Residents in Brighton and Hove should be “ambitious” about what the Labour administration can deliver, the council leader has said.

In an exclusive interview with The Argus, Councillor Bella Sankey said that people have felt “a sense of relief and jubilation” after a Labour majority council was elected in May.

In this, the first of a series of stories, we report how she expressed confidence that “decades of stagnation can finally come to an end” and promised to deliver for the city.

Cllr Sankey said: “I don’t see it as a pressure because I am so confident we can deliver.

“I could not have a better, more experienced, qualified, committed, energetic group of Labour councillors by my side.

“I think we have shown in the early actions we have taken and the things we have already achieved what is possible under a dynamic and forward-thinking Labour administration.”

Among the changes made by the council so far since taking office are reversing cuts to the lifeguard service, ending fines issued to small businesses that have been vandalised and launching reviews into a range of decisions made by the Green-led administration, including the A259 cycle lane project.

Cllr Sankey said: “We have already signalled with a lot of our announcements and policies already the direction we are going in, so over the coming weeks there will be more of that.”

The Labour council is currently working on developing a corporate plan, due to be published later this month.

“We have purposely worked to a really short timetable, because we believe it is vital that after 20 years of no overall control and having got the huge mandate we’ve got politically that we get everything in place internally so all of the council staff that will be helping us put this plan into action can see very clearly what our priorities are.”

'Difficult decisions lie ahead'

Cllr Sankey warned that financial circumstances mean the council will have to make “difficult decisions”.

She pins the blame for this not only on a lack of funding from the Conservative government, but also overspending of £3 million by the Green administration.

While the council will have a “clear-eyed look” at spending, Cllr Sankey also said the administration would look to maximise the revenue the council brings in, particularly from the council’s assets.

She also ruled out making budgetary decisions similar to the previous Green-led administration, which had initially planned to close a significant number of public toilets and charge for others.

“In all honesty, I was shocked by the approach that they took to the budget last year,” Cllr Sankey said.

“The proposals they came up with looked like they had been generated by an algorithm and not an administration that had a care or concern or an understanding of the city they served and the residents they sought to protect and support.

“Our approach to budget setting and all policy-making will be people-centred and we will be driven by our values - to protect and serve our residents, and to listen to them.”

Pledge to clean up city

As the party looks to deliver on its manifesto commitments, Cllr Sankey is clear that cleaning up the city is one of Labour’s key priorities.

She said: “We’ve announced our Big Clean Up - that is about kick-starting a programme to restore our basic services of the city.

“We’ve got massive challenges because of Tory cuts and I can tell you having spent a lot of time in the depot there have been cuts particularly to our street cleaning teams. We have fewer people trying to keep Brighton and Hove’s streets clean than we did in 2007. Being a party town, that is not a sustainable situation - so we need to look at how we finance our street cleaning.

“We will be working on strategies across all areas, from CityClean to housing, to ensure we can deliver on our manifesto commitments.”

'Brighton needs a Labour government'

Even in the short time that the Labour administration has been in office, Cllr Sankey said it is clear that many issues the council faces could be resolved by having a Labour government in Westminster.

“On almost every level, we think that a Labour government nationally could turn around the fortunes of the city,” she said.

Read more from The Argus's interview with Bella Sankey by subscribing to The Argus online here

Cllr Sankey said that she has been heartened by the amount of goodwill her and her administration have received since winning the election on May 4.

She said: “We know there are high expectations, but I feel strongly that there should be expectations.

“I genuinely think Brighton and Hove is the best city in the world, so of course our residents should be ambitious about what we are going to deliver.

“We have shown in the early actions we have taken and the things we have already achieved what is possible under a dynamic and forward-thinking Labour administration.

“I feel excited about this role and what we can do for our city.”