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Special report: What have the Greens done in Brighton and Hove?
The Greens have been in control of Brighton and Hove City Council for two years. But, as party leaders point to 98 achievements in a mid- term report, how do you rate the country’s first- ever Green-led council? TIM RIDGWAY reports.
“Brighton and Hove looks a very different place to when we first took charge.”
There are few people among the city’s 270,000 residents who will disagree with these words from Brighton and Hove City Council leader Jason Kitcat.
Since taking charge in 2011, all eyes have been on the Greens as they run a town hall for the first time.
Two years on, the national Green party’s conference came to town.
The event gave the local leaders a good opportunity to reflect and focus on what it had achieved in that time.
Among a list of 98 achievements were new cycle lanes, introduction of a living wage, keeping libraries open and bringing hundreds of empty homes back into use.
But, with Brighton’s West Pier as a backdrop, the symbol of a crumbling burned-out attraction perhaps wasn’t quite the metaphor that those who organised the press conference in a roof-top room in Brighton’s Hilton Metropole wanted.
With internal divisions, councillors being pushed out, u-turns a plenty and a week-long bin strike, life in charge has been far from plain sailing.
But Coun Kitcat remained bullish that there are better times ahead for the country’s first Green administration.
Giving the party a rating of 7.5 out of ten for the first two years, he said: “There’s room for improvement but it’s been pretty good considering it’s our first time in charge, more than half our members were first time councillors and we have inherited a government committed to slashing council funding.”
The Greens say they have already delivered over half of their manifesto commitments.
When asked about his own personal highlights, Coun Kitcat pointed to the successful City Deal status for Greater Brighton and introducing a living wage in the council, while creating a campaign for employers to follow suit and pay their staff a minimum of £7.45 an hour.
He added he was also pleased with all the changes in public transport and open spaces, adding “the city looks a very different place to when we first took charge”.
All of this, party activists were keen to point out, was achieved with the backdrop of a coalition government reducing local government budgets by tens of millions of pounds.
Rob Shepherd, chairman of Brighton and Hove Green Party, said: “It was probably the worst time for a party to take charge of a council for the first time.”
Lizzie Deane, deputy council leader, said she felt people in Brighton and Hove did not know the extent to which they were being protected.
Coun Deane said: “People do not notice when we keep libraries open, they notice if you take them away.
“It’s probably true to say where we have protected people from more severe cuts, that’s quite a success.”
Green Party Achievements
In their mid-term report, the Greens listed 98 achievements they have brought about since being elected in May 2011.
For the full list, visit www.theargus.co.uk/news
- Jobs and business -
Introduced a living wage of £7.45 for all council-employed staff
Established Living Wage Commission which has encouraged more than 80 firms and organisations in city to follow suit
Eco-refurbished the Brighton Centre
Brought Rugby World Cup to city in 2015
Successfully lobbied government for ultrafast broadband cash
Granted City Deal status for “Greater Brighton” area from Worthing to Seaford
Won Mary Portas pilot project money for London Road
Established scheme to bring empty shops and offices into productive use T
- Transport -
Bus usage increased by 5% in 2012
Air quality improving with pollution falling at 44 of 46 monitoring stations
Introduced 20mph speed limits on more than 500 streets
Won £4 million to introduce new cycle and bus lanes in Lewes Road
New cycle lane in Old Shoreham Road
Redevelopment of Seven Dials roundabout
Won £3.4 million to introduce Better Bus Area in Edward Street, Eastern Road and Valley Gardens
- Environment -
Rrestored The Level with grant of more than £2 million
Rolling out communal recycling bins across city centre area
Launched seafront anti-litter campaign with support of The Argus
Installed solar panels on council buildings
Expanded community composting schemes
Supported local Biosphere project
Became the world’s first One Planet Living city
Reduced mowing of grass verges and planted wild flowers
- Transparency & democracy l -
Annual budget plans published earlier than ever
Neighbourhood pilot schemes set up
Reduced senior management pay
- Young People -
2013 GCSE results best ever recorded
All children’s centres kept open
Aaintained one of few remaining council-run youth services
Secured the future of council- un Bright Start nursery
Launched new recruitment drive for adoption and fostering
Provided key card passes so children eligible for free school bus travel can use buses at evenings and weekends Housing
Brought 500 empty private and council-owned homes back into use l opened first new council homes in 20 years
Revived plans for Circus Street development
Ended council tax discount on second homes
Free advice to council tenants helped nearly 400 people access more than £250,000 in unclaimed benefits
Promised not to evict tenants solely on grounds of bedroom tax
Created nearly 400 affordable homes Communities
Protected funding to voluntary organisations
Kept all branch libraries open
Expanded Cumulative Impact Zone which restrict granting of new alcohol licences
Introduced new 40% discount leisure card for residents on benefits
Carried out independent review after concerns of racism in the council
Introduced carer’s card to give carers discounts and support
What about the things they didn't mention?
