Archive for November, 2010

Please buy local this Christmas!

Earlier this month, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, gave a speech about the importance of our town centres. He recognised their place at the heart of communities and neighbourhoods; places where we come together, to shop, to work, to relax and be entertained.

As the hard realities of the global economic situation start to bite, it is more important than ever that we all support our town centres, their economies and businesses.

The run up to Christmas is vital for most small to medium sized businesses in the city, not least our retailers. So I am waving the flag for them and asking you to think local and buy local this Christmas.

The ease of shopping online or travelling out of town to a larger retail unit is more than countered by the choice, accessibility and service that our local shops deliver.

We are making it easier for you to get about by suspending road works and more attractive by encouraging businesses to support Christmas lights and decorations. Already the city is starting to sparkle as the lights go on in East Street and the North Laine.

And the Government is already taking a number of steps to help firms with business rates by:

  • doubling small business rate relief for one year from October – eligible ratepayers with rateable values below £6,000 will pay no rates at all for that year
  • committing to finding a practical way to make Small Business Rate relief automatic to reduce red tape and administrative burdens
  • putting a moratorium on the collection of certain backdated business rates and making a commitment to cancel certain backdated rates bills, such as some unfair backdated rates tax for some port businesses
  • considering the possibility of giving local authorities wide-ranging, discretionary powers to grant business rate discounts, so that they can respond to local circumstances by reducing business rates bills

and

  • committing to take legislation to ensure that no new supplementary business rate can be imposed without the backing of local firms in a referendum

In their ‘Local Growth’ white paper the Government propose a series of policies to further bolster our economic recovery by focusing on private sector business growth. We fully support this stance and will be responding to the paper noting where we think we can help and where we would like to see more detail.

Whilst we will focus on the policy, I would ask you to help us help the local economy by stopping here and shopping here as the festive season gets underway.

Or work to protect jobs and support families is strongly linked to the success of the city’s economy. By working together and supporting one another we can not only grow businesses, but protect our neighbourhoods and communities; ensuring a happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year

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Supported Housing Month in Brighton & Hove

Monday (15th November) marked the beginning of South East Supported Housing Month. I was very happy to offer my support to this initiative last year and am delighted to be able to do so again this year.

A whole range of events are taking place across the City to raise awareness of the value that supported housing brings to communities and the contribution it makes to some of our key priorities as a Council – housing, social care, health, crime, teenage pregnancy, homelessness and alcohol and substance misuse.

The Supporting People programme is the Council’s key source of funding for supporting vulnerable people to stay safe and secure in their homes. In Brighton & Hove it funds 39 local organisations to support about 5,000 vulnerable people across the whole City.

Services range from those that work with young people needing support to develop their independence, through to helping older people to stay healthy and remain in their own homes. There are also Supporting People services for people with mental health or substance misuse support needs – or who are homeless or sleeping rough.

I was pleased to see in the Government’s recent Comprehensive Spending Review that Supporting People funding has been largely protected and will total £6.5 billion nationally over the next 4 years.

Money that we spend on preventative services such as Supporting People is very much ‘spend to save’. Since Supporting People was launched in 2003, we estimate that it has saved tax payers up to £30 million a year by preventing hospital visits, residential care costs and homelessness. Put another way, every pound we have spent has saved £3.24 on other public services.

If you are interested in finding out more about the services the Council offers for vulnerable people please contact our officers – supportingpeople@brighton-hove.gov.uk.

Statement on the Argus journalists’ strike action

As a City, we have managed to weather the economic storm relatively well, in part due to initiatives such as our Be Local Buy Local campaign. So it is disappointing that Newsquest have decided to relocate the Argus sub-editing function out of Brighton & Hove in favour of Southampton. Supporting local business is one of my key priorities as Council Leader and so any loss of local jobs is a real source of regret for me.

Last year, the Council unanimously passed a motion supporting the City’s local written media and expressing concern at the growing regionalisation of press coverage in general. Unfortunately, this latest move by Newsquest seems to be another example of this.

The Argus is a real Brighton & Hove institution and, although they clearly need to move with the times (and the economic realities), it is a great shame that they seem to be gradually locating their operations out of the City. For the sake of strong local democracy, I believe that Brighton & Hove needs a genuinely local newspaper with journalists and editors who have an in-depth understanding of local issues. I hope that Newsquest can be persuaded to reconsider this decision.

New local growth proposals will benefit Brighton & Hove

The announcement that our proposal for setting up a new Local Enterprise Partnership – “Coast to Capital” – had been successful grabbed most of the headlines this week. But there were also a number of other important pro-business proposals announced as part of the Local Growth White Paper which passed under the radar somewhat and which I would like to highlight.

In particular, I warmly welcome the proposals around restoring a degree of local accountability to business rates.

Under the current system councils such as Brighton & Hove collect business rates but they are then passed straight to central Government who redistribute them to all local authorities according to a complicated ‘needs’ formula. Over £20bn of business rates collected by councils are pooled and redistributed in this way. The result is that whilst councils have a vital role in supporting the local economy, we have very little financial incentive for encouraging new business start ups.

So, the Government is now proposing that we be allowed to keep the money we raise in new business rates, thereby giving us a more direct stake in the future of our local economies and access to funding to deliver services that our communities (and businesses) need. This is not a full relocalisation of business rates that many people are calling for but it is nevertheless an important step forward and emphasises once again the Coalition Government’s ‘localist’ credentials.

Hand in hand with this is the proposal to introduce new powers for councils to borrow money for regeneration schemes against the future business rate revenues that the redevelopment would bring in. This so-called Tax Increment Financing is widespread in many other countries, in particular, the USA, and I would warmly welcome this in Brighton & Hove. Finding funding for major projects is never easy, particularly in the current economic climate and this would give us another viable option for business redevelopments.