Our Conservative group of councillors is alarmed at the erosion of democracy in the city we have seen over the last two years under the Labour-Green council.
Residents’ petitions and deputations have been refused to be heard by the council for the first time any of our Conservatives have seen – and some of our councillors go as far back as having served on Hove Borough Council.
Full council meetings are no longer debating local issues, with Labour and the Greens using 76 per cent of their allotted council time to debate national issues of no relevance to council functions.
A series of damaging decisions have been made by this council where the public and community groups were not consulted or completely ignored by their local Labour and Green ward councillors.
Decisions have been made which local groups have alleged have broken equalities and environmental laws.
We have seen a cover-up culture at the council, with a committee refusing to release a report the council had previously promised would be made available to families of disabled children, as reported first in Brighton and Hove News.
And now there appear to be new threats to local democracy on the horizon, with the leader of the council having announced that he wants to change the Brighton and Hove City Council constitution after these upcoming elections.
Drafts of these changes seen by the Conservative group look anti-democratic. It is an alarming trend. So how has it all gone wrong in such a short space of time?
An undemocratic ‘coalition’ arrangement
The basis of all these problems for local democracy in the city can be found it what occurred shortly after the 2019 local elections.
Labour and the Greens signed a coalition-style agreement in the weeks following that election, covering a broad range of council portfolio areas. The content of this agreement was kept secret from the public by these parties, which refused to release it when asked questions.
Nevertheless, the agreement was revealed in December last year in an exclusive report on this website. It spells out, in some detail, how council decisions are now effectively being made in confidential pre-meetings held between Labour and the Greens, before residents are able be heard at council meetings.
This explains why Labour, although designated the “city’s official opposition”, has been failing to fulfil the important duty of listening to and standing up for residents who may be unhappy with council decisions.
How can Labour be the opposition when they are part of a coalition agreement? You can’t have it both ways.
On rare occasions when Labour tell residents that they disagree with Green schemes – for example, raising residents’ parking permit charges, keeping Old Shoreham Road cycle lane in place and introducing a city-wide Homeless Bill of Rights – the most that any Labour councillors have done at the council meetings is “abstain” from voting, allowing these schemes to all to go through anyway.
What’s the point in voting Labour?
A chance to send the council a message
This council is now half-way through its four-year term, with the next full council elections in 2023.
On Thursday (6 May) residents in two wards will have the first opportunity to cast their judgment on the performance of Brighton and Hove City Council since the May 2019 local elections when they vote to fill two councillor vacancies.
Residents in these wards have seen first-hand the impact on local democracy that Labour and the Greens have caused over the past two years.
In Hollingdean and Stanmer ward, the Coldean Residents’ Association and Stanmer Preservation Society had their democratic rights denied when the council refused to hear their deputations on the urban fringe development at a full council meeting in October.
Coldean residents put in a big effort to get 1,002 signatures on their petition. To then be denied the right to be heard by their council was appalling.
Patcham ward residents had their petition against building on the land at Horsdean Recreation Ground and Ladies Mile, signed by more than 1,600 residents, rejected for the full council meeting.
Residents of Whitehawk Hill and Bevendean gained 1,620 signatures for their petition and residents at Benfield Valley gained 1,905 signatures – the council would not hear these petitions either.
These are residents’ voices wanting to be heard that have been denied their democratic right by this council.
Our Conservative councillors stand up for local democracy and put our city’s residents first. For two years, Labour and the Greens have put their coalition deal before the residents.
I hope residents will take the opportunity to have their say next Thursday at the ballot box and send this council a message that ignoring residents is not on – and that it cannot continue in this way without electoral consequences.
Only then might Labour and the Greens be forced to rethink their anti-democratic coalition agreement that has caused such damage to Brighton and Hove.
Councillor Steve Bell is the leader of the Conservatives on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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