I am pleased to introduce the Green Party’s budget amendment.
Let me say from the start that the Green Party has always had an unequivocal position in relation to spending cuts and the policy of austerity. It is a political choice and it is the wrong political choice.
Residents of Sheffield are seeing the impact of that political choice as we enter yet another year of big cuts – 40 million pounds with the total cuts to the council since 2010 of £350 million. We have seen the closure of youth services, Surestart centres, community nurseries, advice centres, housing offices, libraries, care homes, jobcentres, home helps, care for disabled and older people ; energy efficiency schemes, anti-poverty work, community wardens, post offices, social security, and so many other public services.
The government funding cuts to councils are matched by huge cuts to the National Health Service.
Under the Government’s so-called “sustainability and transformation plans,” the area of South Yorkshire and Bassetlaw faces a cut of 571 million pounds over the next five years. These are huge sums and it is far from clear where they will fall.
Of course, central Government holds all the cards and in comparison, local authorities have very little power.
What remaining power we have to make our own decisions in Sheffield, however, is very important. At a time of austerity and diminishing resources, it is ever more important for the elected council to make the best decisions we can.
As Green Party councillors, we would do some things differently.
We would keep Hurlfield View open.
It provides respite care for families looking after people with dementia. I needn’t say any more about the services it provides because we all heard the speakers to last month’s petition to council. I said in that debate that here we have 2 public services bodies – the council and the Health & Care Trust – behaving like private, profit-making companies. This is the effect of marketisation of the health service.
It may be that professionals consider there is a good reason for changing the current set-up at Hurlfield View to a more fragmented service. But clearly many of the families disagree. I am already hearing difficulties that users are experiencing in trying to look at other provision and I suspect the reality is that it is just too easy to underestimate how difficult it is to look after people with the more advanced and challenging forms of dementia.
We would support the campaign because the reality is this IS a cut – directly – at least from 20 beds to 16.
We would reverse this year’s cut to library staff.
Libraries have suffered enough already and the best of them provided so much more than just books. And I’m not even going touch on the threat to the much-loved Central Library.
Is it not strange – and worrying – how the biggest cuts fall on services predominantly staffed by women – look at libraries, childrens’ centres etc. – when the predominantly male-staffed services – look at the Veolia and Amey contracts – are not only not being cut but where the council is having to pay even more this year. In the case of Amey, an extra 4.5 million.
We would open up council decision-making – and we would start by webcasting council meetings so people can see how decisions are made.
Other authorities do this – including in South Yorkshire – and the time has come for Sheffield to do so too.
Everyone agrees we need more housing but we say it has to be housing that is fit to live in. that means safe and well-managed and also means low-cost to heat.
We would invest New Homes Bonus money into the really good council team who tackle empty homes. It consumes far less energy to bring existing houses back into use than to build new ones and it also tackles bad housing that blights our neighbour hoods.
We would invest more in the council’s service which enhances standards in the private rented sector, in particular for student accommodation.
We would also support the experimental work being developed by Reach Homes in Sheffield. They have been developing new, energy-efficient homes out of container units. We propose the council supports this with a pilot to fund a small number of these on existing council land and see how well they work. It could make all the difference to a growing and real housing crisis.
Our proposal to invest in getting brownfield sites ready for re-use is aimed at providing either more housing – or alternatively industrial use. The key thing is to get it moving.
We would tackle air pollution.
Air pollution contributes to the early death of an estimated 500 people a year in Sheffield. But the problem with air pollution is – you can’t see it.
We are pleased the council is investing in 6 new air quality monitoring stations. What would really help educate the public is to see the results of that monitoring displayed on a public screen in real time. These results should not just be kept behind closed doors in the Town Hall.
The main cause of air pollution is private cars. The council has some degree of control over taxis through the licensing system and we want to offer an incentive to taxi drivers – when they replace their vehicles – to get electric or ultra-low emission vehicles.
All our transport proposals will contribute to better air quality.
We would make the city centre a better place to live, work and have fun.
Council staff involved with the city centre must be congratulated on the recent Best Bar None award for a good and safe night life in the city centre. A limited night bus service to due to start this month, taking people homes for the city centre to Broomhill, Crookes and Hillsborough. We would add funding to enhance that.
There are also serious anti-social behaviour issues in the city centre, linked with drug and alcohol abuse, which has a big impact on the many people who live in or visit the city centre. We would reverse the planned cut to rehab services.
We would also reverse the cut to the equality grants – a legacy of the Fairness Commission. They help fund small projects in the voluntary sector and can have an impact far beyond the tiny sums involved.
And of course our budget balances. It would not be a Green budget without the traditional cut in the chief Exec’s wages.
This is not a reflection on the standard of work done by senior officers – but the Green Party has been consistent in highlighting the need to tackle inequality, in particular income inequality between the highest and lowest paid in any organisation.
Let’s start at home, in our own organisation, and try to close the gap.
I therefore propose the council adopts our amendment to the 2017/18 Council budget.