Filling the void: is there any room for hope?

Britain’s politics, and not just its political parties, is coming apart. Divides have opened, positions have polarised, gaps have opened up. The consensus underpinning our debate and our institutions is under immense strain. Antisemitism, and the elections to Labour’s ruling National Executive, have brought that into sharp relief.

Neither the Labour Party nor the Conservative Party have any unquestionable, absolute right to exist in their current form and as one half of the political duopoly. That the SDP and the Lib Dems failed to break the hold of these two parties over the last thirty years is no definitive guide to the next thirty years, or indeed the next thirty months.

In late 1981, at a time when party loyalty was far greater than it is now, the SDP commanded the support of between 40 and 50% in polls. The SDP/Liberal Alliance came within 1% of Michael Foot’s Labour at the 1983 General Election. The electoral system prevented an Alliance breakthrough in seats, but Labour itself demonstrated in the 1920s that the duopoly could be challenged, not by adding a third party but by replacing one already there. Ultimately the SDP failed because Labour under Kinnock and his successors moved Labour back to the territory they had ceded almost a decade earlier, and away from the Militant left wing groupings he famously and passionately denounced in Bornemouth.

With current polls showing the Tories on around 40%, Labour a few percent behind, and the Lib Dems in the low teens, a potential new party could in theory shave 10% from the Tories, 10 to 15% from Labour and the majority of Lib Dem support, to put it on around 30%, level pegging with the two established parties. That in itself would probably not be enough to win enough safe Tory or Labour seats to challenge for power at a General Election. It would certainly be enough to secure a parliamentary presence significant enough to be a likely coalition partner.

What may be harder to quantify or predict, but which may be crucial to the success of any potential new party, would be the degree of support from those currently choosing none of the options presently on offer. 36% currently give “don’t know” as their choice for preferred Prime Minister. How many voters are expressing a reluctant choice, hoping for something different? Of course they are unlikely to be a homogenous group looking for the same thing in a political party. We saw that with the appeal of UKIP.

Sceptics of a new party say it is doomed to fail without a distinct and positive offer; I would agree up to a point. However thirty years of knocking on doors has taught me that many voters make a “negative choice”, often placing their cross in the box not because they are devotees of that party’s ideology or platform, but to “keep the other lot out”. The 1987 General Election question posed by the SDP/Liberal Alliance on leaflets was “caught between the (red) devil and the deep blue C?”, and there is little doubt many voters feel the choice is at present one between the lesser of two evils.

Most voters are not political devotees, statistically few are party members. They may agree on priorities though not necessarily solutions. They are likely to shy away from ideology, and are unlikely to identify as “working class” in a way the Morning Star might like. They want their kids educated and given better opportunities than they were, they want their parents cared for and the health and social care system to deliver when needed. They want bins collected, streets kept clean and the transport systems to function at least adequately. They want to get on with their lives in the knowledge that somebody relatively trustworthy, reliable and competent is keeping things going and, where possible, to make things better. The utopian ideal is not in our national psyche.

With Labour now firmly in the grip of the Left and essentially now a narrow Socialist Party, and the Tories increasingly in thrall to the hard-Brexit right of Johnson, Rees-Mogg and the UKIP entryists, a significant gap in British politics is opening up. It is wrong to describe it in terms of left wing, right wing and centrist. This is a battle between populists and pragmatists, between closed and open politics, between ideological prescriptions and a belief in “what works”.

To illustrate the gap in terms of politicians you could say it is a space occupied elsewhere by Macron and Merkel, or in the past by Blair and Obama. Popular but not populist, principled but not dogmatic. A Trudeau not a Trump. You don’t have to support every policy of these leaders or their parties to see the political space they occupy, not in the left/right spectrum but the progressive/pragmatic/popular versus reactionary/ideological/populist one.

There is now a clear space in British politics for a party offering opportunity for all regardless of background, fairness in our society and our economy, with taxes funding the services and infrastructure that both individuals and businesses rely on to exist and prosper. One that can deliver practical solutions on challenges like social care and local government finance, and clear but fair rules on migration. It would be open to European and global relationships, not fearful of them.

It would support intervention and investment by the state in health, education, transport and more with a clear vision on why and how that investment benefits all. Markets would be supported and encouraged to allow maximum opportunity and fair competition, with a vibrant community, co-operative, mutual sector. It would be robustly anti-racist with a foundation in British values of respect and again a clearly communicated message on how different communities add value to the nation and are an essential part of it. It will need a clear position on Brexit, but not be defined by it.

Managerial? Perhaps, but don’t underestimate the appeal of “what works”. Ideologically rootless? Not necessarily, there are many traditions other than hard-boiled capitalism and doctrinaire socialism to draw from. It wouldn’t capture the UKIP vote, or inspire the devotion of Corbynism. Like En Marche it may succeed because it was neither the status quo nor the unplatable alternative on offer. Whether Macron’s movement survives is another matter.

There’s no doubt that the global crash ten years ago has given rise to populism. That said, the argument that Corbyn’s Socialist Labour is the only party of the left doing well in Europe, because it has taken a more radical shift, is not borne out by the evidence. Similar left wing parties in France under Melenchon and Germany’s Die Linke poll at around Lib Dem levels of support. More social democratic-style parties hold power in Spain and Portugal.

