Monthly Archives: June 2014

Why I’m backing action for better pay on July 10th

moneyMany public sector staff will be taking industrial action on July 10th in protest at below-inflation pay rises and cuts to pensions.

With house prices up by nearly 10% a year, energy bills up by almost 40% in three years, and food prices rocketing, cutting pay for hundreds of thousands of people who we all rely on to deliver council, blue light, NHS, school and other services, harms our economy and drives more and more into working poverty.

Meanwhile, pay and bonuses for those in the top 20% continue to rise sharply. And it isn’t just the traditionally low paid who are falling behind; many previously well-paid professions are seeing incomes drop.

The Government says pay increases can’t be afforded, despite their insistence that the UK economy is recovering, yet in reality they are skimming the public sector pay budget to fund infrastructure spending in areas important to the Tory vote next May.

Put simply, if the majority do not have disposable income then they can’t spend it. Our economy cannot survive with a small minority at the top making vast profits and drawing huge salaries that are then taken out of the UK economy; it is unsustainable.

Labour in Brighton and Hove have pledged to set up a one-year Fairness Commission to look at strengthening our local economy, securing better pay and tackling the growing poverty that we are seeing as a result of underemployment, low wages and benefit cuts.

No-one wants strikes and disruption to people’s daily lives, which are hard enough, but there is a limit to what reasonable people can take from a Government that seems hell-bent on increasing inequality in our country to the benefit of a very few at the top.

I’d hope that the Government would see sense and provide councils and other public sector employers with adequate funding so that school staff, care home workers, street cleaners, midwives and firefighters can have a pay rise at least in line with inflation.

Below-inflation rises and pay freezes will only add to our low-wage economy where poverty pay is driving thousands into debt and hardship. If the Government refuse to budge then Labour in the city will back the one-day strike on July 10th.

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A brick through the shop window

IMG_00000959 (2)The seafront is often described as the “shop window” of Brighton and Hove, where tourists, conference delegates, stag and hen parties, locals and students mingle and enjoy the bars and restaurants along the coast road.

Two months ago, part of that road near the junction with West Street, the main road up to the city centre and station, was shut following a collapse in the arches below. It remains shut now, with metal fencing enclosing an area littered with kerb stones, cones and bits of discarded fencing.

Unsurprisingly nearby businesses are very unhappy. The restaurant nearest the site said:

‘The effects of this incident on our Little Bay restaurant on King’s Road in Brighton have been devastating. People have been afraid to visit the area. As a result, whilst our sales should be picking up with the good weather and increased summer tourism, we have found that our like-for-like turnover is down nearly 20% each week on average compared to the same period last year.  

The lack of information and support from Brighton & Hove City Council has made it impossible for us to plan our marketing strategy for the summer. We feel that we’ve been left in the lurch.’

Photo: ITV News
Photo: ITV News

Meanwhile one Green councillor tweeted that the collapse and subsequent contraflow was a good bit of additional “part-pedestrianisation”, something he said was a joke. Not too funny for motorists caught in 45 minute tailbacks along the seafront in the June heat, or businesses like Little Bay losing thousands of pounds.

 If it were just a delay in repairs that was the issue, that would be bad enough, but the state of the seafront has been identified as a “corporate critical risk” for at least two years, with the Riptide Gym just yards away from this collapse having been shut for the same reasons in 2012.

The Greens running the council say they did bid to the Local Enterprise Partnership for funding, but were turned down, however they were successful in getting a bid for more cycle and bus lanes in the Old Steine. Repairs to seafront arches are underway a mile away in Hove, near to the site of the new i360 viewing tower, approved by the Greens and Tories and backed by a £36m taxpayer-guaranteed loan.

I’m not criticising the council itself, which has tried to sort out the mess as best it can, but I am critical of a Green Administration that has prioritised traffic schemes with multi-million pound funding across the city in line with it’s own priorities, whilst the road most critical to the city’s economy seems set to be partially closed for the entire summer.  To some it feels like the Greens have put a brick through the city’s shop window at a time it can least afford the disruption or the repair.

A Labour-run council would make it a priority, and put every effort and direct every available resource at getting an issue like this sorted as quickly as possible.

