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notes from JK

Release on my YouTube hearing

Further to my previous post, here’s the release I’ve put out on the whole matter. Due to the procedures, I’ve not been able to discuss this publicly in detail since the complaint was filed in February 2009. Feels good to talk about it now!

For immediate release: 09 July 2010

From the Green Group of Councillors, Brighton & Hove City Council

TORY COUNCILLORS TRY TO BLOCK GREEN FROM PUTTING COUNCIL MEETINGS ON YOUTUBE

Open government in Brighton & Hove was dealt a blow today when Conservative councillors attempted to stop Green Cllr Jason Kitcat from putting clips of a council meeting on YouTube.

Cllr Kitcat was subject to a standards panel hearing over his use of YouTube, after a complaint was made by Conservative Cllr Ted Kemble (a Cabinet member at the time of his complaint) supported by Council Leader Cllr Mary Mears and Deputy Leader Cllr Brian Oxley.

The complaint centred on Conservative members’ unhappiness with how Cllr Kitcat had put clips of council meetings on YouTube. These clips are already published for all to see online, but in a less easy-to-access format through the Council’s website.

“Many residents don’t want to sit through entire three or four hour meetings nor watch the whole thing online; they want to jump to the bits they’re interested in. When I found I couldn’t reliably link to sections of the webcasts, I put them on YouTube for ease of access by residents,” commented Cllr Kitcat.
“Most of these clips featured my questions on behalf of residents about communal bins. This seems to have caused Conservatives to try blocking my actions through a politically-motivated Code of Conduct complaint.”

“Rather than celebrating and encouraging openness, transparency and greater resident interest in the workings of our council, the Conservatives seem to prefer that the webcasts of council meetings stay restricted to the less than user-friendly council site.

“Putting clips of these webcasts on sites like YouTube makes them much more accessible and easy to use. As a councillor I am committed to being as open and accessible to my constituents as possible, hence my use of a blog, Twitter and YouTube.”

Despite one member admitting to not having even viewed the videos before attending the hearing, the panel decided that Cllr Kitcat had failed to treat Cllr Geoffrey Theobald with respect and had used the council’s resources improperly for political purposes.

The panel decided that Cllr Kitcat should be censured for his actions and be suspended for up to six months if he does not write an apology to Cllr Theobald and submit to re-training on the roles and responsibilities of being a councillor.

“The panel completely failed to understand the arguments I made, that putting a video on YouTube does not deprive the council of any resources whilst also making its working more open,” says Cllr Kitcat. “Furthermore, the investigating officer and Cllr Theobald felt there was no breach of the code with regard to respect. Additionally the officer report accepted that there had been no material loss to the council through my actions. Yet the Conservative complainant and the panel chose to pursue this complaint when clearly my actions benefited the people of this city at no detriment to the council.”

“I shall be fighting this case at an appeal Tribunal, it has been a complete waste of council officer time and money investigating this matter and I refute the panel’s findings,” concluded Cllr Kitcat. “With Conservative-led changes to the council constitution including cutting down speaking times, the number of questions councillors can ask and limiting the number of motions at council meetings – this complaint is a another step in the Tory attempts to close down democratic debate in our city.”



NOTES TO EDITORS

* Cllr Jason Kitcat can be contacted for comment on 07956 886 508

* At Cllr Kitcat’s request the papers and (once ready) the minutes from the panel hearing are available to the public online at http://bit.ly/bqUmdS

* Cllr Kitcat’s YouTube channel can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/user/jpkitcat

* Cllr Kitcat’s statement to the panel will shortly be available on his blog at http://www.jasonkitcat.com

Categories
notes from JK

Tories try to get me suspended for putting council meetings on YouTube

In haste, because I’ve got a busy afternoon working on some great upgrades for Netmums, this morning I had to attend a standards hearing due to a Tory complaint. Tories weren’t happy that I put clips of council meeting webcasts, which are already online, onto YouTube and then my blog.

The panel decided I had breached the code and agreed some sanctions – I’ll type the details up later but in essence suspension hangs over my head for just putting some video on YouTube to make it easier for residents to see. So the Conservative attack on our local democracy continues – they forced through the cabinet system early, they have cut speaking times, the number of questions and motions councillors can put and now they’re trying to block our making videos more accessible. So much for their priority of openness and transparency!

