Archive for October, 2010

EU budget proposals are crazy!

Today is the first day of the latest EU summit in Brussels and I was staggered to read that the European Parliament had last week voted for a 6% increase in the EU budget for next year, as recommended by the entirely unelected European Commission.

What planet are these people living on?! Whilst countries right across Europe are having to make incredibly tough decisions about how to reign in public spending in order to redress growing budget deficits, the EU seems to be completely oblivious.

If approved the EU’s total budget for 2011 would be a whopping Euro 130 billion with the British contribution rising to over £10 billion over the next 4 years. To put this in context, this is more than the Government currently spends funding the Police nationally.

To rub salt into the wounds, five new unelected European quangos are being set up at a cost of £33 million this year, just at the same time as the UK Government is abolishing 192 as part of their efforts to save money and increase accountability.

Conservative MEPs in the debate proposed an amendment calling on the EU to freeze its budget at 2010 levels but sadly this was voted down (including by 10 of the 13 Labour MEPs).

And who was prominent in their support of this 6% increase to the EU budget? Yes, you’ve guessed it, the Green Party and their new MEP, ex-Brighton councillor Keith Taylor!

Of course, the Greens have form here. At the Brighton & Hove City Council meeting (Conservative notice of motion on public sector debt) last week they argued that cutbacks in public spending are entirely unnecessary because the UK debt problem isn’t that serious! They obviously know something that the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD and the Governor of the Bank of England don’t!

I do hope that David Cameron is able to get the EU to back down over their inflated budget demands. At a time like this when the UK is having to make multi-billion pound budget savings in order to pay down the massive debt which has built up over the last 10 years, it is unacceptable that our contribution to the EU should go up by one single penny.

The public cost of Smash EDO

I would like to put on public record my thanks to Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett and the Sussex Police for doing such an excellent job on Wednesday of maintaining public order during the Smash EDO demonstration.

I have to say that they were put in an impossible position by the organisers who steadfastly refused to co-operate in any way with the Police, despite their best efforts. Because of this, the Police were forced to deploy more resources than they would otherwise have had to and I understand that the costs of the operation are likely to run into six figures. Shockingly, the Argus report today that the total cost of policing all the Smash EDO demonstrations over the last two years is over 1 million.

This is public money which, in the current financial climate, the Police can ill-afford and I would hope that all political parties will join me in condemning the actions of these people who seem determined to cause maximum disruption to the lives of the residents in this City. Nobody would deny their right to peaceful protest but with that comes a responsibility to the local community and I’m afraid that they have completely lost sight of this.

Welcome Cllr. Jayne Bennett!

I am delighted to announce that Cllr Jayne Bennett has joined the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council. Jayne has served as an Independent councillor in Hove Park (formerly Stanford) Ward for a number of years now but it is really great to welcome her back. Jayne and Cllr. Vanessa Brown (who is our Cabinet Member for Children & Young People) will be the Conservative candidates in Hove Park for the City Council Elections in May 2011.

Both Jayne and Vanessa are outstanding Ward Councillors and together I’m sure will make an excellent team in Hove Park.

Plans to crack down on cheap alcohol are controversial but necessary

I warmly welcome the announcement by the Home Secretary at this week’s Conservative Party Conference that supermarkets and other shops are to be banned from selling alcohol at below cost price.

I know that this is a controversial issue because the vast majority of people will drink moderately and sensibly and nobody wants to see them penalised. But we have to face up to the fact that a small minority of people are intent on drinking to excess and I have no doubt that cheap offers in both shops and pubs/clubs have a lot to do with this. We simply cannot go on ignoring the impact that this has on the decent law-abiding majority of people through things like increased policing and health costs and widespread anti-social behaviour. Giving councils the power to charge pubs and clubs a fee if they want to stay open late should also help in particular with the policing costs.

Theresa May also announced much-needed changes to Labour’s 2003 Licensing regime which ushered in 24 hour drinking. These changes open up the possibility of pubs and clubs being banned from late-night opening if there is a detrimental impact of drunkenness and noise on the wider community. At the moment, the public can only object to opening hour extensions or new licensing applications if they are neighbours of the premises but that will now be changed to include anyone in the locality who is affected. Venues may also be refused a licence if local residents believe there are too many existing premises and their neighbourhoods are being damaged.

Although we have a Cumulative Impact Zone in the centre of Brighton, the odds are still very much stacked against councils and residents when it comes to opposing applications to extend licenses or to grant new ones. These proposals, if implemented, should help to swing the scales back the other way to the benefit of local communities. I’m also pleased that the maximum fine for persistently selling alcohol to a minor will be doubled to £20,000. Unscrupulous retailers must be made to understand the wider consequences to the community of their actions.

Roadworks will not ruin Christmas!

Here is that text of a letter I sent into the Argus newspaper in response to an article they wrote claiming roadworks in the City could ‘ruin Christmas’:

I am baffled by the elaborate speculation in the Argus about whether roadworks will cause ‘gridlock’ in Brighton and Hove city centre this Christmas (‘Roadworks would ruin our Christmas’, October 5).

You see, the council has banned all planned roadworks from the central shopping area for a month from December 3.

This is the third year we have taken this step to eradicate the impact of road works on pre-Christmas trading.

Your reporter, Nigel Freedman, highlights two ‘key’ work sites to support these doom-laden predictions – resurfacing at Western Road and cabling by EDF in Grand Parade. Yet, both will be finished this week (by October 8), hardly a threat to festive trade. Had Mr Freedman told us he was planning this article (he did not), we could have directed him to this information, which is displayed prominently on our website.

We could also have reminded him that the Western Road works have only been taking place at night. Again, this is a measure being taken specifically to minimise disruption to the local economy.

There are several other successful steps we take in our efforts to reduce congestion caused by roadworks. One, for example, is encouraging utilities firms to co-ordinate maintenance so two or more jobs can be done together in the same hole at the same time.

Another is talking to traders’ representatives when big jobs are planned, like the North Laine Southern Water road works mentioned in your article. In this case, we involved Suzi Campbell, the city centre business representative, in the planning of the work.

Yet, none of these significant facts were allowed to ‘spoil’ the article with a little balance and common sense.

This sort of ill-informed scare-mongering has far greater potential to damage Christmas trade than anything reported in your article.

Primary education to return to the Connaught Centre!

Great news today on the schools front – we have managed to reach agreement with City College Brighton & Hove to lease the Connaught Centre for use as a new 3 form entry primary school from next September. In return, we have given City College a lease to develop the City College East site at Wilson Avenue, Whitehawk. So this is a fantastic double-whammy for the City’s children and young people – not only do we have a step-change in the provision of primary places in Hove but it also allows further investment in facilities for the next generation of school leavers in need of jobs training.

The shortage of primary school places in the west of the City was something which we inherited when coming into Administration in 2007 and we have been working very hard to address it. We have already expanded Davigdor Infant, Somerhill Junior, West Blatchington Primary, Goldstone Primary, Westdene Primary and Benfield Junior Schools, but the acquisition of the Connaught takes things onto another level.

The Grade 2 listed Connaught Centre, was originally built for primary education back in 1884 and all parties were determined that it should be kept in community use for educational purposes. I’m delighted we’ve been able to achieve that and I would like to thank Phil Frier at City College for his constructive approach to the negotiations.

Coming on the back of the opening of the new Brighton Aldridge Community Academy and record GCSE results, I’m delighted with the way that education in the City is progressing at the moment.

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October 2010