Archive for the 'recession' 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.

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?

Tackling child poverty in Brighton & Hove requires radical action

The recent report in the Argus of 17th March on child poverty in Brighton & Hove raises many challenging questions about how we tackle inter-generational dependency in the City. I do genuinely believe that this issue crosses political lines and I’m pleased that our recent decision to protect all the City’s Sure Start Children’s Centres was supported by all parties.

The previous Government had some success in reducing child poverty at the margins which is, of course, welcome. However, as Labour MP – Frank Field – says in his recent report on child poverty “considering the vast sums expended, the overall reduction was modest”. And the number of children in the worst poverty has actually increased.

I think he identifies one of the lessons to be learned from the last 10 years or so – simply throwing money at a problem won’t make it go away. A great example of this is the £47 million that was spent by the previous Labour Government in some of the more deprived parts of Brighton & Hove, as part of its New Deal for Communities programme. The whole purpose of this scheme was to tackle ingrained poverty in areas of high deprivation, but the evidence indicates strongly that it has had little effect. Indeed, our independent research shows that benefit dependency actually increased compared to the rest of the City over the period the money was being spent.

I believe that one of the most important ways of reducing poverty long-term is through sustained employment and, in Brighton & Hove, we need to ensure that the increase in inward investment that has occurred over recent years is maintained. Projects such as the American Express expansion are very encouraging in this regard in getting the message across that Brighton & Hove is open for business.

Another incredibly important factor is ensuring that work always pays. Too many people are left worse off when they take up a job than when they were on benefits. I believe that the proposals which the Government has put forward to tackle this – the Universal Credit – are genuinely radical and will be vitally important if we are to ever break the poverty cycle. For the sake of the City’s children, we must confront this issue head on.

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.

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

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.

What does the Budget mean for Brighton & Hove?

After 13 years of a Labour government, their out of control spending has finally come home to roost. Former Chief Secretary to the Treasury – Liam Byrne – was quite right to say in that infamous note to his successor that “there’s no money left.” It would be nice if he could also offer an apology to the nation for their profligacy, which we are now all having to pay for.

It is now up to the coalition government to sort out the mess and, in my view, they are quite right to get on and tackle it straight away. Leaving the debt interest to rise for another year would be a complete waste of public money and would only make the situation worse.

I have always said that there are going to be some tough decisions to be taken whoever won the general election in May and, to his credit, George Osborne had the courage to take some of those yesterday. The public sector pay freeze will be difficult for staff at the Council but I’m pleased that he has decided to protect those on incomes below £21,000. And I think that the review of public sector pensions has become unavoidable given the taxpayer liabilities that have been building up over the last few years.

But the tough choices were also mixed in with some really positive proposals. For example, thanks to our sound financial management over the last 3 years, we are going to be able to deliver on our pledge to Brighton & Hove’s residents to freeze council tax for next year. This Conservative Administration has delivered the lowest council tax rise in the history of the council for 3 years in a row now and has saved £30 million of taxpayers’ money in the process. A freeze next year will be a real boost for residents who are struggling to pay their bills, as will George Osborne’s decision to take almost a million people out of paying income tax altogether by raising the threshold.

There was also some really good news for businesses. The cut in Corporation Tax will be hugely welcome, as will the partial reversal of Labour’s proposed ‘jobs tax’ – the employer National Insurance contributions. It is crucial that we allow the private sector to prosper, both locally and nationally, as this is where the future economic growth – and taxation to support vital public services – will come from.

We will now be looking at George Osborne’s statement in more detail to see how it affects the Council’s finances. However, as always, I will do my utmost to ensure that frontline services are protected.

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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