Tag Archives: brighton

A bad day for the public interest

What a strange day it has been. I’ve had a very productive time at work whilst lots of other things have been bubbling over:

  • London Elects and the Greater London Returning Officer (the people responsible for the London Mayoral and Assembly elections) had asked for responses to their cost-benefit analysis of manual vs e-counting in 2012. I had just completed ORG’s response earlier this week, which argued that given the £1.5m saving from going manual, there seemed to be no good reason for e-counting. Today was a ’round table’ to also explore issues covered in the analysis. However rather than being the consultation event we expected, ORG’s Executive Director was told that the decision to e-count the 2012 London election had already been taken. Not even a pretence of keeping an open mind! No proper debate or consideration has taken place, just a firm commitment to press ahead with e-counting regardless of costs or consequences.
  • Meanwhile in Brighton & Hove I submitted a formal request to Brighton & Hove City Council’s acting Chief Executive that he ‘call-in’ a decision made by the Tory Cabinet earlier this month. This means the decision is suspended and hopefully will be examined by a scrutiny committee. Why? Because the reports for the decision, over pedestrianising parts of East Street,  failed to include comments from any residents in spite of several having provided detailed objections. Council decisions cannot be based on consultations which have failed to include residents views. This just makes people (more) cynical about consultations and prevents decisions being taken on the balanced information.
  • Finally some Freedom of Information requests I put in some time ago have come to fruition, somewhat explaining why such huge rent rises are being demanded from seafront businesses. The reason? A big fat commission-based fee for the consultant leading the rent reviews for the Council. More details in “Huge consultant fees encourage seafront rent hikes“.

Huge consultant fees encourage seafront rent hikes

Just published this press release, you can read more of the backstory in my earlier post.

SHOCK AT HUGE FEES EARNED BY COUNCIL’S SEAFRONT RENT RISE CONSULTANT

A Freedom of Information request submitted by Green City Cllr Jason Kitcat has revealed details of Brighton & Hove City Council’s contract with a firm of chartered surveyors hired to negotiate seafront rent rates.

The documents released show that aside from charging a monthly retainer, expenses and a ‘per unit’ fee, HLL Humberts Leisure receives a commission of 30 per cent of any rent increase they negotiate.*

The news comes after months of protests by seafront traders about rent increases of up to 300 per cent. **

Jason, who represents Regency Ward which includes the seafront from the Peace Statue to the Palace Pier, said:

“It’s no wonder the Council is pressuring seafront traders into massive rent increases when the consultant leading the process is going to be earning 30 per cent of the rises plus expenses.

“This is exactly the wrong approach to be taking with our unique, independent seafront businesses – and undermines Tory claims to support small business.

“Bad weather over the last few summers and the ongoing recession means life is already hard for many of the city’s seafront traders, but rather than bolster them through difficult times, the Tories seem determined to squeeze out every last drop.

“If we have empty arches along the seafront next year the Tory administration will be to blame.

“The fee structure the Council has agreed to with the consultant concerned means he wins, while local small businesses and taxpayers lose out. This would not be the Green approach at all. We accept the need for the Council to make a fair return from its properties, but not at the expense of our local businesses and tourist trade.”

ENDS

Notes for Editors:

* The documents released show that the consultant of HLL Humberts Leisure is charging the council £1,500 + VAT as a monthly retainer, receives 30 per cent of rent increases, expenses and disbursements as well as £150/hour for adjudications. Furthermore a minimum fee of £1,500 or more plus VAT is being set for each unit’s review regardless of the final increase agreed.

** Cllr Kitcat presented a petition on behalf of the Seafront Traders Association calling for a rethink on the council’s approach to seafront business rents on the 9th July 2009. More info at: http://www.brightonandhovegreenparty.org.uk/h/n/NEWS/press_releases/ALL/656/

Reflections on the Green win in Goldsmid

Going down with swine flu in the final few days of the Goldsmid campaign was pretty galling. I missed those golden last days of campaigning and of course the count…

When party chair Simon Williams rang me with the result I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, the result was beyond my expectations. I had been quietly hoping for a narrow victory over the Tories, but a 350 vote margin – wow! Amy summed it up best with “Goldsmid: Epic Green Win”

Turnout was 9 points above the Regency by-election, I think a sign of the greater interest in the Goldsmid result and warmer weather (the Regency by-election was on a cold 13th December).

