Tag Archives: Brighton and Hove

“These are our priorities, this is our ‘municipal socialism’, this is our Budget for the year ahead.”

wp-1456083489509.jpegMadam Mayor the Budget is a time to reflect on the past twelve months and to set out a programme for the city council for the year ahead. In the third year of this Labour Administration and our four year financial plan there is no slowing of our resolve, no pause in our work, no diminishing of our desire to drive this council forward in the provision of essential basic services, care for the most vulnerable amongst us, and in securing economic growth for the benefit of all in each and every one of the communities we serve.

Madam Mayor, I want to begin by expressing my thanks, on behalf of myself as Leader of the Administration, to officers and staff of Brighton and Hove City Council for their hard work in getting us to this point.

On the back of two years where we have had to save in excess of £40 million, our teams have worked with members to identify a further £12 million savings in this Budget, a task that becomes harder with each year that passes.

None of this would be possible without the huge commitment of staff from the front line social worker all the way through to the Executive team. My thanks, and the thanks of this Administration, goes to all the council staff who keep this organisation going, who help deliver over £2 million worth of services, day in and day out, for the people of this city.

Madam Mayor I want to acknowledge and put on record some landmark achievements of the city council in this current period.

Just a short distance from here is one of the country’s oldest leisure centres in continual use. The King Alfred is long past its natural lifespan and thanks to our partnership with the Starr Trust, Crest Nicholson and a successful bid for Government funding, the end of a decade and a half of effort is now in sight, and a high quality public leisure centre fit for the second half of 21st century not the first half of the 20th is a deliverable reality.

Preston Barracks, derelict for twenty years, sees completion on the deal tomorrow and the start of construction on a major new £300 million regeneration project delivering 1,500 new jobs, nearly 400 new homes and over £280 million in economic growth for the Lewes Road area over the coming decade.

Madam Mayor last summer we launched a campaign to save the Madeira Terraces. Many believed we would not reach our goal. Many doubted our resolve to save this iconic structure and give it new life. Others pitched in with pledges, fundraising efforts and tireless volunteering work. Reach it we did and save it we will. Our city’s heritage is not something to be remembered, it is something to be lived.

Critical to the success of this city, Madam Mayor, vital to our public services, essential for business and so important to the health and wellbeing of our residents is the availability of good quality and truly, not just policy compliant, affordable housing. It is perhaps the biggest challenge we face. We are meeting that challenge. In the current twelve months we will have completed and handed to tenants over one hundred and thirty new council homes, the biggest annual total in thirty years.

And soon we will see the first three sites come forward in our Living Wage housing project which will deliver in partnership with Hyde Housing Association a thousand homes to rent or buy at genuinely affordable rates, in the communities that need them, for the local people that need them, a truly transformative housing programme I’m proud to stand behind as a real and meaningful achievement for this Labour-led council.

Let me move on to our biggest project. In the 1960s and 1970s, our predecessors helped secure the economic future of this city by creating a conference centre and concert venue that has served us well for the last four decades. As the place where I began my working life, saw my favourite bands, met my first girlfriend, it is somewhere close to my heart. It has served us well for forty years but it is time to plan a new conference centre and concert arena fit for today’s needs.

In the 1990s and 2000s our recent predecessors helped secure the economic future of this city by recreating and extending our 1960s shopping centre so that it could compete in the modern retail world. For the past two decades it has outperformed its rivals and been the beating commercial heart of our city, complemented by the Lanes, the North Laine and our independent traders across our communities. The time for a retail renewal has arrived again.

Madam Mayor through the partnership we have with Standard Life, we as a council will undertake both these tasks again, simultaneously, in a two-site, half a billion pound, decade-long project that will secure the economic future of Brighton and Hove and for generations of local residents.

As many in the city follow UK success at the Winter Olympics, we should be inspired to do more to promote opportunities for Olympians of the future. I remain, Madam Mayor, committed to the long term goal of delivering a permanent ice sports arena in the city and invite anyone with deliverable proposals to achieve that goal to come forward.

Jobs in construction, jobs in retail, jobs in management, secure and well paid jobs for young people growing up in Brighton and Hove, being educated in our schools and colleges; these should be our goals and our ambitions. But we need to aspire to more.

Business should be for good, business should have broader social benefits than just profit. Today I set out two “business for good” aspirations I have for this city. Madam Mayor, a Labour Administration elected in 2019 would look to develop social enterprises in partnership with local employers and the voluntary sector that would employ homeless people, giving them a route out of the poverty, rough sleeping and hopelessness that blights their lives.

A Labour Administration elected in 2019 would pursue the community wealth model pioneered in the UK by Preston’s co-operative council, championed by the Co-operative Party and supported by John McDonnell at an event this month, ensuring a greater proportion of local spend stays in the local economy. The approach in Preston has resulted in six large public bodies committing to buying local goods and services. These spent £38m in Preston in 2013; by 2017 the number had increased to £111m, despite a reduction in the council’s budget. Overall, more than £200m returned to the local economy and supported 1,600 jobs.

