Chris Moncreiff, as a political commentator of many years experience, makes some valid points about the state of the Labour Party (Argus, Sept 8th). Some readers may worry what this means for the running of their local council in Brighton and Hove.
I’d like to reassure residents of Brighton and Hove that we are and remain a strong team focused on delivering what we were elected to do for all our residents and communities.
Cllr Les Hamilton brings four decades of experience on the council to the immense challenge of changing our council to meet the demands of a budget that is 40% smaller in the face of growing demand.
I’m working to build new partnerships to give us the muscle to tackle the big issues and compete on a national and international stage, and hope to be able to make a big announcement soon.
I’m proud to lead this great team leading Brighton and Hove. Despite the cuts and increasing pressures we face, despite the fact that the Greens and Tories can and do outvote us when it suits them politically, we will work every day to make a difference.
We will preserve and restore our city’s heritage, we will make our communities stronger and our society fairer, we will find new ways of funding the decent basic services you expect. Jobs, homes and schools remain at the heart of what we do.
We are here until 2019 at least, I hope longer, doing the job you expect from us whatever the national political situation . At its heart, politics is not about labels, it is about energy, ideas, aspiration and hope. We will do our best to deliver those for Brighton and Hove.
Labour fought long and hard to win in Brighton and Hove in 2015, to win three seats in the House of Commons from the Tories and Greens, and to win enough seats from the Tories and Greens on the city council to take power. Peter Kyle won Hove and Portslade, Nancy Platts came agonisingly close in Brighton Kemptown, and Purna Sen put up a strong showing against the sole Green MP Caroline Lucas. Had we won all three and other South East marginals, the Tories might have been denied a majority.
Locally we won a dozen seats from the Greens, and one from the Tories, whilst losing two, to become the largest party on the city council but five short of a majority. We have set about using the power we do have, with no majority in a committee system council, to make a difference.
To get the basics like street cleaning and refuse and recycling right, despite 40% cuts to our budget by central government. To tackle homelessness and improve mental health provision in the city. To make the private rented sector fairer for tenants. To build 500 new council homes for people on our waiting list, and a thousand truly affordable homes for people priced out of the housing market, people our businesses need.
To deliver a fairer city where everyone benefits from our economic success via the recommendations of our Fairness Commission. To restore our infrastructure and heritage, and create new infrastructure and business space to create jobs and revenue that will fund our basic services. To win devolved powers that will help create even more jobs and homes in our city for people who desperately need them. It involves making hard and unpopular choices. Always has and always will, but right now it is harder than ever.
We could not have begun any of this, and more, had we not scraped a narrow three-seat advantage over the Conservatives, who would by now be setting about the wholesale privatisation and closure of services across Brighton and Hove had they finished first. We need a majority in 2019 to finish the job. We need a Labour Government in Westminster to enable us to succeed. Winning elections means delivering change. Never perfect, but better than opposition.
Think about that. People taking a conscious decision to elect a leader they believe will lead his party to defeat. Deliberately choosing opposition over power. It is, in my view, a criminal abrogation of responsibility to those who need Labour in office, delivering change.
I’ve been a Labour member for nearly twenty five years, a councillor for thirteen, a campaigner in five General Elections and five sets of local elections in Brighton and Hove. Winning elections has always been my goal, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, to being in a position to lead change, not protest for it.
I want to be part of a party that strives for the power to deliver a better city and a better country, not a movement which shouts at perpetual Conservative government in the town hall and in the Commons.
I will choose difficult power over glorious opposition every time.
With just a week to go before ballots are sent out in the Labour Leadership election, there are, in my view, five clear reasons why Jeremy Corbyn cannot lead the Labour Party to victory at the next election.
1. The“silent majority” on the left is a myth. During last year’s election campaign, the argument for Corbyn was that there was a silent majority, a vast untapped resource of left-wing voters, just waiting for a clear socialist alternative to swing behind as and when it emerged. All surveys show that this is not the case, that the majority of voters identify themselves with the political centre.
