Category Archives: current affairs

What evidence that Lansley’s plans will improve NHS results?

As I’ve been appointed the local Green finance spokesperson this letter, which I submitted to The Argus, was my last as local health spokesperson:

While the current NHS structures are by no means perfect, Conservative minister Andrew Lansley’s plans for the NHS threaten at least three years of massive change, disruption and uncertainty, with no evidence to show any improvements will be the result.

These changes are being foisted on us because they ‘feel right’ to Lansley. That feeling has probably been helped along by financial contributions to his office by the head of Care UK – one of the firms that stands to most benefit from these reforms.

The sad fact is that the majority of GPs won’t have the necessary skills to organise commissioning and so will end up hiring those who do, the sacked managers who will be selling back their services to the NHS at inflated rates as independent contractors.

GPs aren’t keen on becoming managers running half-year long tendering processes, they are more interested in making people better. NHS workers certainly don’t want to see their pay and conditions threatened by being transferred to private providers. And I see no reason why taxpayers should stump up for corporate healthcare firms’ profits when we are being treated by our great public health service.

Greens firmly oppose these changes, which take Labour’s health privatisation schemes to their distasteful conclusion.

Sincerely,

Cllr Jason Kitcat, Green Group Health spokesperson

The budget cuts in Brighton & Hove and the continued failure to empower local government

For no good reason other than showing how tough they are – a sort of budgetary chest thumping – we have cuts being imposed now. Even if you accept the need for cuts (which Greens do not), it doesn’t seem to me that we are getting the best value or service quality from rushing through in-year cuts. During the general election only the Tories were arguing the cuts should happen this year. How the LibDems have changed their tune.

At a recent Cabinet meeting I called for the local Tory administration to publish details of their budget plans as soon as possible, with councillors from all parties being involved in the process. This fell on stoney ground.

All we know at this point is what officers have been able to glean an announcement by Eric Pickles about 2 weeks ago. In summary for this year the council is obliged to cut £3.55 million from the budget already balanced and passed at the February budget council meeting.

That we’re being asked to change a budget in-year is less than ideal, it is threatening many long-planned projects and adds a great deal of uncertainty to council staff. Currently they are being told to carry on with planning but implement as little as possible.

However, and here’s the kicker, as long as the Tory cabinet manage the budget reductions within departments and don’t push money across departmental lines then none of the cuts will have to come to full council for decision. Instead they can sign them off at the Tory-only Cabinet-level meetings. In any circumstances, but especially for a council of no overall control, this is not the inclusive, democratic decision making that I believe residents deserve.

Additionally, pushing these cuts onto local government is confirmation that the Tory/LibDem government are intent on continuing the emasculation of local councils that the previous Labour and Conservative governments undertook with relish.

All the talk of ‘localism’, devolving power and such like from Tories and LibDems is immediately shown to be completely false. If they truly believed and understood these issues they would not have imposed swingeing cuts on local government without also granting new local powers. Let us not forget that local government had nothing to do with creating this budgetary deficit and have been delivering Gershon efficiency savings of 2-3% a year.

Local government haven’t been showered in cash the past years. The least the government could have done is offered local councils some new powers, perhaps alternative models for fundraising or a fairer local taxation system before cutting off our funds. Certainly the government’s only gesture to councils of removing the ring-fencing from a motley collection of grants is not much of a tonic in the face of these cuts.

Greens will oppose the cuts all the way, but it looks like the Tories will make sure we won’t even get a chance to vote on them. What sort of open politics is that?

Labour’s astounding hypocrisy on cuts

So word reaches me that Labour are campaigning locally to ‘stop the cuts’ that are affecting our great city.

Well I agree, we should fight unnecessary cuts (as most of them are) and campaign for the best deal possible for our city as the guillotine falls. This is exactly what Greens have been doing for a long time, whether it’s fighting privatisation, university closures or cuts to respite services. In fact almost the first thing I did on being elected in December 2007 was to have a run-in with Cllr Ken Norman over his plans to close the Vernon Gardens residential care home and day centre (which Tories steamrollered through).

Labour were never against the cuts the Tory/LibDem government are pushing through. They just wanted them next year instead of this year. A valid point if cuts must be made, as we don’t want a double-dip recession. But Greens campaigned on the fact that most of these cuts simply aren’t needed. With a rebalancing of government spending away from the military, ID cards and road building plus a reformed tax system, we could protect vital services whilst making our society fairer.

