Tag Archives: localgov

Essex County Council: One year on

A Chelmsford Sunset

This month marks a year since I joined Essex County Council. I feel so fortunate that Councillors and our CEO Gavin Jones took a chance on me, a recovering politician, to lead the County Council’s new Corporate Development function. Since being appointed I’ve moved the whole family from Brighton to Chelmsford, our third child has arrived into the world and I’ve learnt a fair bit of Essex geography.

So what have I been working on in the past year? Key things:

  • Restructured most of Corporate Development to focus on multi-disciplinary, agile working with professional guilds of practice, whilst delivering 30% savings;
  • Created an internal Service Design team backed by Full Council approving GDS service standards as core to our 4 year strategy;
  • Brought together Digital and Technology Services into a single new department with a dedicated director;
  • Gained agreement on a new strategy and pipeline of commercialisation work;
  • Launched redesigned web content for Adult social care;
  • Championing working in the open with our new blog platform.

It has been so energising to come in to work every day with so many people carrying the burning fire for change. I’m incredibly lucky that so many teams have such a breadth and depth of talent. They’ve kept the show on the road with lots of benefit delivered for the Council despite so much change all around them. But the progress hasn’t been all smooth nor as fast as I would have liked. Some reflections and challenges…

  • Procurement and contract management is still really hard – Yes GDS/CCS frameworks have made it so much easier for some stuff, but that doesn’t fix legacy contracts nor fields of work their frameworks don’t cover. Often the challenges are emblematic of insufficient risk appetite in the sector or excessive focus on reducing costs. These are hard cultural norms to shift.
  • Recruiting permanent staff is really, really hard – Yes, some of our processes and procedures within the council have room for improvement. But it’s also hard to get heard in the noise out there when we don’t have some of the sparkle and treasure others can offer. Standard recruitment campaigns for in-demand fields just don’t cut it.
  • The words ‘digital’ and ‘transformation’ are so overused in localgov that they now mean nothing. Language matters and we need to be very careful about what we say and what it is heard as meaning.
  • Legacy technology is painful. Obvious really, but the bigger and older the council the more of this stuff will be lying around. Bodges which got us through difficulties in the past become burdensome technical debt. Big suppliers with exciting visions, claiming to have done it all before, often become silent in the face of the custom spaghetti code of integrations which need upgrading and unpicking before the shiny new thing can land. Clean breaks are hard to achieve in a land of so many legacy systems and contracts. It’s a work in progress.

What next? Well just because structures have changed doesn’t mean all of our habits, practices and culture have followed suit so we’re doing lots of work around support, learning, coaching and development to ensure the new ways of working really embed.

We’re aiming to get a public beta for a new essex.gov.uk out in the next 12 months too, it’s critical to unlocking a lot of the service design thinking we want to support with colleagues across so many parts of the council.

Finally there’s huge amounts more thinking and work to do on integrating our our financial and business planning more closely. We also need to do more soon re-imagining our technology investment strategy and then re-aligning the teams in light of this. This stretches across fun like social care case management, ERP and more.

So lot’s more challenge and opportunity ahead!

One Year On: Life after politics

In May 2015 I stood down from Brighton & Hove City Council. It had long been my plan to take a break from the council by this point. It was the end of my second term on the council, marking 8 years as a councillor and around 12 years active in local politics.

While I miss working with many of the wonderful people I got to meet working in local politics, I don’t regret my choice. I was ready for a change.

So what I have been doing for the last year? For starters I’ve been able to spend much more time with my family and finally watched all episodes of House of Cards!

In terms of work:

  • I have continued my work with the Local Government Association on supporting councillors and officers to do more thinking and doing around the power of digital for local government and local democracy. This also led to fruitful collaborations with the Department for Communities & Local Government, GeoPlace, TechUK, ADASS and the Leadership Centre. Sadly however in all cases serious permanent funding for local government digital transformation is still all too scarce. I fear sector-wide approach to local government digital transformation remains out of touch at the moment.
  • I worked on the incredible NHS Citizen programme with the Democratic Society and their partners. As a programme for NHS England aiming to enhance patient participation this was a hugely ambitious and worthy cause. We made some progress but I know vast potential remains to be tapped.
  • I also supported the wonderful team DemSoc on some of their other projects, my favourite being the online participatory budgeting work they have been doing for the Scottish Government and councils.

