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Helping young people into work

Below is my response to a letter from Cllr. Warren Morgan which appeared in the Argus recently:

Cllr. Warren Morgan is not in any position to lecture the Conservative Party about youth unemployment (Argus letters, 30th June).

The previous Labour Government left 5 million people languishing on out of work benefits and, due to the deep recession which they presided over, youth unemployment was already rapidly rising when the Coalition Government took over. Furthermore, many of the jobs created over the last 10 years or so that should have been taken by our young people were filled by non-British nationals – the proportion more than doubled under Labour. So much for Gordon Brown’s boast of ‘British jobs for British workers’.

Cllr. Morgan seems to have conveniently forgotten that the Coalition Government recently announced it would fund an additional 80,000 work experience places for young people and allocate £180 million to provide up to 50,000 additional apprenticeship places over the next four years – considerably more than Labour planned.

He also doesn’t tell readers that at the last Budget Council meeting, his Labour Group (along with the Greens) failed to back our proposed £100,000 investment to establish a new Local Apprenticeship Fund and to give additional funding to the Brighton & Hove Education Business Partnership, which provides young people with a range of work-related learning activities.

You are quite right Cllr. Morgan that creating new jobs will help to reduce our enormous budget deficit. Therefore, I’m sure you will welcome the fact that over half a million jobs have been created in the private sector over the last year – more than 3 times higher than the reduction in public sector employment. If we don’t take steps now to live within our means as a country we’ll end up paying higher taxes or making deeper spending cuts just to pay-off our debt Putting off deficit reduction measures, as Labour want, will only create more problems for young people further down the line.

Travellers – response to Cllr. Pete West

Below is the text of a letter I had published in the Argus recently:

Cllr. Pete West makes a number of accusations against me and the previous Conservative Administration of Brighton & Hove City Council which I must respond to (Argus letters, 30th June).

Firstly, Cllr. West accuses me of scaremongering over the scale of the problem. Well, if he had checked through the records, as I have done, he would see that this time last year there were precisely zero unauthorised traveller encampments in the city. He should also perhaps talk to the Police who are having to allocate extra dedicated resources to try to manage relations between the settled and traveller communities. This is not scaremongering, it is the reality, and if Cllr. West spent some time talking to residents, he would soon realise this.

Secondly, it is simply not true to say that the previous Administration achieved nothing on travellers for 4 years. We put significant sums of money into refurbishing the Horsdean transit site on two occasions after it was vandalised and this now has space for 23 caravans. I agree with Cllr. West that there is a need for a new permanent site in the city but this will not go anywhere near to solving the problem. As many travellers have stated themselves, they already have permanent bases elsewhere in the country and are not interested in settling here.

And as for political point scoring Cllr. West, it was the Conservative Group who, very early on in your Administration, put in a request to set up a cross-party scrutiny panel to look at solutions to the traveller issue.

‘Tourist tax’ would damage city economy

I was very concerned to read in the Argus today of a possible ‘tourist tax’ for Brighton & Hove. In my view, this would be very much a backward step for Brighton & Hove and would seriously jeopardise our hard-earned reputation as a destination of choice for visitors.

What Simon Fanshawe and other proponents of this seem to be forgetting is that our local economy is based around tourism. As the recent State of the City report showed, we host some 8 million visitors every year and these visitors spend over £700 million in local shops, cafes and hotels.

It is all very well to say that a few pounds here or there won’t deter people from coming to Brighton & Hove but if it is a straight choice between paying that and going somewhere else, then in these difficult economic times, people will vote with their feet. And whenever a new tax is introduced, however low the initial rate is, it is all too easy and tempting for politicians to increase them as a revenue raising measure. Just look what happened to the council tax – it started off at a relatively low rate but under the last Labour Government, it more than doubled.

The new Green Administration has pledged to investigate the introduction of a new tourist tax but I would strongly urge them to reject it.

Tougher Action Required on Old Steine Campsite

I was astonished to read the comments of the new Cabinet Member for Communites – Cllr. Ben Duncan – that the impromptu campsite on the Old Steine is “the model of the kind of engaged peaceful protest the Council and the Police are committed to facilitating” (Argus, 25th May).

There is a by-law in place on the Steine for a good reason – this is a sensitive location in the heart of the City and is incredibly busy with tourists and holiday makers at this time of year. What sort of impression will it give visitors to the City if these sort of encampments are not removed? Just look at Parliament Square in London!