 

Housing the city

A map of Brighton in around 1950 (Collins Bartholomew)
A map of Brighton in around 1950 (Collins Bartholomew)

Most of us in Brighton and Hove live in houses built on what were open fields and Downland a hundred years ago. Many of our estates and suburbs were added relatively recently, in the post war period. Go a little further back, and the swathes of Victorian terraces that make up so much of the city would vanish revealing farmland, smallholdings and orchards.

Only recently have we, quite literally, drawn a line, first with the A27 bypass and then with the National Park, placing a limit on further expansion north to add to the sea to the south and adjoining towns to the east and west.

We can’t limit who moves here, and even if we could, we can’t limit population growth. People are living longer and more people are living alone, meaning more and more homes are needed.

Demand is currently estimated to outstrip supply by more than twenty thousand. The Government’s planning inspector has said we as a city have not found sufficient sites to build on, and have asked the council to identify more places on the “urban fringe” that could be developed. However, even an approved plan is little protection against the Conservative government’s National Planning Policy Framework, dubbed the “developers charter”, which presumes in favour of development. Even if local campaigns to preserve open space are successful in persuading councils to deny approval, the Government Planning Inspectorate can just say “yes” and wave the development through, and then fine the council for trying to stop it.

Whilst the Tory government says “build anywhere”, the Tory Councillors say they will oppose anything and everything, from the comfort of their own homes with no regard for those aspiring to own homes themselves. This “banana” approach –  “build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything” – helps no-one in the long term.

Our two universities are expanding, and even the rapid building of new student accommodation, such as in the old London Road Co-op, can’t keep pace. Landlords are keen to snap up houses to rent to the ever-growing student market, reducing the number of family homes still further. Building new student accommodation won’t in itself meet new demand, and those units won’t count in meeting our housing targets.

housingThe private rented sector in the city is huge and growing, with landlords all too often buying up former social housing to rent out, in return for housing benefit money paid directly to them.

With property prices rising by almost six times the rate of inflation, few new houses being built by the Green council, and the Tory Bedroom Tax biting, is it any wonder that homelessness on the streets and in temporary housing is on the increase?

A Labour council would build. Our policy will be “brownfield first”, with 40% affordable homes in all new development. When last in power we added five hundred new homes a year. This is why we took the difficult decision to identify the privately owned urban fringe site of Toads Hole Valley for the building of 750 new homes.

We need to look at modernising our council stock, building new homes to make better use of the space available, without losing the open space that makes our estates good places to live. Where council houses sold under “Right To Buy” come on the market at auction the council should exercise its right of first refusal and buy them back as other authorities are doing.

Developers building seafront flats should provide affordable units on site. We want mixed communities, not social housing concentrated in a few overcrowded areas. We want a range of rental and ownership options on offer in new developments. We will use the powers available to us to pursue these principles robustly.

Where “brownfield” sites, former business, office or industrial are no longer needed to provide employment, they should be used to provide new homes.

We need to act to ensure private rented sector tenants get a fair deal from landlords, with decent standards and fair, affordable rents. We welcome polices proposed by Ed Miliband to return housing benefit to councils, giving them the money to build not line the pockets of landlords. Our Parliamentary candidate for Brighton Pavilion Purna Sen has launched a consultation on “Generation Rent” and I’ve said a Labour council will act on what tenants tell Purna if we are elected next May. Labour council candidates including Chris Henry (Hangleton) and Tracey Hill (Hollingdean) have done excellent work with tenants in the Clean_Up_Renting2Movement for Change “Home Sweet Home” campaign to improve the private rented sector in the city.

Contradicting policies and conflicting demands make this a difficult issue to tackle, and better national and regional solutions are needed. However a decent, secure home should be within reach of everyone. The limits of what we can realistically provide within the geographical and financial constraints we have can’t be ignored, but we must resolve to do what we can, working with communities and neighbourhoods so that new development is seen as natural growth not urban blight grafted on to established, settled streets.

Whether it is private rented, social housing, existing or new build, we want to hear your views on housing – email ourcity@brightonhovelabour.com

 

Sinking Ship

jb1Defeat in a by-election in one of their safest seats. Falling to third in local opinion polls. Defeat in the European elections. Multiple leadership coups and challenges.

