More than 20 councillors stand down at the local elections today (Thursday 2 May), having given more than 250 years’ service to Brighton and Hove City Council between them.
One of them – Geoffrey Theobald – has spent more than 50 years as a councillor.
The Mayor of Brighton and Hove, Councillor Dee Simson, held an official reception to thank them in the mayor’s parlour at Brighton Town Hall last week.
Here’s what some of them had to say about their role …
Councillor Ollie Sykes, who spent eight years as a Green councillor for Brunswick and Adelaide ward, said: “Being a councillor can be many things – hugely challenging, sociable, frustrating, stressful, rewarding. Even fun.
“A retiring law officer once said, ‘Officers take minutes. Councillors take hours.’ And sometimes speeches go on too long so you can add ‘occasionally boring’ to the list.
“But there is mostly never a dull moment and you come out of it a changed person. Hopefully for the better.”
Like many of his political friends and rivals, Councillor Sykes, 52, is “retiring” to spend more time working.
Councillors are unpaid but receive an allowance of less than £1,000 a month to recognise that they nominally miss about 25 hours of work a week. The reality is that many give a great many more hours to their council duties.
After standing down, Councillor Sykes will spend more time as a project manager on flood defence projects for the Environment Agency.
If a general election is called, he will stand for the Greens in Hove – and he is a candidate in the European elections later this month although he is unlikely to win a seat as an MEP (Member of the European Parliament).
He has often sparred politically with Andrew Wealls, 53, who represented the neighbouring ward of Central Hove for eight years. But despite their political differences, they have had to work together behind the scenes at times.
Councillor Wealls had this advice for the new members who will be elected next week: “Talk to your peers. There are good people in the other groups who can help get stuff done.
“Retain a healthy cynicism about what officers tell you and write it down. They have a vested interest as much as politicians do.
“Communicate with residents. They really don’t know what you do and what takes your time.
“Get a timetable for everything you agree agreed. Stuff drifts forever if you don’t.”
And he added: “Get a casework management system, or you’ll never be able to follow things up systematically.”
Councillor Wealls worked in investment management before switching to helping to run a local charity. He was elected just as his party lost power in Brighton and Hove in 2011.
He said: “Eight years as an opposition councillor is quite enough. It’s incredibly frustrating being an opposition councillor.”
He became a councillor “hoping to support people in having the opportunities I’ve enjoyed in my life”.
He said: “I enjoyed being children and young people’s spokesman most and have enjoyed being finance spokesman less.”
The highlights have included, “working to save the youth service, the establishment of the Bilingual and King’s schools (and) supporting getting the educational underperformance of disadvantaged groups further up the agenda”.
He is also glad to have helped “highlight the challenges of children and young people with special educational needs and their families – and stopping Labour’s cuts to respite care, challenging the council and CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) on services for autistic children and young people”.
And he has enjoyed working with local support groups Mascot (Managing Autism Spectrum Condition Ourselves Together) and PACC (the Parents and Carers Council).
The “lowlights”, he said, were Cityclean – the council’s rubbish and recycling service where an indicative strike ballot is under way – and “general politicking”.
And he added: “On committees, councillors saying, ‘I’d just like to echo what X has said and then repeating the whole bleeding lot.’”
If the frustrations of repetitive speeches and being in opposition could drive someone to drink, his next move will help – Councillor Wealls has set up a vermouth producing business with two friends.
He added: “Good luck to the new crew!”
The longest-serving outgoing Labour member is Gill Mitchell – a former leader of her party who chaired the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee for the past four years.
Councillor Mitchell, 69, works as a phlebotomist at the Royal Sussex County Hospital.
She was first elected to Brighton Borough Council in 1993 and served for 26 years. She said: “Being a councillor is a huge commitment in terms of time and energy. It’s been great but I’m standing down to achieve a bit more balance in life.
“I will still work for the NHS, which I love, do some volunteering and am looking forward to becoming a grandmother in June.
“I wanted to work alongside people to improve their lives and neighbourhoods.
“In an often difficult and complex political environment, I’ve been committed to working cross-party to deliver on shared objectives and always putting the city first.”
Her advice for the new intake? “Listen and learn.”
