Blog — 10 October 2012

For the last 18 months, Brighton and Hove City Council has been run by the Green Party. Voters in East Brighton have the chance to express their verdict on how effective Britain’s first Green Council has been over that time on October 18th

In 2011, Labour hoped to once again run the local Council after losing control in 2007. But when we lost last year, we believed that the newly elected Green Party would offer the City a fresh start. They certainly promised a great deal in their manifesto.

They said they would resist the Coalition government’s cuts, provide a 1000 new homes, stop privatisation, increase recycling rates to 70%, insulate every home, protect all nurseries, build a new low carbon Brighton Centre, create a living wage for all staff, improve public transport, resist cuts to social care, put nearly £1m into care for children, provide day care for elderly… I could go on. They also said that they would freeze council tax.

Sadly, little of their shopping list has happened and, within days of taking control of the City Council, they dropped their resistance to cuts and began planning for the biggest ever reduction of local council spending.

Labour estimates that by the time of the next local elections in 2015, that the Green council will have reduced local services by 40%. Those are reductions that any Tory led Council would be proud of.

Like so many local residents, Labour is deeply disappointed. We expected better. We thought, at the very least, that the Green Party would have led a spirited campaign against the cuts. We thought they would make the case for the City. We thought, when faced with cuts, that the Green Party would have done what Labour did in equally hard times: find ways round the problem.

We thought the Green Party would protect frontline services and ensure that those most vulnerable to the cuts would get the greatest protection.

We were wrong. Instead, the Green Party have cut help for the homeless, closed two centres for learning disabled people, put up nursery fees, closed public loos, taken money from SureStart, cut supported bus routes and reduced recycling and street cleaning.

And now the truth about their next budget is beginning to emerge. It’s even worse than before. Staff on low pay are being asked to take pay cuts to fund jobs. There is even a threat of privatisation if they don’t agree to ‘reasonable’ cuts. And all this from a Green council.

What of the Green Party manifesto promises made in 2011? These have turned out to be pie in the sky. There have been plenty of consultations – over 100. But what of the 1,000 new council homes? We have seen no new schemes agreed by the council yet to build more council houses. Recycling? Going down, apparently. A new Brighton Centre rebuild? No progress there either.

Instead, we have chaos at the town hall. Since February 2012, five senior officers have resigned, or been forced out. There have been some record sized payouts. The most recent Golden Goodbye totalled nearly £100k. The recruitment costs for the new CEO were £30k. I reckon there must have been payoffs totalling maybe £500k for the rest.

And don’t forget: the Council is losing nearly £1m in parking revenue this year following customer resistance to the massive rises in charges. These are all tidy sums.

Labour has always been positive about the future of our City. You know our record. But frankly there’s not much to be positive about right now.

We have answers to some the City’s problems. We would be tough on wasteful bureaucracy, tough on back office spending. We’d get better value for money on contracted services and we would not waste money on vanity projects like the seafront solar powered palm trees.

We ask a simple question: can the City Council really afford to fund a project with a 250 year payback period for solar palm trees, when the Greens are closing services to the elderly, frail, disabled and young children?

Labour is a party that believes in protecting the environment. That’s why we set up the South Downs National Park. It’s why we made our city the centre of sustainable services and invested in improving public transport in partnership with the bus company. It’s why we pedestrianised, and promoted the City in Bloom. Labour also championed eco-farming on City Council’s  farmland and set up proper recycling services long ago.

It’s why we had a comprehensive environmental policy way back in the 1980s. Being green is not the preserve of one party, we all need to promote strong environmental policies.

So, when you put your cross in the box on 18th October, Labour simply asks you to think about the future of our city. Think too about the need to return to a sensible, radical, caring council working with a Government that is on the side of people like us. Labour has always been a party that listens and learns.

Labour, a party for all.


 

Steve Bassam is Labour Chief Whip of the House of Lords.

You can follow him on Twitter @SteveTheQuip

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