Securing the economic future of our city, creating good jobs for our residents, growing business for good, building a Brighton and Hove where everyone benefits from growth; this is the task of the city council and with these projects we can and will deliver the strong economic future that Brighton and Hove deserves and needs.

Since I stood here last we have had twelve months in which this Government has tried and failed to win a majority in the Commons. A year in which nothing has been done to address the twin crises of underfunding in social care and in local government. And yet it has been a year in which this Government has committed billions to the black hole of Brexit, with no deals done and little comfort or hope for the businesses and individuals in this city who stand to suffer most.

Some in my Party say the Conservative Government are evil. I disagree and disassociate myself from that view. As Jo Cox said, we have more in common that that which divides us. Despite the stereotypes, most of us on whichever side enter politics for the right reasons.

What is unconscionably worse than malicious intent though is lack of planning, absence of strategy, sheer incompetence. No clear plan for funding local government, no clear plan for funding social care, no focus for anything save for Brexit, and even then they are as clueless and directionless as they are on so much else. No map, no satnav, not even a back-seat driver to give directions, this Government is asleep at the wheel. It is dangerous, it is negligent and it is unforgivable.

Lord Porter, Conservative Chair of the Local Government Association has warned that the majority of councils have little choice but to increase council tax bills again this year. He has also warned the government that “there cannot be a sustainable NHS without a sustainable social care system”, and called for “significant new investment into our social care system” to stop the winter crisis becoming an “all-year round NHS crisis”.

Figures published by the Department for Education have revealed that a child is referred to social services every 49 seconds. The LGA are pointing to a £2bn funding gap by 2020 on children’s care services alone. Madam Mayor, like me all members will also have been concerned to read that some councils are now using school reserves to balance their budgets. It’s come to something when councils are forced to gamble with the future of their young people just to make ends meet.

Brighton and Hove should be looking at a bright future; instead the outlook is clouded by Brexit, by ongoing austerity and by a real threat to the financial sustainability of this council, the services it runs, and the fabric of our city. This council is the stitching that holds the garment of our place together, it cannot be allowed to unravel, to come undone.

Having made £40 million in savings since 2015, and with a further £12 million next year, the demands upon our services are now stark.

This administration does not want to increase council tax by 5.99%, it’s an increase few can afford, but the inaction from central government leaves us no choice if we are to keep our services running. It’s a choice almost all councils have had to make.

Our neighbours East Sussex are increasing council tax by 6%, whilst making £17 million in cuts, their Deputy Leader saying “We believe this is the best set of options in the difficult circumstances we face. We face a further £31 million of savings over the next two years. It will be a very difficult time for our residents.”

Our neighbours West Sussex will increase by 5% with over £19 million in cuts, their Leader saying they were having to “adapt and change” in the face of an uncertain financial future for local government, with the government’s approach to funding “fit for the past” and not the future.

In Kent, a 5% increase, with £48 million in cuts. “Every year that goes by the government’s austerity programme becomes ever more challenging” said their leader this week.

In Surrey another 6% increase, £66 million in cuts, with their leader saying: “The simple fact remains that demand for our services continues to rise but government funding continues to fall.”

Damned by their own side, by their own council leaders, in every part of the South East. No map, no direction, no destination. Under this Tory Government, councils are on a road to nowhere.

Madam Mayor, local councils are far more than a set of numbers on a balance sheet on a computer on a desk in Whitehall. They are what our communities depend upon. They are part of the fabric of daily life. Councils, this council no less than any other, are the embodiment of public service, of civic duty, of pride in the places we live. We must fight against their erosion and ultimate demise, we must demand of this Government the action that is urgently needed.

Let me send a message to the Prime Minister today, as clearly and as bluntly as I am able.

Give us the means to fund our services now and into the future.

Give councils who need it the money to make high rise blocks safe after Grenfell, like you promised.

End the austerity measures and suspend the welfare changes that are putting people on our streets.

Enable us to build the new affordable homes this city needs. Not by subsidising developer profits, but by backing providers. Both in partnership and alone, Madam Mayor, there is no better provider of truly affordable housing in this city than this city council. And most of all, lift the HRA borrowing cap Mrs May, lift it now.

Give us the freedoms and flexibilities we need if we are to be financially self sufficient. Allow us to keep all of the money paid in business rates in Brighton and Hove to fund our services and support our local economy. If devolution and localism are concepts consigned to history along with David Cameron, then say so, and tell us what replaces them.

Give us the solutions to the twin funding crises we face. That, as a Government, is your job.

Set up an independent commission to establish a system of social care that can meet demand, deliver decent services with well paid staff who work in those services and dignity to those who use those services.

Set up an independent commission to establish a system of sustainable and fair funding for local government that meets local need, taxes according to the ability to pay and enables councils to meet the needs of local residents, the aspirations of local communities, and the ambitions of local businesses.

Northamptonshire in crisis, a dozen others including Surrey on the brink, councils around the country putting up council tax by five or six per cent on residents who in many cases cannot afford the increase. We are not yet at the point of crisis, thanks to the sound management of this authority’s finances by this Administration and our excellent team of officers. But we cannot go on like this, Prime Minister.

