Archive for the 'business' Category

Creating opportunities for young people in Brighton & Hove

In many ways, we are extremely fortunate in Brighton & Hove in having one of the most highly educated workforces in the country. This is great news, in particular, for our digital, new media and creative sectors, which have begun to thrive in recent years and attract many university graduates to stay on in the City. However, this success does have an unfortunate side-effect in that it makes it more difficult for non-graduates to enter the workforce, even into relatively low paid jobs.

Therefore, as a Council, it is vitally important that we do everything we can to work with schools, colleges and local businesses to ensure that those young people who choose not to go to university don’t get left behind. I strongly believe that all young people in this City should be able to access the jobs market on an equal footing.

The work of the Brighton & Hove Education Business Partnership (EBP), which is a professional body accredited by the Institute of Education Business Excellence, is a key part of our strategy to provide work-related support links for young people in the City. They have been established for 12 years now and have a fantastic track record working with schools, colleges and businesses to provide opportunities in preparing young people for the world of work.

The EBP also work with some of the City’s more vulnerable young people, such as those with Special Educational Needs or those leaving care. For example, just this week they organised an event at Hillside Special School which offered the pupils training and advice on how to manage their finances and other consumer affairs issues. This is essential for vulnerable young people in the city.

Of course a vital part of helping young people into their chosen career path is through apprenticeships. New research carried out for the Government shows that every £1 spent on providing apprenticeships brings a massive £40 return to the economy. The value is obvious, both for the individual in terms of his or her future prosperity, but also to the wider economy. Here in Brighton & Hove we recently worked with local employers to successfully complete our 100 in 100 campaign – creating 100 apprenticeships in 100 days. But we must maintain this momentum in ensuring that young people are properly prepared to join the workforce. And as a country, it is sad to say that we still lag way behind places like Germany and Finland, where apprenticeships are embedded in the education system.

Therefore, it was very disappointing that our proposals at the recent Budget Council meeting to put the EBP on a sustainable footing, and through the City Employment Skills Initiative, to establish a new local Future Apprenticeships Fund, were voted down. It is certainly a shame to have to bring politics into an issue which should generate cross-party agreement but I believe that the young people of Brighton & Hove have been badly let down. If passed, this would have been a significant investment in our future work force in the city, which in these tough economic times, could have transformed lives.