These have all been fantastic, engaging projects to work on. I can’t do them justice in a few bullets, check out the links for more info. Thank you to everyone who invited me to work with them over the last year.

Meanwhile serendipity has been hard at work. Back in February 2015 I was contacted through a mutual friend by the CEO of Crunch. This CEO, Darren Fell, wanted help with planning policy which was putting his fast-growing company’s office space at risk. He thought the Leader of the Council might be able to help.

Unfortunately there was little I could do since the Government had changed the rules around converting offices to residential at a national level. We had tried to seek an exemption for all the key office sites in the city but the Government had only granted a tiny sliver of what we had asked.

Still Darren and I kept talking long after I had explained this, and discovered we had much in common: A passion for how digital tools can transform business and services, common experience in running our own companies and a passion for improving public policy to benefit small and single-person companies.

We kept in touch and come May ’15 we began to collaborate on a campaign to raise awareness in Westminster of the impact the planned rise in dividend taxes would have on lower earning business owners. I blogged extensively about this over on the Crunch blog. This campaigning, combined with all the advice and guides Crunch already provided, was recently launched under the name Chorus. Chorus is a unique new business association exclusively for micro-businesses that is completely free to join.

As time went on I got more and more involved in the business of what Crunch does – which is making things as easy as possible for all types of micro-business whether they are freelancers, sole traders, contractors or small companies. So much so that at the start of this month I changed from being an occasional consultant to a full-time member of the Crunch team as Head of Policy & Public Affairs.

Crunch is a fantastic local company filled with passionate people all working to make a difference. I’m extremely lucky to be part of the Crunchie gang (insert KitKat chocolate-related jokes  here) and can’t wait to show you what we’re working on next. Watch this space!

So that’s what I’ve been doing for the last year. How about you?

Culture, values and accountability: Are network aggregators like Airbnb and Uber really just a middle-man?

The media is ablaze with analysis with what sites like Airbnb, Uber and others mean for the future of work, our economies and local government mandates over regulated services like hotels and taxis[1. Good recent  posts on this include those by Tim O’ReillyLauren Smiley, Matt Buchanan.].

Lots of businesses are now being pitched as the ‘Uber for x’ or ‘Airbnb for y’. The sort of network aggregation model they offer is becoming a dominant mental model for many discussions on digital transformation at the moment. So I think it’s worth some further consideration because I don’t think this model in practice is quite as clear-cut as some suggest, though it certainly is disruptive.

In essence the thinking goes that network aggregators are simply making the market more efficient. They connect customers with providers more efficiently than ever before. They lower barriers to entry so that underused resources (homes, cars, drivers etc) can access the market to generate revenue whilst meeting consumer demand. Quite simply the thinking I’m seeing expressed is that they (network aggregators) are like the travel agent matching a holiday package with the customer’s budget and desires with underused airplanes and hotels lowering their prices to attract more demand – but now individuals are the providers using their own cars, homes and time.

Airbnb and Uber often say that they just are making connections between buyers and sellers. They argue that the quality of the service, the accuracy of the service listing, the liability etc all lie with the providers who are categorically not employees of the network aggregator. Yet it’s not quite that simple.

First we have the reviews and verifications these aggregators offer their ‘community’ to assure quality. These can go as far as checking the passports and other identity documents of providers. Then we have the controls on pricing they offer plus the overarching branding they lay on top of the providers similar to a hotel chain or limousine firm. We also have the customer service they end up providing. They try to nudge you into resolving problems directly with the providers but if you can’t then they regularly step in to intervene, to offer refunds and smooth things over, desperate to avoid negative stories sticking to their surging brands[2. I have personal experience of network aggregators forking out hundreds of dollars to leave everyone feeling happy with their brand after things have gone wrong].

So network aggregators aren’t merely aggregating supply and demand, they are building brands and owning customer relationships so much so that they will even extend refunds and credits when the provider won’t. Yet because of their very nature and their legally-driven insistence that they don’t employ the providers they have few ways in which to encourage genuinely better behaviour. We see Uber and Airbnb offering programmes trying to encourage and celebrate their best providers but to me they read like weak cultural change programmes with no oomph.