I joined the Labour Party and have devoted half my life to it because I was persuaded it offered these things, could deliver on fairness, equality of opportunity, and social justice. It occupied that progressive, not centrist space. It’s clear now it no longer does. Labour now defines itself as Corbynites or Tories, Socialists or “neoliberals”, anti-imperialists or “globalists”, pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel. Binary choices rather than a broad church. Faced with these absolutes, I can no longer actively support Labour in its current form.

I wish Labour were again able to offer broad appeal. The people who need a progressive, pragmatic, popular government can’t afford to wait ten or twenty years for Labour “sensibles” to regain control of the party, if they ever can. Challenges and crises, domestic and foreign, none more so than the impact of Brexit, are urgent and immediate.

If these things were once again on offer from Labour, a new party, or by some grouping from within the Labour Party (and possibly others) in Parliament, then it would have my support, for what its worth. I think the potential for much broader support is very real. People want answers relevant to the challenges of the modern world, not a return to old solutions, be it renationalisation or “taking back control”. Some hope for a forward-looking, progressive politics; is that too much to hope for?

(If your publication or website needs content like this, please contact me at warren.morgan@hotmail.com)

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Either In Or Out…

In response to a slew of articles over the summer speculating on a split in Labour or some realignment of the centre ground in British politics, most recently and with authority by Stephen Bush in the New Statesman, Corbynite cheerleader Paul Mason tweets that there is “plenty of room in Corbyn’s Labour for centrist social democrats and Remain die-hards”.

This will come as a bit of a shock to those of us who have been told over the past three years or so that we are not truly Labour, that centrism, “neo-liberalism” and pretty much anything associated with the past thirty years of Labour has now been superceded, replaced by the new Left. We are all “Blairites” and have no place in the Party. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been told, mostly online but occasionally in meetings and elsewhere, to “**** off and join the Tories”. In the binary world of the alt Left, if you are not backing Jeremy then you are by default a Tory.

Now I’m not about to join the speculation on whether some new Party, breakaway group or mass defection is about to happen, and if so what its prospects are. I think anyone who says it will be a disastrous repeat of the SDP, or a British En Marche sweeping all before it, is forgetting the fate of pundits who predicted the outcome of the EU Referendum or the last US Presidential election. Normal rules don’t apply any more. The electoral system here counts against third parties, up until the point where their support is broad enough, large enough and evenly spread, in which case it counts in their favour. Then again, who knows what the offer of a new party, beyond not being the Boris or Jeremy fan clubs, would be.

My point here is that the entire Corbyn project has been based on the assumption that the British public, despite telling pollsters that they identify with the centre ground, have been waiting for a full-blooded Socialist alternative in place of the anaemic version Labour offered in 2010 and 2015, and certainly the “neo-liberal” Blairite New Labour project the Corbynites despise so much. Thats the one that delivered three terms in power, massive redistribution, a huge alleviation in poverty, a near total elimination of rough sleeping and so on, but I digress.

Corbynites believed Labour was diluting it’s appeal by being a broad church, and that voters would get behind a much more ideologically based, clearly socialist manifesto.

The stated belief has been that the popular, left wing platform put forward by Corbyn (lets skip over the fact that his 2015 manifesto somehow left in the planned Tory welfare cuts) would sweep all before it. What Corbynism has been presented as is a revolution under the Labour banner, not an evolution of what went before.

Thousands of new members, an end to Blairism, spin and neo-liberal policy. Anyone associated with New Labour can do one. Blairites, they have argued, are responsible for losing millions of votes built up under Kinnock, Smith and, er Blair. After of course Militant was seen off in the 80s, though veterans of that battle of blame the SDP for the defeats of that decade, not the rejection of Bennite policies.

Yet it is strange how fragile and vulnerable this movement apparently is. That it has failed to build any kind of consistent lead in the polls or indeed win an election against the weakest Tory government in living memory, despite having significant advantages in terms of finances and activists, is blamed on a wide range of factors. The Tory press and the biased mainstream media. The “enemies within” failing to get behind the Leader (who himself has an unparallelled three decade record of not getting behind the leader), and most hilariously people like me with a few thousand followers on Twitter somehow fatally undermining the whole thing. More worryingly, some Corbyn extremists, in the cesspits of the Corbynista Facebook groups with tens of thousands of members, point the finger at shadowy Jewish conspiracies. Ironically, few recognise their own antisemitism or the toxic effect it has on Labour support.

Suddenly, faced with this media speculation of MPs actually leaving after years of being told to go and that they face deselection if they don’t, Corbyn’s media tribunes are starting to panic, talking about “splitting the vote” as if it is some monolithic slab (Ed Stone anyone?) rather than a fluid and unpredictable pool. These are the same people, in many cases, who in 2015 were “splitting the vote” by running as Green or TUSC candidates against Labour.

