We won’t wait another 50 years for lasting equality

This weekend tens of thousands will take to the city’s streets celebrating our LGBT community. Our special city which has provided refuge for thousands of LGBT people will remind the world of our values of hope and solidarity. The Green Party has been a longstanding advocate of LGBT rights and this weekend we will, once again, be proud to march for equality.

This year’s Pride celebrations mark 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in the United Kingdom- Scotland had to wait until 1980, Northern Ireland, 1982. While apologies have been issued to those whose love was labelled a ‘crime,’ no apology will erase the years of discrimination people living with a criminal record have had to endure. We follow in the footsteps of ordinary LGBT people and community organisations whose unwavering voices have, 50 years later, made mainstream the right to live without prejudice. As the city becomes a show of colour and celebration we should take the time to remember that LGBT people at home and abroad still face bigotry and violence. On Saturday we must march for them.

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum only a year ago hate crimes against LGBT people increased by 147%. One in four LGBT people have experienced violent hate crime. Four in ten British people believe gay sex is unnatural. Homophobia is legitimised in government with the stridently homophobic DUP, who have blocked equal marriage in Northern Ireland.

Being gay is still illegal in 72 countries around the world. Horrific accounts of the torture of gay men in Chechnya remind us why it is so important to recognise LGBT rights. As important is the work to highlight that LGBT people- often from former British colonies- flee here to escape torture and persecution. Theresa May’s lukewarm words about ending discrimination must apply to them too.

There is no question we have come a long way in 50 years, but on Saturday our voices must ring out to say we won’t wait another 50 to have lasting equality here and abroad. I wish everyone a safe, happy and sustainable Pride.

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Let’s keep our democratic system

Our arguments against a cabinet system remain the same now as they were in October 2015 (see article below: ‘Let’s keep our democratic system,’ Brighton and Hove Independent, first published 2015).
Without scrutiny from other parties the Labour leadership would have had no qualms in selling off Hove Library, flogging off our precious Downland and ending the city’s youth service. Opposition from elected representatives is a crucial part of democracy and has prevented deeply unpopular Labour Council plans from coming to fruition – a fact no doubt frustrating for their leader, Councillor Warren Morgan, who wishes for a return to decision making behind closed doors and who imagines he has overall control of the council.


Let’s keep our democratic system

This week I read with concern that the Labour Leader of the Council is thinking about reviving the ‘cabinet’ model for the council. This is where 10 people make all of the council’s decisions and those decisions come in front of the other Councillors for rubber-stamping.

The cabinet model would allow Councillors not to answer for the “difficult decisions” they are making, allowing them to hide the impacts of decisions from the public until it’s far too late. It is anti-democratic. It’s why Greens abolished it and revived the committee system which places decision making powers with all councillors. Whether you’re a backbench Councillor for the largest group or an opposition councillor you and your community are proportionately enfranchised, and, crucially, decisions are made by all.

Accountability for decisions is incredibly important in a city which in 12 years has not given any one party an outright majority. Currently the largest group is 22, but out of 54 Councillors they should not have divine right to rule.

The Deputy Leader of the Council, Councillor Mitchell was right to describe the cabinet model as a “one party state” in November 2011. Isn’t it interesting that the tune seems to be changing now that Labour are in power?

It is important to remember Labour has form here: a Labour Government introduced the ‘cabinet’ model and a Labour Council wanted the deeply unpopular directly elected Mayor which was rejected in 2001.

The potential revival of the cabinet system has come in the same week we’ve had cross-party meetings cancelled, reports with potentially serious proposals being withheld and Labour Councillors voting to close Full Council meetings early. We have to ask: why the attempts to reduce transparency? Are these are the early warning shots being fired in a campaign by the Labour Councillors intent on reducing accountability for the cuts they have planned?

I recognise that we face the harshest financial climate we have ever seen, thanks to the savage austerity programme imposed by the Conservative government. But lessening democracy especially at a time like this is completely inappropriate and unfair.

We need a fairer local political system including a fairer voting system for electing Councillors in the first place. But in the meantime we must have a system which allows questioning, debate and challenge for whoever is the largest group on the city council. We revert to a less democratic and accountable council at our peril.