Because ultimately this comes down to culture, values and accountability. (Well what doesn’t?!) Tom Peters rightly said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. Successful hotel chains like Accor know this – their brand is a promise that wherever in the world you are you will get a good night’s sleep, a comfortable bed, a certain kind of breakfast and service etc. If anything goes wrong they train and incentivise their staff in ways to not just make it right but to leave the customer feeling better about the brand than before. Good taxi and limo firms keep their drivers trained up on serving customers with disabilities, on major works happening in their patch, they trial new vehicles and tools for improved efficiency, safety and access. They get to know particular clients with certain preferences and needs.

Now any individual provider to a network aggregator can and does do those things, I’m sure. Most likely they will even get good reviews. But how does this scale? What kind of experience can Airbnb and Uber promise me? Nothing really. Offering a special badge or annual $100 voucher to their best providers is light years away from the organisational leadership, accountability and values a good firm in any sector can provide.

So where does this take us? Network aggregators almost certainly open up the opportunities for micro businesses to reach more customers than ever before. And for now the big ‘unicorn’ aggregators are willing to spend time and money to retain customers even after bad experiences. They are even financing some of their providers, as Uber do with car loans. But that won’t be able to continue indefinitely, at some point either after launching onto the stockmarket or with a private owner, profits will need to be made. The result will have to be far greater control over providers and/or retreat from the level of support offered to customers.

Are there lesson we can take from the network aggregators? Most certainly but we must do so with caution – recognising that they are not proven, sustainable businesses yet and that they aren’t quite the light-touch networks they like us to think they are.

If one applies this to public services then I believe ultimate accountability will continue to lie with public bodies, even as delivery becomes ever more distributed, digital and networked. Agile and networked we should be, but the need for accountability, culture and values can’t be magicked away in a puff of network aggregation.

Some end of term reflections for Local Government Chronicle

LGC asked for some reflections at the end of my term a a council leader. Here’s what I wrote for them:

There are only a couple of weeks left until I step down as both Brighton & Hove City Council’s leader and as a councillor. While, after eight years, I will lose that ‘Cllr’ title I will continue to have a passion for the sector and all that it delivers for citizens. LGC have asked for my reflections having led the UK’s first Green council, albeit a minority administration.

I’m writing this just hours before we launch our end of term report. In that report we show that our administration has delivered on over 85% of the 195 manifesto pledges we made in 2011. Brighton’s economy is booming with a famously vibrant creative digital cluster, we are a top UK seaside destination, a place where people want to come live and work. Our ambition and delivery for Brighton & Hove has been recognised in many ways including as the world’s first One Planet City, the 2014 CIVITAS European City of the Year for Sustainable Transport and part of the UK’s first new UN Biosphere Reserve in over 40 years.

These and our other achievements have only been possible through collaboration. If there ever was an age of heroic leadership, then that time has gone. Collaboration and co-operation are now the only forms of leadership that can deliver the outcomes our citizens deserve. Locally this has meant intense cross-party working and collaboration with partners in all sectors as well as our neighbouring authorities in the Greater Brighton city region that we have founded.

Nationally the learning and co-operation that has developed through the Key Cities group of 26 mid-sized cities have been invaluable. The collective voice, and thinking, we have been able to present to government and other bodies like the Local Government Association has helped move forward the devolution debate whilst also providing mutual support to the challenges each of our areas face.

We are indisputably now in a multi-party age, and I think that’s a good and healthy thing. In some ways I’d argue that we are just catching up with the rest of Europe who have long had to deal with more parties sharing power at local and national levels. This new reality not only requires new ways of organising TV leaders’ debates, but also puts a clear expectation on political leaders. They will have to be far more collaborative with their erstwhile opponents, and civil servants will need to do more to facilitate and support this type of joint working.

Perhaps as the only Green council leader, being a little freer from the traditional political tribes, I have had an advantage in working with anyone from any party. But I do also think local government has already developed more collaborative leadership capacity than we always get or give ourselves credit for: I see cross-party cabinets and committees delivering positive change in areas right across the country.

Here in Brighton & Hove we made an early change to the committee system in 2012, and we haven’t regretted it for a moment. It wasn’t a move backwards, it was a positive choice to a new way of working which involves all members of all parties far more whilst also being open and understandable to citizens. It has been a particular strength in our new Health & Wellbeing Board arrangements which I chaired, providing system leadership with health partners and all parties were represented as major decisions were being taken.