Voters are not a set of homogenous groups. Fewer and fewer have the kinds of tribal loyalties that held fast in the post-war years. They treat politics like they treat much else, as consumers making a choice between what’s on offer. That might be a positive choice in favour of the Socialist Corbynite offer, it might be a negative choice in terms of not being a huge fan of either but backing the lesser of two evils. The regular “preferred Prime Minister” polls that show a healthy lead for Don’t Know ahead of May and, in third place Corbyn, are perhaps an indicator of the public really not seeing anything they much like on offer.

Whether this translates into an opportunity for a new party to fill a vacuum I will leave to others to discuss. This is about the strength of the Corbynite offer, and whether Labour is now a closed and narrow Socialist party or an open, progressive broad church on the left/centre left of British politics. Whether they form a new party, or just leave, if the Corbyn offer is so strong, just let them go without the cries of “traitor”.

After three years seizing control of the Party at every level, and vicious hostility to those not seen as part of their faction, what Corbyn’s supporters cannot now say is “don’t go, we didn’t mean it, we can’t do it without you.”

Setting The Record Straight

In the summer of 2016, Brighton and Hove Labour Party held its annual general meeting at a city centre venue. Following the huge expansion of membership the summer before, over four times the previous number attended. Queues stretched around the block, particularly after a large contingent from a nearby Momentum rally arrived.

The venue quickly exceeded capacity, and the venue staff closed the doors as admitting further people would have breached fire safety limits. It was decided, on probably ill-judged advice from Region, to hold the AGM in three “shifts” so all could participate.

At the main door some people believed that they were being prevented from taking part, and that the person refusing them entry was from the Labour Party, not the venue. There was a heated confrontation.

As a result, the member of venue staff complained to a member of Labour staff (who himself was, during the event, elbowed in the ribs and called a “Blairite c***”) and several members of the outgoing City Party Executive. They then told me what had happened.

After the meeting I posted one tweet, half of which referred to the incident. It was wrong that this staff member, unconnected to anyone in Labour and just doing his job, had been caught up in a confrontation at such close quarters that the persons spit hit him. Ultimately he declined to make a formal complaint.

This incident had nothing to do with the subsequent annulment of the AGM and breakup of the City Party.

The elections held that day, using open buckets to collect ballots and held over three sessions, could not in the Party’s view be guaranteed to be safe.

The successful candidate for Chair was immediately suspended and subsequently expelled by the NEC for membership of the proscribed organisation the Alliance for Workers Liberty.

The NEC decided that the City Party, at over seven thousand members, was too large to function as a single unit, and determined that the three constituency parties should be reconstituted.

As someone who helped found the city party structure to more effectively contest local elections, I disagreed with that step in principle, but acknowledged it in practical terms. It was never my decision or one I had influence over. I had no involvement in the decision and was informed the day before it was announced. I don’t think the reasons for the annulment of the City Party elections and the return to CLPs were properly explained.

Again, my tweet, and the incident at the door, had nothing to do with the AGM being annulled and the City Party being broken up.

Claims were made that it was a desperate attempt by “Blairites” to cling on to control. The outgoing chair was Lloyd Russell-Moyle, now the Corbyn-supporting MP for Brighton Kemptown. He took over from Nancy Platts when she went to work in Jeremy Corbyn’s office. Plenty of the outgoing Exec were on the Left, and standing again. By and large the City Party Executive had worked well bringing together all strands of the Party.

That one tweet has been used repeatedly over the past two years as “proof” that I have regularly “lied and fabricated smears” to discredit the Left and attack the leadership nationally.

Repeated again and again in blogs and on social media, particularly in the closed Facebook groups of the three local CLPs, these claims have become “the truth”.

My achievements in office have therefore always had a “yes, but..”. Is it any wonder I’ve been told, again and again, that “the membership won’t support you” carrying on as Leader?

None of this has been central to my decision to stand down, but it has been a distraction and a drain on delivering Labour policies in the city.

My decision not to seek re-election now means I am free to set the record straight. Of course those members convinced that I’ve spent the last two years fabricating “smears” – one of whom branded me an “execrable toad”, and another who referred to “murdering psychopaths” sharing the same traits as me – are very unlikely to believe a word of this, even if they read it.

That doesn’t matter and I’ve nothing to gain or lose now other than to put my side of the story, and to demonstrate the lengths some have gone to in order to pursue factional goals and personal vendettas. It was never about me attacking, or them defending, Jeremy Corbyn, it was all about settling scores. As Neil Schofield blogged last week, there were attempts to oust me as Labour Group leader even as we were campaigning to win the last local elections, months before Corbyn even stood.

I’ve had some personal abuse, yes, but it is nothing compared to the mysogynistic abuse and personal harrassment some of my women councillor colleagues have had to deal with over the past five years.

It’s the right thing to do, now, to call this behaviour out.

This blog post isn’t about me or my leadership, it’s about the Labour Party, about winning a majority Labour council in Brighton and Hove.

It is my hope that the many good and decent people on the Left and in the majority in the local Labour Party will now see through this kind of behaviour and, if they really believe in a new, kinder, gentler politics, kick these malicious people out of their movement. If they don’t, they may well find themselves on the receiving end of it next.

All Good Things…

It has been the privilege of my life to have been given the opportunity to serve as leader of the place where I was born and which I call home. However that time must now come to an end.

