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’.

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