Friday, 24 July 2009

Yet another Labour hammering at the polls...

Drawing the political lessons from by-election results is a tricky business - but it's now clear that a bad day for Labour ran so much deeper than just a little local difficult here in Brighton and Hove.

Haemorrhaging votes in the Goldsmid area of Hove will trigger political shock waves across the city - but its wider geographical impact will be limited.

Not so, perhaps, the result of the by-election in Norwich North sparked by a Labour resignation during the MPs' expenses scandal (remember that?).

The result, in a city not entirely dis-similar to Brighton and Hove, saw the Tories take the seat from Labour with a majority of about 7,000.

This is all bound to cause something of a crisis for the Labour Party - but no-one'll have the appetite for another leadership challenge, and clearly Gordon's not in the business of resigning.

But it shows how Labour are no longer capable of beating the Conservatives in parliamentary elections - regardless of who has held the seat previously, or by how big a majority.

The lessons, from both Norwich North and Goldsmid, seem pretty clear to me.

Both here in Brighton, and nationally, Labour are a spent force. Chances are we'll end up with a Conservative Government next year - and that'll be a disaster, for fairness, tackling poverty and deprivation, protecting the environment - and not least for the NHS.

But they won't win in a 1997-style swing to a charismatic leader and a whole new way of doing business - it'll be a victory by default.

And therefore all of us who want to protect public services and work for a fairer society should think about how to ensure the next parliament contains as diverse a group of opposition policies and ideas as possible - and here in Brighton that means returning Green MPs.

It's here we'll make the breakthrough of getting the first Green MPs elected. Challenging the Tories and working for both a fairer Brighton and more sustainable world is just too important a job to leave to the now fatally-wounded Labour Party.

General Election - bring it on!

Well a long night's sleep on, and time for some reflection on yesterday's by-election result in Goldsmid.

What a night! The Greens, in the shape of one Alex Phillips, have certainly arrived in Hove - and have 'caught up' with Labour: both parties now have 13 councillors.

Alex picked up 1,456 votes - 38.5% of the total cast - to take the seat from the Tories, the Greens' first foray into representing Hove on the Council, and leaving a properly hung council: of the 54 seats, the Tories now have 25, The Green party and labour both have 13, the Lid-Dems and an independent councillor three between them.

The council's King's House HQ is buzzing this morning with heated negotiations about what this all means for the future of the Tory administration - and how opposition and the crucial scrutiny processes should be managed without a clear party of opposition.

It's too early to say how any of these talks will pan out yet - and what shape the council will have when the dust settles a bit. If all the opposition parties can work together the Tories' two years of misrule here could come crashing to an abrupt end as they simply won't be able to rustle up a majority in council. That means, whatever happens, we wont have a Tory budget in April: they simply won't be able to get it through council without massive concessions to the other parties. And no-one will be able to garner enough votes to be elected leader of the council unless they agree to a multi-party cabinet which actually reflects all voters' wishes.

Ironically, the Labour group could see its influence increased as a result after a disastrous night for the party. It's unlikely to be lead by Gill Mitchell though, the East Brighton councillor who has presided over the collapse in their vote share - and the party's general decline locally over the past couple of years.

One of the more interesting comments posted on Argus web coverage of the election calls for her to quit now before she is pushed.

A reader posts:

This is a disaster for Labour. Gill Mitchell is starting to become an embarrassment. She's not even popular amongst Labour supporters never mind anyone else.

Give someone else a chance Gill. There's still 1 or 2 decent Labour councillors left. But you're useless.

Whatever this result means for the future of Brighton and Hove Council - and I'll post regular updates whenever there's news about this - it will have an enormous impact on politics in the city.

It finally puts the lie to the notion that voting Green will let the Tories in - clearly voting Green, here in Brighton and Hove, elects Green party politicians. We've always known that's true here in Queen's Park - now we know it's true in Hove too.

And the result is a massive shot in the arm for our campaigns to see Caroline Lucas and myself elected as Green MPs for Brighton Pavilion and Brighton Kemptown.

Caroline, who has spent the last few days campaigning in Goldsmid with human rights activist and leading Green Peter Tatchell, said Caroline Lucas, national Green Party leader, said the win was spectacular.

"It signals an unstoppable surge to elect the first Green MP at Westminster, whenever Gordon decides to go to the country," she told me this morning.

