed savings package of almost £24 million, allowing the council to set a balanced budget for 2024-25, avoiding bankruptcy.

What else is in the proposed budget? The proposals outline how the council will redesign their organisation, protect and improve essential everyday city services, maintain the Council Tax Reduction scheme, prioritise spending on sports and leisure facilities and confirm capital investment across a range of projects.

What has the council said? Councillor Jacob Taylor, the deputy leader and finance lead, said:

Next year’s budget is the most difficult the council has ever faced and comes on top of 14 years of central government funding cuts that has reduced to council’s overall budget by almost 40%, which is £100 million in real terms.

Despite this, we’ve worked extremely hard to bring under control a predicted overspend of almost £15 million this financial year and set a balanced budget for next year by proposing a savings package of £24 million alongside other measures to close a £30 million shortfall.

These proposals will keep public finances on track, prioritise spending on front line essential services, while continuing to protect our most vulnerable residents.

What have other councillors said? The Greens are encouraging Labour to use the £510,000 on incoming service cuts, which they argue disproportionately and unnecessarily target services providing vital support to many of the city’s most-vulnerable residents.

What are the cuts? Planned cuts include services for young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, with Labour planning to save £364,000 by closing St Patricks High Support Rough Sleepers Hostel, £58,000 by decommissioning services currently provided by First Base Rough Sleepers Day Centre, and a further £100,000 by axing funding for specialist young advice providing by the Youth Advice Centre. £80,000 is also being cut from support offered to young people at risk of exploitation, while the Community Fund, which provides an important source of financial support to local charities, is also set to go.

What have the Greens said? Councillor Steve Davis, leader of the opposition, now wants Labour to U-turn on as many of these cuts as possible after receiving the boost in unallocated funds. He said:

The scale of these devastating cuts is down to the appalling underfunding from central government, so the fact Brighton and Hove has an extra £500,000 this late in the day is not the cause for huge celebration Rishi Sunak and his colleagues would have us believe. It barely puts a dent in the more than £100 million in real terms funding cut this council has suffered since the Tories came to power.

But, with so many vital services at risk, it does present Labour with the chance to U-turn on some of their planned cuts and we would strongly argue this money should be used to protect the most-vulnerable, and not for political point-scoring or populist policy decisions.

What can I do if I want to tell my local councillor how I feel? You can email your local councillor—you can find out how to contact your ward councillors here.

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