Opposition stifle supermarkets debate at Council meeting

At Thursday’s Full Council meeting, opposition Green and Labour councillors voted to curtail my speech during a debate on the growing impact of multinational retailers in Brighton & Hove – an issue of great importance to the City.
The sponsor of the petition – a Labour candidate – was criticising us for not doing enough to address the problem. However, when I listed all the actions that the Council and the Government were doing the opposition clearly didn’t like it!
The opposition green and labour groups are always accusing my Administration of not being open and transparent but if this is how they behave, I would hate to think what they would be like if they ever took control of the Council.
There was a similar situation at the recent Budget Council meeting when the Convenor of the Green Group responded to the amendments which my Group had put forward. He said that he liked our amendment but couldn’t support it because it was being put forward by Tories – who he has previously described as ‘doing the devils work’.
I think it is about time that they stopped being so childish. We were having an important debate about a huge issue in this City – you would think that they might want to hear what the Leader of the Council had to say! For information and clarity, here is the full text of my speech:
  • I’m very pleased to be able to respond to this petition on behalf of the Administration as this is a cause which I am very committed to.
  • I would just like to say at the outset that although I clearly support the sentiments behind it, I am slightly disappointed in the wording of the petition. This campaign is not just about keeping Brighton unique. It is the City of Brighton & Hove and the same issues apply across the whole City – and that also includes Portslade.
  • But I would just like to outline some of the work that this Administration has been doing on this issue for some considerable time now.
  • We all know that one of the main reasons that so many visitors and shoppers come to Brighton & Hove is because of its diverse and interesting range of shops and facilities. Brighton & Hove is most definitely not a ‘clone town’ and we must keep it that way.
  • There are currently 56 major supermarket stores in the City and whilst, clearly there is a significant demand amongst residents for the services they offer, I feel we are rapidly approaching saturation point.
  • This has incredibly serious implications, not only to the individual retailers and traders themselves, but also to the wider economy of the City as a whole.
  • Mr Mayor there is both a national and a local angle to this. I have been consistently lobbying central Government about giving councils greater powers to determine the best mix of retail in their areas because I genuinely believe that we are better placed than the civil servants in Whitehall to assess this.
  • For example, under current legislation, we are not allowed to prevent a supermarket moving into an existing shop, regardless of whether or not the local community want it there. Exactly the situation which is happening with the Taj now in St. James Street. I believe that this needs to change.
  • So I was very pleased to see last week in a response to a question in Parliament by Simon Kirby MP that the Government is going to be reviewing the whole planning framework around this in the Summer. And we will certainly keep up our lobbying to ensure that Brighton & Hove’s concerns are taken into account during this process.
  • I’m also pleased to see that the Government announced last week that it is going to publish a Bill in May which will pave the way for the establishment of a new ‘Supermarkets Ombudsman’ which was the main recommendation of the recent Competition Commission Inquiry into the power of large retailers. Again, I shall be lobbying, through our local MPs, to ensure that this new body has real teeth and is able to address the issues that we are facing in Brighton & Hove. I think this is a really positive step forward.
  • It is also true to say that Labour don’t have a great record on this. It was the Labour Government which changed national planning rules on retail development (through Planning Policy Statement 4) and scrapped the so-called ‘needs test’ which significantly weakened council’s ability to stop unwanted out-of-town supermarket development.
  • Moving onto the local angle. A couple of weeks ago, we hosted a conference called Streets Ahead which brought together local traders, supermarkets, campaign groups and Council officers to discuss how we can best protect and enhance the unique character of Brighton & Hove’s retail sector.
  • It was very useful and productive to get everyone in a room together, not only to listen to people’s concerns, but also to map out a way forward.
  • I agreed to set up a special commission on retailing to consider these issues which will include representatives from the various retail sectors in the city, alongside independent experts and the Council.
  • At the event, local traders gave us some very useful examples of things that we could do better and I hope that the new Commission will be able to consider and implement these as well as some other useful practical measures.
  • We are also, of course, continuing to promote our high profile ‘Be Local Buy Local’ campaign and will continue to look at any other ways of ensuring that residents and visitors recognise the many benefits of buying local produce and goods.
  • However, I do think that we need to sound a note of caution. The last thing that I want is for this to turn into a battle between chainstores and independents – this would not be beneficial to anyone. Supermarkets do provide a service that many people in the City use – they are convenient for families who lead busy lives and they and provide a huge range of foods at relatively cheap prices. At a time when everyone’s budgets are stretched this is not something we should take lightly.
  • So, to conclude, Mr Mayor, we welcome this petition as a reflection of people’s genuine concerns around the increasing dominance of large chain stores in Brighton & Hove. We will continue to highlight this as an issue and to take action where we can and we look forward to working closely with the new local Commission to ensure that this City retains its unique attraction for residents and visitors alike.

Brighton & Hove’s local economy – reasons to be optimistic

Last week at our Full Council meeting we had a very interesting debate on the possible effects of reductions in public spending on the local economy. The Green Party, who put forward the motion for debate argued strongly that cuts to the public sector will have a damaging effect.

For my part, I argued that we have good reason to be optimistic here in Brighton & Hove and that talking the economy down in this way does nobody any good. By and large the driver for local (and national) economic growth is the private sector and in Brighton & Hove there are very encouraging signs:

  1. The Centre for Cities have once again singled Brighton & Hove out as performing strongly post-recession. One quote from their report explains why: “Cities with strong private sector economies and limited public spending cuts, such as Brighton and Cambridge, will be well placed to drive the UK’s economic recovery.”
  2. Just last week the Argus highlighted that recruitment specialists are reporting a surge in vacancies with firms returning to pre-recession staff levels. They also reported that the number of young people starting apprenticeships is rising faster in Brighton and Hove than anywhere else in the South East. Both very welcome pieces of news.
  3. Amex announced last week that they are looking to expand still further in Brighton by relocating a significant number of jobs from their Madrid office.
  4. And developers are still looking to invest in Brighton & Hove. For example, the exciting proposals for a new hotel on the old ice rink site in Queen’s Square.

