LGBT people and the Council’s budget

 

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty

This is a horrendous time for the city council’s funding. Figures from the Local Government Association tell us that almost 80% of councils the length and breadth of the country will struggle to make ends meet. Conservative government cuts are perpetuating inequality in our communities in Brighton and Hove. LGBT people are facing greater inequality too: like other vulnerable groups, services for LGBT people around the country have been the first to be cut. As austerity bites and inequality rises under the Conservative government cuts, we cannot give ground to bigotry.

Even if we put the impact of austerity to one side, things are far from perfect:

  • A report produced by the Health Committee of the London Assembly reports LGBT+ people identified that 40% of LGBT people experience a mental health issue, compared to 1 in 4 of the wider population. Some of that is because LGBT people are often invisible when it comes to decisions because of poor data and poorer consultation.
  • One in six lesbian, gay and bi people have experienced a homophobic or biphobic hate crime or incident over the last three years; while 38 per cent of trans people have experienced physical intimidation.

We have to be mindful of how short-sighted cuts could really jeopardise LGBT equality. Our analysis of this year’s city council budget meant we were able to identify that Labour’s council budget included cutting the LGBT community safety post. In the aftermath of Brexit we have faced a spike in hate crimes-  leaping from 49 to 64 crimes and incidents, including several prominent violent homophobic attacks in the city. The evidence is clear: now is not the time to cut the budget for the LGBT community safety post.

Our analysis also showed that because of the massive 80% cuts to the youth service and the £370K cut to the investment programme in the voluntary sector, support for LGBT people, including our young people, would be hit disproportionately. We know that almost half (48%) of trans people under 26 said they had attempted suicide. More than half (55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bi pupils have experienced direct bullying. So it is clear that the work that Allsorts and community youth groups do with young LGBT people in the community is more than a service – it can be a lifeline. Many other LGBT community and voluntary groups rely on the funding that the council injects into the sector and it’s often matched by other bodies such as the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), so that Council money invested here stretches further. Lately the sector has been warned that the CCG will not be providing funding into the future so cuts here will hit twice as hard.

The Green Group of Councillors published a series of proposals which outlined our priorities and principles in the budget: http://bit.ly/GPBudget17

Our proposals include measures to reverse the cut to the LGBT Community Safety post and reverse cuts to the youth service. Our aim: to make suggestions that turn the focus of the Council towards the real value of the city’s preventative work and towards ‘spend to save’ initiatives that will support the Council – and our residents – in the long term. This is a different approach to managing budgets but we must push to resist savage cuts in difficult circumstances. We wanted to stick up for our more vulnerable community members and preventing problems for LGBT people becoming a crisis further down the line.

All the evidence supports the fact that if you cut services you will inherit problems in the future. This is why we committed to a different approach, putting prevention at the heart of our proposals. We are glad that the amendments that we put forward to budget Council have reversed some of the planned cuts to services that support LGBT people. We worked hard to save what we could, but we feel as if there really are no winners in a budget that cuts £20m.

 

 

Budget Council Open Letter

 

Throughout the last number of weeks, the Green Group has examined the Labour budget proposals. Through a combination of reasonable charge increases, spend to save measures and a focus on prevention; we sought to reverse some of the most toxic proposals in the budget.

Our group is allowed to submit amendments to Labour’s budget, which will see cuts of more than £20m affecting vital front-line services across the city. Our budget approach centres around the value of preventing problems for some of our most vulnerable residents. Provided that any changes can be funded and don’t leave funding holes, they are put forward for debate. However we are disappointed to tell you that the Labour administration are still seeking to push ahead with the original planned budget cuts.

You can read our proposals here: bit.ly/GPBudget17

We know that work which helps to address problems early on reduces the need for more costly interventions later down the line and we want more work to be done to preserve these services. Whether that’s stopping a cut to supported buses that help keep older residents more active, reinstating the planned removal of the city’s youth service or reversing cuts to early help, we have been focused on investing in the budget for preventative services in key areas.

Our approach has shown how the Council can create £2 million extra to stop these cuts. These proposals have been evidenced and in the case of fees and charges, are in line with what many other councils around the country are prepared to do. It is a source of real disappointment to us that they received little support in their original form and that they have now been watered down. At a period of time when our budget is under massive strain we hoped our approach and the additional funding it would bring to the Council would be welcomed.

However, we urge the Council to invest in prevention; and Greens will continue to promote the benefit of ‘spending to save.’  This is reflected in the amendments as they now stand.
Greens are pushing for the Council to recognise how important early help is for the future of our city. We know that the evidence supports this approach. We will fight to take out some of the worst elements of the budget and invite all the other parties to work with us to protect services in Brighton and Hove.