I’m grateful to officers that, after my request, they have already published all the papers for the panel online. My presentation to the panel is copied below, more later. I will be appealing this decision.

UPDATE: Perhaps the oddest thing of this whole bizarre episode is that, in spite of their obvious unhappiness with the putting of Council webcasts onto YouTube videos, they haven’t asked me to take them down!

My presentation to the Panel

The Standards Committee’s Assessment Panel considered that Cllr Kemble’s complaint against me could be considered as being under three points of the code:

  • Failure to treat others with respect;
  • Failure, when using the resources of the authority –
    • To act in accordance with the authority’s reasonable requirements; and
    • To ensure that such resources are not used improperly for political or party political purposes.

I will argue that I have not breached the code under any of these three points. And just to clarify, the videos I put online were not edited in any way, just cropped down to be shorted. Full details of the meeting they were taken from was included next to the videos on YouTube.

I will address these three items in turn, briefly as most of the arguments have been covered in the papers.

Failure to treat others with respect

The investigating officer does not find that I have failed to treat others with respect. Cllr Kemble complained that I had been “underhand and devious”.

Given that the council meetings are held in public, broadcast to the world via the Internet, and I merely put portions of them on another part of the Internet (and so still in public) – my actions cannot have been underhand or devious – as they were clearly there for all to see!

If these had been videos of speeches delivered at private events I would accept the need to request permission before publishing the videos. But these videos were already published and the meetings already very clearly public.

Furthermore they did nothing more than show what happened at the council meetings. Anything “malicious or bullying” at the meetings themselves would have been ruled out of order, as well as the being subject of their own standards complaint. Merely pointing to sections of a meeting cannot be taken as being malicious or bullying.

So I refute this aspect of the complaint fully, and have done so in more detail in my letter to Mr Foley of 4th August 2009.

Failure to act in accordance with the authority’s reasonable requirements

Again, as the investigating officer notes, at the time of the complaint the webcasting protocol did nothing to restrict my actions in terms of putting clips on YouTube. The protocol did however encourage openness as do the Ten General Principles of Public Life included in the code of conduct and promoted by the Committee for Standards in Public Life.

I believe I acted completely properly in this regard and so agree with the report that there isn’t a case to answer with regards to failing to act in accordance with the authority’s reasonable requirements.

Failure to ensure that such resources are not used improperly for political or party political purposes

Section 6(b)(ii) of the code is the nub of the matter where I disagree with the investigating officer’s reasoning.

I would like to clarify my understanding of the word “political”. In my view everything I do as a councillor is political and politics is the ‘trade’ I am in when acting as a councillor. So when I said that I posted the clips onto YouTube for political reasons, that is because I believe council meetings and everything relating to them is political. However I do not believe my usage, as will be addressed late, was ‘political’ in the sense meant by the code of conduct.

In the investigating officer’s summary report he accepts that “there was no material loss” to the council – so it is arguable whether any resources were used at all. The report also mentions that facilities and resources can only be used properly if justified as being part of their roles as a councillor. The Independent Remuneration Panel’s definitions of formal councillor duties includes attending full council and cabinet meetings, which is exactly what I was doing in the clips published – hence their use was proper.

Of the 5 clips this complaint covers, one is just myself speaking to second a notice of motion on pre-pay energy meter charges. This was a motion jointly proposed with the Labour group – it was not party political. Furthermore, as the House of Commons allows MPs to post videos of their own speeches on YouTube without difficulty, I do not see why my own speech should be cause for concern under this complaint.

That leaves the four other clips involving questions about communal bins from myself with responses from Councillors Mears and Theobald.

Communal bins were at that time being rolled out in my ward, as they were in neighbouring wards. All councillors whose wards were being affected asked questions in council and cabinet meetings, as did those with an interest in the Environment Cabinet brief. At that time I was not the Green Group’s waste and recycling spokesperson, I was purely acting as a ward councillor as were others from all parties when asking such questions.

Furthermore, in his interview, Cllr Kemble alleges that I had placed the videos on my blog to further my ambitions for the European elections. I didn’t post anything on my site relating to the European Elections until 12th May 2009, more than two months after Cllr Kemble sent in his complaint.

Long before and long after Cllr Kemble’s complaint I have been posting on my blog reports of my council work including text, sections of meeting minutes, photos and videos. So his accusation that these clips were posted for those reasons do not stand up.