Time is fast running out on the funding, structures and services of local government, in town halls and county halls and city halls of every political colour across this country. Don’t wait for a crisis, don’t wait for a collapse, don’t wait for for an election Mrs May, do these things and do them now.

Madam Mayor, you don’t need to take my word for it when I tell you that, in contrast to this directionless government, we have a clear focus on getting the basics right. A diverse range of performance measures tell the story. Customer satisfaction as recorded by the City Tracker has improved once again. More people agree we are delivering value for money, and spending what we have wisely.

Recycling rates are up. The effectiveness of our planning service is much better. Our auditors have commended us for our approach in securing value for money, and indeed we are delivering a balanced budget in the current financial year despite the challenges that we face.

What is more, Madam Mayor, we have not rested on our laurels, and continue to find ways to modernise and improve the experience for these same residents. This budget provides for the new Field Officer role which will revolutionise the way we deliver services and tackle problems in our communities and neighbourhoods. Digital First continues to roll out apps that make engagement with our services ever easier.

Our libraries remain open, and their offer to residents is improved. Supported bus and school routes remain in place. Our procurement team is resourced to deliver ever greater savings from the contracts that we operate.  We are protecting the front-line through reducing management costs by more than £1 million again this year. These, Madam Mayor, are but just a few features of what a well-run council looks like.

Once again Madam Mayor this administration’s budget protects the most vulnerable in our city; it provides more than £9 million in pressure funding to cover the increasing demands and costs for adult social care, people with learning disabilities, and children’s social care placements. Our budget also sustains children’s centres, early year’s nurseries, support for care leavers, support for carers, and solid backing for the city’s valued community and voluntary sector.

To support those that have become financially marginalised, often as the direct result of the government’s remorseless welfare reforms, we are putting over £400 thousand in place to provide discretionary welfare payments, council tax discounts, specific support for those adversely affected by Universal Credit, support for the Community Banking Partnership and East Sussex Credit Union.

Turning to the young people in the city, this budget contains a series of measures designed to alleviate the problems that many face, such as increasing levels of mental health problems and exploitation, for example in the form of criminality and the unwelcome emergence of County Lines.

Madam Mayor, the third pillar of our commitment to this city is “business for good”, growing an economy that benefits all our residents.

I said it last year, and I make no apology for saying it again: Brighton and Hove is open for business. We are active in pursuing all opportunities that will sustain the economy of the city for all of our residents, by creating jobs, and an environment where creativity, ambition, and talent can flourish.

Our schools continue to thrive, and through working with them, our universities, and our colleges, we are preparing a work force that will take advantage of the major projects and investments I referred to earlier. With our partners in the Greater Brighton City Region, now expanded to include Crawley and Gatwick, and the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership that takes us to the threshold of London, we are putting in place the infrastructure and resilience to meet the impact of Brexit and secure the city region’s economic future.

Madam Mayor I would challenge anyone to find a better team anywhere in local government than the one I have the privilege to lead. I am fiercely proud of their work over the past year and the measures they are putting forward in this Budget today.

Cllr Gill Mitchell has protected all of our 19 subsidised bus routes for the next four years, frozen almost all parking charges, invested in our parks, in new bins and in air quality improvements. Despite funding constraints, residents satisfaction with our city environment services is going up, a vital contribution to overall wellbeing in the city.

This budget is testament to Cllr Les Hamilton’s sound stewardship, with compulsory redundancies kept to zero under this Administration and a budget balanced despite the ongoing cuts and additional pressures the Government has imposed. All the while reducing back office costs to protect the front line.

Cllr Anne Meadows has delivered over 130 new council homes this year, has over £95 million in housing projects in the pipeline, is buying back former council homes, all alongside making significant savings as our lead on procurement.

Cllr Daniel Chapman has led our family of schools on a continued journey of improvement, and in this budget protected council nurseries, children’s centres and services for care leavers.

Cllr Emma Daniel has taken the lead on county lines and safeguarding young people from criminal exploitation, where this budget invests over £150 thousand, and trouble-shooting field officers to tackle problems in our communities at source.

Cllr Alan Robins has presided over an increase in our visitor numbers, work on the new arts and culture strategy.

Cllr Daniel Yates and Cllr Karen Barford have been working tirelessly with the health service to identify the benefits of health and social care integration. An immense task with enormous implications for the health and wellbeing of our city. With Cllr Yates backing we are the UK’s first Fast Track City tackling HIV/AIDs, and Cllr Barford has shown great leadership implementing our Adult Social Care direction of travel.

Cllr Julie Cattell has continued the rapid improvement in our planning service, and announced an open book from developers on affordable homes. We have given notice to developers that they must meet our targets on affordable homes, or account for why they cannot in a transparent and honest way.

Cllr Caroline Penn has used her Lead Member role to champion better mental health in the city, with the council playing its part in new mental health work in local schools, now also an agreed priority with the Conservative group for extending to colleges in securing £70 thousand in further funding in this budget, and is keeping our Digital First programme on track.

