Archive for the 'Local democracy' Category



More Labour Scare Tactics – Housing This Time

Labour have been issuing leaflets to tenants in Brighton & Hove which make up all sorts of things about Conservative plans for social housing. I wanted to make it absolutely clear that tenancies will be absolutely guaranteed with the Conservatives.

As we say in our manifesto: ‘We will respect the tenures and rents of social housing tenants.’

I know that tenants across Brighton & Hove have great pride in their homes and the neighbourhood in which they live. Conservatives recognise the importance of social housing and the security it provides.

In this election, the Labour Party is issuing leaflets, of which this is just one more example, which are trying to scare people with false claims about our policies and making untrue allegations.

This is the reality about our respective housing policies:

  • Conservatives, both locally and nationally, will not increase rents to market levels, end secure tenancies or ‘slash’ housing benefit. Indeed, it has been the Government’s policy over the last 10 years or so to raise council house rents to bring them in line with the Housing Associations.
  • It was the former Council Leader – Simon Burgess – who tried to force through a stock transfer of your council housing. Following the overwhelming rejection of his plans by tenants in 2007, the Conservative Council has worked extremely hard to secure additional investment in your homes and will always support the wishes of tenants.
  • Labour claim that their proposals to reform the council housing finance system will leave councils better off as they will be allowed to keep all rents and sales income. What they are not telling you is that we will also be saddled with a portion of the £25 billion of historic debt in the system.
  • The rate of house building since Labour has been in office has dropped by almost 24,000 homes a year – to around 147,000 – compared to the levels under the previous Conservative government. In addition, an average of 18,430 social rented homes a year has been built under this Government, compared with 40,538 a year under the last Government.
  • The number of households on local authority waiting lists in England has risen from a million when Labour took over in 1997 to 1.8 million – this equates to more than 4.5 million people.

As they did with the lies about benefits for pensioners, Labour is resorting to scaring residents to get votes. These tactics are disgraceful and should have no place in British politics. It is disappointing that Gordon Brown, after 13 years, doesn’t have a positive message about himself or his record on housing.

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A Rare Blow Struck Against the Supermarkets

I was delighted to read a week or so ago that North Norfolk District Council (and a local farmer called Clive Hay-Smith), had combined forces to prevent Tesco moving into the centre of the market town of Sheringham.

The issue of multinationals and their impact on local economies is one we cannot afford to ignore. Here in Brighton & Hove we are quite rightly nationally renowned for our sheer number and variety of small independent retailers, and if even half of these disappeared our economy would be in real trouble. Therefore, I think it is vitally important that local politicians stand up and make a statement on this issue wherever possible.

I would be the first to recognise the benefits that the Tesco and Sainsburys of this world have brought to consumers over the years in terms of improved choice and value for money. However, I am becoming increasingly frustrated with the growing influence that they are exerting in Brighton & Hove and, indeed, across the country as a whole. For example, we are seeing an increasing number of smaller ‘Express’ style stores popping up across the City which invariably apply for late licenses to sell alcohol. Well, in common with many towns and cities across the country we have a real problem with alcohol-related health problems and anti-social behaviour and in my opinion, the last thing we should be doing is making it easier for people to get hold of cheap (and strong) drink.

And just yesterday, we saw that Sainsbury’s tried to get away with installing a new shop frontage on their Western Road store before getting planning permission from the Council. We have told them to go away and think again but this is by no means the first time that this sort of thing has happened.

I have been involved in local politics for many years now and I am increasingly getting a real sense of power and control draining away from local communities, of someone else pulling the strings – whether that is central Government, the EU, regional quangos or large multinational companies.

As a Conservative, I believe very strongly in the localist principle that decisions should be taken as closely as possible to the people affected by them. North Norfolk District Council has struck a rare blow for local democracy, for the powerless against the powerful. I hope that it is the first of many more to come.

Conservative Spring Forum comes back to Brighton

It was a hectic week for me last week with our annual budget council meeting on Thursday and then the Conservative Spring Forum at the weekend.

I was really pleased that we were able to get our budget voted through and that there was no repeat of the ‘Core Strategy’ Council meeting last December when the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ (Greens, Labour and Lib Dems) voted us down on some key transport policies. So we were able to get through a council tax increase of just 2.5% which is the lowest rise since the Council was formed in 1997. We were also able to put some additional investment into areas such as youth work, improving the seafront, winter maintenance and replacement floodlighting for the Royal Pavilion. It is very important that we keep the City looking as good as possible to attract the visitors and tourists that the local economy relies upon.

As I said, at the weekend the Conservative Spring Forum was held at the Metropole and it was great to be able to host the party in my home town! Brighton & Hove is, for many members,  still associated with the dreadful IRA bombing of the Grand in 1984 and so it is a big step for the organisers to come back to our City. The weekend itself went very well from what I saw and also from talking to many delegates who were delighted to be here. Hopefully it will be the first of many more visits in the near future.

For my part, I took part in a session with Caroline Spelman MP, who is the Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. There will be some interesting and, in my view, beneficial changes in this area if the Conservatives win the general election in May (or whenever it is called!). I hope that a Conservative Government will feel able to trust local councils such as ours with greater powers and freedoms than we currently have because I believe very strongly that at present our ability to help residents is  stifled by red tape and centrally imposed controls and restrictions. A key part of this is the pledge to abolish the whole tier of regional quangos which many of us feel are both wasteful and contrary to the priniciples of localism which we all believe in. For those of you who may be interested, there are more details in the Control Shift policy paper.

Get involved in Brighton & Hove

Just a quick reminder that tomorrow is the launch event for the Council’s ‘Get Involved‘ campaign at Hove Town Hall.

This is a nine month campaign which aims to make residents aware of the many ways they can get involved in contributing to their community. This could be in various ways, for instance through taking part in local decision making, voting, having a say in local consultations or participating in voluntary work.

You may already have noticed a brightly coloured camper van travelling around the City recording residents’ views – diary room style – on what they think about local politics, the council and the community around them. Excerpts from this will be shown tomorrow and there will also be information stalls, activities and the opportunity to ‘speed meet’ your councillor.

I will be taking part in a Question Time panel discussion hosted by ITN newsreader Nicholas Owen. This starts at 3.30pm for anyone who is interested and there will also be a live webcast.

Tomorrow marks the start of Get Involved but there will be further events organised over the coming months. Keep an eye on this website for more information – www.getinvolvedinthecity.org.uk

I hope to see you tomorrow!

Update – Around 500 people came through the doors on Saturday which was really great! Thanks to everyone at the Council who organised the event and gave up their time on Saturday to help out. And thanks to you for coming!

e-petitions come to Brighton & Hove City Council!

From November 21st, Brighton & Hove’s residents will be able to submit e-petitions to the Council in order to register their views and ask us to take action on matters of importance to them. This is a really exciting development which was agreed by the whole Council at our meeting last Thursday. E-petitions have proven to be a real success elsehwere in the UK – most notably at the Scottish Parliament and on the number 10 Downing Street website. I’m convinced that they will prove to be just as much of a hit here (a recent Government survey found that as a city, we are one of the most switched on in the country in relation to wanting to get involved in the democratic process).

At the moment, residents can collect names and submit petitions manually at our various committee meetings (usually with the help of your local ward councillor) but the facility to now do this online should make things a whole lot easier.

I find that petitions are a really valuable way of keeping in touch with the issues that are concerning people in the city and are a vital part of an open and transparent democratic process. I will provide details of how to access the online petitions facility nearer the time.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to feedback any comments etc. to me then please do so via this blog or by e-mail – mary.mears@brighton-hove.gov.uk


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