OPINION

Three lessons from the council’s ‘annus horribilis’

Posted On 01 Jan 2022 at 2:19 am

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.

Spacewords Brighton

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.

  1. Mike Beasley Reply

    The Council should be put into special measures. It really is as simple as that. BHCC is guilty of serial and ongoing failure and deception.

  2. Jon Reply

    Steve Bells’ columns are almost unreadable.

    • Phoebe Barrera Reply

      It all seems perfectly standard English to me, but I imagine if you were a Green-Labour activist you would have trouble reading whilst crying with anger.

    • Chaz. Reply

      Ask your carer to read them to you dear.

    • Car Deleda Est Reply

      Lesson 4: Local Tory and Labour politicians are fuelling the anti-cyclist culture war.

      • Al McCarthage Reply

        There’s not an anti-cyclist culture war. There does appear to be, at least among most Labour and Tory councillors, an attempt to operate a balanced transport policy, reflecting demand while trying to allow for realistic alternatives. They’re hands are tied, not least over the ridiculously high fares for public transport.
        The Greens have one-track minds: they seem to want to turn everywhere into a cycle track. Most cyclists are great (I’m actually one myself), but there is a sizeable minority of lycra louts who show no respect for pedestrians, drivers or the rules of the road.

      • Chaz. Reply

        Typical Green response to a democratic vote against them.
        Sorry that the B&H Green Shirts do not accept democracy but that is life.

  3. David Haskell Reply

    Is this some sort of parody article? The Conservative leader parades out his Latin to give “lessons” to the Brighton and Hove proletariat.

    • Jack Williams Reply

      Of course, we’d much rather have useless lying hypocrite, Phelim, running the Council!

      • David Haskell Reply

        If liars and hypocrites make you angry just wait till you hear about what the Tories were doing whilst everyone else was in lockdown.

        • fed-up with brighton politics Reply

          And that was what exactly??

        • Jack Williams Reply

          While you’re at it ; would you care to elucidate on Cllr Druitt’s little jaunt off to the Alps?

          • fed-up with brighton politics

            More than one little long absenteeism jaunt it seems – along with Cllr Phillips. No credible explanation that stands up to scrutiny has been offered and the pair of them have just been off on their jollies for protracted periods. I would remind Mr Haskell, whom I suppose is a Green activist, although he never says who he is or what he stands for, that the Greens are in ‘power’ in B&H by default, because of Labour’s total disarray. Nobody voted the lamentable Greens into power and they have more than shown they are not up to the job, and the previous Green administration certainly wasn’t. So I suggest that, instead of innuendo and hints, Mr Green activist Haskell (what a pathetic job that is, in the light of Green non-performance in B&H) puts up his evidence about what the Tories might have been up to during lockdown – if he has any evidence.

  4. Barb Reply

    More virtue signalling nonsense from the Tory party. Yawn. Stop playing politics and get on with your job.

  5. Gareth Hall Reply

    the problems experienced in Brighton and hove are as a result of conservative austerity measures over the last 12 years resulting in a 100 million pound reduction in council funding.
    Its little wonder that the Tory councillors choose to criticise the results of these cuts instead of the reason for them

    • Charles Obscure Reply

      Not exactly. You have to factor in Green (plus Labour Momentum loon) incompetence, lies and deceit. Did Phelim really think it was OK to fly to Glasgow? Did he think he could get away with it? He couldn’t possibly resign because he doesn’t have a real job to fall back on – he relies on taxpayer money to exist, but treats them with contempt and disdain. A smug, lying, incompetent fraud.

    • Only me Reply

      Considering that this lot love wasting our money, maybe they should have more taken away from them.

    • Martin Burtenshaw Reply

      Gareth Hall
      You can quote whatever figures you like but the actual reduction overall is 26%, or just over a quarter. People like yourself can state quite rightly that Government have cut £100m to use your quote because it suits and favours your argument.

      What people like yourself never ever do, is do proper research and discover that while funding has been cut from central government, funding is received from other grants and benefits, like Business Rates for example that councils now keep.

      Fair enough, we accept councils run on less funding, however, the problem is the wastage our local councils makes and how the funds are managed.

      Spending thousands on vanity badges because Jim wants to be known as a tree isn’t a priority while our rubbish bins remain unemptied. Spending £5M on installing car carks at Stanmer park isn’t a priority while vital services are cut, hedges and the rest continue to over grow, pot holes and broken pavements remain untreated. Filth, muck and graffiti continue to blight this city every where you look. The list of failures is endless.

      Our fantastic council announced a surplus of funds, A SURPLUS, and were quite proud that they achieved that. No wonder the city is in the state it is.
      I would highly recommend looking at the real problem, BHCC.

      • fed-up with brighton politics Reply

        Is this the same Gareth Hall who has a senior management role in the local top-heavy morass of NHS bureaucracy and, if so, what does he actually do, how much does he receive for it and would he like to know that politics should have no part in the NHS and that skewed statements about government cuts are either political manoeuvres or total naivety. The former, I suspect.