She has often crossed swords with the longest-serving of all the latest generation to retire, Geoffrey Theobald, who was first elected in 1968 and has clocked up almost 51 years of continuous service.
Asked why he went into politics, Councillor Theobald, 74, said: “To make a difference in my home town where I was born. I was also very interested in politics.”
His father, Stanley Theobald, was also a long-serving Brighton Conservative councillor.
Geoffrey Theobald, formerly a chartered surveyor, helped to reshape East Sussex County Council in the 1970s and later served as leader. He also left his mark on Lewes in the shape of the Cuilfail tunnel which many regard as the more environmentally friendly solution to the challenges of the time – despite being more expensive than the alternatives.
But the restoration of the Bandstand on Brighton seafront gives him particular satisfaction. He was the cabinet member for environment when the Tories were the largest party on Brighton and Hove City Council.
He said that he did not want to wait any longer for English Heritage to come up with grants – “the council had been waiting years and the Bandstand, I thought, could have gone the same way as the West Pier”.
He added: “I was monitoring the restoration virtually on a daily basis.”
Councillor Theobald has been immersed in Tory politics and took pride as mayor in welcoming his party to its annual conference in Brighton in the 1980s when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister. At the conference ball he dance with Mrs Thatcher.
He often welcomed other ministers and senior politicians to his home town – as well as heading to Westminster and Whitehall to seek support there when tackling the issues of the day.
His advice for his successors was: “Always work hard and be there for your electors and have a good relationship with officers as they will help you to assist your electors.”
In his retirement Councillor Theobald hopes to spend more time with his grandchildren, watch more sport, including cricket, and travel more. He said: “I am a very longstanding life member of Sussex CCC and a member of the MCC.”
It might not be a completely clean break though, as his wife Councillor Carol Theobald is standing again in Patcham ward and hopes to serve for another four years.
Another husband and wife team – Ann and Ken Norman – are standing down together, having served for a total of 41 years between them. The Conservative couple represent Withdean ward in Brighton.
Ann Norman was first elected in 1995 to the Brighton and Hove Council Shadow Authority, following in the footsteps of her mother who was a Brighton councillor.
When Ann Norman was elected, the separate Brighton and Hove councils were preparing to merge as well as taking on responsibilities that had previously been handled by East Sussex County Council.
She served as mayor from May 2009 for a year and spoke for her party on finance.
Ken Norman won a by-election in 2002 after the death of Councillor John Drake and has served alongside his wife ever since.
He said: “I became a committee chairman and cabinet member for adult social care and health and remained in roles connected to that service area for most of my 17 years as a councillor.”
What were the highlights and the challenges? He said: “Managing the political issues of the adult social care and health delivery in Brighton and Hove and working with a tremendously committed team of council officers.”
The couple, who are Brighton and Hove Albion season ticket holders, may be well into their seventies but they plan to stay busy in their retirement from the council.
Ann Norman is a trustee of various local organisations and both would consider a comeback “if the situation was right”.
Ken Norman had this advice for his successors: “Follow your own beliefs and always respect others’ beliefs and points of view.”
Ann Norman added: “Remember you represent all of your electorate not just those of your political party.”
Another long-serving councillor, former Labour council leader Warren Morgan, 51, is standing down after 16 years.
The East Brighton ward councillor is running for the European Parliament in the elections later this month for the new political party Change UK – the Independent Group.
He is stepping down as a councillor as a result of internal divisions within the Labour Party. He said: “It became clear that the Labour Party locally no longer wished me to represent them.
“Given the party leadership’s positions on Brexit and anti-semitism, I have decided that I no longer wish to and have left Labour.”
What made him want to be a councillor? He said: “Public service, helping people, solving problems.”
Councillor Morgan took satisfaction from achievements at ward level as well as across the wider area – from being a trustee of the Crew Club in Whitehawk, a governor at the former Whitehawk Primary School and chairing the liaison group for neighbours of the Royal Sussex County Hospital as preparations were made for the building work now under way there to the building of 300 new council homes, starting the buy-back of homes lost under the “right to buy” and starting a scheme to provide 1,000 truly affordable homes.
