Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Do as I do, not as I say...

So the latest Tory sleaze story is that environment cabinet member Geoffrey Theobald has been caught parking his Jag in a disabled parking bay. The Argus tells the story, with pictures, here.


It's not so much that, as a public servant, he thinks it appropriate to
drive a gas-guzzling car most of his constituents could never afford, or
that he is happy to ride roughshod over the very parking rules he wants
the rest of us to uphold, or even that he deprived a disabled driver of
a suitable space. No, it's his bizarre justification: no apology, just
an admission that he uses council staff, whose wages are paid by the
taxpayer, as his private parking attendants.

If this episode didn't fit the pattern of the Tories' 'do as i say, not
as I do' approach to public life, the mind would truly boggle.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Planners: ignore climate change at your (and all of our) peril...

Members of the Tory-dominated planning committee have recently rejected proposals for a solar panel on a roof in leafy West Drive, overturning the recommendation of the expert planning officers and making a clear statement: micro-scale renewables just aren't in keeping with Brighton's built environment.

Now I'm not arguing that democratically-elected planning committee members should never overturn the officers there to advise them - sometimes, of course, they should - but the sort of thinking this decision heralds is plainly bonkers.

Of course we've got to conserve our built environment and countryside.

But surely the best chance we've got of doing that is by taking steps to limit the most devastating impacts of climate change in our communities.

And if we're going to do that, we'll have to shift the way we use and produce energy - and that means being prepared to say 'yes' to sensitive planning applications for renewable energy generation schemes - whether they're in conservation areas or not: like these solar panels, for example, or the proposed wind turbines outside council HQ King's House (rejected by the Tories earlier this year).

Frankly, it's ridiculous for the Tories to pretend they've got the answers to climate change (remember the 'Vote Blue, Go Green' slogan wheeled out before the last local elections?) while they're saying no to practical solutions here in Brighton and Hove day in day out.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Electing police managers could open the door to extremists - and increase hate crime

Labour proposals to directly elect members of Sussex Police Authority will divert cash from neighbourhood policing - and risk increasing racist and homophobic hate crime in the city.

As our economy worsens we need to focus more resources on neighbourhood policing.

Locally, burglary and car crime are both on the rise, as people increasingly struggle to make ends meet with poverty and unemployment levels getting worse everyday.

Of course we need communities to become more involved in decisions about policing - but the way to do that is to allow them to participate in spending decisions, not simply to introduce another tier of elections without even explaining if the cost will be met by taking police off our streets.

I am deeply concerned that direct elections to Sussex Police Authority will open the door to extremists and single-issue campaigners and drown out the voices of our city's distinct and vulnerable group's and communities.

Direct elections will inevitably mean different political parties back different candidates. You only need to look to the Metropolitan police to see the dangers of that kind of political sponsorship.

A living wage - not just a minimum wage

GREEN Party leader and Sussex Euro-MP Caroline Lucas has called for fairer pay for the thousands working in the county’s restaurants and hotels.

She said a loophole in the minimum wage legislation allowed tips to be included in regular pay packets – rather than received as an added ‘extra’, as most restaurant-goers believed.

This loophole means staff in some restaurants were being paid well below the minimum wage – in some cases staff receive as little as £3 an hour.

Dr Lucas, who also hopes to be elected MP for Brighton Pavilion at the next election, said: “As the Unite union has said, the minimum wage laws are failing to protect staff in one of our biggest sectors of the economy from low-pay abuse.

“It’s just not good enough – even the minimum wage, currently £5.72 an hour, is a poverty wage in this city.

“The Government must replace the minimum wage laws with a guaranteed living wage, based on what life’s essentials actually cost working families: in Brighton and Hove it should be raised to about £7 an hour, just as Green Councillors have proposed.

“We are seeing an increase in poverty amongst working families here in Brighton, and it’s no coincidence: fair pay is an issue which affects everyone in this city.”

The picture shows Caroline outside Brighton’s ‘Carluccio’s Restaurant. A BBC investigation earlier this year found Carluccio's paid some waiters £3.75 an hour, which is below the legal minimum: read the BBC report for more...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Burglary on the rise in Brighton as economy slows

Figures presented to Brighton and Hove's Community Safety Forum (of which I am a member) show that burglary in the city has gone up by almost a third in the last year alone.

This summer (April - August 2008) there were 551 recorded house burglaries compared with 426 in the same period last year - a rise of 29.3 per cent.

Violent crimes are coming down, but burglaries and thefts from and of vehicles are rising fast: more people turn to so-called 'acquisitive crime' when times get tough.

And boy are they getting tough: child poverty, fuel poverty and unemployment are all on the rise. It's almost impossible to open The Argus these days without reading of another slew of redundancies and job losses.

We need to increase the share of the police budget that's spent on neighbourhood policing: people I speak to in Kemp Town like their regular neighbourhood police patrols - they just don't see them as often as they would like!

Sunday, 5 October 2008

UN criticises UK human rights record

The UN has criticised the UK's human rights record again.

It seems the Government isn't content with destroying children's lives through worsening child poverty - it wants to deny them human rights agreed under the UN's Convention on the Rights of the Child too.

New Labour Britain has been strongly criticised by a United Nations committee for failing to meet international standards on children's rights.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for the abolition of Asbos and for custodial sentences for young offenders to be used only as a last resort - currently we lock up some 3,000 children behind bars, far more than any other European country.

For more analysis, and a copy of the UN report in full, visit the Children's Rights Alliance for England, an umbrella group of children's charities and human rights bodies, with more than 380 member organisations.