        It is correct that the council has had all sorts of grants etc for various things, which go a long way to offset all this biased diatribe about cuts and lack of funding, but nothing positive or concrete for the benefit of residents ever seems to result from the grants.

        BHCC is one of the main problems. Political leadership (using the word very loosely as grinning, smug Mac Cafferty couldn’t lead a horse to water) is dire and the officer/employed structure is beyond belief. The Town Hall is closed, seemingly permanently (maybe use it to house the homeless?), there are senior vacancies galore, and, after many years on a big undeserved salary for running a total shambles, Geoff Raw the Invisible is apparently still in charge of the council’s dysfunctional non-operation (WHY????). Council meetings get cancelled – although I am sure some sort of meeting will happen to approve the next cynical hike in council tax.

        You couldn’t make it up, but residents have to live with this fiasco.

  6. Katy Reply

    Lesson 1 – Ask the Conservative Government to restore the £100m plus it has stripped from the Council’s budget. A national issue voters need to hear.

    Lesson 2 – There is no coalition. Steve Bell knows this but in the absence of his group having any policies, it is the only message he has. Repeating it again and again, will not make it a truth.

    Lesson 3 – See lesson 1 and don’t vote Tory.

    • Martin Burtenshaw Reply

      Lesson 1
      If you do some research you will discover that councils receive funding from other sources, like business rates etc that went to central government but is now kept by councils. The actual cut is 26% over all and is no-where near the figure you quote.

      Lesson 2
      In correct, Greens do not have overall control, there’s only 20, therefore will need help from other parties to carry any motion over, or require 28 as there are 54 counsellors.
      Therefore, there’s got to be some co-operation to use a better term.

      Lesson 3
      Anyone living in Brighton already know not to vote Green or Labour at a local level as both have proven to be incompetent at running our council and at National level, Labour under Corbyn were never electable.

  7. fed-up with brighton politics Reply

    Instead of political rhetotic and the same old leftie mantra about Tory Govt cuts, perhaps we could have some BHCC ideas about the pathetic performance and lack of constructive ideas (which would be for the benefit of council taxpayers, if the Greens actually had any practical/constructive ideas or even a quarter of a normal brain).

    The council has received a lot of govt money (resulting in the OSR cycle lane total fiasco) plus a lot of money for the homeless and, frankly, they have totally and cluelessly cocked up). The council does not have a clue about anything , but I expect that some totally deluded ideologs, including David Haskell, whoever he is, will vote for these brain-dead idiots once again come the next local elections. Perhaps somebody – anybody – would like to explain why, in simple words that the rest of us might even understand, why the Greens are doing a decent job??

    Not possible.

    • Martin Reply

      Well balanced, politically unbiased comment.
      I’d vote for you, if you’d run as an Indy councillor in my ward.

      I’ve lived in B&H since 2011 and love this city to bits. I’d consider myself a green liberal, but the state of services this council provides is shameful.

      Get our streets clean, bins emptied and areas around communal bins tidy and prohibit aggressive street begging.
      Fix up our beautiful seafront, repair our heritage and make this city accessible for its residents.

  8. Billy Short Reply

    The city council IS in a sorry state, and this is made worse here by a Tory councillor trying to claim some higher ground.

    In truth the council’s budget has been slashed over ten years, so that basic services are no longer properly financed. The national government rules also ensure that the majority of what’s left from our council tax goes on social care, education, policing, and on other statutory requirements.
    It’s the Tory government that has brought us these cuts and it’s still national government which lays out the unavoidable expenditure.

    It’s then unfortunate that this low ebb in local funding has coincided with the awkward pact between Labour’s Momentum wing and the fake Green councillors we have, all obsessed with their ideology, and with each other, rather than with public service.
    We long-term residents are left with little choice over who to vote for and currently we find that inexperienced ex-students are in charge of our basic services like rubbish collection, street cleaning and recycling. And they fail on every level.

    Instead they duplicate cycle lanes and cut down green areas for the benefit of absolutely nobody. They narrow roads and create polluting traffic jams where pedestrians find it less easy to cross the road. They make it increasingly difficult for anyone to deliver goods or to get to work. Public transport is made worse by their every decision. Responsible recycling of waste and other materials gets more difficult by the day.
    I walk my own recycling to the nearest bank to find overflowing bins, and then I hear that this recycling goes to the incinerators anyway. Local charges made for basic rights and needs are increased with each annual budget. The council then wastes this money with each new vanity project.

    I’ve lived in this city all my adult life and I have no idea who to vote for at the next election.
    What I do know is that is the worst council we have seen for a generation, in terms of getting the basics right.

    The pandemic has given them the excuse to go underground. The council offices remain shut whilst the rest of us have had to work through the various health rules. Council meetings remain suspended – along with any democratic pretence. And so some councillors openly live abroad – whilst the leaves fall from the unpruned trees, unswept, and our street drains then get blocked, resulting in obvious flooding and the resultant longer-term city infrastructure decay.