Despite the enormous financial and infrastructure challenges facing the city council, leading it has been a role I have enjoyed and found hugely rewarding, even in only being able to achieve a fraction of what I would have wished to.

None of what I have achieved as Leader of the Labour and Co-operative Group over the past five years, or as Council Leader over the past three, have I achieved alone. I have been incredibly lucky to have has a group of friends, a team of talented councillor colleagues, and a set of dedicated council officers alongside me.

Together I believe we have achieved an enormous amount under near impossible circumstances given the funding, housing and political pressures we face. I’d like to pick out just a few things which are important to me.

Since taking up the Labour and Co-operative Group leadership we have gone from third place on the city council to first, almost doubling our number of councillors. We have won every council by-election we have faced, increasing our share of the vote even in office. Labour now stands ready to win a majority on the city council, a feat no political party in Brighton and Hove has managed in nearly two decades.

I made it a priority for the Labour Administration, on taking office in 2015, to tackle the city’s housing crisis. It is not easy, but we have succeeded in completing more new council homes in one year than at any time in the last thirty, and an innovative new partnership project to deliver a thousand homes affordable on the National Living Wage is about to begin. I put tackling the crisis of rough sleeping at the top of our agenda; whilst the problem continues to grow, we have ensured thousands have been helped from a life on the streets.

I have been proud to have played a small role in securing a future for the Madeira Terraces, alongside some dedicated community campaigners. As I said last week, our city’s heritage is not something to be remembered, but something to be lived. I hope I see the restoration completed.

Under my leadership we have, despite tens of millions being cut from our funding by the Government each year, steadied the council’s finances under a four-year plan, delivered three Budgets without the chaos of the Green administration that we replaced, and have done so without the need for any compulsory redundancies. We’ve seen increases in customer satisfaction, alongside an acknowledgment from residents that we are delivering value for money.

The council under my leadership has made significant progress on a number of major projects; the new King Alfred leisure centre, the replacement conference centre and concert arena for the Brighton Centre, the expansion of Churchill Square shopping centre, the Circus Street development, the Preston Barracks regeneration scheme and more. Together they total over a billion pounds worth of investment in new jobs, homes and economic growth that will secure the city’s economy for the future. Two decades of inaction and delay are at an end.

On a personal note, I was so happy to have been able to play a part in the celebrations to mark the Albion’s promotion to the Premier League, and to award the Freedom of the City to Chris Hughton and Tony Bloom.

Having spoken to colleagues over recent months I have now taken the decision to continue to serve as Leader until Annual Council in May, but not seek re-election at the Labour & Co-operative Group Annual General Meeting in April. This will give my successor time to prepare for the city council elections in 2019, and set out their stall for what I believe will be a Labour victory and the first majority council for nearly twenty years.
After fifteen years of representing East Brighton ward, I will also stand down as a councillor in May 2019.

I’ve given the city my best efforts in service of my fellow residents. I would like to thank all those who have worked with me and supported me over the past five years, and I wish my successor well in taking on the immense and difficult challenges of the years ahead.

“These are our priorities, this is our ‘municipal socialism’, this is our Budget for the year ahead.”

wp-1456083489509.jpegMadam Mayor the Budget is a time to reflect on the past twelve months and to set out a programme for the city council for the year ahead. In the third year of this Labour Administration and our four year financial plan there is no slowing of our resolve, no pause in our work, no diminishing of our desire to drive this council forward in the provision of essential basic services, care for the most vulnerable amongst us, and in securing economic growth for the benefit of all in each and every one of the communities we serve.

Madam Mayor, I want to begin by expressing my thanks, on behalf of myself as Leader of the Administration, to officers and staff of Brighton and Hove City Council for their hard work in getting us to this point.

On the back of two years where we have had to save in excess of £40 million, our teams have worked with members to identify a further £12 million savings in this Budget, a task that becomes harder with each year that passes.

None of this would be possible without the huge commitment of staff from the front line social worker all the way through to the Executive team. My thanks, and the thanks of this Administration, goes to all the council staff who keep this organisation going, who help deliver over £2 million worth of services, day in and day out, for the people of this city.

Madam Mayor I want to acknowledge and put on record some landmark achievements of the city council in this current period.

Just a short distance from here is one of the country’s oldest leisure centres in continual use. The King Alfred is long past its natural lifespan and thanks to our partnership with the Starr Trust, Crest Nicholson and a successful bid for Government funding, the end of a decade and a half of effort is now in sight, and a high quality public leisure centre fit for the second half of 21st century not the first half of the 20th is a deliverable reality.

Preston Barracks, derelict for twenty years, sees completion on the deal tomorrow and the start of construction on a major new £300 million regeneration project delivering 1,500 new jobs, nearly 400 new homes and over £280 million in economic growth for the Lewes Road area over the coming decade.

Madam Mayor last summer we launched a campaign to save the Madeira Terraces. Many believed we would not reach our goal. Many doubted our resolve to save this iconic structure and give it new life. Others pitched in with pledges, fundraising efforts and tireless volunteering work. Reach it we did and save it we will. Our city’s heritage is not something to be remembered, it is something to be lived.

