Monthly Archives: September 2014

Labour’s Contract With Brighton and Hove

Campaign launch.3This week, along with dozens of councillors, candidates and Labour members, I launched the ten key commitments on which Labour in Brighton and Hove will fight the next election, the ten pledges that we are asking you to support.

This city is crying out for change, desperate for a competent council leadership which will improve the lives of residents across the city in every community. Labour will deliver that change, will set the city council the task of tackling poverty and promoting opportunity for all. If these are values you share, then say you are with us.

In our contract with Brighton and Hove we set out our ambitions, to get the basics right, get the bins collected, push recycling rates up and ensure our streets are clean. To build five hundred new council homes for those waiting for somewhere to live. To build and run a secondary school so that those at primary school noLabour 10 point contract finalw have somewhere to go in three to five years’ time.

If you believe an affordable home should be within reach for every family, if you believe an excellent school is the right of every pupil, then say you are with us.

If you vote Labour next May, in the local and General Elections, you can expect action on real apprenticeships and a fight to eliminate youth unemployment in the city. We will deliver on the major projects the city needs, bringing much needed and long delayed new facilities along with more jobs and more homes. If this is the future you want for the place where you live, then say you are with us.

The financial challenges the council faces are immense, with over £120 million cut from what it has to spend each and every year, and the costs of social care and infrastructure decay increasing rapidly. Despite that a Labour council will not demand more from residents already struggling to meet their living costs so we will not increase council tax or parking fees beyond inflation. Just as the council’s income has fallen, so has yours, and we know you need better pay, not higher bills.

These challenges will require difficult choices and imaginative thinking not just from councillors but from partner organisations and indeed residents, but we will work with you, listen to you, talk to you about how we meet those challenges together. If you want to share in this endeavour, if you believe in our co-operative principles, then say you are with us.

These ten commitments will form the foundations of our detailed manifesto next year, and the direction of travel of our Labour administration for the four years of our term of office if elected in May. If you want a positive change from the Greens running the city, if you think the Conservatives have little to offer beyond more cuts and a council that does less and cares less, if you want a council that works with you to build better communities in every part of Brighton and Hove which offers greater opportunities for every resident, then say you are with us.

I’ve signed this contract with the people of Brighton and Hove, and I urge everyone to sign up to it online as well. These are not just our pledges to you, these are goals for our city – goals for the place I have called home all my life – that I want us to commit to together. Say you are with us – sign up on our new website, our Facebook page and on Twitter. Say you are with us, and in two hundred and twenty days’ time elect a Labour council for Brighton and Hove.

Our Contract With Brighton and Hove

Our goals: better jobs, more homes, excellent schools and decent basic services.

Our values: fairness, sustainability and competence.

If you elect Labour councillors at the local elections next May:

  •  We will make collecting refuse, increasing recycling and cleaning the streets a top council priority. The Leader and senior councillors will personally oversee work to improve the service.
  • We will commit to tackle the city’s housing crisis by building at least 500 council houses by 2019, and securing 40% affordable homes in new housing developments.
  • We will consult on introducing a register of landlords to protect tenants in the private rented sector, promote secure tenancies and tackle rip-off fees through a Tenant’s’ Charter.
  • We will build a new secondary school to meet the growing need for places across the city, and it will be run by the council under powers restored by a Labour government. We will work to ensure all schools are accountable and offer excellent education.
  • We will aim to keep any increases in council tax and parking charges within inflation-level rises, with additional income invested in public services, road safety and transport infrastructure that the city needs and residents want.
  • We will establish a Fairness Commission to tackle the growing poverty and inequality in the city, independently chaired, reporting within a year and funded within existing budgets, to set out an action plan for the Labour Administration and partner organisations to implement.
  • We will work to support a broad, sustainable and prosperous economy that benefits all parts of the city, with secure jobs paying the Living Wage and action to combat zero-hours contracts. There will be innovative proposals in our manifesto to help small and medium sized businesses in the city.
  • We will ensure that major projects that are built in Brighton and Hove offer jobs, homes and new facilities for the city, are affordable, are rigorously scrutinised and are delivered on time with private investment not taxpayer debt.
  • We will seek to eliminate youth unemployment in the city within four years, with real apprenticeships and career opportunities for young people.
  • We will aim to keep public services local and democratically accountable, with power devolved to communities. Sustainability and Co-operative principles will run through the solutions we develop to meet the funding challenges we face.