Indeed it was the Labour government, before they were turfed out, which began the cuts to our local educational institutions. As a result Sussex university want to close some degrees and fire staff, Brighton university are having to retrench losing the valued ARTHOUSE and associated staff contracts and City College Brighton, who a few years ago thought they were about to develop a gleaming new campus, are now cutting back after the funding they counted on just didn’t appear despite repeated government promises. Furthermore childcare facilities at both universities have been put at threat.

It was the Labour government that had been giving Brighton & Hove City Council some of the lowest block grants (a key source of funding) in the country, year after year. That the Tories have not spent this wisely is also true e.g. £100,000 on trimming verges more often.

Labour also presided over the skyrocketing of top civil service pay along with spiralling IT outsourcing contracts.

Labour created the regulatory system which allowed banks to get ‘too big to fail’ and it was Labour that chose to run up a huge deficit to bail them out. It was Labour who used PFI deals to push debt off the government books. International accountancy standards now require most of these to be, quite rightly, brought back into the government accounts and so we’ll see the government finances look even worse than the previous sanitised picture Brown and Darling painted.

So, yes, let’s stop the cuts. But until Labour renounce their policies which brought us here and began the cuts, they are opportunistic hypocrites of the first order to try to make political capital of their ‘opposition’ to said cuts.

Links 15-04-2010

  • Israeli e-voting system shown to be insecure
    Israeli ministers are ignoring the global trend against e-voting. Not only that but they want to implement a radio-based (RFID) system which researchers at Tel Aviv University have already broken. Just crazy. Avi Rubin picks up the story on his blog.
  • The single mother’s manifesto
    A powerful essay against the Tories by Harry Potter creator J.K Rowling. Of course once Murdoch’s pay wall comes down I won’t be able to link to such things.
  • Twitter grows up
    At their first corporate conference, a raft of announcements including ways to make money. I don’t envy their trying to shift people from the free lunch they’ve had this far.
  • Stephen Fry – The Intelligence Debate
    What a marvellous presentation, absolutely comprehensive demolition of the problems with organised church hierarchy. I would never want be up against someone so smart and so witty! He nails it, let’s not lose the lessons of “the Galilean carpenter” but rid ourselves of  the organised hierarchy.

Procedure was thrown out the window to suit the Tory/Labour coalition

Last Thursday’s Full Council meeting was an astonishing affair. I tweeted as much as I could of it (to howls of displeasure from the Tory side!) but my daughter’s 4th birthday party over the weekend has prevented me from blogging it until now.

The full agenda can be read online here (and minutes will go on that page too when ready). The webcast of the meeting can be viewed online here.

The main issues of controversy were: questions to councillors, the handling of the report into councillor allowances, the approval of the sustainable communities strategy and finally proposals for transforming meetings of full council.

No debate on councillor allowances

Right at the beginning of the meeting, as we had been told in briefings beforehand, the Conservatives — fully supported by Labour — moved a procedural motion to defer the report of the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP). The IRP are there to decide the allowances (ie salaries) of councillors in an independent way so we’re not deciding our own paycheques. The IRP had long said they were going to do a fundamental review for this year’s report. While in my view they could have been more radical in the changes they proposed, still the Tory/Labour coalition weren’t happy about it. They claimed a lack of consultation despite the report being discussed by the group leaders and governance committee in the proceeding weeks.

Essentially the panel chose to support backbench councillors with a 1% increase in their allowance, plus slightly more flexible childcare support. To stay cost neutral overall, and to come in line with national guidelines, they recommended cutting additional allowances for the deputy chairs of committees. With a few exceptions this is entirely justified as deputy chairs have little in the way of real extra duties. Apart from one LibDem and one Green – ALL the deputy positions are held by Labour and Tory councillors. So they get more money for few extra responsibilities hence they can spend more time on politics instead of other paying work. In other words it’s rather convenient and supports the Tory/Labour old guard.

Rather than debate this issue before an election, they chose to defer this report. As a result the existing allowances for all these deputy chairs will carry on, against the advice of the panel. Furthermore they wanted a vote to defer without any debate because it’s not really a comfortable issue for them to discuss, especially ahead of an election where expenses and fat cat politicians are a hot topic.