He was also proud of not having made any council staff compulsorily redundant despite a 60 per cent cut in government funding, spearheading the crowdfunding campaign to restore the Madeira Terraces and awarding the freedom of the city to Brighton and Hove Albion chairman Tony Bloom and manager Chris Hughton.
He was pleased that on his watch the council had abolished fees for the funerals of children, introduced garden waste collections, wheeled recycling bins, on-street big belly compactor bins, more seafront rubbish bins, maintain refuse and recycling collections and reversed the decline in recycling.
The council had also made “big progress on major projects like Circus Street, Preston Barracks, Shelter Hall, the Waterfront and King Alfred that will help the city’s economy”, he said.
And the Greater Brighton city region had formally expanded to include Crawley and Gatwick Airport.
The hardest challenges were “running to stand still on keeping the city clean, preventing homelessness and rough sleeping and meeting the care needs of thousands of residents, all on a budget that has been dramatically reduced by government”.
Oh, and “changes in the Labour Party since 2015”.
His advice for his successors was succinct: “Do the right thing. Do better.”
Another long-serving Labour councillor to bow out is former mayor Mo Marsh, 71. The former teacher said: “I’ll be spending more time with my family – my third grandchild Jack will be one in August – and enjoying my beach hut, joining the U3A (University of the Third Age), taking up Bridge, being a more active member of my lovely Brighton Little Theatre and managing my newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes better.”
Councillor Marsh was first elected to the old Brighton Borough Council in 1995 and initially served for eight years in the old Marine ward.
After the merger of Brighton and Hove there were 78 seats but this was reduced to 54 in a review which also redrew the ward boundaries and reduced the number.
She was re-elected in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean in 2007 where she has served for a further 12 years, making 20 in total.
During her four years away from the council she set up the East Brighton Mediation Service and went back to teaching – at the Pupil Referral Unit, also known as the PRU.
Councillor Marsh has served as a member of various committees, dealing with community safety, scrutiny and health as well as children and young people. She has regularly sat as a member or chair of licensing panels and chaired the Licensing Committee in 2015.
Her advice to her successors was more of a warning: “You are always on duty as a councillor even in the supermarket so watch what you say and do.”
Four years after Mo Marsh was first elected she was joined in Marine ward by fellow Labour councillor Kevin Allen, who served for four years until the ward was abolished.
Councillor Allen was elected in Preston Park ward in 2003 and 2007 but lost to the Greens in 2011. He was re-elected in Preston Park four years ago and has completed 16 years as a councillor.
Having been born on 29 February, he has had just 18 birthdays, but he added: “The reality is of course I’m 75 and obsolescence is beginning to show!”
With a degree in Russian and German, he initially worked as a modern language teacher before becoming a British Council officer and spending much of his working life overseas in places such as Germany, Tanzania, Israel and Russia.
What does retirement hold? He said: “I intend first of all to do more music. Also to work at the various languages I know to some extent and to visit parts of central and eastern Europe in which I have a particular interest. I’ll start with a trip to Belarus later in May.
“I have the deepest respect for the democratic process and regard it as a huge honour to have been selected by my party and to have been chosen to serve by fellow citizens.
“A councillor’s work is an accumulation of small-scale activities so it is fairly pointless to look for any one outstanding achievement.
“That said, I look back with some pride at the role I played in the earlier 2000s in establishing health scrutiny.”
Even in his final term as a councillor he sat as a member of the Health Overview and Scrutiny Panel and put important questions directly to those involved in episodes such as the Coperforma patient transport scandal.
Another member of the 1999 intake was Jayne Bennett, 61, who was first elected as a Conservative in Goldsmid ward before the boundary review.
She said: “I just got talked into by (former councillor) Jenny Langston.”
When the new wards – and fewer seats – were being contested in 2003, Councillor Langston had switched to the Liberal Democrats. Councillor Bennett said: “That wasn’t for me.”
Instead, she ran in her home ward, then called Stanford, as an Independent. In an era dominated by party politics, Councillor Bennett beat the odds to win twice as an Independent – in 2003 and 2007.
After her second victory, she was courted by the council’s Conservative administration and rejoined their ranks, adding: “The last two times (in 2011 and 2015) I was elected as a Conservative.