Critical to the success of this city, Madam Mayor, vital to our public services, essential for business and so important to the health and wellbeing of our residents is the availability of good quality and truly, not just policy compliant, affordable housing. It is perhaps the biggest challenge we face. We are meeting that challenge. In the current twelve months we will have completed and handed to tenants over one hundred and thirty new council homes, the biggest annual total in thirty years.

And soon we will see the first three sites come forward in our Living Wage housing project which will deliver in partnership with Hyde Housing Association a thousand homes to rent or buy at genuinely affordable rates, in the communities that need them, for the local people that need them, a truly transformative housing programme I’m proud to stand behind as a real and meaningful achievement for this Labour-led council.

Let me move on to our biggest project. In the 1960s and 1970s, our predecessors helped secure the economic future of this city by creating a conference centre and concert venue that has served us well for the last four decades. As the place where I began my working life, saw my favourite bands, met my first girlfriend, it is somewhere close to my heart. It has served us well for forty years but it is time to plan a new conference centre and concert arena fit for today’s needs.

In the 1990s and 2000s our recent predecessors helped secure the economic future of this city by recreating and extending our 1960s shopping centre so that it could compete in the modern retail world. For the past two decades it has outperformed its rivals and been the beating commercial heart of our city, complemented by the Lanes, the North Laine and our independent traders across our communities. The time for a retail renewal has arrived again.

Madam Mayor through the partnership we have with Standard Life, we as a council will undertake both these tasks again, simultaneously, in a two-site, half a billion pound, decade-long project that will secure the economic future of Brighton and Hove and for generations of local residents.

As many in the city follow UK success at the Winter Olympics, we should be inspired to do more to promote opportunities for Olympians of the future. I remain, Madam Mayor, committed to the long term goal of delivering a permanent ice sports arena in the city and invite anyone with deliverable proposals to achieve that goal to come forward.

Jobs in construction, jobs in retail, jobs in management, secure and well paid jobs for young people growing up in Brighton and Hove, being educated in our schools and colleges; these should be our goals and our ambitions. But we need to aspire to more.

Business should be for good, business should have broader social benefits than just profit. Today I set out two “business for good” aspirations I have for this city. Madam Mayor, a Labour Administration elected in 2019 would look to develop social enterprises in partnership with local employers and the voluntary sector that would employ homeless people, giving them a route out of the poverty, rough sleeping and hopelessness that blights their lives.

A Labour Administration elected in 2019 would pursue the community wealth model pioneered in the UK by Preston’s co-operative council, championed by the Co-operative Party and supported by John McDonnell at an event this month, ensuring a greater proportion of local spend stays in the local economy. The approach in Preston has resulted in six large public bodies committing to buying local goods and services. These spent £38m in Preston in 2013; by 2017 the number had increased to £111m, despite a reduction in the council’s budget. Overall, more than £200m returned to the local economy and supported 1,600 jobs.

Securing the economic future of our city, creating good jobs for our residents, growing business for good, building a Brighton and Hove where everyone benefits from growth; this is the task of the city council and with these projects we can and will deliver the strong economic future that Brighton and Hove deserves and needs.

Since I stood here last we have had twelve months in which this Government has tried and failed to win a majority in the Commons. A year in which nothing has been done to address the twin crises of underfunding in social care and in local government. And yet it has been a year in which this Government has committed billions to the black hole of Brexit, with no deals done and little comfort or hope for the businesses and individuals in this city who stand to suffer most.

Some in my Party say the Conservative Government are evil. I disagree and disassociate myself from that view. As Jo Cox said, we have more in common that that which divides us. Despite the stereotypes, most of us on whichever side enter politics for the right reasons.

What is unconscionably worse than malicious intent though is lack of planning, absence of strategy, sheer incompetence. No clear plan for funding local government, no clear plan for funding social care, no focus for anything save for Brexit, and even then they are as clueless and directionless as they are on so much else. No map, no satnav, not even a back-seat driver to give directions, this Government is asleep at the wheel. It is dangerous, it is negligent and it is unforgivable.

Lord Porter, Conservative Chair of the Local Government Association has warned that the majority of councils have little choice but to increase council tax bills again this year. He has also warned the government that “there cannot be a sustainable NHS without a sustainable social care system”, and called for “significant new investment into our social care system” to stop the winter crisis becoming an “all-year round NHS crisis”.

Figures published by the Department for Education have revealed that a child is referred to social services every 49 seconds. The LGA are pointing to a £2bn funding gap by 2020 on children’s care services alone. Madam Mayor, like me all members will also have been concerned to read that some councils are now using school reserves to balance their budgets. It’s come to something when councils are forced to gamble with the future of their young people just to make ends meet.

Brighton and Hove should be looking at a bright future; instead the outlook is clouded by Brexit, by ongoing austerity and by a real threat to the financial sustainability of this council, the services it runs, and the fabric of our city. This council is the stitching that holds the garment of our place together, it cannot be allowed to unravel, to come undone.

Having made £40 million in savings since 2015, and with a further £12 million next year, the demands upon our services are now stark.

This administration does not want to increase council tax by 5.99%, it’s an increase few can afford, but the inaction from central government leaves us no choice if we are to keep our services running. It’s a choice almost all councils have had to make.