2.Media. The idea that the media are biased against Corbyn is probably true. It has been about every Labour leader since the 1970s. Whether Murdoch or Dacre, Telegraph or Sun, the influence of the press has not waned in the face of falling sales and online clicktivism as many predicted.
They went after Miliband in the same way as they went after Kinnock and Brown, and yes, Tony Blair too in his early days. They tried every line of attack on Miliband they could until one stuck, around being the puppet of the SNP. They didn’t need to go near policy as subtle and not-so-subtle personal attacks on him and his family worked. The disposition of the press is unlikely to change. We are stuck with it. As the saying goes, “For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea.”
Twitterstorms and Change.Org petitions, like rallies, don’t win elections. That was proven in 2015 and will be again with Trump in November. Elections are won in the millions, not in tens of thousands. The Corbyn-supporting echo chamber may convince itself that victory will happen, but it won’t reach beyond that. Even if the Labour Party is, at half a million, the biggest political party in Europe, it is still a tiny percentage of the electorate as a whole, some 46 million.
3. History tells us that if we do not learn from our mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them. As honest, genuine and principled as Ed Miliband was and is, he could not persuade voters that he was a risk worth taking as Prime Minister. With Corbyn there is over three decades of backing causes that can easily be used against him in the run-up to an election. Whether it is alleged support for the IRA, being arrested at demonstrations, links to questionable overseas governments, whatever you think of those stories, they will frighten “middle England” in a way that means any positive offer will not even be heard. Five hundred votes against his Party’s own leadership will always mean Corbyn his hamstrung when it comes to loyalty
4. Entryists. There are not hundreds of thousands of devoted Trotskyists joining the Labour Party, and the vast majority of Corbyn supporters are not from the far-left. But there are enough members of the SWP, AWL, Socialist Party and other fringe-left groups to join and dominate local CLPs, to use the age-old tactics of intimidation and procedural obfuscation to drive away moderates from meetings, to make critics think twice before questioning Corbyn, to make it a real factor in this election. We saw it in Brighton and Hove, where a member of the Alliance for Workers Liberty was elected Chair of the City Party shortly after becoming a member, simply by being on the Momentum ticket. Others have written at length on how these activists don’t seek power via General Elections, rather wanting to establish a base of “true Socialist MPs” in Parliament, a vanguard for an extra-Parliamentary movement. If they win they will tear each other apart, and with it the Labour Party.
5. Polls. If you are one of those people who dismiss polls as being systematically biased, or fundamentally wrong, you probably won’t have read this far anyway. The polls are bleak. No escaping or denying it. They are representative samples of public opinion, collected and weighted using scientific methods. Labour’s unpopularity did not start, as Corbyn’s camp and indeed Corbyn himself have argued, at the time of the PLP vote of no-confidence in him. In some 95 polls after the General Election, Labour led in just three “outliers”. In the rolling average Labour has been behind throughout. Compared to where Labour were at the same point in the last Parliament, we are 17 points down on what proved to be ultimately a losing position.
Corbyn’s own ratings have not been undermined by the leadership challenge. He started in negative territory, and plunged to -45 by November of last year. He trails amongst all ages, all social classes. He is now by far the most unpopular Labour opposition leader in history:
Labour’s task at the next election was already immense, with boundary changes and Scotland meaning a swing bigger than 1997 is needed to secure even a majority of 1. As I wrote in my previous blog, Labour desperately needs another leader who can appeal to a broad range of voters, not just those who turn up at meetings and rallies.
I understand that for many, Jeremy Corbyn offers something different, something that encompasses the politics they have felt is out of reach for over a generation, a rekindling of the idealism felt fifty years ago, a statement and not a compromise. The hard fact is though that nowhere near enough people share those views, and are unlikely to be persuaded.
Re-electing him will not resolve any of these issues I have listed above, nor resolve the division within the Parliamentary Labour Party, most of whom now see their positions under threat either from deselection or defeat at the next election. Filling a Shadow Cabinet and ministerial team seems impossible, thus rendering a functioning Opposition unworkable.