[First published in the Brighton and Hove Independent, October 2015]

GRENFELL- OUR QUESTIONS

Green Group of Councillors

Brighton & Hove City Council

GRENFELL- OUR QUESTIONS

16th June 2017

For immediate release

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

“Seeing the heart breaking scenes in West London, we are asking 12 questions of the Executive Director Neighbourhoods, Communities and Housing, Larissa Reid and the Chair of the Housing Committee, Councillor Anne Meadows to ensure such horror doesn’t happen here in Brighton and Hove. We are asking questions about inspections, regulation of our own stock, audits and all of the measures taken by the City Council and the Fire and Rescue Service to avoid such horror. The so-called ‘red tape’ that the Conservative government has been adamant about cutting.

“Only this afternoon the government launched an urgent audit to find out details of the tower blocks councils and housing associations own- because clearly they don’t even have this basic information. We back the call from the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) for fire sprinklers to be fitted in all new-build homes, in all tower blocks and all care homes.

“There have been repeat warnings- from tenants and Councillors. Had they been listened to some if not many of the problems could have been prevented. We would never want these scenes repeated here and will keep the pressure up so that every step is taken to ensure residents’ safety is paramount.”

Councillor David Gibson, Green Group of Councillors Spokesperson on Housing added:

“My heart goes out the many people and their families who have suffered in the horrendous fire in Kensington. It is awful to think that this may have happened because lessons from previous tragedies have not been heeded. The City Council now must reassure residents by rigorous fire safety checking, by making available comprehensive details of the materials used to clad their blocks publically available and by developing an urgent plan to rectify any deficiencies identified or deficiencies emerging in the light of learning from the Kensington tragedy.

“The government must ensure more rigorous fire safety standards and inspection as a matter of law at the earliest opportunity. Instead of forcing councils to use tenants’ rents to subsidise the housing association Right to Buy, they need to make available the necessary resources as a matter of urgency to ensure councils can make all their tower blocks fire safe.”

The Green Group of Councillors’ Questions to Executive Director Neighbourhoods, Communities and Housing, Larissa Reid and the Chair of the Housing Committee, Councillor Anne Meadows:

Dear Anne and Larissa

We first of all want to thank you and officers for the work that you have pursued with other agencies including East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and your help with queries from anxious tenants in the last few days from the truly horrible scenes at Grenfell Tower in West London. We also would like to welcome the letter which officers have delivered to all Council tenants.

We understand that the investigation into the causes of the awful incident at Grenfell Tower will take a prolonged period but we wanted to flag a series of urgent questions now:

  • We appreciate that there is a roll-out of sprinkler systems at potentially two further high rise blocks in the city following on from Somerset Point senior housing scheme last year. What work has been done to ascertain its suitability in other lower rise blocks? Do you support the call from the Chief Fire Officers’ Association (CFOA) for fire sprinklers to be fitted not only in all tower blocks but also in all new-build homes and care homes?
  • Apart from sprinkler systems what other fire suppression systems have been considered by BHCC?
  • If the ‘stay put’ policy is adhered to in high rise blocks, it relies wholly on a fire resistant exterior of the block as well as the presence of fire doors (resistant to fire for up to half an hour). Have all blocks had the ‘stay put’ policy tested with the most up to date building methodologies and methods if necessary?
  • We are to understand that 20 out of 40 tower blocks are clad. Can we see the Fire Safety Certificates for each block reassured? 
  • In terms of routine fire risk assessments, the Fire Safety Order 2005 relates to fire safety in communal areas. In BHCC-owned blocks the duty is on BHCC to ensure that a risk assessment is carried out to identify hazards and risks, and remove and reduce these as far as possible. What is the timetable for these assessments? How often does each block have an inspection?
  • The 2010 Building Regulations Approved Document B on fire safety covers means of escape, fire alarms, fire spread, and access and facilities for fire and rescue services. As it is the responsibility of anyone carrying out building work to ensure compliance with the regulations, can you inform us if either you or contractors with yourselves directly or with Mears have had reason to believe work in blocks has not complied with the regulations? When did BHCC last have to issue an enforcement notice for failure to comply with the regulations for work on tower block housing? One of the criticisms emerging from Grenfell Tower is that emergency lighting didn’t come on- when did BHCC blocks last have emergency lighting checked? And how often are these checks undertaken?
  • More broadly, in the absence of a review of Document B (which transpired after the Lakanal House tragedy in 2009), what is custom and practice for BHCC in this area?
  • Up until clarity is assured on a regulatory review providing adequate fire provisions in all tower blocks, would you support a call for blocks to be checked weekly?
  • How often are fire alarms being checked- especially in high rise blocks? Most offices have weekly fire alarm /mitigations systems tested every week- are Brighton and Hove’s tower blocks?
  • After the 3 incidents in high rise blocks in as many years in Brighton and Hove- which sadly included a fatality- what lessons has Brighton and Hove City Council taken from any reports and discussions with East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and Sussex Police?
  • In the absence of any standing arrangements through BHCCC are tenants clear that East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service will fit smoke alarms free of charge and assist tenants in creating an escape plan?
  • Will there be an audit of materials used for extensions and renovations on our own stock? Certain cladding materials used in Grenfell have been banned in the USA and in Europe. For any ongoing and future work on the provision of cladding, will there be a cast iron assurance on the use of fire-resistant materials only? Where Councillors make decisions relating to the refurbishment of stock for example on the Housing and Planning Committees will information regarding provision of fire-resistant materials be supplied? 