Our neighbours East Sussex are increasing council tax by 6%, whilst making £17 million in cuts, their Deputy Leader saying “We believe this is the best set of options in the difficult circumstances we face. We face a further £31 million of savings over the next two years. It will be a very difficult time for our residents.”

Our neighbours West Sussex will increase by 5% with over £19 million in cuts, their Leader saying they were having to “adapt and change” in the face of an uncertain financial future for local government, with the government’s approach to funding “fit for the past” and not the future.

In Kent, a 5% increase, with £48 million in cuts. “Every year that goes by the government’s austerity programme becomes ever more challenging” said their leader this week.

In Surrey another 6% increase, £66 million in cuts, with their leader saying: “The simple fact remains that demand for our services continues to rise but government funding continues to fall.”

Damned by their own side, by their own council leaders, in every part of the South East. No map, no direction, no destination. Under this Tory Government, councils are on a road to nowhere.

Madam Mayor, local councils are far more than a set of numbers on a balance sheet on a computer on a desk in Whitehall. They are what our communities depend upon. They are part of the fabric of daily life. Councils, this council no less than any other, are the embodiment of public service, of civic duty, of pride in the places we live. We must fight against their erosion and ultimate demise, we must demand of this Government the action that is urgently needed.

Let me send a message to the Prime Minister today, as clearly and as bluntly as I am able.

Give us the means to fund our services now and into the future.

Give councils who need it the money to make high rise blocks safe after Grenfell, like you promised.

End the austerity measures and suspend the welfare changes that are putting people on our streets.

Enable us to build the new affordable homes this city needs. Not by subsidising developer profits, but by backing providers. Both in partnership and alone, Madam Mayor, there is no better provider of truly affordable housing in this city than this city council. And most of all, lift the HRA borrowing cap Mrs May, lift it now.

Give us the freedoms and flexibilities we need if we are to be financially self sufficient. Allow us to keep all of the money paid in business rates in Brighton and Hove to fund our services and support our local economy. If devolution and localism are concepts consigned to history along with David Cameron, then say so, and tell us what replaces them.

Give us the solutions to the twin funding crises we face. That, as a Government, is your job.

Set up an independent commission to establish a system of social care that can meet demand, deliver decent services with well paid staff who work in those services and dignity to those who use those services.

Set up an independent commission to establish a system of sustainable and fair funding for local government that meets local need, taxes according to the ability to pay and enables councils to meet the needs of local residents, the aspirations of local communities, and the ambitions of local businesses.

Northamptonshire in crisis, a dozen others including Surrey on the brink, councils around the country putting up council tax by five or six per cent on residents who in many cases cannot afford the increase. We are not yet at the point of crisis, thanks to the sound management of this authority’s finances by this Administration and our excellent team of officers. But we cannot go on like this, Prime Minister.

Time is fast running out on the funding, structures and services of local government, in town halls and county halls and city halls of every political colour across this country. Don’t wait for a crisis, don’t wait for a collapse, don’t wait for for an election Mrs May, do these things and do them now.

Madam Mayor, you don’t need to take my word for it when I tell you that, in contrast to this directionless government, we have a clear focus on getting the basics right. A diverse range of performance measures tell the story. Customer satisfaction as recorded by the City Tracker has improved once again. More people agree we are delivering value for money, and spending what we have wisely.

Recycling rates are up. The effectiveness of our planning service is much better. Our auditors have commended us for our approach in securing value for money, and indeed we are delivering a balanced budget in the current financial year despite the challenges that we face.

What is more, Madam Mayor, we have not rested on our laurels, and continue to find ways to modernise and improve the experience for these same residents. This budget provides for the new Field Officer role which will revolutionise the way we deliver services and tackle problems in our communities and neighbourhoods. Digital First continues to roll out apps that make engagement with our services ever easier.

Our libraries remain open, and their offer to residents is improved. Supported bus and school routes remain in place. Our procurement team is resourced to deliver ever greater savings from the contracts that we operate.  We are protecting the front-line through reducing management costs by more than £1 million again this year. These, Madam Mayor, are but just a few features of what a well-run council looks like.

Once again Madam Mayor this administration’s budget protects the most vulnerable in our city; it provides more than £9 million in pressure funding to cover the increasing demands and costs for adult social care, people with learning disabilities, and children’s social care placements. Our budget also sustains children’s centres, early year’s nurseries, support for care leavers, support for carers, and solid backing for the city’s valued community and voluntary sector.

To support those that have become financially marginalised, often as the direct result of the government’s remorseless welfare reforms, we are putting over £400 thousand in place to provide discretionary welfare payments, council tax discounts, specific support for those adversely affected by Universal Credit, support for the Community Banking Partnership and East Sussex Credit Union.

Turning to the young people in the city, this budget contains a series of measures designed to alleviate the problems that many face, such as increasing levels of mental health problems and exploitation, for example in the form of criminality and the unwelcome emergence of County Lines.

Madam Mayor, the third pillar of our commitment to this city is “business for good”, growing an economy that benefits all our residents.