I accepted the result last September, shook Corbyn’s hand at Conference and did not criticise his leadership for almost a year. Now I’m backing Owen Smith in this leadership election. It is, despite what I have argued here, a positive choice. Nevertheless, for me the consequences of a Corbyn leadership going into a General Election are too great to stand by and witness.
Britain needs a Labour Government. People on low pay, in poor housing, on zero-hour contracts, with no savings or pensions, a month away from unmanageable debt, eating from food banks and worse, need a Labour Government. Whatever Corbyn’s virtues, before casting your vote for him, please ask yourself whether he can win power for Labour and help those people who so desperately need it.
One rainy night almost a quarter of a century ago, two women rang the buzzer on my flat and said they were from the Labour Party. They were looking for people to nominate them for the local council elections in the very Conservative town I was living in at the time.
I let them in, gave them a cup of tea and signed their papers. Probably prompted by my copies of Anthony Crosland’s “The Future of Socialism” and a biography of Hugh Gaitskell, they decided I might be a potential recruit.
About eighteen months earlier, I’d made a promise to the person who succeeded me as President of the Students Union at Hull University that I’d join when Labour adopted “one member, one vote”. A book of political quotations he gave me, signed, sat next to the Gaitskell bio. John Smith had just delivered that reform, but sadly was to die shortly after.
The candidates who called round didn’t win. I probably never finished Crosland’s book. But I did join the Labour Party.
And my successor, the one who gave me the book? Whilst I spent the best part of a decade in call centres, he set out on a path that would lead last year to him becoming Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
So that’s how I came to be here, politically. I joined because of a need to make a difference, because of a century of democratic socialism, of the pursuit of change via the ballot box and parliamentary power.
I’ve spent more than a decade trying to win power to deliver that change here in the city I’ve thought of as home all my life. Change for the people who need it most, opportunity for those excluded, fairness for those at a disadvantage.
It is hard. It is complicated. It is full of difficult compromises and daily challenges.
I don’t have a majority on the Council. I don’t lead a Cabinet and must get everything agreed by committee. The Tory cuts are immense, the desperate financial position made worse by Brexit and the growing pressures of social care. But I would not give this up for the luxury of opposition. Never.
A little change is better than no change. Influence better than impotence. A seat at the table better than a protest in the street.
I’ve remained silent on the leadership of my Party till now, believing unity to be the best course. I believe politics at its best should be about bringing people together, not taking sides. I cannot in all good faith hold that position in this respect any longer.
It will come as no surprise that, having backed Liz Kendall last year, I was never going to be a convert to Jeremy Corbyn. It will come as no surprise that I support a change in leadership nationally. It will come as no surprise to me that this will draw a good deal of abuse from largely anonymous critics on Twitter.
We should be challenging a divided Conservative Government, one that has driven the economy over a precipice because of its split over Europe, one that is in the midst of its own leadership election. We should be seventeen points ahead. We are seven points behind.
I respect my colleagues and friends of long-standing in the Party who do back Jeremy. I respect those who are inspired by his particular brand of politics. I have less respect for those who were until very recently part of other parties and groupings on the fringes of left-wing politics, standing in elections against us, who now hold positions of authority. People for whom the finer points of political purity are more important than the messy compromises of delivering real change.
That century of Labour politics now stands at risk. That opportunity to deliver change could now be slipping away. Those who need us most could see us turn away, towards a kind of politics that indulges itself rather than engages with them.
Nearly three thousand people elected me last May for a fourth term on the council. Over one hundred and twenty five thousand votes for Labour candidates and the Labour manifesto secured a Labour-run council for Brighton and Hove. The Labour and Cooperative Group I lead will carry on with the job.
But we need a strong, credible, electable Labour Party in Parliament, in the country, ready and able to win. Able to reconnect with voters who feel abandoned and who are at risk of exploitation by extremists.We need change for that to happen. We need a leader who can win us millions of new voters, not just a few thousand new party members.Jeremy’s supporters promised that last summer, they have not materialised.
That Gaitskell biography of course recounts his most famous speech as Leader of the Labour Party, where he spoke of his determination to “fight, fight and fight again to save the Party we love.”