Cllr Tracey Hill has supported the Rent Smart partnership, has worked with planning enforcement so family homes are not lost to unauthorised HMOs, and is leading on our Landlord Licensing projects aiming to make life better for thousands of private rented sector tenants in the city.

Cllr Clare Moonan has worked tirelessly on meeting the growing and complex challenges of rough sleeping and the street community. Through our Make Change Count campaign, our Winter Night Shelter and steps which have taken 1200 rough sleepers off the streets this year and helped a further 2000 facing homelessness. We are making a difference, but we will do more, with this budget adding an extra £165 thousand to tackle the human tragedy that is rough sleeping.

Cllr Jackie O’Quinn has been keeping our leisure and night-time economy running as Chair of Licensing, with a strong focus on safety issues, and has also promoted more training for Licensing Committee members.

I’m fiercely proud of this Labour team, of the work we are doing to lead this city, to secure good quality basic services for all, to ensure the right care for the people who need it, and to guarantee a prosperous future for the many and not the few.

So in summary Madam Mayor;

We’re building 500 council homes, and will be delivering a thousand more at truly affordable rents, buying back council homes lost under Right to Buy.

We’ve abolished council tax for care leavers and ended burial fees for children.

We’ve for the first time put trade union recognition on a formal written basis.

We’ve protected libraries, supported bus services and children’s centres from Conservative cuts.

We’ve opened a winter shelter for rough sleepers, started a joint fundraising campaign, and protected over 3000 people from homelessness in one year.

We’ve not privatised any council services, with libraries, refuse & recycling still in-house and staying in-house.

We’ve prevented compulsory redundancies in our workforce despite 40% Tory cuts to our funding.

We’ve secured £50 thousand extra for domestic violence services and protected funding for our voluntary sector partners.

We’ve set aside £400 thousand to support the credit union and help people hit by Universal Credit.

We have risen to the challenges given to us, we have taken the tough decisions, put the resources we have left where they can be put to best use, employing our principles to direct our pragmatism – as Aneurin Bevan said, “the  language of priorities is the religion of socialism”.

Madam Mayor these are our priorities, this is our municipal socialism, this is the Budget we put to council and to the city of Brighton and Hove for the year ahead, I’m proud to move it, vote for it and to deliver it for our wonderful, vibrant and diverse city, the city I am so privileged to lead.

 

 

 

 

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Nancy Platts: a great addition to a strong team

I’m delighted that Nancy Platts is the Labour candidate for the forthcoming by-election in East Brighton,triggered by the resignation of Lloyd Russell-Moyle following his win at the General Election and new role in the Commons as one of our MPs.

I’ve known Nancy for ten years, through her excellent parliamentary campaigns in both Brighton Pavilion in 2010 and in Brighton Kemptown in 2015, where she slashed the Conservative majority making it one of Labour’s top target seats. As I began my term of office as Council Leader, Nancy led the City Labour Party as Chair helping to cement our position as the most successful party political organisation in Brighton and Hove.

If on February 8th East Brighton voters make the same excellent choice as East Brighton Labour members and elect Nancy as their new councillor, she will make a welcome and valuable addition to the fantastic team I have the privilege of leading on the city council.

It is a team that already has more than half of its members who are women, and women fill more than half of the senior roles in both the Labour Group, chairs of committee and lead roles. Cllr Gill Mitchell leads on improvements in our environmental services and our parks, Cllr Anne Meadows on building new council housing, Cllr Emma Daniel on communities and public safety, Cllr Julie Cattell on Planning, Cllr Karen Barford on Social Care, Cllr Jackie O’Quinn on Licensing, Cllr Tracey Hill on improving the private rented sector, Cllr Caroline Penn on Mental Health and Cllr Clare Moonan on rough sleeping. Cllr Saiorse Horan chairs the Labour Group.

I believe that we do politics better as a result, and our record demonstrates this.

Nancy’s experience as a parliamentary candidate, in the campaigns sector, in Westminster and more, will bring a fresh voice to the Labour and Co-operative Group as we begin our campaign to win a majority on the council in 2019. We have achieved a great deal in very difficult circumstances, with huge Conservative Government cuts and opposition parties who, combined, can frustrate and delay our work.

We can and must do more, on keeping essential services going, on further improving our recycling rates, on tackling poverty and inequality, on keeping more people from becoming homeless and sleeping rough, on building more homes, on safeguarding our heritage, and on growing our economy so that more local people have access to well paid jobs and rewarding careers in our thriving economy.

Labour is ambitious for Brighton and Hove, and I look forward to Nancy Platts being elected to the team that will stand on a strong record with a bold and radical manifesto for the next local elections in sixteen months time.

If you want to get involved in Nancy’s campaign, email alex@kemptownlabour.org.uk

2019: Beginning The Campaign For A Labour Majority For Brighton and Hove

The fight starts now for a Labour majority in Brighton and Hove at the next local elections in May 2019. We need six more councillors for a majority, ending more than a decade and a half of no overall control.