 

Power to the people

imagesThe Scottish Independence Referendum, with it’s 90% turnout, votes for 16 year olds, passionate debate and nail-biting conclusion (well, up until the point where the result became far more clear-cut than expected) has once again re-energised the debate about consitutional reform and change.

We have been here before, when Scotland and Wales got devolved legislatures, when Labour tried with mixed results to introduce elected mayors and regional assemblies, when the Coalition (or at least the Lib Dem part of it) sought to introduce AV. Changes to our governance are glacially slow, as the 18 year gap between the first referenda on devolution and the arrival of the Scots and Welsh assemblies showed.

The rise of UKIP and the anti-establishment vote – and how ironic that the protest vote should now be coalescing around the most establishment of parties in terms of policy rather than office – may indicate the apogee of media and cultural cynicism over the status quo, but it is a warning to all mainstream politicians to engage and persuade rather than allow the ugly politics of division and blame to prosper.

So how do we tackle the “democratic deficit”, and challenge the idea that mainstream politicians have lost touch?

At one point in our national politics federalism somehow became a by-word for power leaking to Brussels, but it ought to mean power devolved to the right level to tackle macro or micro issues, from climate change to dog fouling in the park. Just as the European Parliament has no place in trying to manage the affairs of every town, local councils should not occupy themselves with debates on international trade deals.

Good government involves dealing with issues at the appropriate level, with strong local government supported by strong national legislatures and a powerful European umbrella engaging on the world stage. City regions have a part to play, whether Greater Manchester or Greater Brighton, but as local government bodies they must stay in touch with their localities as well as competing on an international level.

Having seen the boundary review fall alongside AV, Cameron has lost two opportunities to have the number of Labour MPs cut without a General Election vote being cast. Excluding Scottish Labour MPs from English voting under the West Lothian question could deprive Labour of it’s majority on many votes in Westminster even if it has an overall Parliamentary majority. Reform, or resistance to it, should never be based on party advantage. Labour at least has shown that it is prepared to give away power, or at least risk doing so, through devolution.

The risk is that the public feel a lack of trust in the system, a lack of faith in the competence of politicians or even a lack of belief that a Party shares their aims and values, will leave the door ajar for an anti-politics grouping like UKIP or worse to benefit from. People may want change, but do they really want a costly additional tier of English politicians between councillors and Westminster MPs as in London, Cardiff and Edinburgh? Those bodies are right for the challenges that nations and our capital face, but elsewhere is there really a job for them to do?

Local government is the most efficient sector of government. It has absorbed enormous cuts, yet public perception continues to regard it as amongst the most wasteful. As much as we need a fresh view of Westminster, people need to take a new look at their town and city halls and assess what they do and how they do it.

In an increasingly interconnected world, the answer doesn’t lie in separation, nationalism or constitutional tinkering. The answer lies in a politics that makes peoples lives better, gives them security and opportunity within a community where they and their neighbours prosper.

We need a system where voters can engage in way where they know their voice is heard, but one where outcomes are not biased only to those who have time to make the meeting or who shout the loudest. A system where people understand that politician’s pledges are not a guarantee but a genuine indication of values and direction of travel down a road that is increasingly difficult, but where we share a sense of common purpose. A system where debate is not irreconcilable division but a clash of ideas from which positive outcomes emerge. We need votes at 16 backed with an education that puts civic engagement and political education at the heart of what we teach our young people.

Co-operative politics offers those solutions, with community-led co-operatives operating close to those who govern them, public services run on mutual and democratic lines, responsive to need and accountable to those who use them. A stronger local government empowered again to make the choices residents want, using public money in an efficient way to deliver, in partnership with other local organisations, the outcomes their communities need, and able to deliver genuine power to the people.

