The revelations that were published in Brighton and Hove News last week – that Labour and the Greens have been jointly running Brighton and Hove City Council in accordance with an extensive written agreement deliberately kept secret from the public – are an incredibly serious matter of public interest and democracy in the city.
They raise a number of questions that now need to be answered.
One immediate question is: “Why have both Labour and the Greens, while clearly being a coalition in all but name since the May 2019 election, claimed additional wages for being the city’s ‘official opposition’?”
Opposition and scrutiny are incredibly important parts of the democratic process.
The city has a leader of the opposition and every portfolio and council committee has an opposition spokesperson, each of whom is supposed to provide democratic scrutiny of the council’s administration and affairs.
The health of any democracy requires a strong opposition to help ensure that policy mistakes are not made.
While being in a coalition in all but name, Labour members are also currently claiming to be the official opposition on the council and taking wages accordingly.
This, according to council documents, is paid at a rate of approximately £110,520 per four-year term in addition to councillor allowances.
The current Labour leader of the opposition receives £45,508 per four-year term to provide opposition for the city’s residents.
Altogether, when you take into account further basic and special responsibility allowances being claimed by Labour and Green councillors, this coalition in all but name is claiming somewhere approaching £2.7 million of taxpayers’ money over the four years from 2019-23 for their own allowances to be both the administration and opposition at the same time.
But how, right now for example, can Labour’s housing spokesperson claim to be the “opposition spokesperson on housing” if there is a joint programme between Labour and the Greens that has been formalised in a signed agreement?
How can Labour’s spokesperson on environment, transport and sustainability (all key areas of debate in the city right now) claim to be the opposition spokesperson if there is a joint programme between Labour and the Greens?
How can Labour’s spokesperson on tourism, equalities, community and culture be the opposition spokesperson if there is a joint programme between Labour and the Greens?
And how can the Labour leader possibly claim to be the leader of the opposition if she is part of a coalition agreement in all but name?
There is of course no problem with parties forming coalitions. The coalition government administered the country from 2010-15. This saw Conservatives and Liberal Democrats sharing administration roles. A separate Labour opposition provided scrutiny.
For Labour and the Greens to deliberately keep the contents of such an agreement secret from the public for 18 months and take financial renumeration from Brighton and Hove taxpayers to be an “official opposition” looks like a manipulation of the democratic process.
There will no doubt be many serious questions ahead for the Labour and Green groups to answer following the exposure of the agreement in Brighton and Hove News.
Taxpayers of the city would surely agree that the subject of remuneration would be a good question to answer first.
Councillor Robert Nemeth is the Conservative group whip on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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