Archive for January, 2011

Scaremongering over number 37 bus

Here is the full text of a letter I sent into the Argus to set the facts straight over the number 37 bus:

I am more than happy to confirm to the East Brighton Ward Labour councillors that the 37 bus will continue to receive a subsidy from local taxpayers to enable it to continue operating (Argus letters 18th January).

Perhaps they would now like to take the opportunity to publicly apologise to residents for circulating deliberately misleading leaflets in their ward suggesting that the service would be cut?

We currently invest £1.4 million a year in supporting commercially unprofitable bus routes in the City and we will continue to do so as we recognise that they are a lifeline for many communities. And the majority of the £600,000 savings referred to by the councillors in their letter are for services which are now being run by the bus company on a commercial basis – something which should surely be welcomed.

For Labour councillors to indulge in deliberate scaremongering of this sort does nothing for the reputation of politicians as a whole in this City and they clearly haven’t learnt the lessons from the court judgement against the disgraced ex-Labour MP, Phil Woolas. I’m more than happy to defend the record of the Conservative Administration of Brighton & Hove City Council over the last 4 years but please let’s have a debate based on the facts.

Councillor Mary Mears – Leader of Brighton & Hove City Council

Bizarre behaviour in House of Lords over AV vote!

The recent antics of Labour peers in the House of Lords over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill have been bizarre to say the least! I thought that all-night sessions in Parliament to deliberately try and wreck legislation were a thing of the past but apparently not!

So what was all the fuss about? The commitment to hold a referendum on changing the voting system to AV was part of the Coalition agreement with the Lib Dems and the Labour Party supported AV in their manifesto. What they seem to be getting hot under the collar about is the proposal, tied in with AV, to equalise the size of Parliamentary constituencies. Under the current arrangements, there is an in-built bias in the system against the Conservatives which is largely due to the fact that ‘Labour’ constituencies are smaller than ‘Conservative’ ones. So, at the last General Election it took on average 33,000 votes to elect a Labour MP compared to 35,000 votes to elect a Conservative MP. (of course it takes even more on average to elect a Lib Dem MP but that is another story!). It would, therefore, seem to be fair to try and remedy this but Labour would lose out so they are doing their best to derail it.

The unfortunate side effect of this is that any significant delay would mean that the AV referendum could not be held on the same day as the Council elections – May 5th. In purely practical terms this means significantly greater costs – costs which will unfortunately fall on the council taxpayer.

Incidentally, my view is that holding the AV vote at the same time will not have a huge impact on the council result. Personally I am a strong supporter of our current first-past-the-post system for Parliamentary elections and so shall be pushing for a ‘no’ vote. Do we really want an electoral system where the candidate who comes in third place in the poll ends up as your MP?

Conservative council achievements highlighted (by Labour)

I am pleased that the Labour Group Leader on Brighton & Hove City Council has seen fit to showcase the achievements of the Council (run by our own Conservative Administration since 2007) to Ed Miliband during his recent visit to the city. I hope that local residents at the meeting also took the opportunity to quiz Mr Miliband on his recent admission that Labour were largely to blame for the economic mess that the country is now in. Perhaps an apology to them might now be in order?

And one local ‘achievement’ which I bet wasn’t highlighted to Mr Miliband was that Labour imposed council tax rises of 124% in the 10 years they ran the City Council up until 2007. Would you trust them to run the economy again, either nationally or locally?

Localism – huge opportunities for communities

I was lucky enough to get an invite to a reception at Downing Street on Monday with other council leaders to discuss with the Prime Minister the Government’s proposals to give more power to local communities and councils. History is one of my great interests and so it was fascinating to see inside Number 10 where so many historical events and visits have taken place over the years!

The new powers for local communities are contained within the new Localism Bill – more information on which can be found here. I believe that there are some truly radical provisions within the Bill which will help to lay the foundations for the Big Society by transforming the relationships between central government, local government, communities and individuals. It aims to strengthen local democracy by handing new powers down to councils, establishing powerful new rights for local people to take on community assets, overhauling the planning system as well as making housing decisions fairer and supporting local business.

I very much hope that these changes will put an end to the hoarding of power within central Government and the top-down control of communities – something which has happened for many years under successive Governments. I am confident that they will allow local people the freedom to run their lives and neighbourhoods in their own way – something which I hope everyone would agree is a huge step forward.

Encouraging business start-ups in Brighton & Hove

Yesterday the Government announced welcome new plans to support 40,000 new business start-ups over the next two years by offering grants and loans to unemployed people who can show they have a robust business plan. The number is double that first targeted when the scheme – the New Enterprise Allowance – was first launched back in October. It is to be rolled out nationally by the autumn.

For anyone interested there are more details here. However, the bare bones are as follows: budding entrepreneurs seeing self-employment as a viable option will receive allowances equating to £1,275 over six months. They will be paired with “volunteer” mentors drawn from the local business communities who will vet business plans and if they prove strong enough, Jobcentre Plus will provide a loan of up to £1,000 to cover start-up costs.

The Government is very keen to stimulate private sector growth in the economy following the recent downturn and any measures to help business start ups are most welcome, particularly here in Brighton & Hove where we have a very vibrant independent small-business community.

New England House (photo courtesy of Chris Keene)

The changes will also complement very nicely some of the other local initiatives we are supporting such as our new Local Enterprise Partnership (Coast to Capital) and our plans for creating a creative and digital media industry ‘hub’ at New England House.

In spite of the dire state of the public finances, economic growth actually held up pretty well last year and small businesses have been at the heart of that. There are also encouraging signs for 2011- a recent survey for example found that almost half of the UK’s small businesses plan to hire new staff next year.

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January 2011