A positive, realistic and ambitious plan for Brighton and Hove

17608_805721472816664_2112969511938700015_nSpeech at The Argus council hustings and debate, 24th April:

Labour has a positive, realistic and ambitious plan for Brighton and Hove. Labour has the leadership, the candidate team and the unity to deliver it. Labour will deliver a city that works for you, for every neighbourhood and every community in this city.

We want to promote a prosperous economy that delivers better opportunities and better wages for all, that helps move some of the thousands of people in our city out of low-wage, in-work poverty. It is a scandal that thousands of our neighbours now rely on food banks for something to eat. There were just two food banks here in 2012; now there are a dozen. It is a scandal that dozens of people sleep on the streets of our city, a prosperous city in a prosperous nation.

We will do whatever we can to end reliance on food banks and end the scandal of street homelessness.

We will set up a landlord licensing scheme to tackle bad landlords, end rip-off lettings agent fees, and get a better deal for tenants in the private rented sector. We will build at least 500 new council homes, and as many more truly affordable homes as we can possibly deliver, to tackle the enormous housing crisis in our city.

It will not be an easy task, but it is one to which we are firmly committed.

No-one should be denied access to a decent and affordable home because of high rents, the buy-to-let student market or the thousands of people escaping rocketing house prices in London.

A Labour council under my leadership would get the city moving again, and push for more affordable public transport especially for those starting training or apprenticeships.

We will wipe out youth unemployment by 2019.

We will make our city’s streets cleaner, deliver a refuse collection service residents can rely on, and get our city’s recycling levels at least back up to where they were before the Greens took over. We will ensure a new secondary school is built  and that all pupils have access to excellent and accountable education under powers restored by a Labour government.

We will prioritise work on improving mental health, on tackling domestic violence, on combatting prejudice and on putting council services back into the heart of our neighbourhoods.

Achieving all this under pressure from massive Conservative government cuts will be hard, but we will work in partnership with communities, charities, businesses and others, providing leadership based on our values of fairness and co-operation, setting a new tone and direction towards a city that is cleaner, fairer and more prosperous, a city we can all be proud of, and a council that works for you.



A Team That Will Work For You – Labour’s local candidates

Manifesto launchLabour has chosen its team of candidates to contest the local elections in Brighton and Hove on May 7th.

I’m proud to be leading such a strong team into the local elections, a team of local residents who will bring knowledge of their neighbourhoods and a wide range of skills and experience to the city council. We have people in our team with proven records in delivering major projects, employment and skills, the NHS, education, voluntary sector organisations and more who will run our city competently if elected on May 7th.

With the General Election on the same day, a vote for your local Labour council candidates will count in each and every one of the city’s 21 wards. Labour is best placed in the vast majority of them to defeat Green and Conservative councillors. We have won the last four elections held in the city, and only Labour can get rid of the Greens.

A list of Labour candidates is here: www.brightonhovelabour.com/our_people

Our candidates reflect our city:

  • Half of Labour’s candidates are women
  • A quarter are experienced councillors, three-quarters are new to politics
  • 10% of Labour’s candidates are drawn from the city’s LGBT community
  • There are several candidates in their 20s, and representation from the city’s BAME community.
  • Over two thirds of the current Labour councillors are seeking re-election.

Labour launched its local manifesto, “A City That Works For You” last week, pledging to deliver:

  • Improved street cleaning, refuse and recycling and an end to Green traffic schemes
  • Secure and well paid jobs, more apprenticeships and an end to youth unemployment
  • Work to tackle poverty and inequality across the city
  • 500 new council homes and measures to help tenants in the private rented sector
  • A new secondary school and excellent results for all pupils

Read the full manifesto here:  www.brightonhovelabour.com/a_council_that_works_for_you

launch 2Labour is best placed to win, having won the four most recent elections in Brighton and Hove, and leads in the polls:

Labour was in first or second place in 18 of the 21 wards at the last local elections in 2011, and had near equal support to the Green Party winning 32% of the vote, just 1% less that the Greens and 3% more than the Conservatives.

Vote Labour wherever you are in Brighton, Hove and Portslade on May 7th, for a team that will deliver for you, your family and your neighbourhood, a team that will work for you.






A Change Of Tone

argumentIn the final 100 days before the local elections and the General Election, during which time the most difficult Budget in council history has to be nogotiated, things are likely to get somewhat heated.

In some respects, they should. Faced with another £23 million in cuts to local council services, people should be angry. With thousands of families relying on food banks and people in work being kept afloat by benefits, we should be speaking up. There are those who say there should be much more passion in our arguments, not less.

For many though, the conflict of ideas and confrontational debate that is a feature of our democracy is a real turn-off. Bickering, blaming and sound bites are not what people want to hear. They want answers to the challenges they face every day. They want hope that, despite everything, the future might be a little better for them and their families.

