Monthly Archives: July 2015

The progressive alliance is a chimera

Split ticketLocal MP Caroline Lucas has called this week for a “progressive alliance” of centre-left parties ahead of the next General Election to ensure the defeat of the Conservatives. For many of us, particularly those in constituencies where the Tory majority was narrow and far less than the sum of the Labour and Green votes, it is an enticing proposition. But ultimately, like the notion that there is a silent majority of progressive voters just waiting for an electoral vehicle to give them voice, it is a false one.

I find it increasingly hard to believe there is a substantial bloc of several million left or progressive voters who, when faced with a choice between an increasingly right-wing Tory Party and a Labour Party they don’t think is quite good enough to spend ten minutes going out to vote for, opt to stay at home. For them, it’s not even worth going to the bother of voting Green or TUSC. The thing about non-voters is that they don’t vote. The thing about the numbers of people who voted Labour, Green, SNP, TUSC or anyone else is that more people voted Conservative. In any case, to combine the numbers who voted Green and Labour is simplistic. Any pact would inevitably put off many who voted for either from backing such an alliance.

The Fabian Society has made it devastatingly clear that for Labour to win again, it has to win over a significant proportion of those voters who backed the Tories in May. The idea that we simply need to harness the left, motivate the young or hope that older voters who turnout in huge numbers have a Damascene conversion to socialism in the next five years is hopelessly optimistic and probably naive.

The progressive alliance is a chimera, a myth. Increasingly people don’t identify with the political labels we do. Left or right, progressive or socialist, these are terms which rarely come up on the doorstep. We can retreat to the comfort of our banners and our badges, or we can use our values to reach out to those who somewhere lost faith in our ability to deliver for them with an offer that is new, a vision that connects and a plan that delivers for them.

What did come up on the doorstep, again and again across Brighton and Hove before the local and General elections in May, was the message “get the Greens out”. Whilst for some in the city centre this meant a Labour vote in the city council elections and a vote for Caroline Lucas in the Parliamentary election, for the majority there was little sympathy for the Greens and a good deal of hostility for their record.

In the local elections Labour fought and won a bitter battle with the Greens, taking half of the party’s seats on the city council and winning 33,000 more votes.  The majority of those Green council seats fell in Caroline Lucas’s constituency, where Labour candidates regularly faced hostility from Green supporters for daring to challenge them in elections. Just one seat changed hands between the Greens and Tories.

Where we did not win this time around we came second. Labour was first or second in all 21 wards in the city. At the next local elections in 2019 we will seek to take more seats from the Greens, just as we will seek to win seats from the Conservatives. That is how elections work. Voters expect a choice, not a pre-determined pact between parties they may not see as part of the same “grouping”.

For Labour to now enter into some kind of electoral pact or alliance with the Greens would be an utter betrayal of those voters who wanted the Greens out, and those Labour campaigners who suffered so much abuse and hostility from Greens who felt they were entitled to a free run at holding seats taken from Labour.

Since the election there has been little in the way of any “progressive alliance” from the Greens towards Labour. They joined with the Tories to block Labour having the casting vote on the council’s two most powerful committees, and pledged to “create havoc” for the newly-elected Labour administration. They have already signalled their intent to vote with the Conservative Group to frustrate Labour’s intent, as they did on a number of key issues during their period in office.

The sudden conversion to co-operative politics from Caroline Lucas understandably grates with those of us who have spent nearly two decades locked in a battle with the Green Party, a Green Party who’s stated aim throughout has been to replace Labour as the party of opposition to the Tories in the city. Labour has been the focus of the majority of Green Party attacks over the past decade, and frequently Green activists have stated that in their view Labour and the Tories are no different. If that is your belief, then surely there are no grounds for an alliance.

Rejecting the idea of a progressive alliance does not mean we adopt the Conservative agenda. I’ve made it very clear that my administration on the city council will set out to tackle poverty and inequality in the city, to eliminate street homelessness and long term youth unemployment. We will have to work differently, build new partnerships and innovate, as others have done. We will have to move beyond the false choices of council-run services and privatisation. Our aim is to ensure everyone shares in the city’s prosperity, not just the few clustered around the centre or the wealthy suburbs.