    Look at Madeira Drive and weep. Our council would rather paint a green motorway for cyclists on the road than to restore the adjacent historic Terraces or Victorian street lamps. It’s even the wrong colour green. Every new business that opens is just an excuse for another bar – whilst shoppers in cars can’t actually get to Churchill Square any more since the main access road was pointlessly narrowed because some mission statement on a council office wall has told them to do that.

    This crisis is not just about politics or poor elected politicians, because the council offices themselves have been taken over by lobbyists in what we see from South Africa is like a new form of ‘state capture’. If, as an employee or new councillor, you don’t agree with the closed-mind thinking there, then you probably don’t stay long. Road blocks to change are held in the log jam of budgets, all stitched up long ago. I personally would love to know what the average 35-hr-per-week employee gets paid when being allowed to work from home. .
    What funding there is left continues to go to vanity fantasies and ideological projects, largely driven by the lycra obsessed eco warriors who meet online to fight the ‘100 year war against the car’ – and yet without them providing a viable transport alternative. They’ll turn out for a photoshoot but, when it rains, or the it’s cold, or when it’s dark, they are nowhere to be seen.

    The city’s own Climate Change Forum, fixed as it was in favour of green ideology, came up with a package of recommendations which continue to be ignored. Our Fake Green councillors, like religious zealots, are happy to fake the statistics when they need to further their own fantasies about the how the future should be. But of course they have been found out.

    And come on. Is there just one councillor in this city who can stand up and show some vision or leadership?
    I’m guessing that none of the current lot actually signed up for that.

    Try and have a happy New Year, everyone. But please give this some thought.
    We want better. For starters, we just want our bins emptied and our streets cleaned.

    • Chaz. Reply

      Thank you for this excellent, unbiased and balanced comment.

  9. Mr Andrew Camper Reply

    Totally agree with Billy Short. Repair our heritage empty our bins and clean our streets and stop spending on vanity projects that just end up a mess making the city unwelcoming.

  10. Gill Wales Reply

    National issues lead to national laws and policies, many of which have to be implemented by local councils. If local councils don’t give attention to these early on, how will they alert the government to potential problems with, for example, proposed changes to planning laws, or to the way social services, social care and education are funded, or to policy and regulation changes concerning waste disposal, transport infrastructure, trading standards, emergency housing? The idea that it isn’t appropriate for a unitary authority such as BHCC to debate and therefore review the consequences of ANY national issues seems short-sighted and blinkered.

  11. Chris Reply

    A wide set of replies. But nearly all obviously politically biased. The point was vote for local people and remove the act of running a council from politics. The only way to do that is vote for non-partisan independent candidates. So vote independent. I guarantee we will still be “nuclear free” if you do vote independent, and you might even get your bins emptied etc…

  12. fed-up with brighton politics Reply

    You are absolutely right, Chris, and I have no particular brief for any of the current lot, but I do think that the present incumbents and their predecessors have been and are a total disaster for the city. The Tories are no better, containing a defector from Labour, a man who wants to be an MP above all else and who is absolutely invisible to his residents, plus a leader who seemingly works for his wife in the main etc etc.

    There is one – and one only – truly independent councillor, who was elected as such, and she has been very good.

    So, how and where do we get one or more good independent candidates in most of the wards, bearing in mind that we only have just over a year to go before the next locals? Nobody seems to have come forward yet.

    Given the poor turnout for local elections, it takes just 2,000 or so votes to oust an incumbent, but I don’t know how that happens. However, Bridget Fishleigh did it in Rottingdean Coastal, despite the lack of party machine, unions etc behind her, so it is possible. She had built up and still has a strong local following because of the work she has done in and for her community and competent people need to start making waves and coming forward. Quickly.

    • Some Guy Reply

      One look at some of the nutcases who turn out for PCC and the like should let you know that independent candidates can also be driven by ideology.

    • Chaz. Reply

      Below link is an earlier item that is well worth a read again.
      Maybe B&H News can be the facilitator for common sense in Brighton?
      https://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2021/03/17/independent-councillor-urges-people-outside-politics-to-stand-in-by-elections/

      • fed-up with brighton politics Reply

        Sorry, Chaz, personal comment to you, so I need no adverse comments from other political agitators, because I’m only talking to you – and to Frank a bit later. Sadly I don’t think B&H News can be the facilitator for anything, simply because the paper (online only) just reports things that have happened – often after the horrible Argus -, publishes opinions by local politicians and has started to attract more and more comments from political activists. B&H News never takes an editorial stance on anything. I wish it would. Message to Frank le Duc – make yourself different and relevant and take an editorial stance that people can either get behind or argue against. You were a proper newspaperman once.

        Meanwhile, Chaz, it takes some kind of miracle to beat a party machine in a local election. Genuine indies have no backing of any kind and, in the case of Bridget Fishleigh, for example, she already had a very good local track record of helping her community, leading initiatives etc, lots of locals rated her and she got elected top of the heap.

        It’s no use people standing who have no history of doing something positive locally (i.e. no Monster Raving Loonies or whoever) – indies need to make their voices heard strongly, get out and about in their ward and it’s already looking too late for the next locals in 2023.

        Sadly!

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