Yours sincerely,

Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty, Convenor of the Green Group of Councillors

Public Services are best provided by local authorities or third sector organisations; not unaccountable private companies. Why do Brighton & Hove’s Labour Councillors disagree?

by Councillor Leo Littman

When elected as a Councillor, I signed up to the seven principles of public life (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life/the-7-principles-of-public-life–2) These include accountability and openness.

Sadly, private companies which run many of our vital public services; from NHS contracts to railway franchises, are not obliged to make the same commitments. Often, the public have to fight tooth and nail to reveal their deplorable customer service and dangerous practices. Look for example, at Coperforma’s astonishingly incompetent management of the Sussex Patient Transport service, or Southern’s massively remunerated mismanagement of our rail services. Public concern over our lack of say in how these firms run our services is shared by organisations like Trade Unions; The Green Party; and the Labour Party, at least, nationally.

So, when a resident asked me to get the Council to support the principles of transparency, accountability and putting the public first in the provision of public services, little did I know it would lead to the self-destruction of Brighton & Hove Council’s Labour Administration. Over a year ago; the campaign group ‘We Own It’ launched ‘Our Services, Our Say’, a campaign to get Local Councils to state that they believed public services were better provided by publicly-accountable bodies than by private businesses, and that, when private firms were involved in delivering public services, they should play by the same rules as public bodies; for example, being open to Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

In Liverpool, a Motion supporting these goals, proposed by Greens, passed with support from the city’s Labour Councillors.

All B&H Councillors knew the campaign’s goals to encourage public services for the public a week before our meeting, as they had been circulated: however, concerned that my fellow Councillors might feel they hadn’t enough detail, the night before Full Council I sent each of them the full version of the campaign aims.

Their calls for public accountability over our public services have overwhelming support. 61% of the public think local government should run services in-house, by default. Only 21% want to see outsourcing as the default. 64% distrust outsourcing companies. Only 16% think there is adequate regulation of private companies running public services.

On the night of Full Council, I mentioned the Liverpool result, and my expectation that B&H Labour Councillors would vote as their colleagues had. I was astonished when, instead, they decried it. The Motion came from “A Left-of-Left perspective”, said one Labour Councillor. He then argued that there was nothing wrong with how public services were currently commissioned. Another Labour Councillor then told us the stunning truth: Brighton & Hove Labour Party’s Group of Councillors were going to abstain on a Motion calling for public ownership; transparency; and accountability.

Given the make-up of the Council (23 Labour; 20 Tory; 11 Green), Labour sitting on their hands, meant that the Tory ‘No’ vote; supporting a profit-driven, market-led approach to public provision, beat the Greens call for public-ownership of public services. This was the point at which Brighton and Hove’s Labour Group of Councillors turned their backs on over a hundred years of Labour Party history, policy, and principle; and allowed the Tories to defeat the Greens’ calls for the defence of public services.

This whole unedifying process took less than 25 minutes and can be viewed here: http://brighton-hove.public-i.tv/…/webcast_interacti…/261310 from 3:04:40 to 3:28:20

Labour Councillors in Liverpool supported their local Greens’ call to make theirs the first Council in the country to pass a Motion to give residents a say over public service outsourcing. However, it is now clear that those who believe in the principles upon which the Labour Party was founded can no longer afford to vote Labour in Brighton and Hove. The people they’d be voting for have abandoned those principles and now wholeheartedly embrace the Tory ideology of: ‘The Market: Right or Wrong’.

Greens taking action to halt Downland sales – now let’s push to stop sales altogether

Earlier today, following our amendment that was submitted to Policy and Resources Committee, we have successfully called for a halt to the fast-moving sales of parcels of land in the Downland Estate. We put forward both a letter, setting out clearly why the Downland must be protected, but also two concrete proposals which, supported by the Conservatives, demand that the council look into alternative options to these sales and suspends the disposal process as it stands. (Amendment here, you can also read our letter)

 

We are relieved and energised that our requests to put the brakes on the sales have been accepted by all. We have fought hard to stop these plans despite how far ahead they were in the process. For now, this means that the plans to dispose of two parcels of land of the Downland Estate totalling more than 91.5 acres will not go ahead. But a halt is not enough. What is a fact now is that momentum and support is still needed to ensure we can finish what we have started and reverse the sales altogether.

Like many residents of Brighton and Hove and the surrounding area, we consider the Downland to be a special place that should be treated differently to other council ‘assets.’ It is a stunning area, a habitat for wildlife to flourish and for us to experience the local natural environment. It’s beautiful to look at, and an amazing part of our local environment both for flora and fauna, but it also secretly sustains us in more ways than we realise. Underneath our toes, the Downland also encompasses the ‘chalk aquifer’; – nothing short of a giant natural ‘sponge’ that forms a reservoir providing all the natural drinking water for Brighton and Hove. It is no surprise then that previous civic leaders had the foresight to purchase the Downland and protect it.

downland
Questions have therefore been rightfully asked about how these sales were made possible in the first place. We recognise that Councillors from all our local political parties sat on the committees that oversaw the original disposal plans and had the opportunity then to oppose them. In the original committees of July 2014 and Feb 2016, where these sales were agreed, the land was identified, not as part of the ‘Downland Estate’ but as a ‘non-core asset’ available for disposal to fund the Stanmer Park restoration and development.