“I’m pleased that I managed to get the name changed to Hove Park ward. It was Stanford. It’s been a tremendous privilege to represent the residents of Hove Park ward.
“I’ve been incredibly lucky. I was never a political councillor. I’m a people person. It was all about local issues and local residents to me.
“And whatever I’ve done in the community, it’s always been with lots of people helping me.”
Councillor Bennett, a cabin manager for British Airways for more than 20 years, said: “The time comes to move on. Nothing lasts forever.”
She won’t miss speaking in public, which she finds “unnerving”. She said: “I hate public speaking. I prefer being out and about in the ward with my residents.”
In her early years as a councillor she led a campaign – the Pink Dolphin campaign – to keep breast cancer services in Brighton and Hove – “I started it with my friend Leonie Petrarca.”
Plans for the move were dropped and she is pleased with the improvements since in the service offered locally.
And it’s similar community-rooted campaigns that she counts as her achievements such as ensuring that the City Park offices would be “a better neighbour”, particularly at the planning stage.
Echoing others in their remarks on what they have managed to accomplish, she said: “There were lots of small things that make a difference.”
Again echoing others, she added: “I feel very privileged that my residents allowed me to represent them as a councillor. There are still issues that I’m concerned about so don’t think I’ll be quiet!”
Fellow Conservative Lynda Hyde has also served for 20 years. She represents Rottingdean Coastal ward and said: “When I was elected I was the co-director and company secretary of a local company employing 16 people.
“Before that, I was employed by the former Brighton Health Authority and would visit frail elderly housebound patients of the surgery I was attached to and arrange their home care programmes such as district nurse visits, GP visits, advice from dietitians, occupational therapists and physiotherapists, their day centre care, home helps and meals on wheels.
“I am standing down to spend more time with my family and friends. I have not spent the amount of time I would have wished to spend with my family.
“Also, I want to travel, exercise more and take up a new interest, maybe learn to play the ukulele or improve my schoolgirl French.
“There are many interesting events taking place in Rottingdean, Ovingdean and Saltdean and I want to take part in some of these.”
The time-consuming nature of being a councillor means that she has not had enough time in the past 20 years. She said: “In a nutshell I want to be the participant of much but not have to organise anything.
“I wanted to be a councillor because I thought I could do better than the then current councillors. I believed the council had made some poor decisions and these were being made by people who had only lived in Brighton for a short time. I am a Brightonian and knew I could do better.
“My highlights have been when I was chairman of the Planning Committee and of course being the Mayor of Brighton and Hove.
“When I was mayor I raised more money for my charities than any other mayor before me.
“In terms of challenges, you have to recognise that you can do your best, put up a good battle and then not always be able to achieve what you set out to do. Another challenge is that the council moves and resolves issues so slowly.
“My advice to my successor will be to work hard, learn quickly and never forget you have been elected by residents and you are there to serve them.
“When you first attend meetings you will not know what is going on due to the language used and the procedures of the council. Don’t be frightened to say that you don’t understand and ask for an explanation.
“It has been a privilege to serve the local residents and being a councillor has enabled me to learn so much about Brighton and Hove and to meet so many wonderful people.
“I will very much miss all the people I meet regularly as well as many of the councillors and officers. I will miss being so well informed on local issues.
“I will not miss all the hundreds of emails I receive every week which have to be dealt with.”
Some of those retiring have served for just one four-year term, including Green councillor Dick Page, who said: “When I was elected in 2015 to serve the ward I have lived in for many years (Hanover and Elm Grove), it was a steep learning curve for the first six months.
“What I was less prepared for was an out-of-the-blue, life-limiting diagnosis soon after that.
“Thankfully so far I am still well (much to my consultant’s surprise) but I can’t sadly be confident to offer myself for re-election to for another four-year term – which I had always hoped to do.
“I do still hope to help in the background for some time to come.
“Some highlights of my four years in this ‘full-on part-time job’ include
- Winning £350,000 from stretched transport budgets to rebuild the busy Elm Grove / Lewes Road junction to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists in response to a big residents’ petition after a cyclist was nearly crushed to death by a turning lorry.