Finally, as someone with a background in technology, I have worked hard to try and support the local government sector in advancing its transformation for the digital age. It hasn’t always been smooth or easy as legacy systems, skills shortages and capacity restraints are real challenges for all of us. But the potential digital provides us to improve services for citizens, to rethink how we work and reduce costs must be pursued aggressively. Again I strongly believe collective action and collaboration are key to overcoming some of those barriers we face. Even after 10th May I will continue to actively support this stream of work and remain a lifelong champion for the power of local government to improve people’s lives. I know hard times are ahead for councils, but I can’t help feeling optimistic that the passion, creativity and collaboration I’ve seen will get us through the trials and tribulations. Thank you for a fantastic eight years. I’m just off to find somewhere to put down my party political hat.

Is past performance a guide to the future? The Brighton & Hove Green council’s end of term report

I happened to hear a bit of BBC Radio 4’s World at One yesterday. Presenter Martha Kearney was trying to explore the issue of manifesto promises: Does legislating on them help (as per the Conservative’s announcement on taxation yesterday), how often are they broken and do people actually trust the promises made. In service of this topic she interviewed Labour’s Rachel Reeves and the Conservative’s Michael Gove, both senior national parliamentarians for their respective parties. Rachel Reeves spent most of her interview mentioning reams of the promises Labour are making in their 2015 manifesto, while avoiding the questions on her party’s past performance. Meanwhile Michael Gove kept wanting to rehearse in detail his party’s past achievements while avoiding Kearney’s exhortations to expand on the promises they were making for the future.

It seemed a rather odd and unsatisfying set of encounters for a rather key point central to electioneering: the manifesto pledge. Apparently we are seeing huge pledge inflation, more pledges are being made and manifestos are getting fatter than ever. But what value are pledges when future circumstances are likely to change? And can we make any judgements for their future governing based on parties’ past performance? Mr Gove justified his desire to rehearse his party’s record in government on this very basis, that because (in his view) they had delivered on previous promises their future ones could be trusted. Then why legislate your tax pledge was Ms Kearney’s rebuttal.

I don’t think manifesto pledges can be the only part of electioneering, one should also be considering for example the personal values and judgement of future representatives. But past performance, where available, is also a useful metric if not a guarantee of future progress.

So in the spirit of openness I published the Green minority administration’s record last week. On election four years ago we almost immediately began tracking the 195 pledges we’d made in our 2011 manifesto. By our own judgement we are on course to deliver over 85% of those pledges. I think that’s pretty a good result for a minority administration running a council for the first time in our party’s history during a period of unprecedented austerity cuts to our budgets. But I might be biased!

What’s interesting is how few administrations locally or nationally produce such end of term reports, nor do independent bodies provide such analysis either. If we are seeing ever more pledges being made, then that does give ever more opportunity for such progress reporting to be done. Perhaps something for FactCheck, IFS and others to consider for 2020?

You can download the full PDF Brighton & Hove end of term report here.

Thoughts on devolution, governance, accountability & heroic mayors

Map of the Greater Brighton City Region
Map of the Greater Brighton City Region

I’ve been really pleased to see talk of widespread devolution across the UK gain so much interest in recent months. While, as the Centre for Cities are ably proving, the party manifestos are woefully short of the true fiscal devolution city regions like Greater Brighton actually need, at least many more people are having the debate. The big news south of the Scottish border has been Osborne’s big deal with Greater Manchester: A genuine shift of power to the city level, including health and social care, for the price of a directly elected ‘metro mayor’. We are also seeing significant change elsewhere, some pushed by local powers such as the new Bristol-Cardiff-Newport ‘Great Western Cities’ initiative, and others imposed from Whitehall such as in Birmingham.

However another key factor for this devolution journey isn’t been given quite enough attention: Will the governance, accountability and involvement structures be sufficient?

I have some thoughts on this because, as Brighton & Hove City Council’s Leader, I chair the Greater Brighton Economic Board for our city region. Champions of the mayoral system may argue that I lack legitimacy and mandate – most citizens in the region will never have voted for me, only the few thousand in my own ward will have had that chance.

Essentially the direct-elected mayor model espoused by the UK so far is the American one: a presidential model. Yet I don’t see many pro-mayor groups campaigning for the British Prime Minister being ditched for a directly-elected President! But shouldn’t they be arguing that David Cameron was only elected by the residents of his constituency, and so on…?!