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Crisis? Bring back Mandy... Brilliant!

So Bottler Brown has got a solution to the deepening financial crisis after all: bring back arch enemy Peter Mandelson into the Government and go running to Paris to seek a European bankers' bail-out to mirror that agreed in America yesterday (at a cost of about $2,500 for every woman, man and child in the country).


It's not just that Mandy has a track record of deceit and failure (who could forget his two resignations from Blair's cabinet, his dodgy loan for a luxury West London home or his crooked intrervention in a passport application for the super-rich Hinduja brothers?)

It's not the fact that he's spent the last four years as EU Trade Commissioner doggedly pursuing free-trade and economic globalisation deals around the world despite all the evidence that this approach destroys lives and and environments across in poorer countries and weakens communities at home.

It's not even his key role as 'architect' of the New Labour project, or that he's hopelessly out-of-touch with ordinary families.

No, the real problem with Mandy's return is that it sends out the clearest signal yet that Gordon's response is one of 'business-as-usual', that he has nothing of the radical response required up his sleeve.

It's getting clearer every day that we're in a mess: here in Brighton you can hardly open the Argus without reading of another burst of redundancies and job losses (today it was 60 staff at Rosebys joining the dole queue). Inflation is up. Child poverty is up. Fuel poverty is getting worse, prmopting charities to warn that thousands of our most frail, vulnerable and elderly friends and neighbours may die this winter. The oil supplies on which our economy relies are dwindling, and worsening climate change threatens to devastate whole communities' very existence: it's already killing thousands around the world every year.

If we hope turn this around we need some pretty radical responses, and quickly. A starting point would be a Green New Deal between government, business and ordinary families based on the ideas of ending our dependence on oil, cutting climate change emissions, creating thousands of new 'green' jobs and re-regulating the banking and fuel multi-nationals.

Government should spend serious money helping those who need it most - the 50 per cent of Kemptown and Peacehaven children living in poverty, for example, or the thousands of the frail and elderly facing a choice between heating their homes and eating nutritious food this winter - not the fat-cat bankers who got us in to the mess in the first place.

A group of leading thinkers and campaigners - including my Green Party colleage and Brighton Pavilion MP candidate Caroline Lucas MEP - have come together to form the Green New Deal group calling for policies just like these.

And the good news is that some of them are coming to Brighton in a few weeks for a public meeting to discuss what they would mean for us here in Sussex.

Joining Caroline will be Ann Pettifor, former head of Jubilee 2000 debt relief campaign, Colin Hines, Co-Director, Finance for the Future and Guardian Economics Editor Larry Elliott.

The meeting will take place on Monday, November 10th, and will be chaired by Hanover and Elm Grove Green Party councillor and local jobs and housing champion Bill Randall. Watch this space for further details soon!

Friday, 3 October 2008

Reports show depth of poverty in Kemp Town and Peacehaven

Two sets of figures published today reveal the shocking depths of poverty suffered by thousands of children and families in Kemp Town and Peacehaven.

Incredibly, a report from the Campaign to End Child Poverty shows that half of the children in the Brighton Kemptown parliamentary constituency are living in low-income families.

According to the umbrella organization, which includes UNICEF, Save The Children and the TUC, 50 per cent of children growing up in the parliamentary constituency live in a home where either no adult is working more than 16 hours a week or the family is reliant on benefits.

The figure shows that Brighton Kemptown is the third toughest area in the region to bring up kids, with only Hastings and Rye and Portsmouth South scoring worse.

And as if that wasn't enough Government figures released today revealed the number of households in fuel poverty rose to 3.5 million in 2006, one million more than in 2005. Fuel poverty is defined as affecting any household which spends more than 10% of its income on fuel.

It’s pretty clear that life is hard – and getting worse – for thousands of children and their families in this city.

Labour promised to halve child poverty by 2010 – and these figures reveal how far the Government is from actually delivering.

We need to introduce a range of new initiatives to make a practical difference to child poverty and worklessness: free healthy school meals for all primary pupils, for example, a roll-out of free insulation to cut fuel bills and winter poverty and massive support for ‘green’ industries to get our local economy moving again.

This Government seems to think nothing of bailing out city bankers - when will it do the same for ordinary families?

It's an indictment of life under a Labour government and Tory councils, and it reminds me how urgently we need some Green thinking at every level of government.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Greens Clean Up in Kemp Town - again!

Green councillors representing Queen's Park (that's me, Rachel and Paul) joined forces yesterday with residents and council staff to help spruce up the Eastern Road neighbourhood.

Cleaning up (and not just in elections!) was followed by a session planting bulbs, to add a splash of colour to the area next spring, and a tree planting session outside Hampshire Court.

The first of three Sea Buckthorn trees (one of nature's most concentrated sources of Vitamin C for all the 'free food' buffs out there) was erected on the patch of grass between the flats and Upper Bedford Street.

Organised by the Eastern Road Area Partnership, these ‘Clean Up - Green Up’ events are a highlight of the area's community calendar.

This is the third such event I’ve attended, and the lasting environmental improvements they deliver bring the community a little bit closer together – and make a real difference to local people’s everyday lives.

The latest report into the city’s health trends - the annual report of Brighton and Hove's Director of Public Health, published last week - shows that the Queen’s Park ward is one of the most deprived in the city.

People living here want safer, healthier and greener lives – and events like this make all the difference.

The next one will be held in the Tarner Area of the ward on October 29 - I hope some of you will be able to join me (and Sammy, who will be enjoying the first half-term of his school career. What a Dad, eh, making him sweep the streets in his first week's escape from the 'sausage factory'!)