Finally, if webcasts were deemed political they should have been taken down during the election ‘purdah’ periods but they were not this year nor last year. The videos just show members undertaking their democratic duties, as is right and proper.

So, the clips were not posted for political or party political reasons because members from all affected wards and all parties were asking similar questions. I was not campaigning for European Parliament at that time and I was not the Green Group’s spokesperson on this matter at the time, Cllr Rufus was.

So on that basis I do not believe I have broken 6(b)(ii).

However I also would argue that I have not broken this section of the code on the basis that I have not used the council’s resources. So not only was the act not political, but furthermore no council resources were used to post the videos to YouTube.

As repeatedly stated, and agreed by the investigating officers, I used my personal computer and broadband to view the webcasts as I often do to refresh my memory before writing a blog post.

On seeing some pertinent sections I screen grabbed the video for posting on YouTube. Technically this did not touch the Council’s servers further whatsoever. To view the webcast the video file is downloaded to your computer over the Internet. Rewinding to view sections already viewed just retrieves the video from your computer’s local memory, no further Internet access is required. Hence the video capture used no council resources in terms of computers or broadband beyond what I used to view the webcast normally. Viewing the webcast alone cannot reasonably be considered a breach of the code!

Furthermore digital files like the webcast videos are what economists call ‘non-rival goods’. That is they are unlike a cake, for example. If I eat all of a cake then you cannot eat it too, but with a digital file I can use it and so can you with neither of us being any worse off.

Indeed, I can copy a digital file online a thousand times at zero cost for all my friends and the original will still be in perfect condition. A cake cannot manage that feat – you would need to bake a new cake, with the costs of all the ingredients, to copy it even once.

So in my copying the video for use on YouTube I did not deprive anyone of the ability to view or save the webcast in the future. In fact I made it easier for people to view certain points of interest from council meetings.

The final argument made by the investigating officer is that the webcast’s copyright is a resource of the council. As a matter of principle I disagree. These webcasts show elected members, officers and residents participating in public meetings which make up the workings of our local democracy. If they belong to the council they only do so in trust for the good of the entire city. Indeed if one were to take the idea that the copyright is a resource of the council then should each person shown on camera not get a royalty payment for each sale of the webcast covering their recorded performance?

There is no serious commercial market for these webcasts, they are a public good. A £35 charge is made for copying them onto disc, that is to cover the cost of someone actually doing the job of retrieving the archive, getting a disc and delivering it to the member of the public who wants the disc. This £35 charge is in no way a meaningful source of income for the council.

In Form A (ii) the investigating officer rebuts this argument claiming good authority for intellectual property having financial and commercial value. However the citations provided relate to the world of commerce – of course Apple or Hewlett-Packard have plenty of value in their patents, copyrights and other intellectual property. But this council and its members are owned by the people of this city and acts on their behalf.

Parliament, despite complex TV licensing agreements for video coverage, already allows MPs to post videos of their own speeches on YouTube and is shortly going to allow all clips to be posted by anyone on sites such as YouTube.

Indeed minutes from council meetings are already regularly copied onto local blogs by councillors and members of the public. The council has, as yet, not been seen to pursue any of these bloggers for breach of the council’s intellectual property. If the investigating officer’s line of argument was to believed, these bloggers too are depriving the council of financial resources. But no action has arisen, because of course these are resources for the good of the whole city. In addition, copyright law has a provision for ‘fair dealing’ which permits the use of limited excerpts, even in commercial works, without recompense or license to the copyright holder.

So, I have already made the case that these clips were not political, and so the charge of “Failure to ensure that such resources are not used improperly for political or party political purposes” falls. I have also argued that technically, I did not use any additional IT resources beyond those needed to view the clip. So I did not breach the code on that count. Finally I have detailed how I did not deprive the council of any intellectual property or implied financial resource because digital goods are non-rival, the council has not previously chosen to enforce any intellectual rights on previous copying, they have no meaningful commercial value and there is a fair-dealing option under copyright which covers reasonable excerpts.

Thus, I respectfully put to the panel that there is no case for me to answer. I have not breached the code with regard to:

Failure to treat others with respect


Failure to act in accordance with the authority’s reasonable requirements

Failure to ensure that such resources are not used improperly for political or party political purposes

I thank you for your consideration, I urge you to reject these charges and am open to your questions.

