As a turbulent year at Brighton and Hove City Council draws to a close, here are three key lessons from 2021 that need to be heeded if the council is to improve its performance in 2022.
Lesson 1 – Only a local approach can get results for the city.
Residents expect that their councillors should focus on local matters which they are elected to manage – including the city’s £825.6 million gross revenue expenditure budget and service delivery.
However, since 2019, Labour and the Greens have spent over 77 per cent of their allotted time for notices of motion at full council meetings raising national and international matters well beyond the remit of a local council.
This is a pattern that continued in 2021, where we saw another vote called on whether nuclear weapons should be banned and a debate called on a bill that Caroline Lucas MP wanted to bring to the House of Commons.
These self-indulgent debates on international and national affairs deliver nothing for residents who want a focus on their local services.
In stark contrast, our Conservative team has once again been proud to focus 100 per cent of our time on raising local council matters and in doing so has proven this is the only way to deliver for residents.
With three quarters of our motions passed by the council, our Conservatives have made a difference to issues such as the city’s allotments system, domestic violence services, seafront infrastructure and heritage.
And at the budget council meeting, our local approach yielded major dividends for Brighton and Hove, with our Conservative team finding and negotiating over £7.177 million for the residents’ local priorities including restoring the city’s heritage, boosting tourism and measures to address the declining state of the city, including bigger bins for parks, mobile CCTV cameras and repairs to seafront railings.
Compare this to Labour, which only delivered a fraction of this (£447,000) because their focus was on issues elsewhere.
The lesson is clear: In 2022, if the council is to move forward and serve its residents fully, it must end its self-indulgent debates on national and international affairs and instead focus on council matters at hand, starting with failing services.
Lesson 2: The Green-Labour coalition experiment has failed Brighton.
Just as residents expect the council to focus on its own job and responsibilities, they also expect that the important decisions being made that affect their lives to be given full scrutiny and the debating time needed by councillors.
This, however, has not happened at Brighton and Hove City Council in 2021, with the Green-Labour coalition arrangement signed in 2019 having put a major damper on any scrutiny of the big decisions made.
In 2021 coalition decisions – such as the car-free city centre, the Valley Gardens “bus gates”, the Homeless Bill of Rights and huge pay-outs to unions over strikes – were waved through without any proper consideration of the impact on residents.
The consequences of these decisions will be far-reaching and have already started to bite in some instances.
With the council deciding to cancel and reduce meetings throughout the year, scrutiny has taken a further hit.
A good new year’s resolution for Labour would be to end their coalition agreement with the Greens because it has caused so much damage to the city and to their reputation with voters.
Lesson 3: Policy mis-steps cost the local taxpayer.
In 2021 we have seen the financial impact begin to hit from a series of shocking policy decisions made by councillors in 2019, with a budget black hole starting to open up.
The decision to ban the use of pesticides in 2019 without putting an alternative plan in place has not only led to embarrassing headlines for the council during the summer.
It has also generated a huge cost to the city in payments for contractors that have had to be brought in to try to clear the pavements.
The decision to ‘insource’ the housing repairs service in 2019 has not only resulted in a worse service for council tenants – a backlog of 8,000 repairs and counting.
It has also cost £2 million in lost rent, £2.2 million to resolve a costly industrial dispute and further costs yet to be revealed including for contractors being brought in the clean up the mess.
As the council has flagged in its pre-budget review, these financial blowouts caused by ideological “virtue signalling” policies will probably cost the taxpayer and mean higher council tax bills in 2022-23.
2021 was an “annus horribilis” for the council – but can it learn its lessons in 2022? The public will be waiting to see, because if matters do not improve, there will be an election around the corner where the Labour-Green coalition will be judged.
Councillor Steve Bell is the leader of the Conservative group on Brighton and Hove City Council.
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