But first, I want to recognise the huge challenges facing councillors. They are trying to cope with unprecedented reductions in funding from central government. I would start by paying tribute to the work of councillors. They will get a lot of criticism, personally and collectively, as well as some personal abuse for making tough decisions caused by circumstances for which they are not responsible. That is unfair.
Of course I am most concerned about homeless people and other vulnerable groups, be they people with mental health and/or substance misuse problems, those escaping domestic violence, and so on.
There are other things that will impact of council budgets, again over which councillors have no control. Welfare reform, not least the benefit cap of £20,000 on households, will see more families losing their homes in high cost areas like Brighton and Hove. There will be greater demands on homelessness services, and the City Council will have statutory responsibility to house many of these households.
All this means that homeless prevention services, like those BHT provides through our advice centres in Brighton, Eastbourne and Hastings, become ever more important. Last year we prevented 2,055 households from becoming homeless.
Can you imagine what would happen if we were not there?
The Council has produced a detailed 98 page summary of its budget proposals. It details cuts, the risk arising from funding reductions, and an assessment of the impact and outcomes of doing so.
There are things I welcome:
- There are no further cuts proposed in hostel accommodation for homeless people on top of the cuts already announced.
- There are no reductions in homelessness prevention.
- There is no reduction proposed in the excellent Mental Health Team for Homeless People.
- And there is no further reductions proposed in funding for specialist support services given the considerable cuts made in recent years.
There is recognition that recommissioned services are supporting the delivery of the City Council’s Rough Sleeping Strategy to which BHT is an enthusiastic signatory.
Savings of £356,000 proposed from the cost of providing temporary accommodation for homeless households out of Brighton and Hove is ambitious and not without risk and not without its problems such as loss of support structures, disruption to schooling, and so on, but I am reassured that the Council is looking at positive inducements for people to agree to these placements.
A further saving of £550,000 is proposed by prioritising households in temporary accommodation for social housing. If this can be achieved, then it will be good news for families, especially those of the 1,800 children in temporary and emergency accommodation. Inevitably, though, if one group gets greater access to social housing, others will lose out, but from a social and financial perspective, this is a proposal I support.
I do have some big concerns.
There is a proposed £470,000 reduction in funding to the third/charity sector through the new Third Sector Investment Programme. Many small community groups might struggle to survive without this funding. These cuts might also be a false economy. For example, cuts to BHT’s Brighton Advice Centre might see a reduction in the prevention of homelessness resulting in much more costly interventions that the City Council will, by law, have to provide.
First Base Day Centre currently receives a modest £20,000 from this source. It is essential funding that allows us to continue to provide the services we do to those sleeping rough of our streets.
I was encouraged that the Council is looking at ways of reducing these savings.
I have a mixed reaction to proposals to save £600,000 from community substance misuse services.
The main provider of the Pavilions Partnership, Cranston, has negotiated a reduction in its funding in return for a longer contract. This is commendable.
The proposed £138,000 cut in funding for residential rehab services could be a decision the City might come to regret. If it is to reduce out of area placements I would be quite relaxed about that given that these are rarely effective and a lot of money has been wasted in the past. (People achieving abstinence out of area have limited prospects of remaining abstinent if they return to the City without support structures that are provided in abundance and voluntarily for those who achieve abstinence through a Brighton/Hove based service).
If there is a reduction in funding to the two local residential rehab services provided by the St Thomas Fund and through BHT’s Addiction Services, then I would be very, very worried.
BHT’s Addiction Services are amongst the most effective anywhere in Britain. It is no exaggeration to say that if this service was to be compromised, there will be an increase in drug-related deaths.
I hope that councillors are being well advised regarding this.