In terms of the necessary conversation between the City Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government in the days and weeks ahead, will you back our call that:

  • Government should immediately commission a regulatory review of the UKs 4,000 tower blocks to ensure the safety of residents;
  • As well as providing adequate fire provisions in all tower blocks, a regulatory review would be proportionate for blocks to be checked weekly
  • We have health, education and social care regulators. Is the tragedy of Grenfell Tower not now the time for a housing regulator?

Thank you.

Yours sincerely

We are pushing for action on toxic air pollution levels in Brighton and Hove

cleaner air nom pic

Green ‘Notice of Motion’ going to Full Council this Thursday 6th April

At the meeting of Brighton and Hove City Council this Thursday, the Greens have put forward a set of proposals aiming to challenge the rising levels of air pollution in Brighton and Hove. We hope our calls to protect public health will be backed by all parties.

Brighton and Hove is one of 40 UK cities listed by the World Health Organisation as breaching safe air pollution limits. ‘Hotspots’ in the city such as Queens Road, Western Road and Rottingdean High Street regularly exceed both U.K and E.U limits for nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas that along with other pollutants is primarily emitted by diesel vehicles and which can cause premature deaths and lung cancer.

Greens are calling on the Council to reduce the harm of emissions and protect public health by encouraging alternatives to diesel vehicle use. The proposals also call for better enforcement of regulations on engine idling, a major contributor to both noise and air pollution. The Greens are keen that the Council push for more government assistance to help taxi drivers to replace diesel cars with low-emission vehicles. Following similar initiatives rolled out in London, Greens are also pushing for differential charges to be applied to diesel vehicles parking in areas of the city badly affected by diesel fumes.

Green Councillor Lizzie Deane is keen to stress that any changes that lead to cleaner air will benefit everyone. She said:

“The rationale of this motion is entirely health related because, although air quality in the city has improved in recent years, there is still much to be done, especially in the city centre. It is now widely accepted that diesel emissions can cause serious health conditions, including asthma and lung cancer. So this is a motion that aims to benefit everyone, including motorists who, after all, are breathing the same air. In fact, recent studies have shown it is motorists who are most affected by diesel air pollution. I am particularly concerned for babies and toddlers who, by virtue of their size, are closer and more vulnerable to vehicle pollution emissions than adults.

“I do appreciate that some motorists bought diesel vehicles in good faith at a time when Government advised diesel to be a safer option. However, the only safe option is low emission vehicles, and we must do as much as we can to encourage their use. I am also aware that some of the proposals may have ramifications for the taxi trade, and am keen that existing cabbies are assisted when making upgrades to low emission vehicles.”

Studies have estimated that diesel fumes contribute to the deaths of more than 29,000 people in the UK each year and increase the likelihood of individuals contracting lung cancer almost threefold.

Green Councillors are calling on all parties to support their call for cleaner air at a meeting of Full Council this Thursday, April 6th.