We’ve achieved a huge amount since winning minority control in 2015, despite savage Conservative Government cuts to our funding, and two opposition parties on the council who have wasted no opportunity to delay or frustrate the positive things we are trying to achieve for our city.

https://warrenmorgan.wordpress.com/2017/05/12/10×10-our-half-term-report/

So why do we need that majority, and what would we do with it?

Our goal is to build the homes Brighton and Hove needs – affordable homes, more temporary accommodation to tackle homelessness, excellent quality council houses, homes that people need for their families, homes that businesses need for their workers. We’ll push further on our work to make the private rented sector better for tenants and better for Brighton and Hove.

We want to go further and faster on building a city economy – and city region economy – that benefits everyone. More jobs that are secure, that pay well and that give people the security they need for their families. We believe Brighton and Hove belongs in Europe, with thriving universities, creative digital companies and an outward-looking visitor economy.

We want to build a city that cares for residents from their early years through to a healthy and active later life. Social care and good physical and mental is at the heart of what we do. There is no greater challenge – and no bigger opportunity – to lead on making a fundamental difference to the lives of ordinary people here in Brighton and Hove.

We have to stand up for our city to Government, for fairer funding for the services and infrastructure we need, for the business rates local businesses pay but which the Treasury takes, and for the ability to build the homes we need. At the same time we need to innovate in finding ways to pay for the basic services our families and communities rely on, working in partnership with the public sector and the voluntary sector at every step.

We need to be a powerful voice for the infrastructure we need, from housing to health, from rail to ultra-fast broadband. The people of Brighton and Hove need us to speak up for them regionally, nationally and internationally – we can’t continue to lose out because we’ve no clear leadership and a Tory group with near-parity.

Stronger communities are, we believe, the answer to the biggest challenges we face. With so many pressures seeking to divide us, we have to lead in our neighbourhoods, across generations, against racism, homophobia, transphobia and any forces that push our communities apart. Together we can achieve more. United we can face down bigotry and prejudice in all its forms.

These are difficult times. Our challenges are great and the future is uncertain. Our job is to give people hope, hope that their home city can not only weather the storm but build a Brighton and Hove that delivers excellent basic services, that cares for and improves the lives of everyone that lives here, and grows our economy for the benefit of the many, not the few.

Join us. In the next few months we will start building our team of 54 candidates to win that majority and take Brighton and Hove forward. We’ll be recruiting a full-time campaign organiser too. If you are not already a Labour member, join here.

Don’t let the Tories – just two seats behind us on the council – hold us back. Don’t let the Conservatives win just because it is “their turn”.

We believe in a fairer, co-operative and progressive vision for our unique and exciting city, a Labour vision. If you want to be part of the next stage in our journey, then join us, talk to us, stand with us.

Our team, working for you

VictoryChris Moncreiff, as a political commentator of many years experience, makes some valid points about the state of the Labour Party (Argus, Sept 8th). Some readers may worry what this means for the running of their local council in Brighton and Hove.

I’d like to reassure residents of Brighton and Hove that we are and remain a strong team focused on delivering what we were elected to do for all our residents and communities.

Cllr Gill Mitchell is leading work on tackling littering and flytipping, with new compactor bins and our enforcement team cracking down on people who dump rubbish in our streets, now ably assisted by Cllr Saoirse Horan on all environmental and transport issues.

Cllr Tom Bewick is pushing for ever better schools, more apprenticeships and equipping our young people for the world of work. Cllr Dan Chapman is leading cross-party work on schools admissions to include the new secondary school opening next year.

Cllr Anne Meadows is overseeing the building of 500 new council homes, and our new joint venture to build a thousand truly affordable homes for rent or sale at 60% of market rates, while Cllr Tracey Hill leads work to make the city’s private rented sector fairer and Cllr Clare Moonan pushes ahead with work to tackle rough sleeping.

Cllr Emma Daniel is in charge of building stronger communities and neighbourhoods, taking up the challenge of our Fairness Commission to deliver on our pledge to ensure everyone shares in the city’s success. Cllr Alan Robins now heads our efforts on supporting the arts, culture and economic development, while Cllr Julie Cattell is delivering huge improvements in our Planning service.

Cllr Dan Yates and Cllr Karen Barford are facing up to the huge challenges our city faces in adult social care and health issues, and Cllr Caroline Penn is working with partner agencies to improve mental health.

Cllr Les Hamilton brings four decades of experience on the council to the immense challenge of changing our council to meet the demands of a budget that is 40% smaller in the face of growing demand.

I’m working to build new partnerships to give us the muscle to tackle the big issues and compete on a national and international stage, and hope to be able to make a big announcement soon.

I’m proud to lead this great team leading Brighton and Hove. Despite the cuts and increasing pressures we face, despite the fact that the Greens and Tories can and do outvote us when it suits them politically, we will work every day to make a difference.

We will preserve and restore our city’s heritage, we will make our communities stronger and our society fairer, we will find new ways of funding the decent basic services you expect. Jobs, homes and schools remain at the heart of what we do.