To add insult to injury they deferred the report without using any procedure provided for in the council’s constitution. I pushed and pushed for an explanation for how, procedurally they could do this without a debate. Eventually I was told ‘common law powers’ allowed the Mayor to do this (let us not forget the Mayor is a Conservative councillor married to a Conservative council cabinet member). I wasn’t convinced but Tories & Labour in their cosy coalition voted the deferment through without debate. I think this was an affront to the independent panel’s members and to taxpayers.

This item starts at 7:30 minutes in the webcast.

Questions to Councillors

I didn’t really get any useful answers to my questions. Cllr Geoffrey Theobald astonishingly refused to answer supplementary questions even from a member of the public as well as myself and other councillors. He took it upon himself to ruling they weren’t relevant to the original question and chose not to answer. The Mayor (apparently one of Theobald’s supporters in the Theobald/Mears rivalry which divides the Tory group) was more than happy to back up his personal rulings.

Cllr Dee Simson, in response to a question I raised about disabled access to taxis, claimed credit for an equalities impact assessment being run on our taxi policies. However I understand this only happened after the local Federation of Disabled People threatened legal action under the Disability Discrimination Act. Overall a disappointing questions session.

On the webcast this starts, with the unanswered public question, at 30:30 minutes.

Splitting the Sustainable Community Strategy

This document was up for adoption by the Full Council meeting. It’s drafted by local strategic partnerships so it’s really the product of joint working between a huge number of groups within the city. Extraordinarily, again with no procedural basis under the constitution, the Tories requested and were granted by the Mayor, a split vote on the document.

They wanted to vote on the Transport chapter separately, because they disagreed with some of the policies in it. This was astonishing for so many reasons: Firstly the report is supposed to be taken as a holistic view of improving the city, splitting chapters missed the point of it. Secondly the Tories had not suggested any intention of doing this at any of the pre-meeting briefings or whips’ meeting. Finally Conservative cabinet member Cllr Geoffrey Theobald chairs the Transport Partnership responsible for creating the transport chapter! So a senior Tory was officially responsible for leading its creation and now they wanted to vote against it!

A number of Greens gave passionate speeches including Cllrs Pete West and Ian Davey. Thankfully, in this case, sense prevailed and all the opposition parties outvoted the Tories. But it was really a most bizarre spectacle for the Tories to reject months of partnership work at the last minute.

This in on the webcast from 1hr 25mins.

Opposing Transformation of Full Council Meetings

The webcast probably tells the story better than I can. This whole set of proposals appalled me. It seemed to be to save Councillors and officers the hassle of having to sit through council meetings where dissent and debate could happen. Tory and Labour councillors, being whipped, know the outcomes beforehand and just want to vote on each report and go home. As they chair all but one of all the other council committee meetings, they feel rather comfortable with the state of affairs. They reckon they can have their say in other meetings.

But Full Council meetings are the only meeting where councillors have an absolute right to speak, elsewhere it’s only with the consent of the Chair. I made this and many other points in my speech. Unfortunately they had started the timer before I actually started speaking – in fact it was at 40 seconds before I was underway. Then, with a tiny bit left to finish the Mayor was quick to cut me off. She then tried to incorrectly refused fellow Green councillors’ request to give me a time extension. Many Members, including the Mayor that evening, are under the misapprehension that you need 14 votes to support an extension, but actually the rule is that if there’s no objection the Council is considered to have consented to the extension. I tried to continue but the Mayor managed to rustle up a Tory to object. Which was appallingly undemocratic given it was a speech opposing reductions in speaking times!

I was eventually silenced, despite much protestation I might add! Another Tory wanted to have a vote on excluding me from the chamber for disobeying the Mayor, but I’m grateful that the Mayor chose not to take them up on that offer. Green Cllr Rachel Fryer spoke well in seconding our amendments to remove the worst of these proposals.

Conservative Cllr Brian Oxley, who I personally get on well with, was the main speaker in favour of the proposals. Despite having spoken several times the Mayor let him go on and on with an extension – further highlighting the imbalance of opportunities for free expression in council meetings. Cllr Oxley claimed that cutting speaking times from 10 and 5 minutes (for proposers & other speakers) to 5 and 3 minutes would allow more councillors to speak. But in most cases only a few councillors wish to speak because they are knowledgeable on the matter. I think it would be far better to let a speaker properly develop their argument rather than belt out a few soundbites. But given another proposal was to limit council meetings to only 4 hours, Cllr Oxley’s eye was on hitting that deadline rather than free speech for all councillors.

