Monthly Archives: December 2015

2016: The Year We Start Building A Better Brighton & Hove

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Within this shot are the sites of i360, the Brighton Centre/Churchill Square redevelopment and the West Street/Shelter Hall project. Photo: Reg Bradley  http://www.bygones.org.uk/page_id__206.aspx.

In my previous blog post I set out the enormous financial challenges the council faces, but as a city we face enormous opportunities too. In this post I set out what is ahead in the coming year.

2015 has been a year of change and challenges for the city, but 2016 will be a very big year, the year we start building a better Brighton and Hove. There are a huge range of projects that will grow our economy, build new homes and provide new and better paid jobs for thousands of local people.

Far from being vanity projects, these are multi-million pound schemes that will deliver new hospital facilities, a new leisure centre, a new conference and concert arena, and new shopping facilities that could generate millions for council services in new business rates.

Work starts in January to rebuild the road and supporting structure at the junction of Kings Road and West Street, using £9 million of external funding as part of the £100 million we need to spend on our seafront infrastructure. At the same time new buildings will start to go up on the old market site in Circus Street, including new office space, 140 homes and a new home for South East Dance.

Within weeks there will be a decision on the King Alfred in Hove. A successful bidder to build a new sports and leisure complex will be announced, with the scheme including housing that will pay for the centre as well as generating new income from council tax.

We will launch our Joint Housing Venture with Hyde Housing, providing more than a thousand truly affordable homes, with rents at 60% of market rates and 40% of Living Wage income. Providing homes that are within reach for local people is an absolutely essential task for the council I lead and one we will pursue at every opportunity.

With our partners Standard Life we will present plans for an extended Churchill Square, and a new arena and conference venue at Black Rock, to ensure we have retail, convention and concert facilities to rival Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London. They have already announced a partnership with renowned architects Wilkinson Eyre on the project.

We are making significant progress towards being able to publish our proposals to restore the Madeira Terraces, ensuring that our heritage is preserved alongside new investment and facilities. We recently secured funding to help make that happen.

The ten year NHS redevelopment of the Sussex County Hospital will begin in earnest, creating a world-class health-care facility and regional trauma centre on our doorstep. In 2016 a planning application for new homes and business space at Preston Barracks will be submitted, and construction of the £14m new council homes scheme at Kite Place in Whitehawk will get underway.

Locally there will be news on a new secondary school, set up and run by Brighton University to meet the growing demand for places, and action by our new Employment and Skills Task Force on boosting skills and better paid careers for our young people.There will be announcements on our devolution bid, submitted to Government in September and offering the possibility of a Greater Brighton City Region stretching along the coast and up towards Gatwick, with new powers and economic muscle to rival the Northern Powerhouses.

As well as more shops in an expanded Churchill Square on the horizon, the timetable for John Lewis opening their first store in the city at the Clock Tower will be set out, and there will be some exciting news about North Street and the Lanes, with additions and restorations to the unique shopping experience in our historic old town.

In addition to a decision on the King Alfred and Madeira Terraces, there should be news on a swimming pool at the old Peter Pan site and of course the opening of the British Airways i360. We all need to get behind this new attraction now that it is there, and because we need to see it succeed so we can use the £1m a year it should generate to invest in our seafront infrastructure.

The Fairness Commission is now hard at work, and will report in June on its findings, making recommendations about how the city as a whole can focus its resources on tackling poverty and inequality, something that impacts on us all. We have committed to ending street homelessness by 2019 and convened a summit in December to focus everyone involved in dealing with the issue on the solutions needed to do that.

As a council, we are hard at work finding ways to deliver services in better ways, online and in your neighbourhoods, which deal with the fact we will have a third less in funding to do it with. I’ve launched The City Innovation Challenge to harness the talent, imagination and innovation that this city has to find ways of doing that, with five £1000 prizes backed by sponsors including Microsoft, the Hilton Brighton Metropole, Entrepreneurial Spark/NatWest, the University of Sussex and Brighton and Hove Buses supporting the awards.

According to the city tracker survey results, you are already seeing some improvement in your refuse and recycling services, and in how clean your streets are. We are working hard to develop commercial waste collection and vehicle maintenance services that generate an income we can invest in protecting jobs and making those services even better.

By the end of the year the city council will leave its seafront offices and move to Hove Town Hall in a move which will mean millions of pounds can be invested in a major community advice hub and online council services that will make a real difference to how you interact with your local authority.

So by this time next year agreements will have been made, plans will be in place or ground will have been broken on all of these projects. Hundreds of billions of pounds of investment will be on its way into our city. We need to ensure that as our city changes, as our economy grows and as the landscape takes shape, that all our residents from Portslade to Patcham to Saltdean share in the benefits.

This is the year we start to build a better Brighton and Hove; join us in helping to make it happen.

Outlook remains bleak for council services

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Almost every week between now and the end of February our local media here in Brighton and Hove will feature stories like this one, where campaigners claim that cuts to the city council’s Animal Welfare service will lead to dogs being put down, and cruelty going unpunished. Daily I get emailed petitions about saving the council’s Park Ranger service from cuts, whilst protests about education and disability services continue.