We are here until 2019 at least, I hope longer, doing the job you expect from us whatever the national political situation . At its heart, politics is not about labels, it is about energy, ideas, aspiration and hope. We will do our best to deliver those for Brighton and Hove.

(First published in The Argus, 12th September)

A 2020 Vision For Brighton and Hove

Brighton from sea (2)By the time you read this the EU Referendum will be over and Britain’s role in or out of Europe will be decided. After months of debate this will be a relief to most.

For Brighton and Hove though, another question about our place in our region and the world must be addressed. Small to medium sized cities like ours around the globe are looking to the future and deciding what they want to offer residents, visitors and businesses.

Alongside the day to day concerns about social care and parking, grass cutting and libraries, as Leader of the City Council I have a responsibility to ensure our city makes progress and does not decline, that it competes and cooperates rather than building walls around itself.

Within our region and largely out of the public spotlight, discussions are going on about a range of new geographies and governance arrangements for health, transport, planning and economic growth. Local government faces wholesale but largely unstructured change; without a plan to see us through it the ability to provide the things residents need and expect is under threat.

Our city should lead, not follow. We should be at the heart of change, not at the mercy of it. We need a vision for 2020 and beyond that secures a better future, not one that harks after a better past. With the social, financial and infrastructure challenges we face, we have to take risks, find bold and innovative solutions, not retreat into a comfortable but ultimately sterile decline.

We are bidding for devolved powers from Government that will give us the ability to tackle the housing crisis and bring in the money we need to fund basic services, and I met with the Secretary of State for Local Government recently to make that case, and presented him with our devolution bid prospectus. I want to explore growing the Greater Brighton City Region to Crawley and Gatwick, creating a real powerhouse in the south east with global access and reach. We need the power and influence to ensure we have the transport infrastructure and governance to guarantee rail links to London, and I am seeking discussions with the Mayor’s office in the capital to take that forward.

We need a vision for a prosperous city where all share in our economic success, and our plans for investment and growth along our seafront, throughout the city and including up to our universities are moving at pace. An economy founded on tourism and conferences, arts and creative industries, digital and financial services, education and skills, entrepreneurship and independent businesses must be driven to prosper.

Brighton and Hove has always faced outwards, has long been an international city, and to secure a successful future for those who live here we need to pursue this vision with energy and determination, confidence and aspiration, and a belief in ourselves as a city whose better days lie ahead of us.

Will the Greens and Tories unite to scupper Hove cinema hope, and put community libraries across Brighton and Hove at risk?

Hove Library
Could this building have housed a new art house cinema for Hove?

With cuts by the Conservative Government of over 40% to our local services, it is clear that like many other councils, Brighton and Hove cannot continue to run its current network of libraries as they are.

Rather than close or privatise them as some councils have, we proposed moving Hove library to a new, purpose built extension at Hove museum. The Carnegie building, where the library currently operates, is by far the most expensive library building to run. It is also an unsafe working environment for library staff.

By moving the library just 300 metres along the road, closer to most Hove library users, we could add a cafe and outdoor space to what is currently offered, and run a library service at a fraction of the cost. Crucially, that would free up enough money each year to keep all of our branch libraries across the city open, and indeed extend opening hours where they have been cut.

Branch libraries are at the heart of our plan for community hubs in every neighbourhood. It is a sensible and innovative plan that has been backed by a majority of the public in two consultation exercises, and supported by full Council within the Libraries Plan.

Behind the scenes, we have been talking to an art house cinema chain about buying the building, and returning a cinema to Hove, one of the homes of early film-making, for the first time in forty years.

All the time the sale of the Carnegie building has been under discussion, this has had to remain confidential. We did however tell the Conservative leadership.

The Conservative Group on the council have been split, with some backing the move, and others, led by the would-be parliamentary candidate Robert Nemeth, opposing. They asked for more time, and more information, plus a further building survey costing the council £8,000. All of this was given, with the survey being delivered in a tight timescale, over a dozen further reports and a month of discussions.

Yet despite a thorough and sound business plan, they are still threatening to oppose the move of Hove library, simply to inflict a political defeat on the Labour Administration, in alliance with the Greens.

It won’t be the first time the Greens and Tories have joined up, having forced through the taxpayer loan for the i360 last year.

I’ve said very recently that I will always work to find a consensus in the best interests of the city and its residents. It is what people expect us to do.

Officers have made very clear in the Libraries Plan and subsequent reports to committee that the necessary alternative course of action if the Carnegie was to remain open would be to close many of our branch libraries in Saltdean, Rottingdean, Hangleton, Patcham, Westdene, Woodingdean, Mile Oak, Moulsecoomb, Coldean, Hollingbury, Portslade and Whitehawk. Our innovative plan has been designed to prevent that, I still want to prevent that and we will continue to try to work with the Conservatives and Green councilors to prevent that.