"With this result, we're on the threshold of taking Green politics to the heart of Westminster."

Formerly Labour-faithful local political blogger Neil Harding (predicting we could be the largest party on the council in 2011, with 21 councillors), called the result a political earthquake for Brighton and Hove. I hope he's right: time will surely tell.

Of course the last word on this has to go to Alex:

"Thank you to all the voters who put their faith in me. It's a ringing endorsement of Green policies and the work of Green councillors locally.

"I will be hardworking and unswerving in my task of representing local people and delivering positive Green change.

"Hopefully this means we can put pressure on the Tories and concentrate
on our policies of a 20mph speed limit and introducing a living wage,
which is more than the current minimum wage."

Full result

GRN 1,456 - 38.5% (+17.6%) GRN GAIN FROM CON

CON 1,104 - 29.2% (-0.9%)

LAB 816 - 21.5% (-6.8%)

LD 280 - 7.4% (-7.32%)

UKIP 129 - 3.4% N/A (others 6% last time)

Thursday, 23 July 2009

By- election result

By- election result

Green 1456 Tory 1104 Lab 816 LD 280 #goldsmid

By-election result

Green win! Result in full to follow later after immediate celebration

By-election (final) update: a two-horse race

Well the Goldsmid by-election is all over but the voting - and the counting.

Though all the parties seem to have working hard over recent weeks - testament to the by-election's significance for the future of the council - and some havce argued politics in our city - it seems to have come down to a two-horse race between the incumbent Tories and the Greens.

Canvass returns, rumours about postal votes and the general mood in the campaign seems to suggest yet another electoral wipe-out for Labour. Oh well - we'll see what happens, but to be fair the Government's deep unpopularity, the mounting death toll in Afghanistan, the crippling debts owed by UK PLC and the expenses scandal have all driven people away from them - and none of these has much to do with Goldsmid.

Locally, Labour is more likely to suffer a poor showing as a result of its bizarre candidate choice - Lis Telcs, a teacher from the other side of the city whose recent electoral history consists of managing to come sixth in the latest vote in Moulescooomb and Bevendean - a previous;y 'safe' labour ward.

In a final appeal to voters the Green Party's Alex Phillips said today's result will determine the future of the council - and she's right. Currently, the Tories are running the council with just 25 councillors (out of 54 - well under half), so whoever wins today will effectively decide the future of the administration.

Weighty stuff indeed.

Hoping to bag that role for herself, Alex appealed to undecided voters to go Green, saying a Green vote is a vote to return honesty and integrity to public life.

She said: "As the Green candidate in this election, the result of which will help determine how the city is run, I'm appealing to undecided voters to support me on Thursday.

"If elected, I promise to be a hard working, caring and understanding city councillor.

"The race is now a straight fight between the Tories and the Greens, as Vince Meegan, the former Labour councillor for the area has recently pointed out.

"If you want to stop the Tories and help deliver a brighter, fairer future for the city, vote Green."

Whatever happens, I'll bring you the result here as soon as I can.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

The Glade Festival - a free (ish) state, but quite a green one....

Phew - recent events over, I thought I'd tell you about my weekend at The Glade festival.

I didn't take a camera (mine's quite cumbersome, and you know the rule: if you can't fit it in your pocket, don't take it to a festival) and the organisers haven't posted any shots on their website yet for me to nick, but I thought a picture of a bottle of water would illustrate this piece as well as anything.

And not just because I drank lots (although I did, in between Underworld, Squarepusher, about a thousand unidentified DJs - and of course Notting Hill's Channel One Sound System) - but because the water on sale, belu, was something of a metaphor for the way festivals should be done in the 21st century: Pride organisers take note!

Everyone was friendly (and a bit wasted) - but Glade organisers (who outgrew their tent at Glastonbury and span-off to form a dedicated electronic music festival some five years ago) were determined to make this year's event as 'green' and sustainable as possible, without banging on about it. (They just let the techno do the banging on).

Firstly, they encouraged car sharing by offering free site parking for any car carrying three or more festival goers, then they adopted a local-food policy for stallholders - to ensure local farmers benefited from the invasion), then they insisted on compostable cutlery and glasses and recyclable plates and cups.

All the waste was sorted out (by hand, nice!) on site before being driven away for recycling or composting.