Now we know that the details of the programme of land disposals would have benefitted from greater scrutiny. The Green group of Councillors have always valued the strength and importance of learning how to do things differently and to adapt when new information comes to light. As soon as details about the true nature of these sales became clear, we moved swiftly to act. Most importantly, we have also demanded significant changes to council policy and procedure that will ensure Downland is never again identified as an area suitable for sale.

We will be working with Councillors across all parties to increase protection of our estate which not only provides our water but is also unique for its biodiversity, heritage and landscape. We appreciate the irony that it is the Conservatives who have seconded our proposals, knowing as we do that it is the cuts and austerity policies of their colleagues in central government that force local councils to consider such drastic measures as selling the natural environment. Yet working together is essential if we are to reverse the sales. We believe protecting the natural environment is a task for all of us.

No matter the value, elected Councillors should always be clearly notified of any proposals to sell the Downland.  That’s because the ‘value’ of the Downland is about so much more than ‘money.’ You cannot put a price on nature.

Here is our opportunity to implement positive changes to council policy. I also hope we will lead the way to a change in the ‘culture’ in local government that all too quickly ignores the bounty of our natural environment.

Cuts to youth services

Guest blog by Sue Shanks, co-Chair of the Green Party

The cuts to youth services in Brighton and Hove just announced will mean the end of the local authority youth service and a loss of financial support for several voluntary youth projects. As lead member for children’s services in the last administration I was proud that, under the Greens, we had protected this important service.

I have worked as a youth worker, youth work manager and latterly a tutor on university qualifying courses for youth and community workers. I have published articles and a book on youth work (as Sue Robertson) and  I am still involved in the field as a trustee of youth organisations and an external examiner.

All around the country, local authorities are cutting youth services as they are ‘non statutory.’ Although the local authority is supposed to provide some services, there is nothing laid down as to ‘how much.’

Youth work is a vital service to young people. It provides space for young people, somewhere to go, a friendly adult to build a relationship with, someone to talk to. Plus, it provides activities – something to do. Most of this will be accessible precisely to those who can’t take ‘something to do’ for granted; they may not have the family income to access it.

In the 1960s the Albemarle report led to the building of local authority run youth centres across the country. These were built on the council estates; Hangleton, Moulsecombe, Whitehawk .  I have recently been interviewing past users of the 67 Centre in Moulsecombe for a celebration of its 50 years, and men in their 50s look back on the times they spent at the centre and the trips they went on with real joy.

In the 1980s I ran a youth centre and took young people to the mountains and on trips abroad – these are things their families could not do. Their eyes were opened to ideas and activities they had never experienced. Surely this should not be confined to those young people with parents who can afford it? Parents who can afford it spend large amounts on ferrying young people to clubs, is there to be nothing for our more deprived young people?

The council spends a huge amount on targeted social work services but intervention often comes too late. The impact of youth work was recognised by the council’s own review in 2011: ‘the evidence base clearly shows that youth work can have a positive impact —– reduces destructive behaviours.’ Youth workers help young people through difficult times, signpost them to services, accompany them to court, support them in finding employment or housing and crucially, young people trust the worker because of the relationship they have built up with them – whether on a rock climbing trip or simply over a game of pool.

Open access work means that young people are not stigmatised and can enjoy their leisure time in a safe space with their peers. I feel the council has a duty to support young people who are not necessarily in ‘trouble’, though they may be having difficulties at home or in school. Research by the Youth Collective in August 2015 found that for every pound spent, over £6 is created in social value.

Last November the council proposed that it would no longer provide open access work but that this would be commissioned from the voluntary sector. Following this a decision was taken to set up a Youth Trust, and money was given by the Government under the Delivering Differently programmes to produce a report: its recommendations were never acted upon, which means £35,000 thrown away. The commissioning process was started and was due to end on December 7th. Local voluntary organisations have spent a great deal of time, as have council officers on these processes. This is a huge cost when budgets are tight.

This cut is being made at the worst possible time. Young people are expected to work hard at school, are put under immense pressure and as we know, many end up with mental health issues. Youth work can be a vital lifeline for them. As it is a voluntary service that young people can choose to engage with, they are often more likely to seek help. Youth work provides a safe space for young people; something we all surely deserve.

Joining a youth club, activity or taking part in discussion groups or activities helps young people to make friends and have good relationships with their peers and adults, a vital part of growing up.  Yet again young people in their teenage years and those who work with them are losing resources. Although it may be easier to get protests going about ‘cuter’ causes, we must defend this service.

