THE new leader of Brighton and Hove City Council has promised to make customer service his number one priority.

Councillor Dan Yates, who officially took over from Cllr Warren Morgan at Thursday’s Annual Council, told The Argus his new role was the most exciting job he could imagine.

The 45-year-old, who represents the Moulescoomb and Bevendean ward, said he remains as enamoured of Brighton and Hove as he was when he moved to the city more than a decade ago.

After growing up in Essex Cllr Yates moved to Worthing for work. He is a physiotherapist and senior manager in the NHS and then to Brighton and Hove in 2006. He said: “What attracted me to Brighton and Hove is the same thing that attracts everyone else. It’s a really nice place.

“I moved from Lancing where I lived, where I was leader of the Labour opposition on the council in the late Nineties and early Noughties. Since then I’ve lived in Patcham, Southern Cross in Portslade, then Hangleton, Saltdean, and then Moulescoomb.

“So I’ve been around the city. Some people have said that I don’t understand Hove but I’ve lived in Hove.

“And I genuinely can say whatever community I’ve lived in in the city it’s been absolutely brilliant.

“They are all welcoming. That’s the impression I got when I first moved down here and it’s accurate across the whole city. We have low crime levels. We even have a low crime city centre considering the number of people and the scale of our night time economy.

“We should be really proud of the fact we’re able to be welcoming to a wide range of visitors coming with a wide range of needs and desires, and at the same time still have low crime and still be recognised as one of the most diverse and tolerant cities in the world.”

He promised his administration would be more responsive and transparent, saying one of the most important things to do was provide good customer service if and when things do go wrong. He added: “Our customers are the council taxpayers of this city.

“Whether that’s schools or roads or adult social care or education or bin collection or a leisure centre, it’s reasonable they have an expectation that they’ve paid for it, they’d like to see it,” he said.

Is this the best job you could have?

I think it’s the most exciting job I could possibly imagine, although I’m not a career politician.

You’ve been a councillor for quite a long time

I don’t see being a councillor as a career. That would be an awful thing, because you’re entirely at the whim not of how well you do, but of how the electorate feels on one particular day every four years. It’s not a sustainable long term career in my mind.

What it is is a fantastic opportunity to do stuff and to change stuff and deliver stuff. And I do think there’s a lot that needs to be done.

What’s your day job?

I’m a physiotherapist in the NHS. I work at Worthing hospitals, I’m lead therapist for planning and change. I don’t touch people for a living any more, I’m a manager now, for about 350 or 400 therapists in West Sussex.

Will you keep that job?

Yes. I’ll have to go more part time, down to 22 hours a week.

And of course I’ll still be a ward councillor and take ward surgeries - my first responsibility is to the people who elected me, I can’t let go of Moulscoomb and Bevendean.

What’s top of the To Do list?

Housing. If you talk to anybody they have an issue that relates to either the cost of accommodation, the lack of accommodation, the problems we have with rough sleeping because of a lack of accommodation, the problems we have in the private rented sector about quality of some pieces of accommodation; we need to be able to deal with that.

There’s a lot of problems. What is something you are going to do to tackle one?

We have to be working smarter.

There are pockets of land within this city that may be developed, empty pockets that are waiting to be developed in maybe ten years.

I’d like the council to be more reactive and to be working with partners and saying, ‘okay let’s have an interim solution in there’.

If that piece of land isn’t being used let’s make sure that for five years we can lease that land and put properties on that land - modular housing that we can move to the next site waiting to be developed.

What else is on the list?

I want the council to develop a strong reputation as being open, engaging and part of the community.

What does that mean for the council tenant who can’t get his bin emptied?

It means thinking about the way we’re responding to people’s needs.

We’re never going to get 100 per cent of our services delivering 100 per cent accuracy all the time, we have to accept we do a lot of services - with dwindling resources.

If people are expecting the bin man to come round and empty the bins every Monday, they should come round every Monday, and empty the bins.

And sometimes it may be missed - the lorry broke down, someone was sick, there was heavy snow - when that happens we need to make sure that when someone gets in contact to say “I’ve got a problem and I want you to solve it”, that we respond to them in a way that makes them feel engaged, makes them understand what promise we’re making, and that we deliver on that.

What you’re talking about is customer service.

Absolutely. Customer service should be our key priority.

What’s going to be the first major project you can tick off?

No administration ticks off projects, they’re delivered over the lifetime of many administrations. I have promised myself I won’t be so egotistical I take all the credit for major projects around this city. I’m not here for the ego trip.

How would you describe your politics?

I’m in the Labour Party. I believe in working together, I believe that by the strength of our common endeavour we can achieve more than we achieve alone.

Would you call yourself a socialist?

I have no problem with describing myself as a socialist. People are interested in labels. The label I took on was Labour.