Last month’s collapse marked a shameful end for a Labour administration that destabilised the city, brought Brighton and Hove into disrepute and consistently let its residents down.
Labour ultimately fell after failing to live up to its promise to be an anti-racist council and amid the council leader facing a call to resign from the spokesperson for Labour Against Anti-Semitism.
This tumultuous administration, which lasted little more than a year after the local elections on Thursday 2 May 2019, was characterised by resignations, apologies, broken promises, financial mismanagement and weak leadership from start to finish.
Labour repeatedly broke its trust with the people who elected it, with its broken promises hurting our city’s most vulnerable time and again.
Its decisions led to a collapse of the home to school transport service, putting children with a disability at risk and culminating in Labour facing an independent investigation from the Local Government Association.
Another such investigation may well be on the cards after reports that disabled groups were not adequately consulted by Labour on the discriminatory road and cycle lane changes recently introduced that reduced disability access to the beach front.
And in the process, while Labour said in its manifesto it would “protect and support the many small businesses that ensure the strength of our city during times of economic uncertainty”, Labour instead left traders in Madeira Drive struggling to pay their council tax and make ends meet with Brighton and Hove languishing as a “below average” resort a tourism survey of Britain’s seaside towns.
Labour let down council house tenants by rediverting millions of pounds in the housing repairs budget on administrative changes to bring the service in house, and then added insult to injury by abandoning its promise to build 500 council houses.
And while Labour promised voters in its manifesto that it would provide more public open space in the city for residents, presumably including those without gardens, it instead pushed through plans to build on 16 ecological sites in the urban fringe despite there being no need, with the council leader breaking her own promise to her constituents to oppose any proposals for the development of urban fringe land at Whitehawk Hill along the way.
Resignations and apologies
Labour’s constant failure to deliver for the city resulted in eight public apologies in a little over 12 months, culminating in Labour’s finance spokesperson saying he was ashamed of being a Labour councillor.
The series of resignations included Labour’s deputy leader, who stepped down following public scrutiny of his comments on education, and of course the three Labour councillors who resigned because of alleged anti-semitism.
Labour’s mismanagement of the city’s finances meant it had to put council tax up by the maximum amount possible at the budget, hitting taxpayers hard.
The scale of taxpayers’ money lost on failed schemes was staggering
- £1 million lost on the home to school transport service
- further millions wasted bringing the council’s housing repair service for tenants and leaseholders in house, which is now subject to strike action
- a £3 million total overspend at Cityclean in the two years to the end of March, including an £11,000 a week bill to fix Labour’s mismanagement which led to rubbish piling up the streets over the new year
And the city is still paying £1,200 a day for Labour’s interim housing director brought in following officer resignations.
Most damagingly for our city, while Labour claimed in its manifesto to be a party that sustained a reputation for Brighton and Hove as being the most inclusive city in the world, it left office having blatantly and unforgivably failed to meet its pledge to be an anti-racist council.
Labour’s council leader did not properly stand up to anti-semitism when it occurred in her administration, appearing to put power before anti-racism, with councillors suspended and under investigation for anti-semitism remaining in her group.
In doing so, the council leader failed to back up her own words at the budget – that Brighton and Hove is a city that is “inclusive and welcoming to all”.
Politically, the council leader failed to provide leadership in her own party, not commenting or providing clarification when the press reported on a document outlining infighting and bullying in the Labour Party in which she was mentioned many times – and attracting anger for apparently not listening to democratic motions of over 50 per cent of Labour branches opposing the development of Whitehawk Hill.
The fact that Labour collapsed over alleged anti-semitic racism and ended with the shame of the leader of our city council being called upon to resign by the spokesperson for Labour Against Anti-semitism is a stain on our city.
It has attracted national attention and damaged the reputation of Brighton and Hove to an extent that will be hard to recover from.
The final blow
In the end, seven Labour councillors rebelled when the council leader tried to desperately hold on to power through a power-sharing agreement with the Greens.
These councillors knew the game was up and the dysfunction had to come to an end.
This council needs a leader and councillors with the strength and integrity to stand up to racism of all kinds.
It will be a long time before the people of this city put their trust in Labour to run their city council again.
Councillor Steve Bell is the leader of the Conservative group on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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