It is a very worrying time for this city and our valued libraries. It shows a real lack of civic responsibility on the part of the Greens, who we expect to act like this, but also on the part of Tories like Robert Nemeth, putting his own personal ambitions above what is right for Brighton and Hove. I’d hoped for stronger leadership from Tory leader Geoffrey Theobald, who has always said he would support innovation and creativity in providing public services.

I’m very disappointed that it has come to this with the future of libraries across the city being placed at significant risk.

The Conservatives will decide on Monday whether to back our libraries solution, keeping all our libraries open including an improved service in Hove, or to back the Greens protesting over an ageing building that isn’t fit for purpose and which costs so much to run that it threatens the future of more than half our community libraries across Brighton and Hove.

If you support our libraries plan and want to ensure the future of libraries across the city, e-mail the Conservative Group Leader: Geoffrey.theobald@brighton-hove.gov.uk

Sign our petition here: https://www.change.org/p/green-and-conservative-councillors-on-brighton-and-hove-council-save-our-libraries

 

Labour puts council finances back on track

moneyA report out today shows that despite the challenge of major Conservative Government cuts to funding, Labour have got the city’s finances back on track. Faced with a £8.5m overspend when they took over from the Green Party last year, the Labour administration prevented a budget deficit at the end of the financial year, coming within 2% of a balanced budget.

In a report going to Policy Resources and Growth Committee on 9th June, council officials will report the end of year position as being in slight surplus, a significant improvement on the forecast position at month 2 which was for the council to spend £8.5 million more than it had coming in.

We inherited a council that was spending too much and which is facing a 40% cut in its funding. It was essential we got things under control. I want to commend officers and partners for all the work that has been done to help the council achieve this in very difficult circumstances.

We are continuing to suffer financial blow after financial blow from the Conservative government, and the economy overall is far from strong, which is restricting growth in some sectors. I have no intention of exposing the city to the disasters that would arise from weak financial management.

We have to manage our risks, and have strong contingencies in place to cover all our challenges and pressures. Residents need the security of knowing what the council can and cannot deliver over the coming years. To do that we have to keep the council’s finances firmly on track.

Labour knows residents expect competence from the administration as well as vision, which is why Labour’s 4 year plan, agreed at Budget Council in February, not only set out the direction of travel for services to 2019, but also a robust approach to financial management that would be pursued throughout the administration. By February the surplus was already being factored in, and additional funds were allocated to priority service areas. Further surplus will be directed towards grass cutting and work to improve local streets.

The power to make a change

VictoryA year ago Labour won the largest number of seats on Brighton and Hove City Council for the first time since 2003, and took office bringing to an end four years of Green Party leadership in the city.

We immediately set about restoring faith in the council, focusing on delivering the basics and tackling the big challenges the city faces: housing and jobs, poverty and inequality, growth and infrastructure.

Within a hundred days I was pleased to report some excellent progress. This has continued at a pace. New council homes are under construction, our Employment and Skills Taskforce has issued it’s recommendations, and our Fairness Commission is about to do the same, bringing together everything we have at our disposal to tackle poverty and inequality. We have delivered new strategies for dealing with rough sleeping and refuse collection, and we’ve pledged to do more on mental health and ethical social care.

We are bringing in a billion pounds worth of investment into our city’s seafront, we have put in place our City Plan to manage growth over the next two decades. We are working on major projects and new schemes which will deliver thousands of new homes, including truly affordable “Living Wage” flats for rent, to make some progress towards putting a home within reach of those who currently cannot afford one.

On the first anniversary of taking office, my Labour administration will set out an ambitious program of work for our second year, building on the foundations of the past twelve months. The challenges remain immense.

As the Government cuts £168 million from our Budget, as it threatens us with further measures that mean we may have to sell £28 million worth of our local homes each year, and our schools remain under threat from an ideological academisation project that the Government has not fully withdrawn from, we cannot simply retreat into empty protest as the Greens would have us do. We have to act to support our residents and deliver the jobs, homes and services they need in whatever way we can. Innovation and co-operation based on Labour values will continue to be at the heart of what we do.

On Thursday the city voted in the only citywide elections for two years, and the results were good for Labour. In cities around the country, from Liverpool to London to Bristol, Labour took office or strengthened it’s position, with mayors and councillors winning power on the back of innovative, pragmatic policies with broad appeal. Labour now controls almost every major city in England and Wales, and it is from the cities that the Labour revival will come as we show we are competent and trusted to govern.

Unlike those cities, we here in Brighton and Hove have no majority, and no Leader and Cabinet system to drive through our policy agenda. That makes it harder but also fuels our determination to succeed, not just to secure that majority for Labour in three years time but to deliver the better lives our residents need and the future our city deserves.

A Billion For Brighton and Hove

Photo credit: http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__10508.aspx
Photo credit: http://www.mybrightonandhove.org.uk/page_id__10508.aspx

Today the council took major steps towards bringing in more than a billion pounds of investment into our city and our seafront. This investment will deliver jobs, homes and much-needed funding for local services, as well as maintaining Brighton and Hove’s place as one of the UK’s top visitor and conference destinations.

