Now that Brighton and Hove’s had three different coloured administrations, it’s an interesting time to reflect on how the city has progressed over the last decade of recession and austerity, and who would be best equipped now to take the city through the uncertain times ahead.
I was deputy council leader under the last Conservative administration from 2007 to 2011, but don’t involve myself in local or national politics any more.
I’ve not even been member of a political party for some time, but have, like many others, a great love for the city which I want always to see competitive and thriving, creating exciting and innovative vocational opportunities for my children’s generation and beyond.
However, we have seen a marked deterioration in the reputation of politicians with the utter shambles that is going on at a national level from the two main political parties who seem to have splintered into factional turmoil and seem to be going through severe identity crises.
Prospective candidates shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush as incapable MPs. There is some temptation in local elections to make a stand against something rather than for something.
But there are many people who, afterwards, confess to regret doing that, and irrespective of any party, wished they had voted for someone who would have given them proper and efficient service when the need arose.
I found the best public servants were the ones who had a deep care for people and who were skilled at getting them out of awkward situations, often not of their own making.
There needs to be some serious political will to get housing and regeneration schemes up and running and completed, eradicate homelessness, and place on the policy, resources and growth committee proper drivers who are creative, understand the complexities and viability issues of developments but show some urgency in hastening their completion.
The King Alfred, for example, has been a farce with councillors to blame, not officers. It pained me to see the officers’ reports and completely sympathised with their frustrations.
I have had to view or attend many committees where my interests in regeneration, health and the education of young people are discussed. Some of the interactions between committee members have been painful to watch. Truly dire and uninspirational. A lot of bickering, little collaboration, everything any onlooker gets turned off by.
For the last two elections there has been a variety of market-testers that measure voting intentions and highlight topical issues. Predictions on election results have been wayward lately, which adds to the fun. I have been involved in some quite original ones that drill down into the personality of the candidate, not the party.
The city does have some outstanding councillors, some who are leaving, but also some truly exceptional officers. Yet the public have rightly demanded much more. Too many vacuous promises, not enough delivery.
The councillors are lucky to have such accomplished officers in the finance, legal affairs and property divisions. Truly outstanding. I’d suspect without them the city would be in a far more troublesome state, so if the right Councillors get elected there is no reason why progress can’t be hastened.
It is reassuring that these officers are still around from my day. The finance team seem to have instilled a really tremendous amount of tight discipline that the public won’t always see and councillors won’t always appreciate. It’s time for councillors to step up, that officer talent in regeneration and housing is all there.
Sure, Labour will blame austerity and I happen to agree with that. But the Conservatives will continue to blame Labour for having caused the need for austerity, and I agree with that. So do many people but I think everyone is so bored of those arguments that if they can’t get on with it then they shouldn’t stand.
The 2007 Conservative administration came with an influx of new councillors across all the parties and within a year we were in a cabinet system, and at the onset of the recession.
Many of us ran for council because we were sick that council tax had gone up 120% in ten years when the country was in a wealthy enough state against other world economies, so there was something wrong in how public money was being spent.
But the recession hit the entire world and it was obvious that one of the first things we had to put in place was some shrewd re-thinking of strategic finance and slash the council tax.
Under the leadership of Mary Mears, ably assisted by finance lead Jan Young, we put sustainability at the heart of the operation, made £50 million on savings, lost very few staff, and when councils up and down the country were panicking and offering redundancies or slashing staff we maintained some considerable control.
We also showed that we could attract business and support the many independent retailers in the city which are its lifeblood, and in my major projects capacity worked very hard to keep American Express in the city, getting the football stadium over the line and, the most stressful one for me was the vitriolic war between everyone connected to the Open Market.
We got that over the line with a few minutes to spare and I would have loved to pushed on with Preston Barracks and New England House.
But it shows progress can be made, with or without a recession and austerity. You just need political will and councillors who understand what collaborative working is.
I think Adam Trimingham was right when he said some time back that perhaps the Greens came in one term too early. I can see his point. They had some great councillors like Amy Kennedy and Paul Steedman, but as a group then they seemed to disagree with each so much and so often that if they had had four more years to solidify into a much more coherent body then they would have been a far greater force to be reckoned with for the long term.
I think they learned that protesting is one thing, having suddenly to make critical decisions on all the areas they’d previously been complaining about is quite another.
The 2015 election would have been an epic fight between all three parties if the Greens had had those extra four years in opposition. As it was, the Conservatives were humiliated really in 2015.
Everywhere else went blue in the south – everywhere but Brighton and Hove. Never would they have had a better opportunity to get a majority. It was there for the taking. The Conservative leadership did not reach out enough and was too arrogant predicting their comfortable victory.
They were simply ramraided in the heart of the city by much cleverer tactics from Labour. Schools, colleges and universities were hit on much more by Green and Labour and if you don’t address young people you don’t deserve to get elected.
Unfortunately, I and many others know that at that time the Conservatives had completely lost touch and interest in those organisations and businesses that we had helped in administration and were prepared to keep helping in opposition.
As for the present, the Labour administration have not been hot on delivery. The King Alfred saga and the hopeless and shocking discovery that there was no deposit on the original Kings House sale was a disgrace.
That money could have been spent on the seafront, reducing council tax, anything, it was free money.
The council meeting that followed was so embarrassing to watch I had to turn off the webcast. Honestly, it was like Carry On Council.
As for the current set of councillors, well it’s certainly been tough but you can’t complain about the cards you’re dealt in politics because it’s the only hand you have.
There is no question there are some truly outstanding councillors who have given great service to the city. People like Lynda Hyde, Kevin Allen, Gill Mitchell, Ollie Sykes, all of whom I have considerable respect for for different reasons.
If the new councillors are going to be freshening up these committees and getting some tangible results with some determined political will then all might be good.
if ever there was a time for some serious leadership it is now.
I wish all the candidates luck in their quest to win a seat. I have much respect for anyone who wants to improve their manor by having the guts to go out and fight for a seat.
I hope the new councillors come in and shake things up a bit and please encourage the committees to come with ideas rather than excuses.
I hope they are given a chance to shine and not cajoled into a faction, which I found childish and depressing.
Let’s hope whichever political party wins on Thursday, they are not undermined by perpetual leadership challenges. It slows the boat and nothing gets done.
Brexit or no Brexit, austerity or recession – if you have political will you can get things done. You just need clever councillors who can access funds and use the officer talent to formulate the right strategic policies. We proved that with some original thinking you can boost the local economy at any given time.
Ayas Fallon-Khan was a Conservative councillor from 2007 to 2011. He is now a real estate consultant.
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