Sadly none of the Green amendments were passed, though I’m thankful for the LibDem’s support against the Tory/Labour coalition which forced the ‘streamlining’ of meetings through.

This items starts on the webcast from 2hrs 12:40.

Other points

The meeting had to select a single representative to the South Downs National Park Authority. None of the other opposition parties were willing to work with us on this. Furthermore, after having been told speeches would be allowed to promote why each candidate was qualified for the post, the Mayor absolutely would not allow any speeches. This lack of speeches was supported by the other parties, which I think was a great shame. My favourite Cabinet member, Cllr G Theobald, was duly selected as the council’s representative.

All three Notices of Motion proposed that evening were agreed by the council, including two Green ones. The one I proposed on maternity services (but all credit for the motion’s drafting has to go to my seconder Cllr Amy Kennedy and our political assistant Charlie Woodworth) was also supported, though after a bit of debate including attempts by Labour to suggest my working for Netmums prejudiced my involvement with a maternity notion. Pregnancy & birth are discussed on the Times, Mumsnet, the Guardian and hundreds of other media – I really don’t think I could possibly claim a prejudicial interest. If I worked for the NHS or my wife did then yes I would accept such a need to declare an interest – but not for Netmums!

All in all it was a boisterous meeting which once again showed that when it comes to preventing alternative views, Tories & Labour stick together to block us Greens as best they can. But they won’t succeed – trying to gag us only makes us want to fight harder for what we believe in.

UPDATE: I have added timestamps for the webcast so those interested can jump to the correct portion of the video.

A new, rather tame, waste strategy is approved

Waste management is rather magical for most people. No matter what they throw out, as long as it fits in the bins, disappears each week. But of course it doesn’t disappear, it just becomes someone else’s problem. We shift the waste into our countryside or we truck it to incinerators or ship it overseas.

This gives residents a false impression that the problem is dealt with, but of course it isn’t. It’s in someone else’s back yard or in the air they breathe. As a developed, modern society there is no need for us to be doing this – we have the skills and technology to make better use of nearly all our ‘waste’ and to do so locally.

Brighton & Hove’s municipal waste strategy is one part of how we can achieve such a vision. Well it could have been if the Conservatives weren’t in control. What we had was a worthy but overall weak and unambitious strategy. I accept that commercial waste is beyond the council’s legal responsibility, and this makes up a huge amount of the total waste mountain. However as the political leadership for the city, as the largest employer and as the municipal waste authority we have a huge opportunity to show leadership on waste issues, locally and nationally. We’re a forward looking city, I know residents would support such an approach.

I’ve covered this ground many times before but it really is disappointing that not even a food waste collection pilot is on the immediate cards. Below are my comments on the final draft of the strategy. There’s lots of hard work in there, and plenty of worthy ideas, just no big picture ambitious vision.

—-

This important strategy is very welcome, a strategic take on our waste challenges is vital. I suppose we must say better late than never given how long we’ve been waiting for this.

As I’ve said previously, the targets continue to lack ambition, they not only come in below national targets, but they also defer large increases in recycling rates until the more distant future: A 2.8 % point increase in the current period then an 8 % point increase targeted for the following 2 years. National targets look for more steady progress rather than spurts of improvement. The Sustainability Appraisal echoes these concerns and refers to a review of targets in 2011, when will we learn more of this review?

I must note that Greens remain opposed to the notion of incineration of waste at Newhaven and we are disappointed that this strategy schedules so much waste to go there.

There are lots of good ideas in this report, like the food waste reduction campaign with the Food Partnership; promoting online re-use schemes; a very important trade waste analysis and toy recycling. I warmly welcome the proposed trial of communal recycling and a study to better understand the challenges faced by city centre residents. The report notes that where waste is contained, recycling improves. Communal bins are totally uncontained and are a serious problem for addressing waste reduction.

I’m delighted the garden waste collection scheme may yet come forward as many including the Older Peoples’ Council and Greens have long been calling for such a scheme. I look forward to a positive outcome.