And all this without a song and dance! It was the water that did it for me though: 10,000 thirsty ravers buying clean water for a week for someone in Africa every time they took a swig: all water (officially) sold on site gave all of its profits to development and water projects, and it came in a compostable corn-starch bottle too!

Attack of the clones...

From Starbucks to Tesco - residents' protesting to protect St James's Street from losing in unique, quirky charm have turned their attention from Starbucks to the new Tesco Express due to open any day now over the road.

Good on them - I'll try to join them tonight: they're protesting outside the new shop on the corner of Dorset Gardens and St James's St from 6pm.

They are calling for a widespread boycott of the new store in protest at their predatory practises - and the real danger they pose to nearby local traders.

As I said in today's Argus piece reporting the boycott call:

"The opening of a Tesco store means a threat to other local businesses and an adverse effect on the local economy.

"I think there is a threat to the future of St James's Street and the surrounding area if it becomes another clone-town street.

"It has already got the Starbucks and now it will have a Tesco Express too.

"If we are not careful, St James's Street could end up looking like another other street in the city and that is not good for business.

"Its unique character is what keeps footfall so high at the moment."

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

By-election latest: Brighton Politics Blog reports that Labour hopes for a Tory win in Goldsmid

There's been much speculation about what will happen at Brighton and Hove City Council following Thursday's by-election in the Goldsmid ward of Hove.

Much of it has centred on whether, in the event of a Labour or Green win, the resulting 26 councillors (or 28 with the two Lib-Dems) will be able to work together to defeat the Tories, who will try to cling on to minority power with their 25 remaining councillors.

Personally, I'm not a fan of formal coalitions. They always end in tears, imho, but our priority now must be to win the by-election and then we'll see what happens next.

Personally, I think we should invite Labour to adopt our local manifesto, and make sure as much of the council's business as possible (and certainly the question of which minority party (ies) form the administration) is decided by council (and not the Tories single party cabinet) as possible. But I await guidance from party members!

In any event, perhaps the most bizarre election story of the last few days has to be the prediction from the widely-read Brighton Politics Blog, that Labour are so petrified of having to deal with a Green Party win that they're hoping the Tories hang on. Don't they care at all about the future of this city? Not for the first time this week, the mind truly boggles.

Times Columnist speculates on Green party win in Norwich by-election

This comment piece is a couple of days old now - but I reckon it's a classic.

Speculating on the Norwich North by-election due to take place this Thursday, former Today front man Rod Liddle raises the question: what happens if the Green Party wins the by-election?

Well obviously, neither I, in Brighton Kemptown, or Caroline Lucas, in Brighton Pavilion, will be able to urge voters to elect the country's first Green Party MP!

Rod Liddle, in an otherwise faultless analysis, prefers to think in terms of the 'tumultuous' electoral effect a Green Party wion would have.

And he's right: we know that, in general, Green councillors are hard working and popular - wherever they get elected, voters elect more. Most Green groups around the country have tended to follow the growth pattern of Brighton and Hove, with its council group growing from one, to three, to six, and now to 12 (maybe 13 on Thursday!).

And electing our first MP to parliament, whenever that happens, and whether it's in Brighton, London or Norwich, will be bound to spark a similar effect at a national level.

As people's understanding of the policy relevance and depth of the Green Party grows, and more of us see how hard their candidates work on behalf of local residents when elected, so will willingness to vote Green Party.

I hope Rupert Read (pictured) wins in Norwich North on Thursday, and gives the Green Party our first MP.

I hope that gives those in Brighton Kemptown who believe in fairness and an end to poverty, protecting our planet and democracy (and those who just want a hard-working local MP!) to vote Green Party and elect England's second Green MPs next May, or whenever the election is called).

By-election update: Former Labour councillor backs Green candidate in Goldsmid ballot (this week!)

It seems Labour can't stop the exodus in support: the latest convert to the Green Party's cause is former Goldsmid Labour councillor Vince Meegan.

Mr Meegan, who lost his seat on the city council in 2007 by just 30-odd votes, said Labour just can't win and urged all Lib-Dem and labour voters to support Alex - and bring down the Tory's fragile grip on minority administration.

Rumour has it that initial postal ballots are looking pretty disastrous for Labour - I hope there's still time for the party's few remaining supporters to Go Green if they want to use their vote to kick the Tories out.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Local media plays vital democratic role - and must be protected

A number of rumours have bee swirling around lately concerning the future of the erstwhile Argus (or Evening Anus to its more loyal readership).