Our plans to extend Churchill Square to the sea and build a new ten thousand seat arena for concerts and conferences at Black Rock got underway in earnest this week, as part of a £540 million deal with Standard Life Investments. This will be the biggest investment in the city since the Brighton Centre was built in the 1970s, and marks our determination to compete with major cities like Liverpool, Birmingham and Manchester for conference business and major music tours.

We also gave the go ahead for the “Sea Lanes” open air swimming pool complex on the former playground site on Madeira Drive, returning outdoor swimming for the first time since the much-missed pool at Black Rock closed. This £4.5m privately-funded scheme will feature a 50m eight-lane pool, sauna, exercise studio and shops. Along with the arena, £1.7 million investment in Volks Railway and the new £1.7 million zip wire attraction, this will form the basis for our major regeneration of Madeira Drive, with our £30 million plans for the Arches due to be revealed soon.

Other seafront investment, both privately and publicly funded, includes the £11 million Shelter Hall construction and road strengthening at the seafront end of West Street, 850 new homes as part of the £250 million development at the Marina, £47 million British Airways i360 attraction, and of course £200 million King Alfred leisure centre project. All this takes investment in our seafront over the next six years to well over a billion pounds.

Add to this the hundreds of billions being invested in other projects across the city, the £150 million Preston Barracks with Brighton University that will deliver 350 new homes, the new John Lewis store, £36 million plans at City College, the redevelopment masterplan at Sussex University, and the ten-year £486 million redevelopment of the Royal Sussex County Hospital, and it is clear Brighton and Hove will emerge as one of Britain’s major coastal cities. There will be significant infrastructure investment in our transport network and in a new centrally-located secondary school as well.

At the same time we must ensure that our valued heritage is protected, and this week we took the first steps towards placing our Royal Pavilion and our museums in a trust that will have greater freedoms to draw in the funds needed to protect and invest in our cultural assets.

These projects will deliver thousands of jobs, create new spaces for businesses, restaurants and retail, draw in millions of pounds in rent and business rates to fund council services, and boost our tourist and visitor economy. Many of these projects will between them provide thousands of new homes, adding to the money we earn in council tax to help pay for some of the local council services facing cuts of over £160 million from central Government.

We cannot stand by and see Brighton and Hove decline and decay. Our city has always changed to meet the challenges of the times, whilst retaining its culture and heritage. Even as we face a 30% cut in our funding, we must ensure we innovate, compete and prosper as a city, and that the benefits of that prosperity are shared by all.

Securing the future and driving growth

Photo: Royal Pavilion and Museums
Photo: Royal Pavilion and Museums

In the closing weeks of the first year of the Labour Administration  we will move to accelerate growth and ensure that what we value in the city is protected from the Government’s assault on local councils, local services and local democracy.

We have said we will oppose Government plans to force all schools to become academies, as will many Conservative-led councils. We believe schools should have the choice, and that parents play a valuable role in running the schools their children attend as governors. Should the Government force through their plans, as a second line of defence we will protect our schools by setting up a co-operative trust to run them with full parental involvement. This should send a message to Government, as councils like Liverpool and Camden are also doing, that we will not stand by and watch our schools being cherry-picked by multi-academy trusts.

We will not allow our libraries and museums to be lost to Government cuts. We will, at our Policy and Resources Committee on April 28th bring forward plans to place the Royal Pavilion, the jewel in the city’s crown, in trust alongside our museums so that they are preserved for future generations, not sold off to private owners. Under trust status more money can be raised via charitable donation to invest in them. Culture and the arts is a vital sector of our economy and although we will in future be able to provide less funding, we will continue to give the sector our total support.

With the full business case for Hove Library re-provision coming forward to the same meeting, we can ensure that a library service continues in every community where we currently run one by significantly reducing running costs. Despite the cuts to our funding, Brighton and Hove’s libraries will be open longer, becoming neighbourhood hubs where public services, community advice and activities can flourish.

Now that the City Plan is in place, we want to accelerate the progress on major projects that will bring enormous benefits in terms of jobs, homes, business rate income and tourism to the city. The major extension to Churchill Square and the building of a new 10,000 seat arena and conference venue will move a step closer on April 28th, as will a new outdoor swimming complex. Progress on other sites such as Preston Barracks and Toads Hole Valley cannot be delayed any further, and we need to ensure that the hospital redevelopment, the West Street Shelter Hall works, the British Airways i360, the King Alfred and Valley Gardens projects are brought forward in a co-ordinated way so that the city keeps moving.

That’s why I am establishing a Strategic Delivery Board of senior councillors, reporting directly to a re-named and re-focused Policy, Resources and Growth Committee, to drive forward economic activity in Brighton and Hove for the benefit of all residents and all parts of our economy; retail, tourism, arts, digital, financial and more. We will ensure that the council’s planning service is fit for purpose, with reform overseen by the re-named Environment, Transport and Planning Strategy Committee.

This is part of a dynamic package of council reforms aimed at meeting the challenge of a future without funding from the Government, a package I hope the Opposition Groups on the Council will get behind.

The future of Brighton and Hove is in our hands; we have to seize it.