Food waste is a key issue, given that it makes up 35% of our municipal waste. The strategy’s arguments on this issue are somewhat circular. Page 21 says a reason for not pursuing food waste collections is that refuse collections are weekly. Page 25 then says that weekly collections will be maintained because food waste collections are not being planned. Which is it? What’s the problem? Food waste collection or weekly collections?

Many other authorities have solved these problems. Ultimately section 8 on residual waste seems to dodge around the critical issues a waste strategy needs to tackle. We should be leading on these matters, not waiting to follow others. Fortnightly collections are immaterial in the city centre where communal bins are emptied almost daily. We need to be piloting a full range of approaches to understand what works. Communications and enforcement campaigns have had limited success thus far and I’m sorry to say will not alone get our waste levels to where they need to be.

So, in closing, I welcome the ideas, studies and pilots proposed in this strategy. But overall it is a missed opportunity which I fear won’t make the progress on waste reduction we need to. I congratulate the Environment Directorate officers who have obviously worked very hard on this, the background documents are impressive pieces of work. Sadly the political leadership to tackle waste in this city doesn’t seem to be forthcoming from this administration. Perhaps next year’s review of targets will provide an opportunity for this council to up its game?

On making the breakthrough and change in the British political system

Political breakthroughs are often surprising and unexpected by many with no interest in their success.

110 years ago today there were no Labour MPs in Parliament. It wasn’t until October 1900 that the first two, Keir Hardie and Richard Bell, were elected. In 1906, thanks to a pact with the Liberals, there were 29 Labour MPs elected. The 1910 election saw 42 Labour MPs returned to the House of Commons. 1924 saw Labour’s first Prime Minister in Ramsay MacDonald backed by 191 Labour MPs. Splits in the Liberal Party gave Labour plenty of room to grow leaving Labour to become established as one of the two major British parties.

History never quite repeats itself exactly, but its lessons are always instructive. Many in the political bubble talk of the parties as if they are inviolable timeless structures which shall always endure. But none of the three major parties currently in Parliament can claim such status. Conservatives, while the oldest, still can only trace their current incarnation back to the 1830s. Labour to about 1899 when various unions and labour organisations decided to contest parliamentary seats. And of course the LibDems only date to 1988 though their origins go back much further than that.

This is a time of incredible social, economic and technological change. Are the parties of the 19th and 20th centuries best placed to represent and serve the citizens of a 21st century Britain? Not necessarily. I’m sure some of their members recognise the new challenges we face such as the LibDem’s Cory Doctorow or Labour’s Tom Watson MP. But structurally I’m not sure those parties are best placed to respond to the new challenges.

When people raise questions about whether it’s worth voting Green given we won’t form the next government or that it’s between Gordon Brown and David Cameron, I respond that change has to start somewhere. Back in October 1900 voters had to vote for what they believed in, that a new party for the labour movement could come of age if given a chance.

Today I believe the Green Party is ready to come of age also. A party that puts social justice, public service and the environment ahead of free trade and trying to keep up with the military superpowers. Labour have lost their way, the Conservatives are divided between emulating ’97 era New Labour and their old hard-right ways whilst the LibDems struggle to resolve what they truly stand for.

We’re on the cusp of a fundamental change in the British political system – I believe a diversity of newer parties are going to have a major role to play in reform. I hope people will trust their vote in Greens to play our part.


This evening’s budget council meeting let the city’s residents down

Tonight was the night for the full council to decide the budget for the next year. The opposition parties could, if they had worked together, have amended the Tory budget to remove the harshest cuts and reallocate spending. I will copy the detail of the Green amendments below so you can get a flavour of the cuts we wanted to reverse, and the ideas we proposed. I’m disappointed that other than £10k for piloting digital tools for older people with Age Concern, none of our proposals went through. One of the LibDem amendments to go through, providing energy meters on loan in libraries, is something I first suggested over two years ago but didn’t think to include in this budget, so I’m glad they picked it up and go it in.

But the whole process is what I want to reflect on here. Firstly, and I welcome this, the Tory administration published a first draft budget much earlier in the year. This was very helpful and for the first time the scrutiny committees got to meet and discuss the budget. As a result of this and other feedback a number of proposed cuts, such as to the History Centre and respite care, were rolled back way ahead of the budget meeting.