Unable to command the support of a majority of his councillors in the Budget, unable to count on the backing of a majority of his Party members in a ballot, is it any wonder that Jason Kitcat has decided to go down with the Green ship next May, as Caroline Lucas scrambles for the lifeboat along with the few Green councillors who seem willing to defend their seats at the local elections? As the good ship Green Party sinks, the council and the city should not get sucked down with it.

At committee meeting after committee meeting, we are now seeing anything that is difficult, anything that is controversial, postponed, delayed until after the next election when somebody else can deal with it. A funding crisis sits like an iceberg just of the prow. A secondary school places crisis and a housing crisis loom on the horizon. Growing poverty and deprivation hang overhead like storm clouds. Yet the Greens remain adrift and taking on water with apparently neither the strategy or ability to deal with the situation.

In the final stretch of this metaphor, it is Labour who will get the ship back on an even keel and negotiate the stormy waters ahead. We will get the basics like street cleaning, refuse collection and recycling back on track, restore confidence and trust in the council, and get the economy working for everyone.

One of our main priorities as a council will be to help the growing numbers of people, most of them in work, who are finding themselves increasingly in debt, increasingly reliant on food banks and drawn into poverty as falling pay and rising bills combine. Our city may seem prosperous, but for thousands the situation is becoming very difficult, and it is in response to our local cost of living crisis that we will be making a major policy announcement next week, setting the course for a Labour council administration.

If you want to have your say in the policies a Labour council will pursue next May, e-mail ourcity@brightonhovelabour.com

On the edge

BLhg-lgCAAENqQUIt may be that we are becoming numb to it. Tory ministers cutting support for those on pitifully low incomes whilst claiming more for a breakfast than many have for a weekly shop. Waiting times in A&E soaring while some ambulances no longer have a paramedic on board. Incomes, particularly those for women, not keeping pace with inflation, adding to a cost of living crisis. (Tired of that phrase? Not as tired as those working several part-time jobs just to stay on top of the bills.) A Government that threatens to shut down a charity feeding the poor because it is too political.

Much of this just in the past few days. Not that you would know it from a media more concerned with the football, obsessed by celebrities, peddling scare stories about migrants, or in a very few cases quite rightly focussed on the conflicts in Iraq, Syria and the Ukraine.

Labour members and supporters are justifiably angered over a photo of the Party Leader holding a newspaper that is hated for what it has done and said over Hillsborough, Page Three or indeed my own city.  (There is no doubt that had he refused, there would have been considerable outcry from other quarters, and whether that too would have reinforced the perceptions of some is another debate.) Hated as a publication because of who owns it, and the perceived influence it has over readers and the way they vote, albeit an influence that is outdated and quite likely overestimated. I’d argue that today the influence of The Daily Mail and its website is more pernicious.

For the record, I posted my free promotional copy of The Sun  back, unread.

I respect those members and supporters who have taken a view on the events of the past few days, their anger and their frustration. I’d urge them though, to take a step back, draw a deep breath, and think about the long term.

We are on the edge. On the edge of losing the gains we made over thirteen years of a Labour government. A government that was, despite all the criticism thrown at it, redistributive and active in tackling poverty and inequality. It could have done more, yes, but it made much headway in the face of considerable opposition.

We are on the edge of allowing by default a second term to a Conservative coalition government which is decimating our public services, destroying local government, and diminishing the living standards and prospects of the many, whilst at the same time enabling the most wealthy individuals and the most profitable multinational companies to siphon ever larger profits out of our economy. If they are re-elected and continue on the same course, five million children in the UK could be living in poverty by 2020, according to Save The Children.

If we allow a hostile media to define our leadership, whether it is “endorsing” a newspaper, eating a bacon sandwich or even just “looking weird”, rather than on the issues that really matter, then we are surely complicit in the inequality and poverty that will grip this country by the end of the decade.

With barely ten months to go till a critically important election, Labour still has a lead in the polls that, if repeated at an election, would deliver a small but comfortable majority of around 20-40 seats, more if the marginal polling is to be believed. Many, however, bet that a Labour lead can be eroded between now and polling day based on the recovery of incumbent parties in the run up to the election.

It is up to us to decide where we focus our energies, whether we choose to indulge in division and introspection, or step away from the brink, by our actions pulling this country back from the edge of a disaster from which it might never recover.