We are a Labour and Co-operative Administration. I state here again my intent to find common ground in the interests of the city with councillors of either party. We are as far from major elections in Brighton and Hove now as we will ever be, and the public want us to get on with the job and make their lives and the place where they live better. That, and not discussions around electoral alliances, is where I intend to put my efforts now and in the future.


A shared ambition to tackle poverty and inequality

Credit-UnionSpeech to the East Sussex Credit Union AGM, 7th July.

We share common goals, taking on poverty and financial inequality and improving the lives of people in Brighton and Hove. Like my administration in the City Council you are dedicated to reducing the damaging effects of poverty and financial exclusion. Your services offer essential advice on money management and an ethical alternative to predatory lending practices, which help to ensure that people do not slide inexorably into debt.

It is clear from your President’s presentation that East Sussex Credit Union are continuing to develop mutually beneficial approaches to alleviating financial poverty. With a membership of almost four thousand people across Brighton and Hove you are now a significant financial and social player in city life. All of us who are individual members and who are not financially disadvantaged are playing a role in helping those who are.

Your annual report shows that the past year has been a solid one for you as more people respond to your ethical, local offer. Your membership continues to grow, your deposits have increased by almost 20% and your strategy of supporting those who are financially fragile in the community with £146,000 in small loans helping over 250 people is so vital in times of austerity. Your volunteers give generously of their time to support those people and I want to acknowledge that commitment. Together you have achieved so much, and I support the social and voluntary ethos on which that tremendous success is based. I and my council administration want to help you do more.

I know that you as Credit Unions are playing a significant role in assisting business through providing loans directly or indirectly to would-be entrepreneurs most of whom would be in the start-up stage. The provision of loans at favourable rates and conditions and the provision of mentoring to the businesses in question offer a significant support package to local entrepreneurs and small to medium sized enterprises. Helping small businesses grow, take on more local apprentices and enable everyone to share in the city’s economic success.

I and my Administration commit to work with the voluntary and business sector to improve the lives of residents across the city in every neighbourhood and every community. We have already set ourselves an ambitious task of ensuring residents have access to better jobs, more homes, excellent schools and good quality basic services. Working cooperatively with organisations like yours will mean that we will be able to achieve – even in very challenging financial circumstances – some of these ambitious plans.

Brighton and Hove is a unique and prosperous city, with diverse communities living and working side by side. However, there exists an unspoken divide. Whilst two thirds of our residents are in employment, around 10,000 of our citizens are unemployed and almost 50,000 are residing in areas counted amongst the most deprived 10%in the country.

1 in 9 residents are claiming out of work benefits – Brighton & Hove is in top 20% of local authorities for concentrations of deprivation.

Fewer than 2% of rented homes are affordable for housing benefit claimants. One of our biggest challenges remains the fact that no homes are classed as affordable for any claimants under 35.

25,400 households in Brighton & Hove have seen benefits reduced as a result of government welfare reform. On average, households are £2,300 worse off. Further changes announced this week are likely to hit many more people on benefits in Brighton and Hove particularly hard, potentially double that amount.

1 in 6 children in the city live in poverty, even under the formula agreed by the Government. In my ward that figure rises to 1 in 3. That is a statistic, a reality for so many families, that we as a city should not, cannot tolerate.

As a city, as a collection of neighbourhoods and villages, as a community, we cannot stand by and allow this situation to worsen. Morally it is wrong, but it is in our interest as a society not to do so. We all suffer from the consequences of inequality, we all benefit from shared prosperity, from a happier, healthier, fairer society.

As a council we want to measure of our success in four years by how much our basic services like refuse and recycling have improved, how many people have moved into good homes and better paid jobs, how many children we can lift out of poverty, how well our older people are cared for and how prosperous and vibrant our economy is. We will bring ambition and vision. We will set goals. We may not succeed. But I would much rather try and fail, and in the course of it help some, than not try at all and help no-one.