I said it last year, and I make no apology for saying it again: Brighton and Hove is open for business. We are active in pursuing all opportunities that will sustain the economy of the city for all of our residents, by creating jobs, and an environment where creativity, ambition, and talent can flourish.

Our schools continue to thrive, and through working with them, our universities, and our colleges, we are preparing a work force that will take advantage of the major projects and investments I referred to earlier. With our partners in the Greater Brighton City Region, now expanded to include Crawley and Gatwick, and the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership that takes us to the threshold of London, we are putting in place the infrastructure and resilience to meet the impact of Brexit and secure the city region’s economic future.

Madam Mayor I would challenge anyone to find a better team anywhere in local government than the one I have the privilege to lead. I am fiercely proud of their work over the past year and the measures they are putting forward in this Budget today.

Cllr Gill Mitchell has protected all of our 19 subsidised bus routes for the next four years, frozen almost all parking charges, invested in our parks, in new bins and in air quality improvements. Despite funding constraints, residents satisfaction with our city environment services is going up, a vital contribution to overall wellbeing in the city.

This budget is testament to Cllr Les Hamilton’s sound stewardship, with compulsory redundancies kept to zero under this Administration and a budget balanced despite the ongoing cuts and additional pressures the Government has imposed. All the while reducing back office costs to protect the front line.

Cllr Anne Meadows has delivered over 130 new council homes this year, has over £95 million in housing projects in the pipeline, is buying back former council homes, all alongside making significant savings as our lead on procurement.

Cllr Daniel Chapman has led our family of schools on a continued journey of improvement, and in this budget protected council nurseries, children’s centres and services for care leavers.

Cllr Emma Daniel has taken the lead on county lines and safeguarding young people from criminal exploitation, where this budget invests over £150 thousand, and trouble-shooting field officers to tackle problems in our communities at source.

Cllr Alan Robins has presided over an increase in our visitor numbers, work on the new arts and culture strategy.

Cllr Daniel Yates and Cllr Karen Barford have been working tirelessly with the health service to identify the benefits of health and social care integration. An immense task with enormous implications for the health and wellbeing of our city. With Cllr Yates backing we are the UK’s first Fast Track City tackling HIV/AIDs, and Cllr Barford has shown great leadership implementing our Adult Social Care direction of travel.

Cllr Julie Cattell has continued the rapid improvement in our planning service, and announced an open book from developers on affordable homes. We have given notice to developers that they must meet our targets on affordable homes, or account for why they cannot in a transparent and honest way.

Cllr Caroline Penn has used her Lead Member role to champion better mental health in the city, with the council playing its part in new mental health work in local schools, now also an agreed priority with the Conservative group for extending to colleges in securing £70 thousand in further funding in this budget, and is keeping our Digital First programme on track.

Cllr Tracey Hill has supported the Rent Smart partnership, has worked with planning enforcement so family homes are not lost to unauthorised HMOs, and is leading on our Landlord Licensing projects aiming to make life better for thousands of private rented sector tenants in the city.

Cllr Clare Moonan has worked tirelessly on meeting the growing and complex challenges of rough sleeping and the street community. Through our Make Change Count campaign, our Winter Night Shelter and steps which have taken 1200 rough sleepers off the streets this year and helped a further 2000 facing homelessness. We are making a difference, but we will do more, with this budget adding an extra £165 thousand to tackle the human tragedy that is rough sleeping.

Cllr Jackie O’Quinn has been keeping our leisure and night-time economy running as Chair of Licensing, with a strong focus on safety issues, and has also promoted more training for Licensing Committee members.

I’m fiercely proud of this Labour team, of the work we are doing to lead this city, to secure good quality basic services for all, to ensure the right care for the people who need it, and to guarantee a prosperous future for the many and not the few.

So in summary Madam Mayor;

We’re building 500 council homes, and will be delivering a thousand more at truly affordable rents, buying back council homes lost under Right to Buy.

We’ve abolished council tax for care leavers and ended burial fees for children.

We’ve for the first time put trade union recognition on a formal written basis.

We’ve protected libraries, supported bus services and children’s centres from Conservative cuts.

We’ve opened a winter shelter for rough sleepers, started a joint fundraising campaign, and protected over 3000 people from homelessness in one year.

We’ve not privatised any council services, with libraries, refuse & recycling still in-house and staying in-house.

We’ve prevented compulsory redundancies in our workforce despite 40% Tory cuts to our funding.

We’ve secured £50 thousand extra for domestic violence services and protected funding for our voluntary sector partners.

We’ve set aside £400 thousand to support the credit union and help people hit by Universal Credit.

We have risen to the challenges given to us, we have taken the tough decisions, put the resources we have left where they can be put to best use, employing our principles to direct our pragmatism – as Aneurin Bevan said, “the  language of priorities is the religion of socialism”.

Madam Mayor these are our priorities, this is our municipal socialism, this is the Budget we put to council and to the city of Brighton and Hove for the year ahead, I’m proud to move it, vote for it and to deliver it for our wonderful, vibrant and diverse city, the city I am so privileged to lead.

 

 

 

 

A thousand truly affordable homes in Brighton and Hove

Today we formally launch our plan to deliver a thousand truly affordable homes for Brighton and Hove.