- Supporting an ultimately successful ‘Keep our community together’ campaign to reverse a crazy plan to send 11-year-olds in the Elm Grove area to a far-flung secondary school – even when the powers-that-be knew they had the money requested by Varndean and Dorothy Stringer for extra classrooms after plans for a new school were scrapped
- Despite mostly ‘wading through treacle’ of so-called integrated working with the largely unaccountable local NHS on the city Health and Wellbeing Board, I did highlight our dangerously low number of GPs, especially on outlying, poorer estates where a number of surgeries have closed –and we kept it in the spotlight when their opaque words were not showing results.
“There have of course been some frustrations – and the almost endless problems with Cityclean come top of most councillors’ list.”
He described it as an “omnishambles” and “hardly, as claimed, ‘getting the basics right’!”
Councillor Page added: “Let’s not forget that austerity has shrunk council budgets by 40 per cent since 2010 so more and more are in council tax debt, road surfaces go unrepaired and become dangerous, street trees rarely get replaced.
“Finally if any councillor were to ask my advice, I would say do your best to keep helping residents with problems great or small and to improve the city.
“Be politely persistent when you sense you are being fobbed off by officials, where there is a clear public interest.
“Have one proper day off each week (and) take it seriously – but not too seriously!”
Another one-term councillor Labour’s Tom Bewick, has taken on a chief executive role in a national organisation, prompting him to “retire” so that he can return to his career/
The 48-year-old entrepreneur and international education and skills policy expert chaired the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee, having won his Westbourne ward seat in Hove from the Tories.
He is now the chief executive of the Federation of Awarding Bodies, a national representative organisation in the exams and qualifications sector.
Councillor Bewick said: “It was a real privilege to serve in the administration as a lead member for education, appointed immediately after being elected for the first time.
“It can take some councillors many years to chair a committee or undertake a key leadership role. I was put in political charge of one of the biggest departments in the council — children, young people and skills.
“It was really satisfying to get to know some of the city’s 70 schools, including many teachers, parents and pupils that I met through the course of my work.
“As someone that had been in foster care as a child and had left school with no qualifications, I had a real passion for helping the most disadvantaged parts of the city.
“I’m proud of the work I did with the local business community via the Employer Skills Task Force and the work it achieved in terms of increasing the number of apprenticeship opportunities locally.
“The hardest part of the role was overseeing cuts in children’s services budgets, including the closure of some children’s centres.
“At all times, I tried to ensure that the impact of cuts were minimised for the most disadvantaged.
“Take children’s centres, for example. The city still has a universal network available for all new parents. Not many local authorities can say that.”
Asked whether he had any advice for his successors, he said: “Be bold. Be yourself. And don’t let all the pointless bureaucracy get you down.”
Councillor Bewick was succeeded as chair of the council’s Children, Young People and Skills Committee by fellow Labour councillor Dan Chapman, who works for a trade union for teachers and school leaders.
Councillor Chapman chaired the committee for two years, having won his seat in Queen’s Park from the Greens in 2015.
He said: “I grew up in a council flat in Queen’s Park ward with my great-grandmother. She ran the tenants’ association in our block of flats and was always helping people.
“I wanted to help people like she did in the area of the city where I grew up. I went into politics and put myself forward to be a councillor hoping to make a difference to people’s lives.
“I loved directly helping residents in my ward, with a variety of issues, mainly housing problems, some of which I couldn’t always find a solution to. But knowing you made some people’s lives that bit better was what helped me get up in the morning.
“I also loved my time as chair of the Children, Young People and Skills Committee. Although I was lumbered with some thoroughly unpleasant tasks, I’m proud that I played a part in many achievements over the last four years – our ‘good’ Ofsted rating for looked-after children’s services, all our secondary schools being rated ‘good’, more ‘in-house’ foster cares, a successful youth grants programme to name just a few things.
“I think some of the biggest highlights for me would include the direct feedback I received from the lead inspector during our inspection of looked-after children’s services.
“Also the thanks I received from residents in my ward when I helped solved a problem for them that had been negatively affecting their life for some time.
“The hardest challenges for me were all the things you can’t do. Many people believe that councillors are all powerful. I can assure you they are not.