So, although clearly there are going to be tough times ahead, particularly for us in the public sector, I do retain a sense of optimism about our future prospects.

And I have to say that what would really damage the local economy is the massive increases in taxes on business that the Greens advocate. Just last month, Caroline Lucas put forward proposals to introduce a new ‘business education tax’ on companies – supposedly to pay for free higher education. I’m sure that businesses would be delighted to have this extra burden imposed on them at this time. It would certainly ensure that there would be far fewer jobs for all the new graduates to go into!

And just think what the effect on local businesses would be if the Greens ever got to introduce their cherished congestion charge? As we have seen in London, a Green candidate for the Mayoral elections – Jenny Jones – wants it extended to cover the whole City and the charge to be raised to £50! This really would kill the economic recovery stone dead and I think it would be extremely bad for this City if they ever got the chance to bring it in.

UPDATE: Further good news yesterday on the jobs front. According to a survey by BrightonandHoveJobs.com, more than a third (36%) of local employers plan to create new jobs and take on new staff over the next 12 months, while 17% said they expected higher than average growth which could lead to new jobs. A mere 4.3% said they were looking to reduce staffing. Very encouraging.

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.

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

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.

Brighton & Hove must not become a ‘clone town’

The report by the New Economics Foundation (‘Re-imagining the high street’) makes for interesting reading.

It takes an in-depth look at the effects of the increasing domination of large chain stores in our towns and cities and argues that so-called ‘clone towns’ are not only less attractive to consumers but that they are also much more vulnerable to economic downturns, such as the one we are currently in.

There is no doubt that a proliferation of one kind of company or a single type of retailer can create a feeling of sameness. That feeling of sameness and similarity can erode the character and individuality of a given location and this in turn can deter commerce and alienate residents. If you don’t recognise or value the place you live in, how can we expect community and business to flourish?

As I have blogged before, Brighton & Hove has a unique character and individuality which itself attracts many businesses and people to be here. We cannot afford to let that selling point be diminished by high-street homogeneity.

I have been working hard with cabinet colleagues and officers to raise the profile of this issue – throughout the year we have been supporting local businesses and encouraging people to think about their spending – and keep it local.

This appears to be an approach that is working; we fare well in the NEF report, with Hove just outside the ‘Home Town’ ranking.  Brighton, I can only assume is not included because it is too large … or perhaps it could be that we do so well, we are not considered at risk!

National and international retailers obviously have a key part to play in our economy (not least through the local people they employ). However, by definition, a lot of the money spent in them by residents and visitors does leave the City.

Money spent locally boosts our economy, supports trade and benefits communities. A diverse, rich and varied high street not only protects against the consequences of losing a major player (Woolworths etc.) but supports the City by attracting a mixed economy of people into the town centre.

I don’t often encourage people to read lengthy papers – and I can’t say I agree with all the findings of NEF –  but do take a moment to have a look. The summary at least will give you food for thought and perhaps a flavour of the challenges that the City faces as the economic situation remains tough.

National Insurance hike would hit Brighton & Hove Hard

The Government’s proposed 1% rise in National Insurance would not only hit residents hard, it would also be another body blow for businesses in Brighton & Hove, at a time when they can least afford it.

At the City Council we have calculated that if it goes ahead, the rise will cost us – as the City’s largest employer – an extra £1.5 million a year. That is £1.5 million of local council tax payers money going straight back into Treasury coffers to pay off the massive debt they have racked up over the last 10 years or so. And at a time when our budget is under such pressure, it is £1.5 million we can ill afford to lose.