This is why as an administration we have set up the new Neighbourhoods, Communities and Equalities Committee led by Cllr Emma Daniel to help us meet the challenge of the council being a much smaller organisation by the next elections as we lose over £100 million of government funding and as our social care costs continue to rise.

This committee will set the agenda in terms of a relationship change with local government away from a corporate style service provider back to a civic and democratic relationship that I believe people want: one of working mutually with the council as equals not customers. Not as passive recipients of services but as active and engaged citizens. It will work to build stronger and more resilient neighbourhoods and communities.

We will announce in the coming weeks the establishment of a Fairness Commission to tackle the growing poverty and inequality in the city. This year long independently-chaired inquiry, funded from existing budgets, will draw on a varied group of experts from all sectors to address the city’s inequality and poverty issues. It will set out a realistic and deliverable action plan for the City Council and partner organisations to implement. It will help not just the financially disadvantaged, it will deliver real benefits for the whole city.

“Fairness” is about increasing equality of opportunity, reducing income inequality and improving the wellbeing of all. The issues of financial inclusion and how people on low incomes who need to save, and at the same time live from day to day in these challenging economic times, will be a key focus of the Commission.

It is for that reason that I have invited your general manager Ann Hickey to be a member of that panel. I know that she will bring expertise and challenge in her role as a Commissioner, and ensure that some of the experiences of your members are brought to life as part of the enquiry.

The transition from weekly budgeting to monthly budgeting planning under the changes involved in Universal Credit next year will require increased support for many of our residents. Your credit union can make an impact as benefit claimants’ transfer to Universal Credit and into work by offering budget management facilities, bank and savings accounts and affordable credit.

So we meet here today at the start of something really important. East Sussex Credit Union and your partners the CAB, Money Advice Plus and St Lukes have an opportunity to make a real difference to the future of how to improve money management and overcome financial distress.

  • the debt of the average UK household, excluding mortgages, is now almost £13,000
  • 7 million people are using high cost credit providers
  • 1m payday loans are taken out each month
  • 4 m people have no bank account

These statistics are in themselves justification for action, but for me, we must be driven by the impact of financial distress at the individual, human level.

Our recently published Independent Report on the Impacts of Welfare reform on residents in Brighton & Hove by the Director of Public Health brought home to me the extent of the personal suffering that results. It highlights how those in debt are more likely to visit their GP due to the negative effects of financial pressures; say that their financial situation has adversely affected their primary relationship, and are more likely to be prescribed medication due to the negative effects of debt.

As one local resident highlighted, the stress of owing money to companies led her to attempt suicide. She said: “I have felt suicidal about it, only a year ago I tried to kill myself…it’s because of not having any money, owing money to companies’.

So how can the city council do more to support your work?

Our goal is to promote responsible financial planning and responsible credit and savings to prevent debt. We as a Council cannot solve the whole problem but can, along with our partners and citizens, identify a set of practical and achievable actions through which we can, together, make a difference.

Brighton & Hove City Council wants to work in partnership with you and this is why we will continue to invest in the grants scheme that you currently hold with us.

We will continue investing through Moneyworks and yourselves in a programme of advice and financial capacity building for people struggling with changes in their financial status.

I have also charged my officers to look into how the City Council may be able to support you with a subordinated loan.

We are also looking at how we can support a child care deposit scheme to help families who are getting back into work to ensure that they do not get into debt and at the same time have access to savings accounts.

We are encouraging use of council premises for the delivery of community banking, such as the discussions we are having with you and Moneyworks to host you in the newly refurbished Hove Town Hall.

I will work to ensure that locally the details and benefits of the Credit Union are known to our members of staff and the organisations we commission to work with us, and to explore every opportunity we have to raise awareness of the organisation with city residents so that you are able to broaden your customer and membership base.

On behalf of the City Council I want to assure you of our continued support for the East Sussex Credit Union as we look forward to building an ever closer partnership to make our shared ambitions to tackle poverty and inequality a reality.

Never have the challenges we and those who need us most been greater. Never has the need and opportunity to achieve more by working together been greater. Let us not watch that opportunity pass, let us seize this chance for greater co-operation, greater mutual benefit, now.