Conservatives secure the future of city Youth Service

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People power

At last night’s Budget Council meeting, the Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council secured the future of the city’s Youth Service in addition to substantially reducing the size of the cut to the community and voluntary sector and providing increased funding for respite breaks for families with disabled children.

Councillor Andrew Wealls

Further successes at the meeting included securing £50,000 to invest in new playground equipment at Mile Oak Rec in Portslade – promised by Labour before the election in 2015 but still not delivered – and funding for new street tree planting and maintenance across the city to help in the fight against Dutch Elm Disease.

Conservative councillor Andrew Wealls said: “I’m absolutely delighted with the outcome and particularly for the young people who have campaigned so strongly and effectively to save the Youth Service. We’ve also managed to reduce the size of the cut to the community and voluntary sector substantially and support respite breaks for families with disabled children. These 3 issues are all very close to our hearts as Conservatives and I’d like to thank all councillors for helping us to protect these vital services.”

Conservative Group Leader, Geoffrey Theobald, added: “It is a shame that so many vulnerable people have had to endure months of uncertainty around the future of the services that are so important to them. The fact that our fully costed and deliverable amendments were agreed puts paid to the line pedalled by Labour that they had no choice but to decimate the Youth Service because of cuts in Government funding. If only they had worked with us on the Budget from the outset, all the heartache could have been avoided.”

Notes for editors:

Conservative achievements at the Budget Council meeting were:

  • Restoring £440,000 to the Youth Services Budget which Labour had proposed to cut by £645,000
  • Increasing funding by £150,000 for the Direct Payment scheme to secure short respite breaks for families with disabled children
  • Reduce Labour’s proposed cut in the budget for support to the city’s vitally important Community and Voluntary sector by £148,000
  • Investing £50,000 in new playground equipment in Mile Oak Rec, Portslade
  • Increasing the budget for street tree planting and maintenance by £14,000
  • Reducing the money spent on councillors’ ‘Special Responsibility Allowances’ by £43,000
  • Helping to tackle air pollution by removing the discount on resident parking permits currently enjoyed by owners of diesel cars

Conservatives Budget proposals to save city’s Youth Service

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The Conservative Group on Brighton & Hove City Council have unveiled their Budget proposals ahead of the Full Budget Council meeting today.

The amendments to the Labour Administration’s Budget include proposals to:

  • Save the city’s highly valued Youth Service by substantially reducing Labour’s proposed cut
  • Increase funding for the Direct Payment scheme to secure short respite breaks for families with disabled children
  • Reduce Labour’s proposed cut in the budget for support to the city’s vitally important Community and Voluntary sector
  • Increase the budget for street tree planting and maintenance
  • Invest in new playground equipment in Mile Oak Park, Portslade.

Some of the measures being proposed by the Conservatives to fund these additional spending commitments include getting rid of the low emission discount that residents with diesel vehicles get when buying resident parking permits; reducing councillors’ Special Responsibility Allowances; abolishing Labour’s talking shop that is the Neighbourhoods, Inclusion, Communities & Equality Committee; and reforming the management of the Council’s high spending housing service.

Conservative Group Finance Spokesman and Deputy Leader, Andrew Wealls, said: “We have been working very hard over the last few months to try and mitigate some of the damaging proposals in what has been a chaotic Budget process. It has been characterised by a lack of strategic thinking, particularly with regard to preventative services such as the Youth Service, cuts to which will add to the Council’s costs further down the line. I’m therefore delighted that we have been able to find funds to support most of the valuable work that the Youth Service does in some of our most deprived communities. It was very frustrating for us to hear deputations and petitions from engaged young people dismissed so cavalierly by the Labour leadership, but we have listened and very much hope that our plans are agreed on Thursday.”

“We are always concerned to support the community work of the voluntary sector in this city and are proud to have reduced the savings here. Similarly in supporting personal choices for respite care for families of disabled children. In these cases we have listened to their representatives and responded as best we can.”

“Labour campaigned at the last election on a platform of rebuilding play equipment in Mile Oak Park and have failed to deliver this. However, we have managed to find the funds to do what Labour couldn’t, and this revamp will help transform the health and happiness of the young people and families who live there and who frankly deserve better.”

Conservative Group Leader, Geoffrey Theobald, added: “Council Leader, Warren Morgan, never tires of saying that he has no choice but to end the Youth Service because of cuts in Government funding, yet we have managed to find the funding to save it. Young people in the city who use this service will therefore be wondering why on earth they have been forced by Labour to go through months of uncertainty and distress. I would urge both Labour and Green councillors to get behind our sensible, constructive and fully-costed amendments for the sake of some of the city’s residents.”

Conservatives secure success on Youth Services rethink

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Conservatives on Brighton & Hove City Council have secured cross-party agreement for a report  seeking further information on the options for the future of the city’s Youth Services. At last week’s Full Council meeting, a petition was presented by young people calling on the Labour Administration to cancel its plans to cut virtually all of the funding it provides for Youth Services in the City. In addition, the Conservative Group moved an amendment calling on officers to bring an urgent report to a Committee meeting on 9th February setting out:

  • What services could be provided at a range of different funding levels if the full cut were not implemented
  • What options were considered by the Administration as alternatives to the proposed cut
  • an impact assessment of the cut and an assessment of the increased pressures on other budgets and services should the proposed cut be implemented

Group Deputy Leader, Andrew Wealls, who proposed the amendment said: “Before we, as councillors, are asked to make this potentially life-changing decision, it is vital that we have all the relevant information before us. As yet, we have not had that, and my understanding is that the decision to decimate the Youth Service budget was made by the Labour Administration over a weekend and with next to no consultation, particularly with those it will most affect. That is simply not acceptable.” Group Spokesman for Children, Young People & Skills, Vanessa Brown, added: “The young people that presented their petition explained very eloquently how these proposed cuts will affect them and others like them in the city. In support of them, I’m pleased that we have managed to bring some pressure to bear by securing this additional information and have hopefully kept the door open for the Labour Administration to have a rethink.”