The themes are the same. Cuts will be counterproductive, will lead to more costs in the long run, and suffering in the short run. We know you are in a difficult situation, residents say, but find another way. You can’t cut this. Cut somewhere else, please.

Opponents point to “extra funding” announced in the Local Government Settlement last week, with more money for social care and homelessness. They say that full business rate retention will mean councils have the same funding overall in 2020 as they do now. Critics point to “profits” from parking, and sums spent on travellers.

Yet the 2% council tax increase for social care will come from the bank accounts of residents, not the Government. The £2m it will raise will close but not eliminate the budget gap we still have for next year, nor prevent any proposed cuts. The homelessness funding will have to be spent by the end of this financial year – just three months away. The business rates we will get – after businesses have appealed and avoided paying whatever they legitimately can – will only come to the council in 2020. All of the money we get from parking has to be spent on funding bus passes for older people, and spending on evicting and cleaning up after unauthorised traveller encampments is relatively small change, but unavoidable.

That’s after we have cut almost £70 million from what we spend on services as our grant from Government – which pays for over a third of what the council does – is cut entirely. Meanwhile the costs of social care – looking after vulnerable children, people with disabilities and special needs, older people – continue to rise well above the rate of inflation. Funding per pupil is being cut, and the funding for running a local education authority is being ended altogether. Meanwhile more statutory responsibilities are given to councils with funding only for the first year.

By 2020 Brighton and Hove City Council will have around £150 million less to run services each year than it did in 2010. That’s around 40%. In effect that will mean council tax – increased by 4% each year – will only pay for social care and some basic refuse and recycling services. Other services, like animal welfare and park rangers, will have to go. With councils charging residents more, but delivering less, the Government expect the public to place the blame squarely on the doorstep of local town halls, not on those in Downing Street.

I totally sympathise with all those lobbying me and the council on cuts to each and every service. I’m a resident too, and not immune to the effects or blind to the consequences of the decisions we face.

We don’t choose these services to protect other areas or out of an ignorance as to their worth, or the consequences if they end. There is no untouched bureaucracy, unchecked waste or gold-plated privilege we are opting to preserve, as the Tories claim. In the summer we were faced with a projected overspend of some £9m, which through strict and painful spending controls we have all but eliminated. We took over in May from a Green Administration that had spent four years focused on internal battles and One Planet Living and urban realm projects whilst, adopting a head-in-the-sand approach to the impending financial crisis.

The option of setting an illegal “needs-based” budget, with a likely council tax increase of 25 to 30%, is not one I would consider, not least for the likely catastrophic  impact on those struggling with household budgets already. The Labour leadership have made their views on that clear.

So the outlook is at best extremely challenging, at worst almost impossibly bleak, yet I and my colleagues are determined to provide some hope for the residents of Brighton and Hove, and our region. In my next blog post I will set out our plans and ambitions for 2016 and how we intend to lay the foundations for the future of our city.

Our Innovation Challenge To You

 

innovationcityToday I am announcing the creation of the City Innovation Challenge 2016, a competition to drive new ideas and solutions for Brighton and Hove.

Brighton and Hove is a city of immense talent and imagination, where new ideas and innovative responses to challenge are part of what makes us great.

As part of our Budget process, I’m launching a competition to bring in new ideas, innovation and solutions to the funding challenges we face. I’m looking for new ways to run services, keeping them going as our funding reduces. I’m looking for bold and creative suggestions as to how the city council can bring in new revenue to fund services and invest in our city and its communities.

How can we keep our parks clean and well maintained? How can we meet the rising demand in social care? How can we provide the services we all use but which the council no longer has the funding to provide? How can neighbourhoods, local companies, community organisations and others get involved in the future of local services?

It might be a co-operative, a resident-led group, sponsorship, a new partnership between local organisations, new business initiatives or a volunteer scheme. Or something no-one has thought of yet. We are already sharing services, setting up trusts, reshaping our council and what it does, making best use of our assets to bring in new revenue, and ways of cutting our costs. We are investing £6m in digital customer services that will bring the council and residents closer. But we need to go further.

There will be five prizes of £1,000 each depending on who is submitting an idea; one for young people either individually or in a group, one for individuals, one for the community and voluntary sector, one for council staff and one for businesses. We will invite submissions from January 4th, and the closing date will be in mid-February. Details will be published on the city council website http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk and prizes will be awarded at a ceremony later in the Spring. Awards will be funded by sponsorship.

So far we have secured sponsorship interest from Microsoft, the Hilton Brighton Metropole, Brighton and Hove Buses, the University of Sussex, and Entrepreneurial Spark/Natwest.

I know that there is the talent, imagination and innovation in this city to overcome the challenges we face and find new ways of making Brighton and Hove better. Have a look at the issues we are facing on the council’s online Budget consultation, and over the next month get your thinking caps on!