Major concerns over ‘Public Space Protection Orders’ (PSPOs).

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Councillor Phélim Mac Cafferty

Greens have major concerns about the introduction of Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs). They are a blunt and ineffective instrument to deal with anti-social behaviour. Many of the areas currently affected such as St Nicholas Churchyard and Brunswick Square are not even covered by PSPOs. We already have many powers to deal with anti-social behaviour in squares such as bye-laws. Why aren’t they being used more effectively? There has been no analysis of the potential use and problems with existing powers. We agree that we need a clear way to prevent anti-social behaviour but there is no evidence to suggest PSPOs will either cut or prevent it. So why should we trust new, untested powers?

If we want the strongest approach to community safety, we need the funding to do the job properly. Without extra resources for Sussex Police or for the Council, PSPOs will only move anti-social behaviour on from one area to the next. The reversal of cuts to Council community safety budgets and ending reductions in police resources would be far more effective.

Under the new order, anyone sleeping in a tent can be subject to a PSPO.  Yet many people sleeping rough on our streets have been forced out due to high rents, evictions or even domestic violence. The overwhelming public support for our proposal to open empty buildings up for the homeless shows that we need to home the homeless, not needlessly criminalise them. We need to see tolerated stopping sites for travellers brought forward as soon as possible, because they are fairer for all communities and create a stronger basis to protect open spaces. We must balance the need to prevent anti-social behaviour with ensuring vulnerable groups are protected.

Greens will speak out against PSPOs at Brighton and Hove’s upcoming full council meeting, April 6th.


Greens have supported representations to Council from human rights and Friends of Travellers groups on this issue. Greens opposed the original introduction of PSPOs back in July 2016, but the proposal passed, backed by Labour and Conservative Councillors.

Article 50 – our exit from the E.U now underway

‘Brighton and Hove for Europe’ show of unity outside the Town Hall on 29th March

The triggering of Article 50 will put Brighton and Hove and the country into a state of uncertainty. The Conservative government is pursuing an extreme exit from the European Union with no assurances on the environment, workers’ rights or, as the so-called ‘party of business’, even trade. Brighton and Hove City council now faces a double whammy of Government cuts along with no certainty over the future of funding provided to our city by the E.U. Our voluntary sector and our two universities, projects to boost basic skills and tackle early school drop-out, support for families affected by drugs are just some of the initiatives that have benefitted from European Union membership and funding and they are now at risk.  We cannot allow the exit from the European Union to affect the poorest residents the hardest and we are committed to protecting public services.

Greens are especially outraged that E.U nationals have not been given any guarantees about their right to remain. This uncertainty is completely unacceptable and we stand with Brighton and Hove residents who are concerned about these changes.

Brighton and Hove voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. Although we acknowledge the outcome of the referendum from the country, people did not vote for a rushed, Conservative-led set of ‘deals’, and terms set by a Prime Minister with no mandate for ‘hard Brexit’. We have to also say that Labour’s divisions and weak opposition in the face of Brexit will cost Brighton and Hove dearly.

In your local Council, Greens will rightly scrutinise any negative impacts on our city resulting from Brexit ‘deals.’ We will stand firm protecting our status as a city of sanctuary for migrants and refugees and campaign for citizen’s voices to be heard. The “£350m a week” promised to the NHS was a lie and locally Greens will continue to oppose any creeping privatisation or ‘sell off’ of the NHS.

In Parliament Green MP Caroline Lucas has been a strong voice for the city, and as negotiations continue, Greens will be pushing for five ‘green guarantees’: on protection for the environment, for young people and their access to EU opportunities, for fair tax and fair trade, for free movement and for improved representative democracy. We must campaign for international cooperation and peace, the environment, public services and workers’ rights, rather than allowing the arguments about ‘us’ and ‘them’ to divide us.

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You can view the ‘Green Guarantees’ here: 
http://www.keithtaylormep.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Keith-Taylor-MEP-Green-Guarantees.pdf

Last year we proposed that the Council should write to Parliament, expressing the particular benefits that E.U membership brings to Brighton and Hove. This fell as it did not gain enough votes from opposition parties. You can view the original ‘Notice of Motion’ online.

 

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.