Now more than ever, we must undertake that task anew.
This is a purely personal reflection on the result of the EU Referendum last week.
You probably can’t grow up on the South Coast of England without having a slightly different relationship to the European continent than perhaps someone who grew up in Wales or Yorkshire. You can’t see mainland Europe from the Sussex coast but you know it’s there, over the horizon, just a short ferry ride from Newhaven.
I was only five years old when Britain joined what was then the EEC. Unlike the frequent power cuts of the first miners strike, and Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher’s axeing of school milk (and my job as a milk monitor), it didn’t register with me. Why would it.
School trips and family holidays to France and other European destinations were part of my childhood, as were the occasional spells with language students renting the spare room in my parents house. At around the time my sister moved to France to work, my family bought a barn nearby for a while; my aunt and uncle stayed and whilst my sister eventually came home, my niece and nephew are half-French.
A late-found enthusiasm for the language led me to study French for a year at University, then moving on to a politics course that took in what was then called European Community studies. Even after a four year break I was still proficient enough to spend the best part of a year working near Paris with a holiday company, which led to what was meant to be a part-time call centre job when I came back. That turned into a five-year stint managing the phone inquiry service for the French Government Tourist Office.
I’m not a big traveller, but in the years since leaving that job I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few summer holidays in Greece and Portugal, and a couple of trips to Prague and Budapest, seeing the places where my partner’s parents grew up. Like millions of people, my partner’s family have made a life in Spain where their young daughter is just as much Spanish as English.
They are worried about the implications of last week’s decision to leave the European Union. So is my friend, a special needs teacher originally from Germany, and one of my councillor colleagues who is also German.
Of course, in the long run their fears may be unfounded, just as the immediate and longer term economic effects may not turn out to be as catastrophic as some reports suggest. The legal, constitutional and financial negotiations will be lengthy and complex. For anyone perceived as not “British” though, the open and public actions of an ugly minority in recent days across the country is frightening. It should be for all of us.
At the heart of it I can’t seem to shake off a feeling based on something I had never considered during the long run-up to the vote, during the many debates about the EU as an institution and the effects of free movement on our society.It isn’t something that is in any way meant to be critical of those who argued to leave, including colleagues I respect.
It’s a feeling, not a practical complaint, as I know those occasional trips to a Greek island will of course still be possible, and things in terms of friends and family things won’t change. Like it or not we have no choice but to be part of Europe geographically and culturally, albeit one separated by a thin channel of water.
I will no doubt be sad to see Scotland go independent as seems likely, but having only visited there once I don’t feel the same connection. If Ireland and Wales go the same way we will all have to revisit what it means to be British or English in light of the 400 year old United Kingdom ceasing to exist.
I hadn’t realised how much my European citizenship means to me, and what it means to lose it. I will have to come to terms with the fact that I have, and that things will never be quite the same as they have been for the majority of my life.
There are undoubtedly more important immediate and practical things to worry about. We need to accept the situation as it is. I’ve a job to do in ensuring the city I lead succeeds and prospers through whatever happens next, but this is something I wanted to write down in the hope that I can deal with it and move on.
At an event to mark the end of Refugee Week I spoke about how proud I was of my home city, the city I’ve been given the honour of leading, having sent a message that it is an open, welcoming and international city this week. I spoke of how we welcome as we always have done those fleeing conflict, and pledged that we would take more children who have lost homes and family through war and give them a future. I said that we would do this to honour the memory of Jo Cox, who supported the Dubs Amendment, and that we would play our small part in continuing her work.
During the event a man came up behind me and shouted “don’t you know, the borders are now closed!” Clearly a reference to this week’s EU Referendum where for many, the motivation behind their vote was immigration. Now let me be clear that many who voted Leave are not racist, had a valid case for ending our membership of the EU, and who distanced themselves from some of the appalling rhetoric used by some during the campaign.
The worst was the “Breaking Point” poster unveiled by Nigel Farage in the closing days of the campaign, an image reminiscent of ones used by the Nazis of snaking queues of migrants, in this case refugees fleeing war in Syria on their way to Slovakia.