In the next four months there will be plenty of this kind of thing in Brighton and Hove: “We have seen time and time again in recent years that, in their desperation to seek petty party political advantage over the Green Party, Labour are willing to put much needed investment in the city’s infrastructure at risk.”  (from a Tory cllr). Yet time and again in the Council Chamber the Tories accuse Labour and the Greens of being in cahoots. As well as in competition.

Of course the Greens never waste an opportunity to portray Labour as being equally in cahoots with the Conservatives, part of the “austerity alliance”, something it is hard to get across to Labour colleagues from elsewhere who believe Labour and the Greens should be natural allies, not rivals.

So expect a hundred days of “Labour is just like..” with Greens and Tories alike blaming us for the cuts. That they choose to attack Labour, rather than each other, indicates who they think are the favourites to win. Last May’s election results in the city would certainly back that idea up, though of course we are not complacent.

I’m going to try to stick to my New Year’s Resolution to do far less of the “yah boo” politics and much more of the “this is what we want to do for you and our city” kind of politics.

We have already begun that, with our ten point Contract With Brighton and Hove, pledges on safety and tackling violence against women, ending youth unemployment,  improving tenant’s rights and doing more to help local small businesses. There will be much, much more in the weeks to come on a range of policy areas.

I will continue to highlight where I think the Greens have got it wrong and why I don’t believe the Conservative alternative is the right choice for the city, and I will be forthright about the challenges and difficult choices facing the city, but I will be positive about the opportunities ahead and the aims and goals we are putting on offer to Brighton and Hove at the local elections in May.

I believe the public do want to see some passion from their politicians about the failings and inequalities we see around us, but they want that passion directed into positive solutions, not negativity and blame. And one more pledge, if elected in May there will be a change of tone at the top.

The priorities on our doorstep

food bankAt the final Brighton and Hove City Council meeting before the summer break, the Green Party brought a motion to council on the TTIP Trade Tariffs deal between the EU and the US. Now it is no doubt an important issue, and one that Labour MEPs are campaigning on in the European Parliament to ensure the deal does not inadvertently pave the way for further NHS privatisation. I’d argue that the European Parliament, not our city council chamber, is the place to debate international trade deals.

It is an incident which goes to the heart of the Green agenda and their priorities. They are always the first to pick up on the latest campaign, trending on the blogs and campaign group websites, or taking up column inches in The Guardian. It’s work that is admirable for a protest organisation, but not for a political party serving all residents and every neighbourhood in the city of Brighton and Hove.

Collecting donations for food banks in the city with Cllr Emma Daniel and Brighton Kemptown Parliamentary Candidate Nancy Platts.
Collecting donations for food banks in the city with Cllr Emma Daniel and Brighton Kemptown Parliamentary Candidate Nancy Platts.

Our priorities as Labour lie closer to home. As Fiona Twycross writes, we want to eliminate hunger in our city, a relatively prosperous one in the seventh richest nation in the world, yet it is a city where eleven thousand people live in poverty, where three and a half thousand people are using one of 22 food banks in a city of 270,000 people. Appallingly, 20% of children in the city are judged to be living in poverty, in my ward that figure rises to 45%, and as a city council we regard that as “on target”. I don’t. Our target must be zero.

Our Fairness Commission won’t just look at enforcing the Minimum Wage, promoting the Living Wage, ending youth unemployment, creating new jobs and reducing the housing waiting list. It will seek to create good, secure and well paid careers to ensure everyone reaches their maximum potential, it will seek to ensure access to affordable decent housing, it will seek to eliminate poverty and hunger in every estate, every high rise and every family in Brighton and Hove.

I’ve said I won’t make promises I can’t keep as Leader of a Group aiming to take control of the council next May, but I will set out bold and ambitious goals for a Labour council to strive for. The Greens can campaign on their transatlantic trade tariff deals, Labour priorities are here in the city, on our doorstep, with our neighbours who need our help.


Towards a Co-operative Council In Brighton and Hove

logoIn May the Labour Group on Brighton and Hove reaffirmed its formal status as a “Labour and Co-operative Group”, and to building in to our manifesto for next May the co-operative principles of self-help, social responsibility and equality.

We have pledged to establish, as one of the first acts of a newly elected Labour and Co-operative Council, a Fairness Commission to tackle poverty and financial exclusion, boost opportunity and equality, and bring together the work that is being done across the city to improve the life chances of over eleven thousand of our neighbours in the city.

We will seek to win back the trust of voters lost by the Greens, ensure our basic services are delivered well, and face up to the huge challenges they have put off in their attempts to hold their fractious Party together.

Our greatest challenge comes from the cuts to the city council’s funding; over £100 million across a four year period. Those are not one-off cuts that can be met from reserves, but year-on-year reductions in our budget for local services. These are cuts on an unprecedented scale, ones that cannot be offset by increases in fees and charges, new business rates or increases in council tax.

Such significant cuts to the city council’s funding will demand, unavoidably, a radical rethink of what the council does and how it does it. There is no doubt the decisions we will have to make – the Greens having deferred them – will be hard. The council will increasingly be a partner in the delivery of services, a regulator, a connector more than a provider.