Meanwhile the Green group of councillors were working up a range of amendments with our own ideas and priorities. Fully aware of the potential of joint opposition working, we for months were approaching the opposition parties trying to initiate a collaborative approach. They kept delaying meetings or asking us to wait for their amendments to be ready. Two weeks ago we put forward a suggested set of joint amendments. Labour refused saying they would continue with how they have worked on previous budgets: That is submitting a set of their own amendments without reference to what the other groups were doing.

The problem is, you can’t spend the same money twice. So without jointly figuring out what our various priorities were and how we could fit them together into a balanced budget, it was going to be difficult to make successful amendments to the Tory budget work.

The Council’s Chief Executive also called a number of Leaders’ Group meetings (where the leaders of the political groups on the council get together with lead officers) ahead of the budget meeting to try and broker some deals. Other than offering, at the last minute today, less than £80k to support a few minor opposition amendments, no deals were forthcoming.

Whilst the amendments Labour submitted weren’t as good (in our Green view) as our own, they still undid many of the worst Tory cuts. So Greens were willing to support them in the hope of getting a less bad budget for the city. Labour refused to support our amendments, even ones similar to their own. The two Liberal Democrat councillors sat on their hands on votes for many opposition amendments, even when we supported Labour amendments. With the Independent councillor supporting the Tories, without LibDem votes the Labour amendments fell.

So the only opportunities to prevent the cuts passed by. The meeting ended with the budget passing after Greens were the only party to vote against the Tory budget full of cuts and frankly bizarre capital spending priorities. As councillors buzzed around at the end, it became clear to us that Labour had asked the LibDems not to support their own amendments! This ensured their amendments would not be carried. Deals clearly had been done with the Tories to support the status quo and stop the Greens from getting too much influence. So to be absolutely clear about this — while Labour pretended to amend the budget, from what I overheard they had already made sure their amendments could not succeed by getting LibDems to not vote in favour of them. Alternatively the Tories did deals with both of them directly. How else could ‘progressive’ parties fail to stop cuts to critical budgets such as social care?

The cynical political plotting by the parties has left the city with a worse budget than it needed be. It’s sorely disappointing. Meanwhile the debate suffered from mostly being based on fighting battles from the eighties or silly point scoring about national outcomes after the general election. The two amendments I’d been championing around food and garden waste were opposed for the most spurious reasons. Labour claimed home composting would suffer with a green waste collection, yet clearly many households are never going to be able to home compost plus much garden waste isn’t compostable without being chipped. On food waste the irrelevant spectre of fortnightly collections (which Tories are terrified of) reared its head when in the city centre communal bins are emptied almost daily!

The current political culture in our city council is excessively plotting, bitter, cynical and does not serve the best interests of this city’s residents. I wish I could think of suggestions on how to improve the chances of joint working. But we Greens spent weeks and weeks trying to get engagement from other parties without any clear interest from the others. If they’re going to do deals for their own personal benefit (perhaps Official Opposition status again next year which brings with it large additional allowances for several councillors) ahead of what’s best for the city, I really don’t know what to suggest.

I’d love to offer an alternative analysis but I feel we saw the worst of the councillors tonight. And once again, divisions on the left of the political spectrum let the right win through.

Green Group Amendments

(I don’t have a digital copy yet, the full details will be published on the council website soon enough, so I’ll just type out the rough basics of our proposals)

  • £10k to fund 50% of an Age Concern worker to develop a WiredAge pilot project involving older people with online tools.
  • £150k to fund up to 900 families in lower council tax bands getting home insulation
  • £25k for an additional noise patrol shift per week
  • £180k to fund enhanced sustainability measures at each of the 9 secondary schools in the city (£20k each)
  • £69k to temporarily increase the discretionary grants budget this year
  • A cost neutral green waste collection service paid for by participating residents. Estimated cost for residents of £90 per annum based on 4,000 participants.
  • £100k to re-start Valley Gardens transport project – feasibility & design work.
  • £150k one-off transfer to the winter maintenance reserve.
  • Reverse £126k cut to Youth Offending Service.
  • Reverse £137k of £332k cuts to home to school transport budget.
  • Reverse £137k of £300k cuts to adult social care services commissioning cuts.
  • Remove £100k annual increase in winter maintenance budget.
  • Reduce the budget for mowing grass verges by £100k.
  • £40k to fund a detailed study in to running a viable food waste collection trial.
  • £20k to fund a travel plan for Varndean, Stringer & Balfour campus.
  • £490k to bring around 15 empty council properties into use.
  • Reduce the seafront maintenance budget by £50k.
  • Remove £500k for the new transport model (which has no business case to support the £1m cost over its 5 year life).
  • Change resident parking permits to base the cost on CO2 emissions of the vehicle, raising £240k in the first year and £490k in later years.
  • £32k to improve downland management through collection & composting on priority downland areas and bringing forward sheep grazing.
  • Reverse £208k of the £410k cut in Adult Social Care relating to personal budgets.