Of course in reality it’s not quite that simple. Cameron was chosen by his party membership as a leader and then won majority support in Parliament to govern. Similarly locally I was elected by my local party, elected by the whole council as their leader and backed by the city region board to be their chair. Lots of mandates, but few directly from the voters. Perhaps some think local government is so dramatically different that the parliamentary model only works at national levels – but given that the whole model emerges from the city government of Athens, such criticism bears little scrutiny.

If ones believes in direct mandates for presidents and mayors then the question must be, does a direct mandate alone make a difference and at what price? The UK experience of directly elected mayors has been very mixed, and often resulted in stalemate when councillors sought to frustrate a mayor’s plans because they came from opposing parties. This is not dissimilar to the logjam the US government regularly finds between presidents and Congress. This is because the UK model used so far has the mayor elected directly and quite separately from council elections. Hence quite often the two bodies do not politically align and so regularly use their ‘democratic mandates’ to oppose the other.

There are other local electoral models which can help to prevent this: As I understand it the Danish model uses a party list with the top candidate on each list being effectively the party’s proposal for Mayor. The council seats are then allocated proportionately to the votes cast. The largest party will win the mayoralty and have the largest base of support in the council, though of course may still need a coalition to wield a majority. This is where sharing out the Deputy Mayor portfolios (who chair key committees) becomes useful in building support.

In Brighton & Hove we have innovated almost annually with our governance structures. We had committee systems, early adoption of a formal scrutiny system, a shadow cabinet in anticipation of a directly elected mayor (the referendum was lost), an executive cabinet system imposed by statute and now a new streamlined committee system. Having worked in both opposition and administration through executive cabinet and committee system I have had lots of experiences to consider which will inform the next few paragraphs.

I should make clear that I am not a structuralist – great outcomes may be provided in any halfway decent structure. Mayor George Ferguson is delivering well in Bristol and here in Brighton our record of achievement through committees is equally strong.

However, different structures will have tendencies for and against values which I hold to be important in delivering public services: Openness, accountability, scrutiny and learning. The risk with the directly elected mayor model, and the executive cabinet system, is that too much is down to the approach taken by a very small number of people. An open, creative, humble mayor could foster wonderful things, but equally they might be arrogant and autocratic leading to little scrutiny and learning (and the same goes for the ‘Strong Leaders’ the cabinet system demands).

It is interesting to note the positive anecdotal feedback councillors are reporting in those authorities who have moved to a committee system after the Localism Act re-introduced this option. APSE’s research on the cabinet system also highlights how disempowered many councillors feel by centralising decisions amongst only 8 or 9 people.

The retort from some will be a witticism about how bad ‘design by committee’ is. Yet aren’t juries justice by committee? Haven’t we welcomed the enhanced status of Select Committee in our Parliament? How many of those who champion Mayors and Cabinets would support the same model in Westminster? 95% of national decisions in the hands of one person or a cabinet of 8-9? Very few. Most would support aims to open up Parliament to involve more people, not fewer. So why would local government deserve any less than a similarly open and inclusive approach? It doesn’t.

So where does this leave us in the devolution debate, especially in relation to city regions? First and foremost the structures need to be right for the place — there is no ‘one solution to fit them all and in its neatness rule them’ (with apologies to Tolkien). But I believe there are principles which need to be considered:

  • Does the planned structure encourage collaboration? Or could it risk stand-offs between bodies who can each independently claim a democratic mandate?
  • Is openness, scrutiny and accountability baked in? Rather than having to add those as afterthoughts, make them integral. Digital channels must be tapped to build inclusion and involvement.
  • How are existing elected representatives going to be included? They need to be part of the journey otherwise you risk trouble brewing.

It’s too early to say what future structures will develop for Greater Brighton. I’m open to ideas, and the decisions will be for my successors. I do quite like the Danish model but that would require a long overdue shift to proportional representation here which seems unlikely in the near future.

My final thought is: Beware those suggesting structural approaches which reinforce the model of heroic leaders. If there was ever truly a time when heroic leaders were the right people for the job, that time certainly isn’t now.

(While drafting this post I spotted Simon Cooke’s blog on a similar theme in relation to West Yorkshire’s devolution journey, definitely worth a read)

Digital transformation of local public services must go faster

It’s been a very busy few weeks. I was very lucky last night to receive, on behalf of everyone working for the public good in Brighton & Hove, an award from the LGIU. This evening, to my great relief, Brighton & Hove City Councillors set a budget.