The work of Labour councils in the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network mean we are not alone in meeting these challenges, and we are not starting from scratch. Drawing from their examples we are well advanced with our manifesto process, but welcome submissions via ourcity@brightonhovelabour.com or the form below. In the coming week I will be writing to 50 key organisations across the city asking them what they would like to see from a Labour and Co-operative council.

We are also  well advanced in selecting candidates across the city, and their campaigning has already seen results in the May elections where Labour beat the Greens convincingly, coming from 10,000 votes behind to 2,000 votes ahead. We should not be complacent, and we will work to ensure that voters unhappy with the dismal performance of the Greens (recycling continues to fall in figures published this week) choose Labour as the team capable of delivering the progress this city needs.

With positive policies and a forward looking co-operative agenda, we will seek to devolve power to local people, creating fair, collaborative, resilient and democratic communities, where responsibilities and benefits are shared.

Through those positive campaigns and with those strong candidates in our communities we will, by this time next year, make our goal of a co-operative council a reality.


Are residents being asked to pay £100 more a month to save Caroline Lucas’s job?

Caroline Lucas and two of the Green councillors backing the tax increase
Caroline Lucas and two of the Green councillors backing the tax increase

Last year’s city council Budget was all about Jason Kitcat keeping his Green group of councillors together and hanging on to his job. In the end the Green councillors voted for, against and abstained on their own Budget, and Jason Kitcat is on the way out.

So we now seem to be headed into the same farce we all went through in February, with the Greens proposing a 6% increase that would add almost £100 a year to most council tax bills.

Council tax is a regressive tax, meaning it hurts most those who can least afford to pay. For Green voters living in the city centre in comfortable jobs on above average wages, it’s not a problem. For those on the outskirts who have seen their incomes fall, their pay frozen and their debts increase, it will be a real worry. More than 11,000 people in the city, most of them in work, are now in poverty. Over 3,000 are using food banks to put food on the dinner table.

For the Green-leaning voters in the centre of Caroline Lucas’s Brighton Pavilion constituency this tax increase will be portrayed as another bold challenge to the austerity agenda. Ms Lucas and her Green council colleagues know it will never happen, being voted down at Budget Council by Labour, or by the public at a referendum costing hundreds of thousands of pounds. The benefit to Caroline Lucas is that when the cuts happen, as they will with or without a tax increase, they can wash their hands of responsibility and blame Labour for the Tory Governments actions.

Last February I said that residents were being asked to pay more in council tax to keep Jason Kitcat in his job. This time, it seems the Greens want to hit the poorest in the city with a huge tax rise just so Caroline Lucas can keep hers.

Labour is putting in place a strong team to lead the city next May

imagesI agree with Mike Holland on at least one point: there is no room for “numpties” at the council.

With a budget reducing by more than £100 million and enormous challenges facing the city in terms of housing, schools, development and poverty, we need people leading the council who are up to the task.

That’s why Labour has brought in people with vast experience in tackling big issues and major projects to run as candidates next May. People like: Martin Perry, who won a decade-long battle to deliver the American Express Community Stadium; Neil Schofield, someone with experience at the highest levels of government; and Tom Bewick, head of an international skills organisation.

Alongside them we have people with vast experience at management level in the third sector, like Karen Barford; in urban planning, with Julie Cattell; and running council services, with Gill Mitchell.

These are people who can identify issues and deliver solutions on time and in budget, and would be part of a Labour council administration getting to grips with the basics like cleaning our streets, and with getting our economy working for everyone.

Our Fairness Commission, announced last week, is about tackling inequality and poverty – not by condemning people to a life on benefits, but getting them into secure, well-paid jobs so they can contribute to a vibrant economy as both employees and consumers.

Along with Labour’s shadow business minister and our three parliamentary candidates, I met recently with local business owners at the Amex to see what Labour can do to help small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in the city. What I heard was a sector keen to grow, but which is restricted, one that sees time as its most vital resource. A Labour council would help them find the space and time to prosper.

I pass along our seafront every day. There is not just a need to clean it up and get the traffic flowing again, but vast potential to unlock – as Andy Parsons correctly identifies. Major projects need to happen – not to satisfy the vanity of politicians, but to deliver the jobs, apprenticeships, tourism, homes and leisure facilities this city desperately needs. A stronger economy delivers more income for the city to support services like social care, stretched by an ageing population.

I don’t agree with reducing the council down to a small board which simply commissions services from the private sector as in cities in the United States.

There is a role for local councillors as community champions, and we need a diverse mix in the council chamber to ensure all parts of our city are represented and heard. No system of government is perfect and an elected mayor is not necessarily an improvement on what we have now.

Whoever runs the city needs to reconnect with residents, with neighbourhoods, and with business, and win back the trust of a population so badly let down by the current incumbents. I’ll make no promises beyond assembling the best team of people I can and doing my very best to restore that trust and engagement if Labour are elected next May.

This article first appeared in the Brighton and Hove Independent.