[ENDS]

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notes from JK

Why Greens refuse to participate in the council’s ‘Intelligent Commissioning’ reforms

This week, on the day of George Osborne’s emergency budget and Brighton Trades Council’s anti-cuts protest, Greens announced our opposition to a council restructure process known as ‘Intelligent Commissioning’. We will also not participate in the recruitment process to find new ‘Strategic Directors’ to push this process forward.

As I spoke about this to the gathered protestors there were strong cheers of agreement. The unions understand that, as has happened in the NHS and the education system, commissioning tends to result in privatisation, poorer working conditions and reduced democratic control of public services.

However the other opposition parties, while they have been critical of the £125k + benefits packages for these new directors, were quick to criticise our position. They felt we should be ‘inside the process’ of recruiting these people and so on.

I don’t agree. When the council’s new Chief Executive John Barradell was recruited, Greens participated in the process. Barradell spoke then, I’m told, of his desire to improve the council’s reputation amongst residents, make it more customer service orientated and more efficient. Who could disagree with that? After starting work he continued to expand on his ambition to improve the council. We share that desire.

However it wasn’t until recently that he explained that he wanted to do this through a process of ‘intelligent commissioning’ led by a set of new directors, a series of delivery units and so abolishing the existing council directorates. As I’ll explain below, we oppose commissioning in the way proposed. We won’t get to vote on these proposals as the Tory cabinet supports them and Chief Exec Barradell doesn’t need council approval to re-organise his staff. So to show our opposition to this process, to make our stand clear, we have refused to participate in the recruitment process.

I have no strong desire the retain the directorates as they are. However the thinking behind commissioning is flawed. As I understand it from the reports I’ve read and how it works in our local NHS, this is the proposal: A service is defined, such as waste collection, day care, tourism promotion or licensing enforcement. What the council wants delivered for that service is specified and then put out to tender. Council teams can bid to run this service (alone or in partnership with other groups), private firms can also bid as well as the ‘third sector’ such as charities and co-operatives.

What’s ‘intelligent’ about this process is the way the service is specified with ‘customers’ in mind, that it will be results orientated, that charities and other groups can get involved and we could jointly tender for services (so pooling budgets and saving money) with other local public sector organisations such as NHS Trusts.

What could be wrong with that? Well as the Health Overview & Scrutiny Committee found with local NHS commissioning, these processes tend to favour large corporations who can afford to participate in these complex bidding processes. The staff used to provide the services are usually on less secure, less well paid contracts with worse pensions. Quality can also be an issue.

Additionally, the evidence so far with NHS contracting, is that the costs are often higher. This is because the tender process is not that competitive (the same big players are the only ones pitching around the country for the same types of contracts), the tender process itself is time-cosnuming and costly plus for some services private companies demand premiums for the risks involved which the public sector would have otherwise regularly borne.

Of course there are cases when partnership working makes sense, and using the expertise of private companies and the third sector can absolutely be the right thing to do. But government, the public sector, is about providing those services for all sectors of society which a market has failed to do, need to be managed in the general public interest or that individuals alone could not possibly afford, such as expert social care or careful management of our seafront.

Furthermore, as we’ve seen time and again in the NHS, once the services are contracted out it’s much harder for democratically elected representatives to hold them to account. We get told basic information is ‘commercially sensitive’ or that we’ll only find out more once a formal target review is held. We can’t hold managers employed by private firms to account. If things go wrong there is little option other than trying to terminate the contract – which can prove very costly. We’ve been here before locally, our waste collection contract went to two private firms before being returned in-house for a much improved service.

I believe that we should be focussing on running a council that is proud of its staff: A group of people expert in what they do, striving for excellence and delivering public services at decent value for the tax payer.

By keeping services in-house we can give staff the job security they need to do their best work, develop their skills and also train new generations to serve their city. Sometimes it will make sense to go for private help, such as for expert restoration of specific historic artefact or construction of a major project. However, as I saw when a private consultant was used to negotiate rents for seafront traders, once an in-house surveyor was hired a much more reasonable and long term approach was taken.

It’s my view that we can take this city from good to superb only with a strong commitment to council staff. They do many wonderful things already. But I believe they can deliver even more. To get there it would help if they were removed from being under the constant threat of tendering that ‘intelligent commissioning’ would bring.

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current affairs

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?

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current affairs

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.