“Worse than this was the abuse, death threats and the weird stalker I had.
“I often found there were two extremes with people. They were either extremely polite to you because you were a councillor or they believed that because you were a councillor that gave them permission to be incredibly rude and abusive.
“I have lots of advice but I think two of the main things I would say is, firstly, don’t shrug off the rude, threatening and abusive people. Report them and don’t engage with them.
“The other piece of advice I would say is don’t let it take over your life. I tried to balance a part-time job, being a ward councillor and a chair of a committee.
“It was very difficult and put enormous strain on my personal life.”
Asked his plans, he said: “Get my life back. I’ll be focusing on my work, looking for new things to get involved with and I’m also looking at becoming a trustee for a local charity.
“It was a pleasure and an honour to represent Queen’s Park ward, the area where I grew up and went to school in the city where I’ve lived all my life.
“There were some very difficult times over the last four years but also some great ones which I’ll always remember.”
Councillor Chapman’s Queen’s Park colleague Karen Barford, 48, also received death threats and suffered stalking during her four years as a Labour councillor.
She took over as chair of the Health and Wellbeing Board when Daniel Yates became leader of the council.
Councillor Barford said: “This is a very challenging area for the council as the government has continued to reduce funding year on year, even though the demand and complexity of need has increased.
“However, with the Labour administration’s commitment to support the most vulnerable people in our communities, I was able to ensure that the overall health and social care budget increased every year from 2015, even when other local authorities were needing to slash their budgets and cut services.”
Like Councillor Chapman, she found casework in her ward could be both satisfying and not without its challenges.
She said: “Being a councillor is extremely rewarding but it does come with many challenges. It is often all-consuming and, while many residents are very understanding and supportive, there is also a lot of anger directed at politicians.
“While I do understand the frustrations felt by many people in the current economic and political climate and the difficulties they experience just to make ends meet, it can’t be right that people trying to improve their communities face threats and abuse on a regular basis and sometimes at a level that makes them fear for their lives, as I have sadly experienced.
“However, I will miss so much about being a councillor and would like to thank the Labour Party and most importantly the residents of Queen’s Park for putting their faith in me and giving me such an incredible opportunity.”
Another member of the Labour intake in 2015, Councillor Michael Inkpin-Leissner, has since become an Independent, citing the national leadership’s stance on Europe as well as concerns about anti-semitism.
The Hollingdean and Stanmer councillor, who works as a member of Norwegian airline’s cabin crew, said that he was “born to serve the community”.
The 51-year-old was a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in his teens – and he currently serves the Greek orthodox community as member of the local church committee, reflecting his mixed European heritage.
Councillor Inkin-Leissner, who said that he still loves living in Coldean, in his ward, added: “The biggest honour was to serve as Armed Forces Champion. I shall never forget that.
“I might not have been big in ‘grand politics’ but every case I worked on was special. No grandstanding but simple case work.
“I helped a family who sadly had to be evicted from their home. I stopped some HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) being permitted. Just basic work. But I loved it.
“The biggest challenge was to combine work with office. Sadly in the UK it is not law to give office-holders spare time to do their job. It was a big struggle to get days off.”
Councillor Inkin-Leissner sat on the council’s Planning Committee where party politics takes second place to the quasi-judicial nature of the decision-making process which is beset with some complex rules.
He said: “It took me a while to learn the rules of planning. I got there in the end.”
Despite becoming an Independent, Councillor Inkin-Leissner was reluctant to run against his former colleagues – and he has tended to vote with them even after leaving Labour.
His advice for his successors was: “Use common sense and not ideology. Think about the small things to help people. Be honest.”
And he added: “I would like to thank the people of Hollingdean and Stanmer, especially those in Coldean and my fellow ward councillors Tracey Hill and Caroline Penn, for having me.
“I am not gone. Let us see what the future brings.”
Others who retire at today’s elections are Greens Louisa Greenbaum and Amanda Knight and Labour councillors Penny Gilbey, Saoirse Horan and Adrian Morris.
Former Labour councillor Caroline Penn stood down before Christmas on taking up a new job and Councillor Anne Meadows, who was deselected by Labour in Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, is standing in the ward for the Conservatives.