It is right that there is a discussion about migration, but it is very hard to keep that debate to the facts. Facts such as the net benefit to the UK economy and health service of migration, facts about UK residents migrating to other EU countries. The UK is not at “breaking point” in that our capacity to build and house a growing population exists, and that as the fifth largest economy – at least until last Friday – we can afford to play our part in receiving at least a fraction of the numbers of refugees as other states.
Elements of the media and groups like UKIP have for years fuelled a distrust and resentment of migrants, and the Referendum debate and result has exposed a deep seam of xenophobia and in some cases racism against anyone “foreign” or different, regardless of where they are from, how long they have been here or where they were born. Many people have, in the hours since the result, spoken of their fears, of the open abuse, of the uncertainty about their place in this country that they are now experiencing.
This cannot be our future; one built on the prejudices of the past. Not here.
Brighton and Hove is an international city, facing the European continent across the narrow Channel that separates us physically if not culturally or economically from mainland Europe. Our universities take in students from all over the globe, as do our language colleges. Eleven million tourists come each year, many to visit our historic Pavilion, built two centuries ago by a German prince to resemble an Indian palace on the outside, and a Chinese one inside. It isn’t, as some assumed, a mosque.
The vast modern European headquarters of American Express, completed in the past few years, employs more than any other business in our city, with a workforce blending the local and the global. Nearby work is underway on a £450 million hospital refurbishment that will create a regional centre for the 21st century, one that could not function without doctors, nurses and support staff from all over the world.
Our current and future conference centres depend on international convention business. Our creative digital industry sells to Europe and beyond. Our annual Festival and year-round cultural programme showcases arts from every corner of our planet.
Our city depends and thrives on tourism, healthcare, culture and businesses that in turn depend on being open to Europe and the world. We are indebted to those who come here, spend here, live here, pay taxes here, employ here, study here. I send out a clear message today that you are just as welcome tomorrow as you were yesterday.
By the time you read this the EU Referendum will be over and Britain’s role in or out of Europe will be decided. After months of debate this will be a relief to most.
For Brighton and Hove though, another question about our place in our region and the world must be addressed. Small to medium sized cities like ours around the globe are looking to the future and deciding what they want to offer residents, visitors and businesses.
Alongside the day to day concerns about social care and parking, grass cutting and libraries, as Leader of the City Council I have a responsibility to ensure our city makes progress and does not decline, that it competes and cooperates rather than building walls around itself.
Our city should lead, not follow. We should be at the heart of change, not at the mercy of it. We need a vision for 2020 and beyond that secures a better future, not one that harks after a better past. With the social, financial and infrastructure challenges we face, we have to take risks, find bold and innovative solutions, not retreat into a comfortable but ultimately sterile decline.
We are bidding for devolved powers from Government that will give us the ability to tackle the housing crisis and bring in the money we need to fund basic services, and I met with the Secretary of State for Local Government recently to make that case, and presented him with our devolution bid prospectus. I want to explore growing the Greater Brighton City Region to Crawley and Gatwick, creating a real powerhouse in the south east with global access and reach. We need the power and influence to ensure we have the transport infrastructure and governance to guarantee rail links to London, and I am seeking discussions with the Mayor’s office in the capital to take that forward.
We need a vision for a prosperous city where all share in our economic success, and our plans for investment and growth along our seafront, throughout the city and including up to our universities are moving at pace. An economy founded on tourism and conferences, arts and creative industries, digital and financial services, education and skills, entrepreneurship and independent businesses must be driven to prosper.
Brighton and Hove has always faced outwards, has long been an international city, and to secure a successful future for those who live here we need to pursue this vision with energy and determination, confidence and aspiration, and a belief in ourselves as a city whose better days lie ahead of us.
I wrote this, my weekly column for the Brighton and Hove Independent, 48 hours ago. I’m publishing it tonight following the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox.
“Two moving ceremonies this week, one planned, the other unforeseen, but both of which for me had resonance beyond their immediate cause.