The Council should be doing everything it can to help local businesses in these difficult economic times and many of them rely heavily upon the tourist trade. Of course people have the right to peaceful protest but this shouldn’t be at the expense of ordinary people carrying on with their lives. My fear is that Cllr. Duncan’s statement will just serve to encourage even more protesters to come down here and make the situation even worse. Will they be equally forgiving if people decide to camp out in Preston Park, Queen’s Park or Hove Lawns? This sets a very dangerous precedent and I would like to know what justification the Police are giving for not taking any action.

Greens need to answer questions on Gypsies and Travellers

Caroline Lucas’s Early Day Motion on Gypsies and Travellers leaves many questions unanswered, not least of which is how it relates to the situation in Brighton & Hove.

1)      She states that “there is no justification for the forced eviction of Gypsies and Travellers where no alternative lawful sites are available and residents seek to live in harmony”. We have an official site in Brighton & Hove – at Horsdean – so perhaps she would like to make a public statement supporting the efforts of the Council and Sussex Police to evict illegal encampments in the City such as those at Black Rock and Wild Park?

2)      Or perhaps she doesn’t think that in Brighton & Hove we have enough “satisfactory and culturally appropriate alternative accommodation” for gypsy and traveller families. In which case, perhaps she could be up front with residents and say exactly where she thinks this should be located in the City.

3)      What exactly does Caroline Lucas mean by seeking to “live in harmony”? I can’t recall ever receiving a single letter or e-mail from a resident welcoming an illegal traveller encampment near their home – perhaps she could enlighten us.

4)      It is certainly true that the children of gypsy and traveller families do significantly worse in terms of education and health outcomes, compared to other families and this is very unfortunate. However, this is not going to be addressed by allowing them to break the law.

5)      Where does Caroline Lucas stand on the issue of van dwellers in Brighton & Hove – in other words, non-ethnic gypsy and travellers who choose to live, unlawfully, on the City’s streets? Does she, for example, agree with the recent judgement at Brighton County Court that the Council was right to seek the eviction of van dwellers at Coldean Lane near the university and that we were not breaching their “human rights” as they had claimed? This is a very live issue in many parts of the City, not least with the summer season approaching and when I tried to raise it at a Council meeting last year, the Greens refused to have a constructive discussion.

As usual with the Greens we get lots of hand-wringing and sloganising but no concrete answers to the problems that residents want us to deal with. Putting forward Early Day Motions is all very laudable but what would they actually do?

Well done Brighton & Hove Albion!

The former Goldstone Ground, sold by the club in 1997 (Copyright Nigel Cox and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence)

I would just like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to everyone at Brighton & Hove Albion on their fantastic promotion to the Championship! They have been virtually unbeatable this season and to be guaranteed promotion at this early stage is an amazing achievement. The excitement is already mounting ahead of their first game in the new Amex Community Stadium. It will be a great day for the Club, the fans and the City – the culmination of a long and often tortuous journey. Their success has been hard won and is truly well-deserved.

Major new investment in Brighton & Hove council homes

I was delighted to be able to announce at last week’s Cabinet meeting that Brighton & Hove City Council and Brighton & Hove Seaside Community Homes (BHSCH) have agreed a funding facility of £30 million from Santander to invest in the council’s housing.

BHSCH, a registered charity, will use the money to bring 499 council homes up to 21st century standards.  We are transferring the homes to BHSCH on a long lease so are not giving up the freehold and are hoping that work will start on the homes in the late spring.  Homes in disrepair and long-term empty homes and flats, which have not received investment, will be prioritised.  Larger houses used as temporary accommodation will be converted into modern flats and all of the homes will be let at affordable rents to families and others in housing need in the city.

This is something which I have been personally driving forward for some time now and I am delighted that the deadline which I set for the end of the financial year 2010/11 has been met. When we took over the Administration of the Council in 2007 we were left with, frankly, a mess by the previous Labour Administration. Their push for stock transfer had been resoundingly rejected by the tenants and there was no Plan B in place to plug the funding gap to meet the Decent Homes Standard.

Since then, we have worked long and hard, in close partnership with the tenants and leaseholders, to bridge that investment gap. Firstly,we let a  new long-term maintenance contract which will save approximately £150 million over 30 years and now we have successfully established BHSCH to deliver further investment.

I believe that housing has been one of the major success stories of the last 4 years and the investment is starting to make a real difference to tenants’ lives. If the Conservatives are re-elected in May it will continue to be one of my top priorities.


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