Tag Archives: Devolution

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)

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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.

We need to build affordable homes now

housingThis 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.

The statistics on housing in the city are staggering. This week a report said that rents in Brighton and Hove are rising by 18 per cent a year. The average rent for a one-bedroomed flat is around £900 a month. The average price of a flat is £260,000. For a semi-detached home that rises to £360,000, and for a terraced house the average is now £425,000, some £40,000 less than London.

Four thousand people move here from the capital each year, while the student rental market eats more properties each month. With the lack of supply these factors mean house price inflation of more than 12 per cent a year.

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.

That’s why we are looking to build 2,000 homes for rent at 60 per cent of market rent through our proposed joint venture with Hyde. We are building dozens of new council homes in Whitehawk as part of our pledge to build at least 500 council homes by 2019.

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.

Of course when developers bring forward plans to build, as they have done recently in the east of the city, the opposition from Conservative councillors and MPs is vociferous. Any plans to build out into the urban fringe, up in high-rise developments or on brownfield sites are opposed.

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.

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.

Power to the people

imagesThe 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.