It seems its owner Newsquest has floated the idea of moving the print operation to Southampton, threatening more than 50 local jobs - and inevitably the quality of journalism (media maxim: when printers go, journalists soon follow)

So today we councillors will discuss how we can support the rag, which provides such an essential role in the city, and the jobs of those it employs.

Newsagents are under fire too (they are reported to be closing at the rate of more than one a day) - and of course this comes on top of the threat to local jobs posed by the coming of Starbucks and Tesco to St James's Street.

Anyway, a motion to be considered at today's council meeting could see the Office of Fair Trading called in to investigate the local newspaper trade – and the impact of falling sales on newsagents.

Really, this about protecting a vital local service – and hundreds of jobs – from the ‘onslaught’ of multi-national competition and poor regulation.

The Argus – and other local media – play a key role in ensuring we have a vibrant local democracy, and this council has a duty to promote that. On the contrary though – it’s increasingly placing is adverts in in-house publication like City News, and leaving local papers feeling the pinch.

If it really wants to safeguard jobs and help local communities more than its friends and donors in big-business the Government must look again at laws relating to transport, planning, waste management, housing and regional development as well as consumer protection and business regulation, to protect all local business – especially media outlets - from predatory practises and unfair competition.

If the Government doesn’t do this: we’ll see newsagents closed, just as we have seen local post offices go. We’ll see media companies move, threatening local employment.

Protecting a vibrant local media is just too important a job to be left to the vagaries of the free market.

Goldsmid By-election latest: Kemptown candidate in the frame

I bet Labour's man in Kemptown, Simon Burgess, is fuming today - his Goldsmid counterpart Lis Telcs has suggested in her latest leaflet that being on the payroll of an elected politician (Simon works for Des Turner MP) should be seen by voters as lacking commitment to the local community.

It's mudsling again: this time it seems lawful but just a bit desperate, and bound to spread further dissent among Labour members locally.

Bizarrely, Lis tells us all how much work she's been doing for the local community 'for no reason other than to better the City that we live in'. Well she lives in Queen's Park and I've certainly never seen her at a community meeting.

Perhaps I've got that pleasure to come. Lis could well stand for election here in Queen's Park if Golsdmid voters choose a local candidate instead.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Bank sues itself. Mind boggles.

Now I've heard it all - a US bank is suing itself.

We all know now how topsy-turvy the world of international finance has become - and how the banks need tough regulation to make sure they remember that money is the servant of society, not the other way round.

But using up court time to settle a dispute between one department and another in the same bank?

It's really little wonder that we're facing a tough economic time.

We really need some tough regulations to bring them back to earth with a bump. Banks should be owned by the community, and not run for profit.

They should limit the amount they lend - and how they decide who to lend it to - and they should cut costs and improve accessibility.

And perhaps most importantly, the business of managing domestic and small business banking and financial affairs should be kept completely separate from the 'asset management' activities (read gambling with your cash, safe in the knowledge that the taxpayer will bail them out if it all goes wrong).

Why? Because activities like creating, buying and selling increasingly-complicated financial products based on future market conditions, trading in derivatives, slicing up, parcelling and trading mortgages and business loans are the reason we're in this mess in the first place.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Where there's smoke, is there fire?

The scandal-plagued Brighton and Hove Tories seem to have got themselves in a bit of a legal pickle again: this time they've been accused of corruption on the planning committee.

Back in February the Tory members of the planning committee shocked everyone by agreeing to let a developer get away without making a single contribution to the community.

The decision - to just let the firm concerned off from making the so-called £145,000 'Section 106' payments made to fund transport facilities and public art - flew in the face of both council practise and the law of the land.

It all seemed a bit strange at the time. Green councillors were horrified of course. We believe that profits from development should be shared with the community - and that local Council Tax payers should never be left facing the bill for the costs of development - while property-owners make millions.

But now it has been alleged that the real reason for letting the developer dodge £145,000 worth of community contributions could be a £2,000 'dodgy donation' to the local Tory party.

The whole saga is being investigated by the council's standards board, and until they report later this year, no-one will really know what happened, and if any of the Tory councillors acted improperly or illegally.

I think we urgently need a completely independent inquiry - and I think the police are the best agency to carry it out quickly, locally and efficiently.