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notes from JK

Speech: Maternity Services in Brighton & Hove

This speech was presented to the Full Council meeting of Brighton & Hove City Council on 18th March 2010. It was to propose a Green notice of motion on maternity services, which was passed by the meeting:

Amidst much downbeat news on the NHS, it is doubly worth celebrating, as this motion does, the local Primary Care Trust’s plans to introduce a midwife led birthing centre in our city.

For far too long the majority of mothers have had to trek to Crowborough for a midwife led birth or go to the Royal Sussex County hospital for a ‘standard practice’ birth. An increasing number have been wanting to have home births but the resources have not always been available to support this. Furthermore Crowborough birthing centre only has six beds – so the choice has not been a reality for many families.

Of course good, trouble-free births do happen every week at hospitals. I support the good work our local hospital does, this motion is about offering families meaningful choices.

For so-called “normal” pregnancies home and birthing centre births are just as safe, if not safer than the hospital environment. For it is in hospitals, where birth still tends to be overly medicalised, that unnecessary interventions with unintended side-effects still happen too often.

Much obstetrician thinking is still too male dominated. Doctors tend to treat birth as something that happens to a women, in the way disease happens to someone, rather than an incredible thing that women do and have been doing for millennia.

We celebrate the advances in medicine which have dramatically reduced childbirth mortality rates. But traumatic births, due to inconsiderate and inappropriate medical interventions, should be avoided wherever possible. For the trauma of a difficult birth has lasting physical and psychological impacts on mother and child, hence their partners and surrounding family too.

Women being offered epidurals, “because the anaesthetist is around now”, being strapped to monitors which restrict their movement in the critical stages of labour and being given epistomies because mums are made to deliver lying in that most unnatural position, on their backs. These are all examples of unnecessary interventions which still happen in NHS hospitals. These are actions which have a lasting impact on the wellbeing of mothers.   Medical interventions often require additional recovery and healing, hindering mothers from caring for their children in those precious early days.

Such interventions are extremely rare in midwife led-birthing centres. Midwifes have a different, more nurturing model of birth which trusts women in their ability to deliver safely and naturally. Of course they have the training and skills to deal with the complications which can occur, but most births can and do proceed without major intervention.

Birth is a life changing moment for all concerned. The mother in a state of anxiety, pain and intense physical vulnerability and the father trying to make himself useful in one way or another. A midwife is in a unique position of experience and skill to empathise with and support the expectant family.

When my wife was expecting a few short years ago, we started off with different midwives at each checkup. After a few months we were fortunate enough to be assigned to one midwife who stayed with us until a week after the birth. However for the birth itself, none of the midwives or other staff were known to us. This made a difficult situation that much more stressful. A familiar face would have made a world of a difference.

The NHS need to find a way to resource greater continuity of maternity care. This also applies to post-natal care. Midwives generally stop seeing a mother 5 to 10 days after birth. Health visitors pick up the baton from there, yet they are suffering from increasing caseloads where 70% of health visitors in one survey saying that they didn’t have time, due to their caseloads, to help even the families that are most in need. The number of health visitor home visits are in decline as are the number of clinics they run.

This leads to an increased risk that child development problems and post natal depression are less likely to be picked up. Unless parents are proactive in accessing services, they are likely to get only very occasional visits backed by postal surveys. This isn’t enough to form the bond needed to spot problems in the early days of parenting.

A good relationship with a midwife and then health visitor is vital. These are tender, challenging, vulnerable times. For the mother who wants to discuss problems she may be experiencing, for example the physical after-effects of giving birth or during breastfeeding, there must be a level of trust and understanding for them to share these concerns.

That’s why this notice of motion calls on the PCT and the Health Secretary to support greater midwife provision and post natal care. Offering counselling after a traumatic birth received near unanimous support in the PCT’s survey. Such counselling can prove vital in speeding psychological recovery. There is plenty of evidence that when not dealt with birth trauma can have an impact for years, on the mother and her relationship with those around her.

Let’s work to try and eliminate as many unnecessary birth traumas as possible, but where they do happen, let’s support parents with the best services we possibly can.

I urge you to support this motion. Thank you.

Categories
notes from JK

Speech: Opposing proposals to transform council meetings

Presented to the Full Council meeting of Brighton & Hove City Council on 18th March 2010 in relation to Item 68 of the agenda which aimed to dramatically cut the amount of time for councillors to speak and ask questions:

Sat together this evening in this chamber, we 54 councillors represent the over quarter million residents of our wonderful city. They have entrusted in us the great responsibility of the stewardship of the city and its public services. It is a duty we must undertake with humility, dedication and honour.

