Archive for September, 2009

Electric vehicle charging points

electric vehicle charging Great news for electric car fans yesterday as we gave the go-ahead for a network of charging points to be installed across the City – the first council outside of London to do this.

We will be installing four charging points over the coming weeks – two each in Bartholomews, central Brighton and Ditchling Road, near the Level – with more following by the end of the year.

This is very much the beginning of a big push we are going to have on encouraging the use of electric vehicles in Brighton & Hove which will hopefully eventually make a big contribution towards our goal of achieving a low carbon city. This technology is an excellent way of combining sustainable transport whilst retaining people’s freedom to drive cars. They are also very cheap for people to run and cost prices are starting to come down.

One criticism which is often levelled at electric vehicles is that they are not carbon neutral because of the electricity which is generated in order to power them. However overall, emissions are still much lower than for normal cars (they are carbon-neutral at the point of use) and it also improves local air quality because there are no exhaust fumes. And also, the scheme we are introducing uses electricity which is generated from renewable sources (this is stipulated in our contracts), so the overall result is much lower carbon emission.

I am also pleased that the company who are doing this for us – Electromotive – are a local Sussex company based at the Sussex Innovation Centre so this all fits in very well with our Be Local Buy Local campaign.

Boris Johnson has led the way in London by establishing an Electric Vehicle Partnership to try to bring about a dramatic increase in electric car ownership and use in the capital. There is no reason why we shouldn’t work towards a similar revolution here in Brighton & Hove.

Helping people with learning disabilities into work

On Tuesday, I went with my colleague, Brian Oxley, to visit Castleham Hove. For those of you who don’t know, Castleham is the Council’s supported employment business which employs people with learning disabilities. They undertake digital, foil block and pad printing; machine embroidery; mail out, assembly and packing. I was extremely impressed with the work that they are doing and am delighted that the Council is able to support the enterprise. Helping those with disabilities into employment is one of those unsung council funcions which rarely hits the headlines but which provides an incredibly valuable service for some of our most vulnerable residents. If anyone wants to find out more about this you can find details on our website.

Collecting the council tax

The Council received some unfavourable press last week about our new procedures for dealing with people who don’t – for whatever reason – pay their council tax on time. So I would just like to clarify exactly what we are doing and why.

In a nutshell, we have decided that customers who default on their council tax should receive reminder notices whilst only 1 month in arrears as opposed to 2, as happens at the moment.

There were a couple of reasons for this decision. Firstly, we believe that this new regime is better for those customers who haven’t paid on time, because we are then able to make arrangements to help them sooner, hopefully preventing their arrears growing into many hundreds of pounds. The last thing I want to see is people going needlessly into debt with all the associated problems that causes.

Secondly, the council tax collection rate is central to the entire performance of the Council and if targets are not met, the impact is likely to be spending cuts or council tax increases. We have improved our performance steadily on this in recent years and the overall collection rate is now around 98%.

In fact, when problems arise, it is not usually with vulnerable customers who are unable to pay. Where complaints have been received, it is usually because customers have been used to paying very late in the month, and their instalments are due on the 1st of the month. Under the new system, they are now being picked up for reminders. Clearly, we have nothing to worry about with this group of people so we are making arrangements with them to carry on as before.

This is not about us picking on vulnerable customers – it is about trying to nip potential problems in the bud before they get out of hand and fundamentally, it is about fairness to the huge majority of people who pay their bills on time.

Response to Daily Mirror on house building

An article appeared in the Daily Mirror last Friday about a supposed instruction to Conservative councils from Shadow Communities Secretary, Caroline Spelman MP, to stall new housing developments in their areas before the general election.

I’m afraid that the Mirror article was extremely misleading and I just wanted to set the record straight. Caroline Spelman’s letter, which was sent to all Conservative Council leaders, certainly does not say that all new housing development should be delayed until after the general election.

The letter explains that if the Conservatives win in May (or whenever the election is held) they will legislate within a year to abolish regional housing targets and Regional Spatial Strategies – i.e. the South East Plan. This will then allow us as councils to remove bits of our local development documents which have been imposed upon us by the regional quangos. So, for example, it will allow us to say that we won’t build on the green belt ever, not even as a contingency, as we are currently required to do.

This would be extremely good news for residents who, in my experience, are fed up with having new development imposed upon them by remote bureaucrats with little understanding of local communities. The letter is categorically not saying that we should prevent all housing development, rather that new housing should be of the right type and in the right place to suit local needs. Indeed, housing is a major priority for me which is why, as Council Leader, I have taken on the strategic housing portfolio – something which hasn’t been done before.

If you are interested, you can read more about the Conservative Party’s proposals for planning and housing on their website.

Welcome to my new blog!

Welcome to my new blog! I am looking forward to using this as a new avenue for communicating with the residents of Brighton & Hove and for receiving feedback from them on issues which affect their life in this great city. I shall be developing the site as I go along, adding interesting links etc. so, in the meantime, please bear with me until I get used to the technology! Local democracy and engaging meaningfully with local residents is incredibly important to me and I hope this blog will make a small contribution towards these goals.

Heritage Open Days launch

Dhamma-Talaka-Peace-Pagoda2-Birmingham_c2_Dhamma_Talaka_Peace-PagodaOn Tuesday I attended the launch of ‘Heritage Open Days’, Britain’s biggest and most diverse celebration of architecture, history and culture. We were honoured to be able to host the launch of this prestigious national event at the Jubilee Library.

Earlier in the day Heritage Open Days Champion, Griff Rhys-Jones helped to launch our local scheme and the ‘My House My Street’ initiative. Many of the residents who took part in the project will be opening their homes for Heritage Open Days, so why not pop along and discover some of the hidden histories of the city?

We have the largest scheme in the country this year with over 155 places to visit and it is free!  You can get more information on the project from the Heritage Open Days website.

Guide to using Social Media – for Councillors

The IDEA (Improvement and Development Agency has recently published a draft social media guide for councillors. Recommended reading for all local councillors.

The Cabinet Office recently released “Participation online Guidance for civil servants” . It is only one page long. In fact the guidance has been boiled down to 5 main points and a paragraph on how it relates to the Civil Service Code.

In summary,

1. Be credible
2. Be consistent
3. Be responsive
4. Be integrated

5. Be a civil servant

The Power of Information Taskforce  is looking for feedback.

Cross-posted from

council twitterfeed

September 2009