Half will be to rent at 60% of market rents, with the rest available for shared ownership on average incomes. This is 20% less than what is usually described as “affordable” but which rarely is in the city’s inflated property market.

They will be affordable to people on the National Living Wage, costing tenants no more than 40% of their household income on those levels of pay. The properties wont be subject to Right to Buy, and will be allocated on the same basis as our council homes.

The first three sites are being brought forward in Portslade, Coldean and Whitehawk, after the project was given full cross-party backing in the city council last year.

The thousand “joint venture” homes will supplement our programme of council house building, which is limited by the borrowing cap imposed by the Tory Government. However we are delivering 500 new council homes through new build projects like Kite Place and by buying back properties lost under Right to Buy.

We are delivering these much-needed new homes in an equal partnership with a housing association, Hyde Housing, with equal contributions of land and finance. A not-for-profit project, all money from rents will be re-invested in the housing we need.

No council assets other than the land being used to build the housing on are committed. No residents will be moved from existing homes. These are new affordable homes in communities that need them across our city.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of that scheme, this isn’t comparable to the Haringey LDV, as our local MP and former council colleague Lloyd Russell-Moyle has said:

“I’ve explained how in Brighton, under Warren’s leadership, we have not engaged anything like HDV. Our joint venture is not kicking people out of council homes to put them in to the private sector. Our joint venture has backing of full council, will have a number of social rents, will be additional to council home building not substitute to it, has been consulted with members well, with Warren presenting to many Labour meetings.”

“Our joint venture is with a non-profit housing association this is the why it’s right for any member raise concerns about something like HDV but wrong to make parallels with Brighton…there’s just no comparison with Haringey and Brighton & Hove.”

With our housing market under pressure by over 5000 people moving down from London each year, with a significant amount of our housing stock currently in the student letting market, with a worsening homelessness crisis made worse by Tory welfare policy, with our public sector crying out for homes their staff can afford, I’m not waiting another day to start delivering every home I can to meet that need.

Labour councils must act now for people who need help today

ManifestoFrontEvery day the council I lead delivers services to all of the 280,000 residents on Brighton and Hove. Roads are patched, care visits are undertaken, rough sleepers are helped into accommodation, streets are cleaned, and new council homes are being handed to tenants.

The demands on local councils are huge and they are urgent. The financial collapse of Northamptonshire County Council shows the level of crisis faced by councils like mine in dealing with rising social care costs and falling levels of funding from the Conservative Government.

The Local Government Association says there is a £2 billion funding gap in children’s services alone. Nationally there is a £12 billion backlog of road repairs. Conservative peer Lord Porter warns councils have “no option” but to increase tax bills to try and meet a £2.3 billion social care funding gap.

As the Socialist Health Association said, “Councillors cant wait for the revolution, or even the next Labour Government. They have to take difficult decisions about health and social care and protect their residents the best they can this week.”

There might be another General Election this year, but only if the Conservative Prime Minister (whoever that is) calls one (which seems unlikely given their experience last June), or the DUP abandon their £10 billion deal to guarantee the Tory majority (possible given a “hard border” Brexit, but again less than likely).

Labour needs a clear lead in the polls to win a majority, but is currently level. Under the Fixed Term Parliament Act, the next General Election doesn’t have to happen until 2022.

So like every other Labour council leader, I’m desperate for a Labour Government, but have a Budget to pass in two weeks time. I’ve got dozens of people sleeping rough on our streets, with more coming every day. I’ve got long waiting lists for homes and house prices continuing to rise. I’ve got residents just about managing who face the impact of Universal Credit and increased council tax bills in the next few months. I am not about to let them down.

We are building 500 new council homes, with the latest handed to tenants this month. We are going ahead with 1000 new homes on offer for shared ownership or rent at 60% of household income on the National Living Wage, truly affordable housing in partnership with a local housing association. I’ve called for the HRA borrowing cap to be lifted by Government to enable us to do much more.

We are taking hundreds of people off of the streets or saving them from getting there each month. We are investing in jobs and support to stop people slipping into poverty and protecting our core services. We are putting our most valued assets and the valued staff that run them into a not-for-profit charitable trust to protect them from ongoing Tory austerity cuts.

We may well have to deal with the crippling impact of those Tory cuts for another four years. We have a responsibility to prepare for that probability, and find what solutions we can to the austerity we face. That doesn’t mean abandoning our Labour values, it doesn’t mean privatisation or repeats of the Carillion debacle. It does mean the kind of innovation and policy development that Labour councils have consistently proven they are good at.

The people who need our help can’t wait another day for it. It is the duty of Labour councillors to do whatever they can with the resources at their disposal now, that is the municipal Socialism our communities expect and deserve.

I can’t say it better than Cllr Nick Forbes, the Leader of Newcastle City Council and of the LGA Labour Group: “As Labour councillors, elected by people who look to us for help today, we cannot wait for the next Labour government – we have to act today, and we do act, with courage and determination, and are we proud to do that for the communities we serve”.

 

While you are here – we are recruiting an organiser to help deliver a Labour majority in Brighton and Hove in 2019, could that be you? http://www.w4mpjobs.org/JobDetails.aspx?jobid=64482