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.