This week also saw the release of SOCITM’s annual ranking of council websites and digital channels. I was really delighted to be asked to write the foreword which, combined with report’s finding that progress has been rather slow, delivers a strong call for a new way of speeding up digital transformation. I copy my foreword below while the full report and more is available from SOCITM here.

Local government will be dead by 2020 if something doesn’t change. Even if we weren’t facing greater funding cuts than any other part of government, which we are, then the relentless growth in costs and demand for our services risk finishing us off.

This isn’t because local government people aren’t working incredibly hard, they absolutely are! They are resilient, dedicated, creative and much more. But in the process of coping with all the pressures it becomes harder and harder to step back from the daily grind to rethink services from scratch. Capacity is under immense strain and investment in training staff is an easy budget to cut in the grand scheme of ugly choices politicians face at budget-setting time.

So capacity is limited and, through no fault of their own, digital capabilities in the sector are very limited. Given all that, what has been achieved so far is miraculous – there is some fabulous digital work out there, some brilliant apps, websites and more as evidenced by this report. But it’s not enough. If we continue at this pace of change then the transformation will only be ready long after our sector is dead and buried.

So what to do? Let’s keep celebrating and supporting local diversity and innovation. But if we are to have any hope of getting ahead of the scissors of doom — the relentless curves of demand growth and budget cuts bearing down on us — we also need to turbo-charge digital transformation across the sector.

My proposal is that the sector funds and backs a collective approach to digital transformation. This should be an approach which prevents reinvention of the wheel where possible (how many separate times are councils building ‘My Account’ functionality?!) and which provides collective leadership. A place to support local government, highlight best practice and to host reusable design patterns and code. In other words a Local Government Digital Service by and for local government, not a centralising force which I know many would rightly resist. We need to do this for ourselves, together — now.

The new governance structures devolution is producing, including combined authorities and city regions, should provide new momentum for driving digital transformation. These devolution negotiations give us the space to consider what ‘local’ means. From the perspective of our citizens is one local authority area the right level of ‘local’ for digital service delivery. It will depend, but I don’t think we have got it all right yet by any means.

There are great opportunities ahead to make public services more personalised, more responsive and more efficient than ever. To me the digital mantra of faster, better and cheaper seems possible not just for file sharing and email, but for whole swathes of essential public service delivery. Thank you for all the progress evidenced in this report, lets now build on that to renew local public services and beat those scissors of doom. We’re not dead yet.

The full SOCITM report ‘Better connected 2015’ is here.

Some thoughts on 2014

Much has happened in 2014 to put Brighton & Hove on the map. After working with our neighbouring areas – including councils, universities and businesses – we won ‘City Deal’ status from government, bringing millions of pound of investment to our Greater Brighton region. This includes government funds to upgrade the facilities for technology and digital businesses at New England House.

 

Signing the Greater Brighton City Deal at Wired Sussex's FuseBox in New England House
Signing the Greater Brighton City Deal at Wired Sussex’s FuseBox in New England House

 

We’ve worked very closely with the Coast 2 Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and Wired Sussex to win a number of big investments from government and Europe. Particularly close to my heart was winning a Digital Catapult Centre for Brighton.

In the summer we were also named the third best city in the country for small and medium sized businesses to grow, and we had record visitor numbers of 10m people coming to the city. We hope to keep growing that number having started work on building the iconic i360 observation tower and begun the process of building a new world-class conference centre as part of the ‘Brighton Waterfront’ project.

Digging the first sod for the i360. Once we got out of the way they opened up a vast hole below for moving a sewer tunnel and laying foundations.
Digging the first sod for the i360. Once we got out of the way they opened up a vast hole below for moving a sewer tunnel and laying foundations.

 

We won the City of the Year Award in Europe, for our work on sustainable travel. Figures this year showed that the number of people killed and injured on our city streets had fallen – meaning our work to improve travel safety is paying off.

This year we also opened two new libraries at Woodingdean and Mile Oak, creating new community hubs for residents to access books and the Internet at a time when most other councils are closing them. We also pioneered, with Sussex Police and Rise, drop-in domestic violence surgeries in council customer service centres.

 

Selfie outside one of our new libraries.