In the meantime, I'm with Green Group convenor Bill Randall, who today called on Brighton Tories to help clear the air and protect the city council’s reputation by immediately donating £2,000 to a local charity, and that the planning permission should be put on hold.

"The Tories have serious questions to answer," he said.

"The public needs to be reassured that the £2,000 donation to the Conservative Party and the decision to remove the £145,000 community contribution from the planning permission, against the advice of the planning officers, are nothing more than an unhappy coincidence."

Councillors get the red carpet treatment... and you're paying!

You just couldn't make this up if you tried.

It seems the Tory councillors on Brighton and Hove Council are going to be getting the red carpet treatment at Thursday's meeting of the council at Brighton Town Hall.

And the local council taxpayer is (yet again) going to be picking up the bill.

In response to a load of fuss whenever most Tories are expected to leave their Hove homeland and head east, (you should see the email traffic, honestly), they are going to be net by a parking attendant and showed to their reserved parking spaces in the centre of Brighton.

Really. Here's the email sent to all councillors this afternoon:

Dear Councillor,

I have arranged for a number of spaces to be held for Councillors on Thursday and the Parking Team have agreed to have a member of staff at the entrance between 3pm and 4pm to assist Members wishing to park, (they will encourage members of the public who might be queuing to move on if the Car Park Full sign is on), so that you can gain entry.

Please can you ensure you have your security pass with you so that the member of staff is aware that you are a councillor.

I hope that these arrangements will assist you on the day.

Now I know some councillors have large families, care needs or restricted mobility - and it's important that anyone who really need to use their cars to get to central Brighton should be able to do so.

But I can't for the life of me see why most of them can't just get the bus like everyone else.

At the very least, there can be no excuse for tax-payer funded special treatment at the car park.

What hope have we got for a fairer, Greener Brighton with leadership like this?

Watching the detectives for another two years...

Last week councillors from across Sussex met in Lewes to decide who will represent residents on Sussex Police Authority for the next two years.

The good news is that I have been reappointed - and will continue to give a 'green' voice to deliberations about policing in the city.

The bad news is Brighton Council has only been given one member - down from two last time.

Last 'term', I was joined by Tory cabinet member Geoffrey Theobald - but he's been pushed out of the authority after councillors from East and West Sussex joined forces to argue that I should be the city's sole voice on policing.

I think this is a little silly - as most of the crime happens in the city, and we play host to some eight million tourists a year, who all need policing too.

But the argument didn't prevail. Instead a calculation was made based purely on population. Brighton and Hove is entitled to just one and a half of the nine members - we had two last tine, so this time we'll just have the one member.

Currently, I serve as the Sussex Police Authority lead member on environmental sustainability and reducing alcohol-related harm – and sit on the committees responsible for organising independent custody visitors and community engagement, but all that'll be up for discussion at the SPA annual meeting on July 30th.

One thing is clear, though: the approach I'll take to how policing should be delivered.

I’ll continue to push for more PCSOs and more cash for neighbourhood policing and community safety groups, better services for the victims of domestic violence, better protection for communities, children and vulnerable adults from alcohol-related harm, and environmental improvements in the way policing is delivered.

We’ve already seen improvements in all these areas over the last two years – and I am really looking forward to pushing for a model of policing that reflects Brighton and Hove’s ‘green’ aspirations, based on human rights, enhancing communities, compassion – and more help for the victims of crime.

Goldsmid By-election latest: Blow for parents as Tories ban schools deputation

The latest twist in the Brighton and Hove by-election campaign really beggars belief: the city's Tory mayor has blocked a discussion of school places at this Thursday council meeting - fearing an anti-Tory backlash.

Green Party candidate Alex Phillips has sought to bring a 'deputation' to the council this week so she could address the council, as a local resident, on the need for a new primary school in the area.

A deputation is the constitutional mechanism for local residents to bring issues of community concern before the council.

In what will be seen as a yet another blow for parents, Mayor Ann Norman has barred Alex Phillips from making the deputation - claiming that any discussion would be likely to become party-political and therefore be in breach of election rules designed to ensure the neutrality of council-business immediately prior to an election.

This is clearly nonsense - the lack of primary school places is an urgent issue, and it certainly isn't a party political one. Alex is a Goldsmid resident, and was to have made the appeal on behalf of local parents' group Action4Kids.