At the Chattri memorial, high on the Downs, I joined the Indian Deputy High Commissioner, the Mayor, Sikh members of our Armed Forces and others in the annual act of remembrance for those soldiers from undivided India who died in Brighton from their wounds during the First World War. I was honoured to lay a wreath in their memory.
There may seem little to connect the bravery of those soldiers a century ago fighting a war they didn’t start, with the dreadful killing of fifty people in a nightclub, but perhaps there is. So forgive me for getting philosophical.
World War One was fought between Europe’s royal families in an arcane dispute over arbitrary borders and nationalism, a war that slaughtered millions and which sowed the seeds of fascism and another deadly global conflict twenty years later.
The Orlando massacre fuelled fears about Islamic terrorism, wrongly it seems, as well as reflecting a fractured and fearful society in the US where many now look to a demagogue populist with simple solutions. Except of course, the simple solution of removing guns from the hands of those who are so troubled they can kill dozens with relative ease.
Fears about “others”, whether immigrants, Muslims, members of the LGBT community or “foreigners” can all too readily be used to divide us, can all too easily escalate into conflict and killing. Fear can be used to distract, whilst hard-won rights and opportunities are restricted.
“They are a threat to your way of life”, we are told, when in fact that threat often lies with those spreading that message. It’s a paradox that many of those leading what are seen as anti-establishment movements are themselves products and beneficiaries of the establishments they claim to oppose.
The one thing that unites those Indian soldiers who died for us in World War One, those mainly Hispanic gay men who were murdered in Orlando, the hundreds of refugees who are dying each month in the Mediterranean, and us, is our humanity. None of us would want what happened to them to happen to our families.
We should be wary of those who seek to divide us over nationalism, over religion, over migration, over race or sexual orientation. We ought to be coming together, not pushing apart, over issues that face us all, like poverty, climate change and disease. Working together we are stronger, we achieve more.
Our iconic Madeira Terraces have lasted over 130 years, a remarkable testimony to the quality of Victorian craftsmanship. Sadly the seaside environment has taken its toll on the ironwork and major restoration is needed.
I’m committing the council today to a project that will fully restore or replace that ironwork and return the Madeira Terraces to their original condition. Named for the Brighton Borough Surveyor who created the Terraces and our famous Birdcage Bandstand, Phillip Cawston Lockwood, we are calling it the Lockwood Project.
We have been working over recent months with civil engineers Mott Macdonald on what needs to be done and we’re now near to a plan to fully restore the Madeira Terraces. Crucially we are liaising closely with Historic England to ensure that our plan for the future respects the heritage of the past. Where possible we will restore the ironwork, but where modern engineering methods, materials and treatments allow and can be justified we will also use these to replace iron work on a like-for-like replica basis, to ensure that the structure can last longer.
The Terraces were created as a covered promenade to attract tourists from London on the new railway of the 1800s. In the 21st Century we need something more, and something that will help fund the restoration and upkeep of the Terraces.
We are exploring ways of achieving this with colleagues at Historic England that protects the integrity of the Terraces, but also provides new ways of generating income to pay for their restoration and to provide new activity along this important stretch of our city’s coastline. The option we’re proposing is self-contained but serviced glass-fronted units within the terrace arches, structures that preserve the integrity of the Terraces but allow new space to be leased or rented for use as cafes, shops, businesses or even “overnight beach huts”, but not permanent accommodation.
We’re working to ensure that we find an engineering solution that is both feasible but also gains the support of the heritage groups. Importantly, we are looking for ways to preserve the unique and historic Green Wall which predates the Terraces themselves, building around it just as the Terraces were, allowing the Green Wall to breathe and grow.
None of this can be achieved without some public funding and we are placing a bid at the end of this month for £4 million of Coastal Communities funding to get the Lockwood Project underway. Further funding will be sought from grants, lottery funding and private investment, and we’ll look at using the same Public Works Loan Board borrowing as the i360 for some of the estimated £20 to £30 million costs. There may also be a potential for a financial relationship with some of the other projects in the pipeline for Madeira Drive, such as the Sea Lanes swimming pool, or Section 106 planning gain money.