 

I started chairing the Health & Wellbeing Board this year, which was significantly reformed to bring together health and council colleagues together on an equal footing for the first time.

2014 has not been without its challenges, but 2015 brings opportunities to address them. Council officers are working on redesigning the refuse and recycling department to give residents an improved service. Work is also due to begin on a permanent travellers’ site, which will help reduce the unauthorised encampments that have disrupted residents and businesses for many years.

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The council is consulting on what is going to be its toughest budget yet, now that our government funding has been cut by some 40%. The debate comes to a head in February when councillors will be agreeing the budget and deciding how best to fund and provide services for residents for the year ahead. After years of dwindling funds for local services, this time mounting government cuts are going to hurt. Combined with the general and local elections in May, it’s certain that 2015 will be an extraordinary year for our city. My best wishes to you all for the New Year.

Starting the 2015/16 budget process

The Coalition Government’s relentless cuts to councils, led by Secretary of State Eric Pickles, has created an extraordinary situation: Councillors of all parties across the country are united in their disgust at the way in which councils are being treated.

In recent days alone we’ve heard the Conservative Chair of the Local Government Association, Sir Merrick Cockell, warn once again of the devastating effects of the continued austerity measures imposed on councils. Sir Merrick’s successor as LGA Chair, Labour’s David Sparks, has also this week spoken out against the unsustainable funding situation facing council services. Meanwhile similar warning’s are being issued by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), the Rowntree trusts and many more.

There is a great deal of unity in expressing our deep concern about these national policies. We know we are only halfway through the government’s austerity programme, one which is set to continue regardless of who forms the next government after the general election.

But when it comes to the local decisions of how to best cope with these cuts, the differences start to emerge. Even experienced opposition councillors, who know options are few, can’t help themselves but blame the situation on whoever the incumbent party is. Local voters are too busy leading their lives to notice that across the country council administrations of every political hue are being forced to cut back.

All councils face the same crunch: Huge year on year reductions in government funding whilst service demand grows as the population increases, ages and health needs grow more complex.

In Brighton & Hove we face a £25 million hole in our budget for the next financial year, £18 million of that as a direct result of government cuts and the remainder due to increased pressure for our services.

As a Green minority administration we are committed to protecting the essential public services that our citizens depend on. So we will continue with a ‘value for money’ efficiency programme which has saved tens of millions so far. But that won’t be enough so we are also proposing a 5.9% council tax increase for next year. This is equivalent to £1.48 more per week for the usual comparator of a band D household, though the majority of homes in Brighton & Hove are in bands A to C.

This increase won’t plug the hole completely, but it will give us enough breathing room to retain public services, particularly social services for adults and children. We know that by making such bold proposals there is much greater engagement by residents in the realities of the huge challenges facing council finances. As the debates developed we’ve seen many agree that a greater contribution through council tax is needed to protect the services they value.

Opposition parties will continue to utter empty platitudes about the need to be more efficient and cut down on management, but citizens deserve better than such comments which could never plug our budget gap. We’ve saved tens of millions in efficiencies already, and reduced management spend to its lowest ever. Rather than having a go at each other, residents need their councillors to work together on the huge challenges ahead.

As a Green I’m committed to protecting public services, reducing inequality and improving my city’s wellbeing. These are particularly tough challenges at a time when budgets are being squeezed so hard. Yet I do believe that by backing a 5.9% tax increase we can keep supporting those in need while keeping Brighton & Hove great.

My plans for the future

In 2010 as a family we agreed that, if re-selected for the 2011 council elections, this would be my last term on the council, and so it will be. It has been a huge honour and privilege to serve the residents of Regency ward since 2007, it’s a wonderful area to represent. To have been able to serve my second term as a councillor in administration, leading our city, has also been an immense honour.

In dealing with the challenges we’ve faced, I’ve done all I can to contribute positively to our city for the benefit of all who live, work and visit here. I’m proud of what we’ve been able to achieve as a Green administration that I have led since 2012.

However at this stage in my life I am ready for a new challenge. I won’t be pursuing active politics any longer but do want to continue public service in some way. I have no firm plans as yet and intend to continue in my current role until the council term ends as there’s lots still to do.

This has been my decision, taken with my family.

My passion for our city is undiminished and I wish all those involved with continuing to support our city’s wellbeing the very best. You have my support and admiration.