When seeing the proposals before us to restrict debates, limit member questions and guillotine meetings; one must ask — is the duty of public service too great for some? Are eight meetings of this council a year too many? Are a few long meetings too much to take when debating this city’s wellbeing?

The proposals suggest four hours is the most we should endure in a council meeting. That equates to less than half a second for each resident of this city. Is that really the most we can offer? On this side of the chamber we feel matters should be debated fully and properly.

I believe the sterile, unopposed cabinet system is seeping too far into this Council’s constitution. Despite their very public wailing and gnashing of teeth, Labour and Tory councillors forced through the new cabinet system. Now full council meetings are the only forum in which members have an absolute right to speak. At every other meeting we can only speak with the chair’s permission, leaving full council the last preserve of free debate between members. Yet these proposals, which both Labour and Tories are reportedly happy to wave through, further reduce the opportunity for dissent and debate.

We are not clerks trying to speed up some repetitious process. We are democratically elected representatives. We follow in a long line stretching all the way back to the elected senators of ancient Athens where discourse was a thing of note. I believe we should aspire to greatness in this chamber instead of this appalling streamlining.

Let us examine the report presenting these unwelcome proposals. We must first reject the notion that more motions or more questions are inherently something to be avoided, in my view they reflect a healthy interest in the workings of the council.

I must say the appendices are deeply misleading and unhelpful. They cite no councils with our status of no overall control, nor our diversity of elected parties. For example Westminster City Council is overwhelmingly Conservative, with a few Labour councillors and no other parties. Southampton: Again Conservative majority with two other parties. Same again for West Sussex.

If one looks in appendix 2 at the number of notices of motion per council meeting, it is notable that we seem to be unique in having so many of our scant meetings taken up with special business which blocks such motions, these meetings include the budget and the mayor making. Greens strongly feel that the most sensible way to spread the load would be to have more full council meetings. This is especially vital given they are the only place where we can all debate issues freely.

Cllr Fryer will speak to our amendment 6. We are withdrawing amendment 5 as officer clarification has shown it to be unnecessary. I shall address the remainder now in reverse order.

Given the importance of freedom of expression we oppose the reduction in speaking times and propose an amendment accordingly. We must allow ourselves 10 minutes to develop an argument properly, anything less is only going lead to a poorer quality of debate.

Similarly, capping the number of notices of motion allowed merely acts to limit our freedom of speech. It is impossible to know which issues will arise and sometimes two motions won’t be enough to deal with the matters at hand. Opposition councillors have scant opportunities to formally seek support for issues they consider important, we must defend this avenue hence our amendment on this issue.

On the matter of questions, an issue dear to my heart, the picture is more mixed. I welcome the opportunity for a system of written questions akin to that used in Parliament. However, the proposed oral questions procedure is half baked. Limiting members to only one oral question each, plus a supplementary, will block comprehensive attempts in holding an administration to account.

Members each have their own areas of expertise and ward interests. At certain times, say of industrial action or a heat wave, their knowledge in asking pointed questions is valuable to the whole council and residents in getting to the bottom of an issue.

If the concern is about the time questions take, perhaps the Conservatives would pledge to stop asking pre-arranged questions of each other? This offer has not been forthcoming; so again we propose amendments to the recommendations on member questions.

Finally with regards to automatically closing meetings after 4 hours. As I mentioned, I don’t believe a few long council meetings a year is too much for our residents to ask of us. And of course the meetings continue to have rule 17 to allow a closure motion if absolutely necessary. Automatic closure is unnecessary and undemocratic in our view.

All these items come back to the question of what are we here in this chamber for: Is it for the efficient despatch of business or to properly deliberate matters on behalf of residents? We believe it is the latter and this requires a decent amount of time.

Who of us here tonight hasn’t referred to one of Churchill’s great speeches or bemoaned the increasing focus on soundbite politics? Yet if these proposals go through there will be no time for Churchillian speechifying, all we will have time for will be the soundbites most claim to decry. If these proposals are approved, we will be doing a huge disservice to ourselves and those we are elected to represent.

I urge you to reconsider this matter and support the Green amendments. Thank you.