Councils wouldn’t be the only public sector organisation to lose out – nationally, the NI increase would cost the NHS £208 million, schools would have to fork out £66 million (equivalent to something like 2,000 teachers) and the Police would face an increased tax bill of £43 million.

Paying off the national deficit has to be the top priority for whichever Government is at the helm next month. But bringing in another tax on jobs (which would hit both private and public sector employers and employees) is surely not the way to go about it. The only long-term way of addressing the underlying structural deficit is to make it easier for businesses to set up and expand. The private sector generates the wealth which enables us to have an NHS, state schools, policing and roads. Sadly, the parties of the Left seem unable to grasp this most basic of economic truths.

Brighton & Hove’s small businesses face triple tax whammy

Small businesses have taken a real hit recently due to the effects of the recession – difficulties in obtaining credit, less demand for goods and services etc. I think that in Brighton & Hove, by and large, they have weathered this storm very well so far but I do have some real concerns for the coming months.

The main reason for this is that a whole catalogue of factors are coming together to put huge pressure on our local firms. Firstly, VAT went back up to 17.5% on 1st January, pushing the price of goods back up in the shops. Secondly, employer and employee National Insurance contributions are both set to increase by 1% next year which will put huge pressure on local employers and is hardly likely to encourage job creation (I am pleased that David Cameron has indicated that if he wins the general election he will look to scrap at least part of this rise).

But perhaps most worrying of all is the Government’s business rate revaluation, due to come in force from April this year. Nearly 60% of our business ratepayers are set to have an increased bill and around 43% are due to be capped at 5% of 12.5% because their increases are so high. Government publicity has made significant noises about 60% of businesses nationwide experiencing decreases in rates but the opposite is true here in Brighton & Hove. The transitional scheme has been taken up by around 7% of our ratepayers but has merely created a potential time bomb, as businesses will be faced with paying back what they deferred last year, PLUS up to 12.5% increased rates.

I have recently written to the Government Minister – John Denham – on this matter asking him to give areas such as Brighton & Hove some extra support to get the City’s small businesses through this difficult period. We recently put forward a proposal as part of the Sustainable Communities Act which would give Council’s greater flexibility than we have now to offer rate relief to particular businesses and hopefully they will act on this.

A further factor which is adding to the pressure on our smaller independent retailers is the impact that the big supermarket chains are having. They are moving into the City in increasing numbers and under current planning regulations, Councils are powerless to do anything about it.

In the next few weeks I will be looking to build upon the Business Lifebelt Scheme which the Council launched last year which offers practical assistance to a range of businesses and sectors in the city, aiming to help them survive the economic downturn.

Small businesses are crucial to the continued prosperity and well-being of the whole City and I am continuing to look into any ways in which we can help them.

Support for Britain’s Seaside Resorts

 

Last week the Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills – David Willetts MP –  visited Brighton & Hove to launch the party’s new coastal towns action plan. This is a very useful document as it underlines some of the unique challenges that places like Brighton & Hove have faced over the years due to their unique location.

 Some of the policies contained in the action plan include:

 

  • Giving local councils and the police new powers to restrict the large number of late licenses and tackle alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour.
  • Cancelling Labour’s council tax revaluation which intends to charge residents higher council tax for having sea views.
  • Creating a ‘Community Right to Buy’ to allow local groups to take over and save threatened community assets and buildings.
  • Allowing privately owned, listed seaside heritage attractions, such as piers, to apply for Lottery funding.

 

There is also a very strong focus on supporting local businesses and jobs, something which we as a council have prioritised during the recession. For example, we have recently supported Domestic & General to secure 200 new jobs for people who were made redundant when the Lloyds TSB call centre announced it would close. We hope to do more of this sort of thing in the future.

 

Under a future Conservative Government there would be new tax breaks for local firms – including local business rate discounts, lower corporation tax on small firms, a new Business Increase Bonus to reward councils that attract new firms into their areas and waiving National Insurance on new firms which create jobs.

Brighton & Hove has weathered the recession relatively well but we must build on this as we emerge from the downturn. I believe that these new policies will allow us to do just that.


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