Greens say PSPO plan needs more thought

July 15, 2016

 

Green councillors yesterday set out their opposition to a council plan to introduce Public Space Protection Orders in the city’s open spaces, calling for a delay to allow time to improve the effectiveness of the proposals.  The proposal was agreed by Labour and Conservative councillors at the meeting of the Policy and Resources committee on Thursday.

Councillors Ollie Sykes and Phélim Mac Cafferty have recently been instrumental in tackling antisocial behaviour on Brunswick Square, working in partnership with police and residents and using existing legislation to resolve the issue. They expressed concern that Public Space Protection Orders add little to existing powers while carrying a high risk of legal challenge.

Public Space Protection Orders have been highly controversial in some areas of the country, such as in neighbouring Worthing, where they are proposed to be used to fine street beggars, despite a massive 86,000-strong petition against the plans. Greens say the legislation is heavy-handed and could have a discriminatory impact on certain protected groups.

 

Councillor Mac Cafferty, Convenor of the Green Group said:

“We have major concerns with the speed with which these proposals are being pushed through, despite threats of legal challenge and significant equality impacts having been identified by Council officers.

“We know the distress and damage that can be caused when people camp or move vehicles onto our sensitive open spaces in the city. That’s why we pushed so hard to create a permanent and transit site for travellers when we were in administration, so that these groups would have spaces to move to which would not lead to such a negative impact on residents.

“It is important that the approach we take to unauthorised encampments recognises the growing problem of rough sleeping in the city which has led to a rise of individuals sleeping in tents. In dealing with this problem it is often necessary to take a nuanced approach which ensures vulnerable people can access any support they need.

“We welcome the recent recommendation from the Fairness Commission to create negotiated stopping places for Travellers, which is a continuation of our approach and means there are alternatives for Travellers which prevents them from being moved from one sensitive site to another.

“While we support any measure that allows us to better deal with distress caused by antisocial behaviour which might be associated with some unauthorised encampments, we need to get it right. We must ensure that any new powers are not applied unlawfully, and that alternative sites are available to prevent displacement to other sensitive sites. We should also ensure that sites such as the seafront squares are recognised as sensitive sites when developing our approach. It is important that we have a clear strategy which is fair, proportionate and robust and balances the need to prevent antisocial behaviour with ensuring vulnerable groups are protected”.

 

Notes

 

Cllr Ollie Sykes also spoke on the issue at the Policy, Resources and Growth Committee on Thursday, and his comments can be found here: http://brighton-hove.public-i.tv/core/share/open/webcast/0/0/560/229545/0/0/start_time/2037000

 

Greens say Brighton & Hove must shine brighter in face of division

Greens vow to fight for workers and the environment after Brexit win

June 24th, 2016

Green Councillors in Brighton and Hove have vowed to fight against a “bonfire of regulations” which could be seen following the EU referendum result to leave the EU.  Greens say they will oppose any weakening of environmental protection or worker’s rights which may follow Brexit.

The Green Councillors have expressed their concerns about the expected impact of Brexit on local government, but say Brighton & Hove is determined to continue to act as a beacon of hope, tolerance and equality in an increasingly divisive world.

Greens have called the Leave vote a “wake up call” as to the level of anger and disillusionment many UK residents have with the political status quo.  Greens are calling for a period of reflection at national level, to explore how the political system and how the media choose to communicate it, can better reflect people’s concerns, and allow the country to come together around shared values of equality, fairness and public service.

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Deputy Convener of the Green Group of councillors, Councillor Alex Phillips, said:

“We are naturally disappointed by the result of the referendum, which was extremely close.  I’m pleased to see that Brighton and Hove spoke decisively against leaving the EU but sadly this was not reflected elsewhere in the country.

“We must now work harder than ever to oppose any weakening of environmental protection or worker’s rights that may follow Brexit.  That means working together with other progressive voices to protect hard-won rights and freedoms which could now be under threat.

“At a local level, the council has used EU funding successfully to tackle addiction and support economic regeneration.  Without this support, it is more important than ever that Government commits to greater investment in local government, and measures to give residents real power and resources over the future direction of their communities, that go substantially further than the devolution-lite proposals currently on offer.  Brighton & Hove has spoken out clearly in favour of a more tolerant, inclusive society and that’s what we must be empowered to deliver.

“We are concerned with the long-term impact of an increasingly divisive and hostile referendum campaign which has pitted neighbour against neighbour.  It’s clear we cannot ignore the concerns of people across the country and must work harder to connect with our neighbours to convey a more positive message.  As a city, Brighton & Hove is a shining example of a more tolerant and inclusive city, and we must ensure we shine brighter in an increasingly divided world.  We all have a role to play in spreading that message of hope”.