Chris 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 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.
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.
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.
This week I went to London to lobby government ministers for more powers to tackle the housing crisis in the city and our region. We need the power to bring forward new sites, draw in new funding, and co-ordinate work to build more affordable homes for rent or to buy.
Current council policy asks for 40 per cent of major new developments to be “affordable”, meaning on offer at 80 per cent of market rents. With rents so high, even that is unaffordable to those we seek to help, and 40 per cent of units are rarely if ever achieved.
Some argue for rent controls; we are committed to a fairer rental market, with transparent fees and rights for tenants so that the few unscrupulous landlords and letting agents who give the sector a bad name can be made to clean up their acts and not undercut the decent majority.
We will look at any and all opportunities to build, and seek to offer homes of all types and tenures in the city to those who need them.
Our economy depends on staff being able to afford to live here. Our council needs the additional income new council tax-generating properties will bring.
The government is pushing the city and our regional neighbours to build. In his Autumn Statement the Chancellor said he wants 200,000 “starter homes” built by 2020, at 80 per cent of market rates and capped at £250,000. This is welcome, though that price will still be well out of reach for many on lower incomes. The government required us to look at every option in drawing up our City Plan which must deliver over 11,000 new homes in the next 15 years.
Unless we are to become a “London-by-the-sea” with properties only within reach of the wealthy, and new build reserved for overseas investors, the Conservative Government must give us the powers to intervene in the market, and Conservative politicians must accept the case for more homes to be built.
Bold solutions, difficult decisions and innovative partnerships are needed if we are to do what is needed to tackle our city’s housing crisis.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 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.