Archive for March, 2010

A Rare Blow Struck Against the Supermarkets

I was delighted to read a week or so ago that North Norfolk District Council (and a local farmer called Clive Hay-Smith), had combined forces to prevent Tesco moving into the centre of the market town of Sheringham.

The issue of multinationals and their impact on local economies is one we cannot afford to ignore. Here in Brighton & Hove we are quite rightly nationally renowned for our sheer number and variety of small independent retailers, and if even half of these disappeared our economy would be in real trouble. Therefore, I think it is vitally important that local politicians stand up and make a statement on this issue wherever possible.

I would be the first to recognise the benefits that the Tesco and Sainsburys of this world have brought to consumers over the years in terms of improved choice and value for money. However, I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the growing influence that they are exerting in Brighton & Hove and, indeed, across the country as a whole. For example, we are seeing an increasing number of smaller ‘Express’ style stores popping up across the City which invariably apply for late licenses to sell alcohol. Well, in common with many towns and cities across the country we have a real problem with alcohol-related health problems and anti-social behaviour and in my opinion, the last thing we should be doing is making it easier for people to get hold of cheap (and strong) drink.

And just yesterday, we saw that Sainsbury’s tried to get away with installing a new shop frontage on their Western Road store before getting planning permission from the Council. We have told them to go away and think again but this is by no means the first time that this sort of thing has happened.

I have been involved in local politics for many years now and I am increasingly getting a real sense of power and control draining away from local communities, of someone else pulling the strings – whether that is central Government, the EU, regional quangos or large multinational companies.

As a Conservative, I believe very strongly in the localist principle that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people affected by them. North Norfolk District Council has struck a rare blow for local democracy, for the powerless against the powerful. I hope that it is the first of many more to come.

Conservative Spring Forum comes back to Brighton

It was a hectic week for me last week with our annual budget council meeting on Thursday and then the Conservative Spring Forum at the weekend.

I was really pleased that we were able to get our budget voted through and that there was no repeat of the ‘Core Strategy’ Council meeting last December when the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ (Greens, Labour and Lib Dems) voted us down on some key transport policies. So we were able to get through a council tax increase of just 2.5% which is the lowest rise since the Council was formed in 1997. We were also able to put some additional investment into areas such as youth work, improving the seafront, winter maintenance and replacement floodlighting for the Royal Pavilion. It is very important that we keep the City looking as good as possible to attract the visitors and tourists that the local economy relies upon.

As I said, at the weekend the Conservative Spring Forum was held at the Metropole and it was great to be able to host the party in my home town! Brighton & Hove is, for many members,  still associated with the dreadful IRA bombing of the Grand in 1984 and so it is a big step for the organisers to come back to our City. The weekend itself went very well from what I saw and also from talking to many delegates who were delighted to be here. Hopefully it will be the first of many more visits in the near future.

For my part, I took part in a session with Caroline Spelman MP, who is the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. There will be some interesting and, in my view, beneficial changes in this area if the Conservatives win the general election in May (or whenever it is called!). I hope that a Conservative Government will feel able to trust local councils such as ours with greater powers and freedoms than we currently have because I believe very strongly that at present our ability to help residents is  stifled by red tape and centrally imposed controls and restrictions. A key part of this is the pledge to abolish the whole tier of regional quangos which many of us feel are both wasteful and contrary to the priniciples of localism which we all believe in. For those of you who may be interested, there are more details in the Control Shift policy paper.


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