And putting off a discussion of the issue until October effectively sweeps it under the carpet for another school year - and means another cohort of Hove children - and their parents - will be unable to find a primary school place anywhere near their homes.

The only realistic reason for Cllr Norman's decision is to avoid public criticism (members of the public, as well as local journalists, regularly attend full Council meetings) of the Tory administration's complete failure to ensure enough primary school places are available in the area.

Alex said: “Currently there are around 120 primary-aged children in the BN3 area who have to travel either to Portslade or to Brighton to go to school. I know of one case where a reception class pupil will face almost two hours of travelling on a daily basis!

“It’s unacceptable to expect children to travel this far for their education and it’s high time the council sorted the situation out. But the Tories aren’t even prepared to discuss the problem, let alone try and fix it.

“Local parents feel well and truly let down. The council urgently needs to stop side-stepping the issue, and expanding existing schools isn’t good enough.

“We desperately need one - if not two - new primary schools in Hove. The current situation is bad for the local community, bad for local families and - worst of all - means failing local children."

The meeting in question takes place at Brighton Town Hall from 4pm this Thursday, July 16 - it's open to the public and all are welcome (Quite separately, I'll be asking for fairer water charges for those living in council-owned blocks of flats).

Alex's banned deputation reads:

“This deputation concerns the urgent need to find a reasonable solution to the lack of local school places in Brighton and Hove. Currently there are around 120 primary-aged children in the BN3 area who have to travel either to Portslade or to Brighton to go to school. This simply is not good enough. The council should stop side-stepping the issue by expanding existing schools, and simply build at least one, if not two new primary schools in Hove. The current situation is bad for communities, bad for families and bad for our children."

Monday, 13 July 2009

Pushing at an open door: 'Greening' Sussex Police

One of my roles on Sussex Police Authority is give the political lead for the charge for the force to improve its environmental performance: to cut its resource use, reduce the amount of rubbish produced, make police stations havens for biodiversity - all that stuff.

Of course the real work is done by all the officers and staff who are busy implementing targets and strategies - and championing (and occasionally enforcing) them day in, day out.

My role consists of talking up the issue - and gathering political support - at authority meetings, ensuring the annual budget contains the cash necessary to make Sussex one of the 'greenest' forces in the country (this year, for example, I supported the creation of a budget stream to create a new 'Energy Manager' post, both to cut the greenhouse gas emissions and the costs of keeping all those police stations and offices warm in winter and cool in summer).

It's really about leadership - and giving all those staff regular assurances that they have the backing of the police authority.

But it really is pushing at something of an open door. As I have reported here before, Sussex Chief Constable Martin Richards (pictured) has said he thinks the sustainable policing agenda should be 'mainstreamed' - he agrees that the police's aim of keeping people safe (a core strand in the local policing plan) really must keep them safe from climate change as well as burglars, muggers and murderers.

It's not about replacing traditional policing aims with a woolly environmental agenda, it's about the way exactly the same policing is done.

At Brighton and Hove City Council it sometimes doesn't seem to matter how good an environmental idea is - the Tory administration will often ignore it for political reasons: they are pretty petrified of letting us Greens set the agenda for fear we'll end up taking seats from them at the next election.

But members of the police authority don't seem to feel threatened at all by our politics, and seem keen to implement our ideas wherever they can and enjoy a 'Brownie Point' or two from the fact that Sussex is rapidly developing one of the 'greenest' police forces in the country.

All of this is music to my ears, of course, and throws up one of my favourite tasks at the police authority - attending the inspirational quarterly meetings of the Environmental Working Group.

The latest was held at the police's Lewes HQ this week - and was a quick-fire summary of how well the force is already doing.

On waste reduction, recycling levels, energy use per person, encouraging diversity, 'sustainable procurement' - the targets are all being met.

For example, across the whole force, about 58 per cent of all waste is recycled. Carbon emissions from vehicles - including those used in fuel-hungry high-speed pursuits - have gone down and down, and now stand at 0.368 kg per mile (against a target of 0.375 kg/m).

The challenge now of course is to keep improving on this. While energy use per person is going down, for example, total energy use continues to rise - and we;ve got to turn that around.