Rogue Kindle Survey is not a Political poll

The Argus play an important part in Brighton & Hove’s community and political life. I have it delivered every morning.

So it’s particularly disappointing that they’ve published the results of a survey in the guise of a proper political poll. What do I mean by that? Well respected political pollsters like ICM, MORI etc use agreed procedures set by the British Polling Council. They weight results using measures to make the result more representative and a better predictor of election results. They also put a huge amount of thought into the questions to improve the likelihood that the results are accurate predictors of electoral behaviour.

Of course polls make mistakes and there are elections where pollsters collectively get it wrong (e.g. Major’s surprise 1992 victory over Kinnock). But the results The Argus quotes are clearly way out of line. Greens scored 22% in Brighton Pavilion for the 2005 General Election, so a 12% Green vote-share is completely incongruous with Greens’ 31.4% in the 2009 Euros, 41.6% in the 2007 Regency by-election and 35% in the Dec 2009 ICM poll (see all the graphs). Furthermore, while I’m not keen to promote Tory chances, it’s absurd to suggest Labour are 10% ahead of the Tories in Brighton Pavilion in the face of a clear national Conservative poll lead of 6-10% and all recent local elections having Tories in a firm second place. This is a rogue survey, it doesn’t deserve to be given the status of poll.

For these figures The Argus cites a survey by Kindle Research, who look to be a small technology research consultancy, not political pollsters. From the information I’ve seen Kindle did ensure demographics were representative of the constituencies – they asked 336 people in each of the three Brighton & Hove parliamentary constituencies. This is a small sample size compared with 533 for the Dec 2009 ICM poll. They also didn’t prompt for ANY political parties. Political polls habitually prompt, because that’s what a ballot paper does when electors come to vote. Kindle also failed to filter out non-voters, which is a basic first step in political polling. I also understand that the political questions were tagged onto the end of a set of completely unrelated questions on a different topic. Kindle admit to having a 10% margin of error (compared to ICM’s 4.3%) but I think it’s even greater than that given not only the small sample size but the type of questioning without prompts or mention of the constituency.

In Brighton Pavilion Greens are fielding Caroline Lucas our high-profile leader, an MEP for 10 years and we have more than doubled our number of councillors in the city since 2005. The results The Argus cites just aren’t credible and do them a disservice.

The full Kindle Research results for Brighton Pavilion:

Labour 26%

Conservative 16%

Green 12%

LibDems 5%

UKIP 1%

Other 1%

Would not vote 11%

Undecided 19%

Refused 7%


Preston Street: Ready for Regeneration

Preston Street needs help. Working with the traders association, chaired by Angelo Martinoli, we’ve tried petitions, meeting with cabinet members and their officers as well as press work in The Argus. Progress has been minimal I’m afraid, other than a few minor tweaks here and there and one vacant shop now with council-provided boarding.

This video highlights some of what the street is going through – I had to cut many other examples and comments from traders to keep it a reasonable length. The main three issues I hear again and again are:

  • The need for something like the i360 tower development to come forward to bring more people into the area;
  • Improved street-scape as the current setup is unattractive, riddled with double-parking and unworkable — ideally pedestrianisation or shared-space as on New Road is needed;
  • The recognition that many tourists drive to Brighton but parking fees discourage people staying in that part of town when other car parks elsewhere are cheaper.

As a Green, parking is a tricky one for me, but I don’t like waste and the council’s Regency Square car park currently stands mostly empty every day. Since this film was made the council have approved new 1 hour and fixed evening fees for Regency Square (before 2 hours was the minimum charge). These are yet to have been implemented and were brought forward without any consultation or discussion beyond the initial petitions I presented flagging up the poor use of the car park.

We’ll be sending this video to key decision-makers in the council. Please do support Preston Street and if you have any comments or ideas get in touch.