There has been some debate in the blogosphere over why people voted Green. Labour activist Dan Wilson argues Greens aren’t passionate about the city, that we’re using it as a vehicle for Westminster success. Nevertheless Wilson also claims Greens don’t have any achievements from 13 years on the council.

All I can say to Dan is, if we didn’t care about this city there’s no way we’d still be working our socks off 13 years later! Many changes were Green initiated from council webcasts to refusing directly elected mayors, much more in our archives.

I think Brighton Politics blogger is right to surmise that Labour’s collapse in support in Goldsmid had many good national and local reasons and that the city’s political landscape has changed. (Former?) Labour activist Neil Harding also agreed with this analysis. Of course fellow Green Cllr Ben Duncan also was keen to celebrate our success.

Mary Mears and others were quick to criticise our policies or claim our leaflets had been misleading. They somehow arrogantly prefer to assume that voters are stupid than actually believe voters may have preferred the policies and approach used by the Green Party! Perhaps easier for our opponents to swallow when facing our second straight by-election win, first seat won off a Tory and first seat in Hove.

Having lead the design and writing of all of our leaflets in Goldsmid I’m very confident in stating they were truthful and straightforward. We discussed our policies on:

  • Education
  • Employment
  • Energy efficiency
  • Housing
  • Honesty & Integrity in public life
  • Older people
  • Transport
  • Waste & Recycling

We also touched on our opposition to privatisation, ID cards, nuclear power & weapons, wars and council tax.

We additionally exposed some of the cosy votes Tories and Labour have taken together, giving each other additional allowances as well as forcing in the new council constitution a year early. Our leaflets had to rebut some of the false allegations from others and explain to voters that Alex was blocked by the Tory mayor from speaking on residents’ behalf.

I’m very happy with how the leaflets were received. Based on what I’ve seen from the opposition we not only covered far more policy than all the others combined, we were more positive and avoided personal attacks.

The other parties were all misleading about us at some point or another but Labour, as usual, excelled in false allegations. They claimed that Alex hadn’t attended local meetings when she had (in fact despite Labour Cllr Melanie Davies trying to block her), claimed Alex was a student when she isn’t and claimed she works for Caroline Lucas MEP when she doesn’t.

So, unless there’s truly a skeleton in the closet to be exposed, I think once again we see negative campaigning doesn’t work.

The Green success story continues, we’re set for more hard work in winning votes for the General Election. And the Green group of councillors know we need to work harder than ever to make this council work for the city and keep people’s faith in us. With power so finely balanced lots of negotiation and detailed proposals will be required but we might, just might, be able to get more Green policies in place if councillors in all parties can stay open minded and resist petty back-biting. We shall see…

The Learning & Skills Council fiasco

You may have been aware of the grand plans a good number of colleges in Brighton & Hove had been preparing over the last two years. These plans involved new facilities, amazing new buildings, incredible resources and flights of architectural imagination. Certainly I didn’t agree with all the detailed plans but I welcomed the additional resources scheduled to be ploughed into education in our local colleges.

But the resources weren’t in fact there. In an astonishing, jaw-dropping tale of mismanagement it subsequently emerged that the Learning & Skills Council, a government quango, had massively overpromised. They had told hundreds of colleges to proceed with their plans, take out loans and hire consultants, architects etc to flesh out their plans. However finally the LSC had to admit they couldn’t afford to pay for all the schemes they had initially suggested should proceed.

How so many colleges could be led up the garden path by a government body beggars belief, it’s an epic cock-up whereby hundreds of colleges will be left out of pocket due to government failings – taxpayers are paying for these problems.

A committee of MPs have come to similar conclusions. More from the excellent Westminster blog I Spy Strangers (who I feel report on Parliamentary business in an old fashioned way – which is a good thing in this context):

A committee of MPs has castigated the “financial fiasco of the capital programme in further education colleges” and blamed the “heinously complicated” management structure at the Learning and Skills Council.

“But, as we set out in this report, no-one was keeping an eye on the total amount of money which was being committed and the value of applications coming forward.
“In December 2008 it suddenly dawned on the senior management of DIUS and the LSC that the total potential cost of projects which had received ‘Approval in Principle’ exceeded the capital budget and many more applications were in the pipeline.
“Far from trying to damp down increasing demand in 2008 the LSC had been encouraging it.”

I hope Brighton & Hove’s colleges pull through this, I know we’ll support them 100% in trying to recoup their losses from the government.