Tuesday, 30 September 2008

A great week for Brighton

It's certainly been a great week for sport and culture in Brighton: The Albion beating the richest club in the country, Man City, Fatboy Slim entertaining thousands on Madeira Drive and news that the world's biggest extreme sports festival could be coming to Kemp Town beach next year.

I hope everyone involved makes use of the year of negotiations we've got ahead of us to ensure residents, businesses and all visitors get to share some of the benefits: requiring the organisers to stump up some cold hard cash to fund environmental improvements on Madeira Drive, as Green councillors have proposed, would be a great start.

As for Fatboy Slim: I went to the show and thought it was fantastic. I hope he comes back to Madeira Drive with a Big Beach Boutique Five, but that when he does so the food and drink available are a little more affordable, the sound engineers strike a better balance between the wishes of concertgoers and residents - and that a levy to compensate locals for the loss of access to the beach is built into the ticket price right from the start.

Hang on - a failure to bail out the banks isn't that bad news, surely?

Today's media coverage of the US Congress's refusal to adopt a £700 billion bail-out package for the banks is almost universally negative: it's being described as a disaster for us all, and the proof offered is the sharp share price falls around the world following the vote.

Of course, anyone with a pension linked to the stock market will lose out - but of course the stock market is always governed by the cycles of boom and bust, so none of us should be surprised when it all goes bust once in a while.

Surely a more sensible response to all this mess is to compensate the pensioners for their losses and re-regulate the banking and pensions sector to prohibit gambling with our future livelihoods in future?

It's no wonder that, facing an election next month, members of the US congress rejected a plan to do exactly the opposite: protect the fat-cats who got us into this mess in the first place from their losses in the hope of returning as quickly as possible to business-as-usual economics.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Good manners start at home

A bus-stop conversation with a lab technician at Brighton College today reminded me that the middle-ranking public school (for public, read private, of course) is supplementing its lessons in English, Maths, Chinese and Traditional Economics with training in conduct these days.

Well that can hardly be bad thing - as long as the lessons don't simply restrict themselves to questions of high-society etiquette, and include discussions of everyday good manners, on pavements and buses and so on, as well.

But staff will have their work cut out for them: surely the biggest influence on the behaviour of Brighton College students is their parents.

As a neighbour of the college I witness the daily chaos and occasional stress and confrontation caused by some of these very parents’ failure to observe not just good manners but the law of the land when they illegally park on double yellow lines in Walpole Road to drop off and pick up their charges.

Surely the lesson is that parking rules don’t matter, that it is fine to act anti-socially and ignore the impacts on those living in the area (as long as they know which cutlery to use for which course)?

This picture shows (not very clearly, but hey I'm no photographer) some of the parents' and nannies' cars on the double-yellow lines at collection time earlier this week. I counted 11, just in Walpole Road.

Perhaps the college should also consider taking effective sanction against the anti-social behaviour of some parents, or, better, more fully engage with the council’s ‘Safer Routes to School’ programme to encourage parents to leave their cars at home.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Back to school - and the best school dinners yet

Pupils across Brighton and Hove will today be returning to school guaranteed fresh, seasonal and sustainable school dinners, thanks to the work of my Green Party councillor colleague Paul Steedman.

Following Paul’s campaign, Brighton and Hove City Council has this month for the first time signed up to Food For Life’s ‘Bronze Standard.’

To achieve the Bronze Standard, schools must meet several criteria when it comes to both learning about and eating food.

These include:

- ensuring school dinners are at least 75 per cent freshly prepared.

- giving every pupil the opportunity to visit a farm during his or her time at school

- serving only ‘farm assured’ meat and eggs from cage free hens at dinnertime

Signing up to the Food For Life challenge is great news on so many fronts – not only does it mean pupils will eat healthier food – they will also learn more about where it comes from.

School dinners help shape the appetites of our children for the rest of their lives, and making sure they are given good quality food can set them up for healthier and happier lifestyles as adults.

The Bronze standard will also ensure parents are involved – they will now have the opportunity to feedback on their children’s dinners, and even attend school lunches. I'm very excited at the prospect of attending one at Coombe Road, where my littl'un Sammy will be starting next week...

But this is just the beginning, and it’s not just our school children and their families who will benefit. If, as I very much hope, Brighton and Hove moves onto the Silver Standard, all our schools will provide a range of locally sourced items on their dinner menus.

This is good news not just for local farmers, but also for the planet. Fewer miles between spade and plate means less greenhouse gas emissions. This is not a small change - food is thought to produce almost 20 per cent of the UK’s annual greenhouse gases.

Ensuring schools dinners are fresh, healthy and sustainable is of benefit to our children, our economy and our planet. It’s no wonder some local authorities have seen a rise to 80% of students having school meals as a result of Food for Life.

I am delighted Brighton and Hove Council has agreed to adopt the Bronze standard, and hope this is the first of many such common sense policies that can make a real difference.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Brighton - where life is short(er)

Figures recently released by the GMB union show that Brighton and Hove is trailing behind the national and regional average when it comes to life expectancy rates.

Brighton and Hove is ranked in the bottom third of the country when it comes to life expectancy. Scandalously, we’re not only trailing behind the regional average, but also that the country as a whole.

Across the region, men have an average life expectancy of 78.5 years. But in Brighton, boy babies can expect to live for just 76.3 years – a difference of more than 2 years. In the South-East, only men in born in Thanet or Hastings can expect to live shorter lives than those born in Brighton.

I can hardly think of a better time to be arguing that the Government should be funding free school meals for all.

School meals play a vital role in ensuring our children’s well-being and future life expectancy.  Providing free, healthy school meals for all our children would be the first step towards ending health inequalities.

Not only would this help close the gap between rich and poor children when it comes to life expectancy; we could also expect to see children performing better in school as their attention levels and overall health increased.

Free school meals aren’t just about giving everyone a fair start in life, they could also prove a lifesaver for low income families facing rising food prices - recent figures suggest they could save in the region of £300 per child on the costs of paying for school meals or packed lunches.

Providing free, healthy school lunches is the common sense solution to tackling so many of the problems facing our children and their parents today. When it comes to childhood obesity, spiralling food costs or the gap in life expectancy between rich and poor areas, policies like this will go a long way to ensure a healthier, happier and fairer society.

And as another cohort of four and five-year-olds start their school careers, what better time?

Monday, 1 September 2008

Age-friendly floors improve Kemp Town buses

Finally, bus services connecting central Brighton with Kemp Town and East Brighton are to be improved with a new fleet of low-floor buses.

The No 37 route, which is part-funded by Brighton and Hove City Council, will use the low-floor vehicles, designed for easier use by disabled and older passengers, from September 28, after a barrage of complaints and a campaign for more age-friendly buses by Green Party councillors.

Brighton and Hove prides itself on being a city which celebrates its diversity and one of the best bus networks in the country.

But for too long bus travel has not been a realistic option for many disabled and older people in the Queen's Park and Kemptown areas. Last year Greens called on the council to improve bus services in line with the World Health Organisation's recommendations for 'Age-Friendly Cities' and I am delighted that No.37 buses re to be served by low-floor vehicles at long last.

With petrol prices rising, an ageing population, and tackling climate change becoming ever-more urgent, it is vital that we improve public transport accessibility across the country.

Greens believe that all bus services should be re-regulated and run for the benefit of passengers, not the profits of bus operators - and if I am elected to Parliament I'll make improving access to all public transport options a top priority.