Archive for the 'Local democracy' Category

Brighton & Hove Conservatives Manifesto Launch

Yesterday we launched our manifesto for the local elections on May 5th. To read our proposals for the next  4 years, plus a comparison with what the other parties are offering, click here.

Dodgy statistics and Labour’s local election launch

So, Labour has launched their local election campaign with Ed Miliband claiming that they are “your first line of defence” against public spending reductions. An interesting thought, and I’m sure that people will be able to make up their own minds as to whether he (and the rest of his colleagues in the former Labour Government) should bear any of the responsibility for those public spending reductions. Certainly I thought that the sight of him speaking at the “Stop the Cuts” rally at the weekend, and using Martin Luther King and the Sufragettes to support his case, was one of the more cynical acts of political opportunism I have seen in recent years. (As David Cameron said yesterday – Martin Luther King had a dream and Ed Miliband is still living in one!)

Labour are also up to their old tricks again with figures and statistics. They make their usual claim that council tax bills in Labour-controlled councils are lower than those in Conservative-controlled ones. Which is of course nonsense as they are comparing apples with pears. Labour-controlled areas tend to be in the city centres which have a much greater percentage of homes in the lowest council tax bands which pay less council tax. Therefore, the council tax in these areas, averaged across all bands, is obviously going to be lower. However, if you make a proper comparison – i.e. with homes in Band D – then Conservative councils have lower council tax bills by £43 compared to Labour councils (and £114 a year less than Liberal Democrat-controlled ones!).

They also don’t really have a leg to stand on when it comes to this argument as they opposed the Coalition Government’s council tax freeze policy which will save an average family up to £72 a year on a Band D home.

Locally here in Brighton & Hove, of course, Labour has an even worse record on council tax – having increased it by 124% (or £743) during the 10 years they were in control of the City Council. And back at Budget Council on 3rd March, they (and the Greens) vetoed our proposed 1% reduction in council tax for next year. Do we really want a return to the days where council tax payers were constantly being asked to bail out the profligacyof their 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?

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.

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.

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.