GREEN GROUP AMENDMENTS

ITEM 68 – Proposals for Transforming Meetings of Full Council

Council Meeting 18th March 2010

Amendment 1.

To remove the automatic closure of council meetings after 4 hours, ensuring matters of importance to the city are fully debated.

DELETE 4.3 and REPLACE with “4.3 Members should note that a meeting can be closed by use of Council Procedure Rule 17.”

Amendment 2.

To remove arbitrary limits from member questions so that issues can be fully explored and administration Councillors can be properly held to account.

DELETE 5.4 (a) and DELETE the final sentence of 5.4 (d) so that it reads:

“5.4 (d) A Member asking a question (but not others) may ask one supplementary. No Member may ask more than one question.”

Amendment 3.

To remove the proposed limit in the number of Notices of Motions that can be submitted, thus keeping freedom of expression for all Councillors.

DELETE 6.2 (i) and (ii) and REPLACE with “6.2 Members should keep in mind the length of Council meetings when submitting Notices of Motion.”

Amendment 4.

To retain existing time limits for speakers at Council meetings to allow proper debate.

REPLACE 8.2 (i) with “8.2 (i) Speaking time limits will remain unchanged at 10 minutes for proposers and 5 minutes for other speakers.”

Amendment 5. [WITHDRAWN]

To require cross-party support for second extensions for speakers so that the administration party cannot keep voting extensions for their speakers.

ADD 8.2 (iii) “Second extensions of speaker time will only be granted with the agreement of the Council including at least one member of another political party or an independent member.”

Amendment 6.

To split the mayor-making from the standard business of the annual Council meeting so that debate can be held on appointments and other business.

ADD a new recommendation 2.2 (iv):

“The annual Council meeting will be held in two parts. The ordinary business including agreement of leadership, committee and external appointments will be held first. After a 15 minute break during which guests can be seated, the Mayor-making will commence.”

Proposed by: Cllr Jason Kitcat

Seconded by: Cllr Rachel Fryer

Categories
current affairs

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?

Categories
current affairs

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.
Categories
current affairs

My Green view on last night’s council meeting

Another long full council meeting last night. I tried tweeting between the parts I was most involved in and was pleased to see others following the meeting through Twitter. Sadly the webcasting is still quite unwieldy so perhaps Twitter is a good alternative for some.

I shall try to review the key parts of the meeting from my perspective. I won’t cover everything because, well the agenda was immense, and not all was within my remit or expertise.

Questions

As usual, I asked some questions of councillors. Unfortunately Cllr G Theobald refused to rule out shipping some of the city’s waste to landraise sites in East Sussex. I also continued my attempts to see the final city municipal waste strategy document before it gets rubber stamped. Cllr Theobald either doesn’t understand my point or chooses to ignore it by saying I will see it at the meeting which will approve the document – rather too late to be of any use in my view.

I also pressed Cllr Smith who had promised to engage directly with Brighton’s Sailing Club at the last full council meeting. They are very worried about the implications of the proposed Brighton O development. However since the last council meeting there have been no meetings. His responses to my questions were very unsatisfactory – claiming that a question from a sailing club member to Cllr Theobald at a public Cabinet Member Meeting was equivalent to dealing directly with the club. Neither I nor club members at last night’s meeting agreed with that view at all.

The main agenda

The council agenda had a number of very important and worthwhile reports from scrutiny panels. While implementation of their recommendations is mixed, I do think scrutiny panels are one of the highlights of how our current council constitution is working — unlike much of how the cabinet operates.

So it was a great pleasure to be able to speak to the report on Brighton’s privately contracted GP-led health clinic which I contributed to as a panel member and helped to initiate in the first place. I shall post my speech separately, but I chose to highlight ongoing concerns over such private contracts and as usual the other, privatising parties, were quick to moan about ‘politicising’ a panel report. It’s such a silly criticism, of course they’re political, full council is political and we’re all politicians — what do they expect!

Blocking fee increases for farmers markets & street traders

The next item I played an active part on was approving the licensing fees for 2010/11. For whatever reason the Conservative administration had decided to increase the annual fees for street traders and farmers market stalls by 10% – a big jump no matter what the economic situation. But recently the George Street farmers market has closed down and we know markets at Upper Gardner Street and elsewhere have struggled. Greens strongly felt that they should be supported and so submitted an amendment to freeze charges for street traders and farmers markets, removing the increases. They make up a very small part of the overall licensing regime so there were no major budgetary implications.

