Friday, 27 February 2009

Council workers sacked - here in Brighton and across the country

Well I've just got my breath back from the council's annual budget meeting. Despite the best efforts of the 12 Green party councillors, a classic Tory cuts budget was eventually passed: 123 jobs (including 57 bin-men) are to go under spending reductions across the board. Labour didn't vote against it, abstaining when it came to crunch.

This pattern is being repeated in Labour and Tory controlled coucils up and down the couuntry. According to a Local Government Association survey half of councils are laying off staff in the coming financial year - and seven in ten anticipate having to do so next year too.

At the same time, councils' income from fees and charges - mostly from construction and house-building - is falling rapidly (by £2.5 bn across the country, this year alone), and demand for services (especially housing) is rising rapidly.

It's just crazy. As economic times get tougher public sector employment should be rising to get things moving again. The council should be emnploying more people than ever - and boost services to the most vulnerable.

At the same time, we should be working to improve our housing and transport infrastructure, not just to create jobs, but to cut fuel costs - and reduce carbon emissions too. It's a classic win-win.

We proposed amendments to the budget that would have done just that. Of course the Tories opposed them and they fell. Roll on next year - we'll have another go, and perhaps we'll have picked up a seat or town in by-elections by then!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Same old nasty party

When I hear traditional Tories argues for lower taxes - even if that means less help for the victims of domestic violence - I remember why I went into politics in the first place.

And that's exactly what happened at yesterday's meeting of the Sussex Police Authority An unholy alliance of Conservative councillors - including Brighton and Hove's own Geoffrey Theobald - tried to withdraw funds from a domestic violence centre in Worthing.

Fortunately the £185,000 lifeline to the nationally-renowned Worth Centre - which helps victims of domestic violence from across Sussex - was approved, as part of a £250m police budget which will improve neighbourhood policing and create 114 much-needed jobs.

It was adopted by 13 votes - including mine - to four.

Don't let that nice-seeming Mr Cameron persuade you otherwise: the Tories really are the nasty party, who just want to cut taxes at any price, closing services for some of the most vulnerable, and devastating communities along the way.

I am glad they haven't got their way this time.

All the consultation - and the sentiment I hear at almost every public meeting I attend - tells me that people don't mind paying a few pence more a week for better, more visible, neighbourhood policing.

Recent stories, like the senior officers' meeting in the iconic Grand Hotel - and the awful pictures of Sussex coppers apparently intimidating those who attended an Earth First! meeting in London Road last week - do decrease confidence in the police, but I don't think the answer can lie in undermining job creation or worsening neighbourhood policing.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Would you trust this woman?

If you're a political geek like me this might amuse...wacky Jacqui getting a pasting from a Radio 5 listener live on air. When I listen to Labour politicians get so excited about locking people up for doing things they are happy to admit they have done themselves, it's just another reminder of why we need political change so urgently in this country. For those of us with liberal leanings, that means giving up a few more rainy evenings for Green Party meetings. Hey ho!.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

The Age of Stupid...

The Age of Stupid is a 90-minute film about climate change, set in the future, which will have its world première in London next month: it's on general release from March 20th 2009.

Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite (In The Name of the Father, Brassed Off) stars as a man living alone in the devastated world of 2055, looking back at “archive” footage from 2007 and asking: why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?

Check out the trailer. And watch the film when it comes to Brighton!

The Age of Stupid: final trailer Feb 2009 from Age of Stupid on Vimeo.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Do Something About It!

Some of you might have come across the excellent US campaign - an instrumental player in the country falling out of love with Bush: well a UK version has just been launched, Do Something About It!

DSAI seeks to influence British politics by backing candidates that support its 'progressive' goals:

- a diverse economy, less dependent on the demands of the financial sector

- investment in 'green' industries and energy production (and training!)

- a smaller gap between the richest and the poorest

- a fairer society, in which people are not stifled by lack of time and resources

Wow! Sounds like a summary of the politics that drove me to the Green Party in the first place. I hope they attract a big membership - and that they'll be directing some of them to help elect one of the country's first Green MPs here in Brighton and Peacehaven...

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Top cops spend your money at The Grand Hotel - you couldn't make it up!

I've just learned that a group of senior Sussex Police officers have enjoyed a two-day meeting at the 5* Grand Hotel - at a cost of £2,500 to the taxpayer.

It’s pretty hard to accept the fact that the police are holding any meetings at the Grand – and spending this sort of money (more than a month’s salary for a Police Community Support Officer) doing so.

It’s not as though they haven’t got plenty of rooms available at little or no cost already.

They could have held the meeting at the police HQ in Lewes, or even the brand new police station opened in Brighton just before Christmas.

If they were after some grand surroundings and some peace and quiet they could have used their own Slaugham Manor conference centre in the Sussex countryside - I thought that was what it was for!

If Slaugham’s really not suitable for police to meet in away from daily distractions perhaps the force should sell it - I bet it's worth at least £10 million - and spend the money on frontline policing instead!

All the consultation shows that people don’t mind spending more money on the police – but only as long as they trust it’s being spent appropriately.

Next week the Sussex Police Authority meets and we’ll be asked to support an increase in the police budget of just under 5 per cent. I’m supportive of that – as long as the money is spent on improving neighbourhood policing and making life safer and easier for the county’s older and more vulnerable residents.

It becomes pretty hard to justify though in the face of this sort of wastefulness.

About bloody time...

So finally Gordon Brown has taken time off from recycling old National Front slogans about British jobs for British workers to announce something worthwhile: a new council-house building programme.

About time too! The Prime Minister has promised Treasury rules that prevent councils building will be relaxed to allow councils to borrow more money for construction and to keep the proceeds from rents and sales.

Bungler Brown must move swiftly to honour this pledge, which offers hope to the 11,000 homeless households on Brighton and Hove City Council’s waiting list and to those unemployed people who can be put to work building council homes.

The length of the housing waiting list, the number of people who live in poor and overcrowded conditions, the number of people sofa-surfing and the plight of street homeless people are testament to the need for new homes in Kemp Town and Peacehaven.

Furthermore, a wealth of evidence demonstrates that building new homes puts people back to work in substantial numbers more quickly than any other major industry and the government gets back at least 50p in every pound it invests in the housing programme through benefits not paid and income tax and national insurance collected.

But building new council homes must be part of a wider package if the Neo-Labour government is to have even a hope of tackling the nation's housing crisis. There's not much point in building up the council's housing stock only to see it all promptly sold off at a discount to those tenants who can still get any credit for a mortgage: it must also stop all sales of council houses and abolish the appalling 'right to buy' that's played such a key role in getting us into this mess in the first place.

Secondly, it must ensure that all new homes meet the highest water and energy efficiency specifications going, and, finally, take serious steps to bring empty homes back into use, using compulsory purchase orders where necessary.