But I'm pretty confident that we will. With the support of the police authority and the Chief Constable - and such a dedicated team of HQ staff - I really think Sussex POlice will soon end up as a beacon for environmental good practise to be emulated across the country - especially when carbon trading kicks in and those forces 'dragging their heels' will end up seriously out of pocket.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

A 'living wage' for temporary staff at Brighton and Hove Council? No Deal!

Well I told you not to hold your breath.

At a meeting of yesterday's council cabinet, Brighton Council leader Mary Mears roundly refused to consider increasing the pay of the lowest-paid temporary and agency staff working for the council.

I asked her to consider introducing a minimum rate of £7 an hour for all staff - to try and end poverty pay in the city, and reduce future recruitment costs to the council.

Ms Mears basically just told me to shut up, claiming my appeal was irrelevant to discussions of the contract outsourcing the hiring of all agency staff - and when I didn't, arguing that of course the terms of pay and employment contained in the contract were relevant, she said she wouldn't be changing the current terms - which see over 1,000 people paid less than £7 an hour.

As I said - this is a scandal. It's destroying lives - and costing the council a packet.

But I'm hardly surprised.

The Tories have demonstrated loud and clear that they just aren't prepared to spend even a modest sum trying to deal with the fact that the Campaign to end Child Poverty reckon that half of all children living in the Brighton Kemptown area are being brought up in low-income or benefit-dependent households. Shame.

Brighton Tories' inaction on saving money and the environment. Yawn.

Sometimes the mind just boggles when it comes to the inaction and lack of political will at Brighton and Hove City Council.

Following a successful Green Party call last year, the Tories that run the show grumpily agreed to replace bottled water in council meetings with tap water and glasses.

This would save a packet (of your taxes) - and have enormous environmental benefits.

But we're still waiting for action.

Meanwhile, I came across this today: news that a whole (admittedly small) town has managed to ban bottled water in Australia.

A living wage of £7 an hour for all agency staff

Today the council's cabinet will consider the contract for 'outsourcing' the way it manages and hires all agency sdtaff: that's cleaners and events staff as well as temps.

It'll hardly come as a surprise that these are some of the council's lowest paid staff. According to figures we obtained before budget discussions in February, there were about 1,150 people working for the council but earning less than £7 an hour.

The council really must take this opportunity to increase this: any less just isn't enough to maintain a decent standard of living in this city.

Low pay destroys lives - increasing agency pay at the bottom will produce a lot of improvements in local people's 'quality of life' for a relatively low outlay - and it'll benefit the council too.

Not only do people forced to accept low-pay work have a higher reliance on benefits and council services to help make ends meet, they enjoy less training and job security, which quite naturally means they're less committed to the job - and are more likely to quit if they get a better offer elsewhere.

So the council (or the agency to whom the task is delegated) has to fork out of recruiting new staff again and again.

I'll be going to cabinet today to try and make these arguments - but with the Tories more concerned with cutting tax bills than paying fair wages, I won't be holding my breath.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Stephen Fry explains the concept of 'free' software

I never cease to be amazed at the way raconteur and comedian Stephen Fry seems to have a fairly deep understanding of almost every issue, usually just before it hits the collective conscience.

So it was hardly a surprise to come across this video, which explains the concept of 'free' software better than most. Expect the issues he raises to be headline news tomorrow!

As the Pirate Party MEP (it's got nothing whatsoever to do with banditry on the high seas - but everything to do with digital freedom and good science), recently-elected in Sweden, prepares to take his seat as a member of the European Green Group, I thought regular readers of this 'blog would welcome a reminder that the 'free' in 'free' software doesn't just mean it doesn't cost anything (it usually does, measured more in time than money) but free in the sense that we can all do what we want with it.

And that's just good science. If a Microsoft or Apple had been able to take out a patent on the concept of biology, and control all research in the subject, we probably wouldn't have discovered antibiotics - and life expectancy would probably be 20 years shorter or so.

Freedom Fry - and Linux coders everywhere - I salute you!

Queen's Park ward surgery

Just to let you know I'll be holding a Queen's Park ward surgery, with my colleague Rachel Fryer, today from 6-7pm, in the Community Room at St James's House, High Street.

All are welcome - do come along if there's anything we can help with, or for an informal chat, or just to say hello!

Beforehand I'll be hoping to meet more residents with a spot of summer street canvassing.

The three of us hope to get round everyone in the ward eventually, so if we haven't called, and don't tonight, we will soon.

