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.

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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

Nancy Platts: a great addition to a strong team

I’m delighted that Nancy Platts is the Labour candidate for the forthcoming by-election in East Brighton,triggered by the resignation of Lloyd Russell-Moyle following his win at the General Election and new role in the Commons as one of our MPs.

I’ve known Nancy for ten years, through her excellent parliamentary campaigns in both Brighton Pavilion in 2010 and in Brighton Kemptown in 2015, where she slashed the Conservative majority making it one of Labour’s top target seats. As I began my term of office as Council Leader, Nancy led the City Labour Party as Chair helping to cement our position as the most successful party political organisation in Brighton and Hove.

If on February 8th East Brighton voters make the same excellent choice as East Brighton Labour members and elect Nancy as their new councillor, she will make a welcome and valuable addition to the fantastic team I have the privilege of leading on the city council.

It is a team that already has more than half of its members who are women, and women fill more than half of the senior roles in both the Labour Group, chairs of committee and lead roles. Cllr Gill Mitchell leads on improvements in our environmental services and our parks, Cllr Anne Meadows on building new council housing, Cllr Emma Daniel on communities and public safety, Cllr Julie Cattell on Planning, Cllr Karen Barford on Social Care, Cllr Jackie O’Quinn on Licensing, Cllr Tracey Hill on improving the private rented sector, Cllr Caroline Penn on Mental Health and Cllr Clare Moonan on rough sleeping. Cllr Saiorse Horan chairs the Labour Group.

I believe that we do politics better as a result, and our record demonstrates this.

Nancy’s experience as a parliamentary candidate, in the campaigns sector, in Westminster and more, will bring a fresh voice to the Labour and Co-operative Group as we begin our campaign to win a majority on the council in 2019. We have achieved a great deal in very difficult circumstances, with huge Conservative Government cuts and opposition parties who, combined, can frustrate and delay our work.

We can and must do more, on keeping essential services going, on further improving our recycling rates, on tackling poverty and inequality, on keeping more people from becoming homeless and sleeping rough, on building more homes, on safeguarding our heritage, and on growing our economy so that more local people have access to well paid jobs and rewarding careers in our thriving economy.

Labour is ambitious for Brighton and Hove, and I look forward to Nancy Platts being elected to the team that will stand on a strong record with a bold and radical manifesto for the next local elections in sixteen months time.

If you want to get involved in Nancy’s campaign, email alex@kemptownlabour.org.uk

2017: Our Year In Review

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I was proud of the Madeira Terraces campaign that brought the city together in 2017 around a valued part of our heritage.

In keeping with a chilly January, the year started with us announcing that the majority of parking charges in Brighton and Hove would be frozen for another year.

Some of our target 500 new council homes were completed in Portslade, and we put forward proposals for ‘Rail South’ giving commuters and businesses a voice in how services are run. Our plans to put the Royal Pavilion and our museums into trust took shape.

As work began on the new Hanningtons Lane off North Street, in February we secured £12 million in funding towards preparing for the new arena and conference centre at Black Rock. We got through one of the most difficult Budgets in council history as we worked to keep services going in the face of an over £11m reduction in funding from government.

As Spring began in March our successful anti fly-tipping campaign, our new multi-million pound Brighton and Hove Community Fund and work on our new Economic Strategy all blossomed.

April saw approval for more new council homes at Hobby Place in Whitehawk, the launch of our plans to restore and improve Brighton Town Hall, and the rollout of new contactless machines making it easier for people to pay for parking. The idea of a ‘Southern Accelerator’ centred on the city, rivalling the Northern Powerhouse, was put forward.

As the city celebrated Albion’s promotion to the Premier League, in May the council awarded the Freedom of the City to manager Chris Hughton and chairman Tony Bloom, before helping to organise a huge parade and party on the seafront. Meanwhile we abolished fees for child funerals, and council tax for care leavers.

As we prepared for the summer, more bins were installed along the seafront, whilst new wheelie bins for recycling were rolled out to many neighbourhoods. All tenants in our council high rise blocks got hand delivered letters with key information in the wake of the Grenfell disaster, and the council signed up to the British Sign Language Charter. The council became a founding member of the new Transport for the South East body planning road and rail for the future.

The summer kicked off in July with the launch of the Madeira Terraces crowdfunding campaign, and the successful sale of Kings House. 100 more new homes were given the go-ahead, the popular bike share scheme was launched and work began on the Circus Street project. An extra £100 thousand was put into the city’s parks, and £50 thousand on work to tackle domestic violence.

August saw the launch of our “Streets Ahead” campaign to reduce litter, and our “Make Change Count” campaign to help rough sleepers. We signed the Small Business Charter with the Federation of Small Businesses, joined the Fast Track Cities initiative on HIV, and our schools saw great exam results again.

A busy September included the go-ahead for the huge Preston Barracks scheme, the joint housing venture with Hyde to build 1000 truly affordable homes, and more council homes were agreed. Action on HMOs through planning enforcement began, work on Mile Oak playground started, a new A&E at the RSCH was approved, funding to buy back council homes sold under Right to Buy was agreed, and £150 thousand went into saving all of the city’s supported bus routes.

In October a big improvement in our recycling rate was revealed, and the new swimming pool on Madeira Drive was given the go-ahead.

November saw work begin on yet more council homes in Hollingbury, the launch of our new million pound children’s fund, and calls for fair pay for public sector staff and fair funding from Government. We signed a new recognition agreement with our trades unions, and welcomed Crawley and Gatwick to the Greater Brighton City Region. The Madeira Terraces crowdfunding campaign hit it’s target, raising over £450 thousand from residents and businesses.

In December we held the first “Rent Smart” conference to improve the private rented sector, saw a big improvement in our planning service recognised, and almost 60 new council homes at Kite Place were finished and ready to welcome their first residents. We opened our shelter for rough sleepers, and the city tracker poll revealed that resident satisfaction with the council is at a five year high.

This has been our 2017; thanks to all council staff, residents and partner organisations who have helped us achieve so much. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all.

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Read more about our record in office here.