A report will come to the Councils Policy, Resources and Growth Committee in July to begin what is likely to be at least a year-long process of consultation with residents, planning and legal agreements, and the procurement of a specialist contractor expert in this type of restoration. Ideally work will be underway by the end of next year if we are able to secure the required funding. It could be that the work will be phased, with restoration done in sections so that we can open some of the units as soon as possible.
The restoration of the Madeira Terraces will be an integral part of the multi-million pound regeneration of Madeira Drive, with the new swimming pool, new zip wire attraction, Aquarium Terraces replacement, children’s play area and our new ten thousand seat arena and conference centre at Black Rock. From the pier to the marina, the whole area will be improved and enhanced, whilst restoring the wonderful Madeira Arches for future generations.
It is my hope that the Lockwood Project will preserve a much-valued part of our local heritage, whilst adding to our tourist offer in the same way the Terraces did in Victorian times. I’d like to think that Phillip Cawston Lockwood would approve, and I hope you will too.
With cuts by the Conservative Government of over 40% to our local services, it is clear that like many other councils, Brighton and Hove cannot continue to run its current network of libraries as they are.
Rather than close or privatise them as some councils have, we proposed moving Hove library to a new, purpose built extension at Hove museum. The Carnegie building, where the library currently operates, is by far the most expensive library building to run. It is also an unsafe working environment for library staff.
By moving the library just 300 metres along the road, closer to most Hove library users, we could add a cafe and outdoor space to what is currently offered, and run a library service at a fraction of the cost. Crucially, that would free up enough money each year to keep all of our branch libraries across the city open, and indeed extend opening hours where they have been cut.
Branch libraries are at the heart of our plan for community hubs in every neighbourhood. It is a sensible and innovative plan that has been backed by a majority of the public in two consultation exercises, and supported by full Council within the Libraries Plan.
Behind the scenes, we have been talking to an art house cinema chain about buying the building, and returning a cinema to Hove, one of the homes of early film-making, for the first time in forty years.
All the time the sale of the Carnegie building has been under discussion, this has had to remain confidential. We did however tell the Conservative leadership.
The Conservative Group on the council have been split, with some backing the move, and others, led by the would-be parliamentary candidate Robert Nemeth, opposing. They asked for more time, and more information, plus a further building survey costing the council £8,000. All of this was given, with the survey being delivered in a tight timescale, over a dozen further reports and a month of discussions.
Yet despite a thorough and sound business plan, they are still threatening to oppose the move of Hove library, simply to inflict a political defeat on the Labour Administration, in alliance with the Greens.
It won’t be the first time the Greens and Tories have joined up, having forced through the taxpayer loan for the i360 last year.
I’ve said very recently that I will always work to find a consensus in the best interests of the city and its residents. It is what people expect us to do.
Officers have made very clear in the Libraries Plan and subsequent reports to committee that the necessary alternative course of action if the Carnegie was to remain open would be to close many of our branch libraries in Saltdean, Rottingdean, Hangleton, Patcham, Westdene, Woodingdean, Mile Oak, Moulsecoomb, Coldean, Hollingbury, Portslade and Whitehawk. Our innovative plan has been designed to prevent that, I still want to prevent that and we will continue to try to work with the Conservatives and Green councilors to prevent that.
It is a very worrying time for this city and our valued libraries. It shows a real lack of civic responsibility on the part of the Greens, who we expect to act like this, but also on the part of Tories like Robert Nemeth, putting his own personal ambitions above what is right for Brighton and Hove. I’d hoped for stronger leadership from Tory leader Geoffrey Theobald, who has always said he would support innovation and creativity in providing public services.
I’m very disappointed that it has come to this with the future of libraries across the city being placed at significant risk.
The Conservatives will decide on Monday whether to back our libraries solution, keeping all our libraries open including an improved service in Hove, or to back the Greens protesting over an ageing building that isn’t fit for purpose and which costs so much to run that it threatens the future of more than half our community libraries across Brighton and Hove.