Then suddenly just before the meeting began the Tories produced an amendment reducing the fees from 10% to 1% claiming it was a drafting error to have put 10% in. I wasn’t convinced – if it was a genuine error it could be corrected in the Mayor’s communications at the start of the meeting, as indeed an error in another report was corrected yesterday. The fee report had 10% in the main body and the appendices. I think this 1% amendment – which was a Conservative group amendment, not an officer amendment – was some quick backtracking when they realised 10% wasn’t a particularly smart idea.

So after speeches, some of which entirely missed the point of the amendments, the meeting accepted our amendment and we had a Green win – farmers markets and street traders won’t see an increase in license fees this year!

12 month review of the constitution

Another item I have a great interest in is the progress on amending the council’s constitution. It was changed almost two years ago, against loud Green protests, and we’re in a continual process of reviewing and revising its workings. The recommendations from the 12 month review were all well and good, but quite timid. One amendment we proposed last night was to split the Environment & Community Safety Scrutiny committee into two. Its agenda and remit is so large, Environment being the largest department in the council by far, that it struggles to cover enough ground. We feel Community Safety deserves its own committee. However the other parties resisted for various reasons. We proposed to fund this by abolishing two of the little used Cabinet Member Meetings – which is where the members sit in a public meeting to declare decisions they have already made.

Cabinet member Cllr Ayas Fallon-Khan then chose to speak in one of his now trademark outbursts attacking all and sundry (well the Greens) for cutting some Cabinet Member Meetings in our amendment. What he failed to mention is that his own Cabinet Member Meetings were already being cut in the main Conservative report!

The Green amendment wasn’t supported but we will keep plugging away at trying to improve the council constitution.

High Pay Commission

The highlight of the evening, for me, was this motion which I was seconding with Cllr Bill Randall as the proposer. Bill very graciously (and without warning me) set me up as knowledgeable in these matters leaving the bulk of the speaking to me. My speech (which I will post separately) was well received, I hope.

Labour councillor Kevin Allen then treated us to one of his very humorous speeches which lacked much substance. However it did reveal that Labour are so worried about Green chances in Brighton Pavilion that they’ve asked campaign group Compass (who launched the campaign on a High Pay Commission) to block our candidate and party leader Caroline Lucas from taking part in any more Compass events before the general election!

Cllr Allen proposed an amendment which basically congratulated the Labour government for all their work on this issue (yet the gap between highest and lowest paid continues to grow) and removed all the substantive points from our motion.

Ok, well the Labour group do that to us quite often. However the Conservative group voted to support the Labour amendment. Which just goes to show how similar Tories and Labour are – both not that interested in narrowing the pay gap it would seem. This left the motion far from our initial intention so Greens abstained but it was still carried overall.

Other motions

There was good debate on other motions including Cllr Rufus commenting on Labour’s foreign policies in relation to a fairtrade motion, Cllrs Wakefield-Jarrett and Fryer responding to the bizarre and inconsiderate Tory motion on van dwellers and more from Cllr Rachel Fryer and Cllr Pete West on licensing.

I opened my council email today to find an outpouring of support for the Green motion on Sussex University job cuts. So that went down well with unanimous support in the chamber if I recall rightly.

My final memorable moment was on a Green motion about neighbourhood policing. Green Cllr Ben Duncan, the council’s only elected representative to Sussex Police Authority, is a bit of a target for the other parties at the moment. They can’t stand that he’s the only representative nor that Ben doesn’t universally praise the police or criticise protests. Throughout the meeting there had been digs at Ben. The Tories proposed an amendment to his motion to:

ask the Council’s solerepresentative on the Sussex Police Authority to relay to his fellow members the Council’s view that the proactive use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and a tough stance against benefit fraud has had a significant positive effect on reducing both “crime and, crucially, the fear of crime” in Brighton & Hove.

This was a direct attack on our view that ASBOs don’t work and criminalise people who need help. We’ve also been concerned about the public statements Conservative members have made around benefit fraud, though of course we don’t condone fraud in any way. Bizarrely Labour supported this amendment too. Leaving us once again unable to tell Tories and Labour apart.

It was a long night but with some good results for the city and a clutch of excellent scrutiny reports which offer plenty of recommendations for us all to be working on.