Goldsmid by-election update: Green candidate to host public 'Question Time' event

As things hot up ahead of the crucial by-election just a fortnight way, Green Party hopeful Alex Phillips (pictured) has announced she'll be hosting a public 'Question Time' style event at this year's peace Festival on Hove Lawns.

The hour-long debate will see representatives from the University of Sussex, University of Brighton, Brighton Institute of Modern Music and local schools discuss ‘The future of our city.’

Speaking in advance of the event, Alex said:

“Brighton and Hove is a vibrant, dynamic city with a thriving creative and cultural sector. Uniquely located between the downs and the sea, almost 300 000 people are expected to have made the city their home by 2026.

“A recent report predicted the next 20 years will see the city become one of the UK’s ‘Super Cities,’ with our growing ‘knowledge-based’ business sector enabling us to become one of the UK’s top ‘alternative economies.’

“But we’ve got our problems - 1 in 5 children growing up Brighton and Hove are living in poverty, there are huge health inequalities across the city and our carbon emissions are rising.

“Making sure the city is a fairer, greener place for all who live here is core to what I want to achieve as a Green Cllr, and I look forward to hearing what reps from local universities, schools and colleges have got to say about Brighton & Hove’s future”.

All are welcome and the event is free.

UPDATE: Oops, I forgot the most important details, the where and when. Sorry! It's at 3.30pm on Sunday, July 19th on Hove Lawns

Friday, 3 July 2009

On July 4, declare independence from corporate rule

Every year, on July 4th, the US celebrates its independence from Britain. And every year, campaigners try to 'take ownership' of the holiday to make a call for a different kind of independence.

Peace campaigners, for example, have long known July 4th as the day that the UK should 'declare independence' from the US, by getting rid of their military bases littering the British countryside.

But this year, I think the best July 4th call comes from the inspirational Canadian media campaign group the Adbusters Foundation: 'On July 4th, Declare Independence from Corporate Rule'

As we contemplate the bizarre fact that the multi-national coffee chain Starbucks has won its appeal against Brighton and Hove City Council and been allowed to give local democracy - and people - a slap in the face in the pursuit of profits, this campaign could hardly be more timely here in Kemp Town.

A corporation is not a person. It’s an organisational structure that has no morality and feels no remorse.

Yet the modern corporation enjoys the same rights as you or I: free speech, the ability to own property, the right to lobby government officials and protection against self-incrimination.

Decades of deregulation and laissez-faire capitalist ideology have allowed corporations to steer the world's political, economic, environmental and cultural agendas.

Are you happy about that? I'm not - I think we deserve better. Rights - tempered by responsibilities - should be ascribed only to living beings, and I think it's the duty of every elected politician to make this argument at every opportunity.

And if local democracy is to mean anything, then, when it comes to setting planning rules, the wishes of a properly-elected council should always prevail over the wishes of big business. That it didn't in St James's Street just shows how far we have to go to ensure local people make the decisions that affect them here.

Democratic deficit isn't just the preserve of Iran, Zimbabwe or other 'usual suspect' countries in the developing world.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

'Sage of Sussex' predicts 'electoral tsunami' in Goldsmid

The Argus columnist Adam Trimingham, know as the sage of Sussex in a previous incarnation, has upset council officers and both Labour and Tory councillors by predicting that a Green Party win in the July 23rd Goldsmid by-election would cause shock waves around the country.

He thinks a Green win is looking increasingly likely, and could pave the way for the first Green MPs to be returned here in Brighton.

Personally, I think 'electoral tsunami' is a bit over the top (I guess the sub-editors will have come up with that one, to be fair to Adam) - but it is always heartening to open your local paper in the morning and read that such an experienced and influential columnist thinks your time has come!

The article's here.

Blow for St James's Street as Starbucks wins planning appeal

I've just heard that US coffee giant Starbucks has won its appeal against residents and the council and will now be allowed lawfully to sell coffee from the former British Bookshops store on St James's Street.

Big Business one - residents and local democracy nil.

If the council doesn't have the right to set its own planning priorities in conservation areas, I do wonder about why so many of us waste so much time on planning matters. They're vitally important, but it seems the ultimate decisions aren't made by elected councillors, residents, or even planning officers - but multinational businesses.

It's a sad day for democracy, and an even sadder one for independent, local traders.

More later when I've read the full inspectors report.