Looking beyond the smart 12-page brochure produced by the local party which was handed out to members of the local and national media yesterday, there were some glaring omissions, says TIM RIDGWAY.
What about the internal rift in the party into “watermelons” and “mangoes” which requires the attention of mediators?
What about recycling levels coming in below target?
What about the bin strike which brought the city to a halt earlier this year?
What about above-inflation parking charge increases?
What about the U-turn on cutting down the elm tree at Seven Dials roundabout?
All have been ignored in the list of 98 achievements.
With the need to start preparing now for 2015, when the local and national elections will be held on the same day, it is perhaps the internal division which is most pressing.
When asked about mediation, Coun Kitcat said it was a local party initiative.
He added: “I do not believe that people want the hardline Malcolm Tucker approach to politics.
“I welcome some party members have taken the initiative and councillors
may choose to take it up.
“I think it’s a perfectly responsible way to deal with any issues.”
When asked about the next elections, Coun Kitcat said: “The fact we’re delivering so much will put us on a strong footing come 2015.”
Whether the Greens can hold firm in the face of a stormy onslaught or whether they will crumble like the West Pier the electorate will decide.
What the senior figures say
Caroline Lucas: Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas said she felt the policies in Brighton and Hove were more popular than some people thought.
Looking ahead, she felt the party’s promise to push social justice and environmental issues could lead to it trebling its number of MEPs from two to six in 2014.
This was despite the obvious divisions within Brighton and Hove City Council, where she stood on the picket line with striking bin men as fellow Greens stood in the council chamber defending the local authority’s position.
Speaking on national television about the issue of mediation, Dr Lucas, said: “Parties having differences of views is hardly specific to the Greens.
“You only need to look at Labour with their rows over the unions or the Conservative rebellion on Syria or Sarah Teather walking away from the Liberal Democrats; this is nothing new.
“I think what is quite positive is when this happens in the Greens we actually want to get some help to try to sort it out.”
Natalie Bennett: Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, gave the council administration a rating of 9/10, saying “nobody is perfect”.
Ms Bennett, an Australian by birth who took over from Dr Lucas a year ago, said: “It’s worth remembering it's a minority council so they have not always been able to do what they want to do.”
When asked about the split by individuals into watermelons (those on the left, who are red on the inside and green on the outside) and mangoes (who are more centrist and yellow on the inside), Ms Bennett said she felt it was “extremely over-exaggerated”.
She said: “Those attracted to the party are united by a drive for economical and environmental justice.”
When asked about the party’s election chances in 2015, she said: “I know many people are disappointed that Labour are targeting Brighton Pavilion – that’s disappointing and obviously makes it a lot more difficult for us.
“But I think Caroline Lucas has a huge record as an MP that’s evident by the huge swathes of awards she has received from across the political spectrum.
“I think Brighton and Hove is a special place and it likes having a special MP.”
Jason Kitcat: Jason Kitcat, leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: “This is perhaps the toughest time in modern history for English local councils.
“Despite huge Government-imposed budget cuts of around 40% over four years – which threaten to devastate vital services. We’ve achieved much to make this city a better place for everyone who lives and works here.
“While in this climate we won’t get everything right all the time, we have protected many of the poorest and most in need people in our city from the brunt of the coalition’s welfare changes.
“That’s despite being one of the hardest-hit councils in England for town hall budget cuts.”
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