Is privatisation the answer to local government cuts?

moneyBrighton and Hove City Council, like many local authorities, is facing a budget reduction of over £100 million due to cuts in grant funding by the Conservative-led Coalition Government.

Other councils, almost all of them Labour or no overall control, face similar cuts. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that  “cuts in spending power and budgeted spend are systematically greater in more deprived local authorities than in more affluent ones, with a difference of around £100 per head” with local government spending is set to fall by nearly 30 per cent by 2015. The JRF predicts “the withdrawal of local government from the provision of a number of services and the dilution of provision in respect of others, accompanied by a transfer of responsibility for some services and client groups to other agencies, sectors and partnerships.”

Cuts to poorer areas are 16 times greater than affluent ones, and cuts to local government overall have been far greater than cuts to government departments generally. This is at a time when more responsibility for public health has been handed to councils, and the costs of providing social care are increasing dramatically, with some councils now seeing care costs outstripping their entire council tax income.

Here, the Greens pledged to “resist all cuts” and protect public services, but have brought forward proposals to put care and dependency services out to tender, and are salami-slicing most departmental budgets by up to 10% this year.

For the Conservatives, the constatnt refrain is that all council services should be “market tested”, with services contracted out to provide better “value for money”, citing Barnet as a good example. With contracts worth hundreds of millions being awarded to private sector providers like Capita, the Barnet example soon ran into problems prompting criticism even amongst Tory proponents.

Long-term contracts awarded on loss-leading bids, with no guarantee of terms and conditions, with the onus on profit not public service. Is privatisation really the way to go? The Tory aim is to look at local government, see where there is scope for profit, and strip it out, leaving the local taxpayer to fund the unprofitable parts.

The opposite should be the case. Local councils should be able to keep the profitable parts, and earn income from them to reinvest in better local services, not to contribute to shareholder profits.

Councils should not be awarding contracts, and spending millions of pounds of council money, to pay the wages of Serco, G4S or Capita staff in towns and cities miles away. Council spend should be kept local, with local taxpayer’s money funding jobs in the city’s economy. “Be Local, Buy Local” was a Tory campaign here seven years ago – but it should apply to the council as much to the high street shopper.

The private sector has had a role in providing council services for decades, and it would be impossible for any local authority to bring all services in-house. There is a role for private companies but the essential point is that services funded by the local authority and the local taxpayer must be accountable to the local authority and the local taxpayer. There is a choice about which services are essential core functions that must be fully accountable and closely managed – our refuse and recycling service is one we believe should be kept in house.

With over £100m being taken out of our budget, cuts and job losses would appear inevitable, even with a fairer settlement from the Labour Government after next May, based on need not politics. What the city council does will need a radical rethink, one that the current Green administration have avoided ahead of the election. Elsewhere Labour councils have planned and funded the transition of services to the community and voluntary sector over a number of years, but the Greens have put their heads in the sand and pretended it isn’t happening.

There are many excellent examples of how changes in local public services can be designed and managed to good effect, particularly from the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network, where opportunities to raise income, design services locally involving service providers, trades unions and others have been successful. There are opportunities to use better procurement for social gain, and for consortia of business, voluntary and public sector organisations to step up to the challenge.

Keeping contracts local gives greater flexibility over savings, and ensures that local expertise and knowledge – that essential social value of any local provider, is not lost.

Service users need stability, quality and consistency. Staff need certainty, decent pay and reasonable conditions. Change is inevitable but it should take people along with it, not happen at the whim of an accountant focussed on the bottom line. Better services and solutions should tackle issues at the earliest stage and at the local level, driving down long-term costs, with benefits to steps tackling poverty and inequality built in.

We must not allow council services to become remote, unaccountable and weak. Failings in local government particularly where social services are charged with protecting the most vulnerable, can have unimaginable awful consequences. Solutions to funding cuts lie not in wholesale outsourcing and privatisation, but in a mix of in-house, mutual/co-operative, public/private or voluntary/private partnerships, designed by local people for their communities, built in consultation with the unions, sustainable and accountable to residents. These I believe are fair, practical and realistic solutions to the funding challenge, not dogmatic and unrealistic adherence to in-house or private provision.