Councils should be able to support local businesses – Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald

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I noted with interest the Local Government Finance Bill second reading in the House of Commons on Monday (23rd January). I was pleased to see the debate further outline some of the significant benefits that will soon be available to Councils who will be able to retain 100 per cent of their locally collected business rates from 2019/2020 along with the removal of the Revenue Support Grant. Currently councils are required councils to pay 50 per cent of business rates income to the Government. This Bill is an important step on the road towards local council’s better supporting and encouraging business and development in their areas and I applaud the Government’s incentivising approach.

As well as the main headlines surrounding the Bill there are additional proposals which could significantly benefit Brighton and Hove. These include the introduction of telecommunications infrastructure relief which seeks to incentivise companies to bring about the installation of new optical fibre broadband with the promise of 100 per cent business rates relief for five years. Being at the forefront of digital enterprise and development is a key aim of this Council in the coming years. Access to fast and reliable digital connectivity will therefore be vital, making this incentive most welcome for households and businesses in our city.

Perhaps easily dismissed but something which I always receive significant correspondence about, the Bill also seeks to provide discretionary rate relief for public toilets to reduce the costs on local authorities of maintaining these facilities. This is something which my Conservative colleagues and I in the Council will greatly welcome as it will mean that Brighton and Hove Council can give relief to their own premises, hopefully leading to fewer having to close due to funding issues.

Overall the Bill’s range of measures to cut business rates for small businesses and local amenities will do a great deal to ensure local communities in and around our city can thrive. Politics aside, all parties within the Council should be welcoming the Bill and looking to see the ways in which we can achieve the greatest benefit from it in the coming years.

This article first appeared in the Brighton & Hove Independent on 27th January

Councillors Slam Rise in Parking Fees Near i360

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Credit to Neil

COUNCILLORS have slammed the proposed increase in parking charges near the i360, warning that the city needs the attraction to succeed.

The local authority has proposed increasing fees for on street parking near to the i360 in the next financial year.

Councillor Lee Wares, Conservative, said the council was taking advantage of i360 visitors, adding: “We need it to be successful and now we have loaded it with increases.”

The attraction, which opened in the summer, is funded by a £36.2 million loan from the city council through the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB).

The council has proposed increasing on street charges in the Brunswick and Adelaide wards from £3 to £4.20 for two hours.

All four Tory councillors voted for the rates to be frozen. However, they were out-voted by the four Labour members and two Greens.

The Conservative councillors also called for business and trading parking permits and disabled bay application fees to be frozen but their amendment was thrown out by Labour and Green councillors.

It is proposed business and trader permits will increase by between 7.7 per cent and 17.6 per cent.

It is also planned to increase permits for doctors (5.3 per cent) and professional carers’ permits (4 per cent).

The Greens joined with the Conservatives to vote against a 9.1 per cent rise in disabled bay application fees.

All parking proposals will now go to the council’s policy and resources committee for a final decision.

First published in The Argus on Wednesday 18th January

City Tennis Clubs given Reassurance About the Future of Local Courts

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Tennis players in Brighton and Hove were given a reassurance about the future of 68 local courts by a senior councillor yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 17 January).

Gill Mitchell, the deputy leader of Brighton and Hove City Council, spoke in response to a petition from almost 2,000 people presented by Hove Park player Des O’Dell.

Concern has been growing after a proposal to run the courts was drawn up by a local parks league.

Mr O’Dell spoke to councillors about the petition and the future of Brighton and Hove’s tennis courts at a meeting of the council’s Environment, Transport and Sustainability Committee at Hove Town Hall.

He said: “We understand that the council is facing deep budget cuts and that difficult decisions need to be made to balance the books.

“We believe, if given the opportunity, the community will step up and help – and they’re more than willing.

“Until a few weeks ago most of the players in Hove Park were unaware of how funding cuts may affect their public courts. It seems that many other tennis users across the city were also unaware.
“We believe that for any proposal to be successful, it is vital it has to have the support of the whole community and to get that support the community needs to be engaged in the process.

“We also believe that the skills, knowledge and expertise exist within the community to come up with innovative solutions that will help everyone.

“We are not aware of any proposal being considered that currently has full community support. Without a viable proposal, courts will quickly become unsafe and will be forced to close.

“The operating model for tennis courts in 2017 remains unclear.

“We are concerned that if the council withdraws its support for booking and payments, there will be no clarity around who has the right to use public courts at certain times. Valuable revenue to support the maintenance and capital investments will be lost.

“We ask that the current system remains in place for 2017 to allow a period of summer consultation – time for the community of tennis users to come together with the council and the LTA to deliver a workable financially viable solution which maintains access to low-cost tennis facilities for all members of the community.”
Councillor Mitchell, who chairs the committee, said: “As the council’s budget reduces and as the demands on our caring services – such as children’s and adult social care and homelessness – significantly increase, this is leading to less money for services that we would like to be able to continue to provide but we don’t receive any specific ring-fenced funding for such as parks and open spaces maintenance and sport subsidy.

“The existing budget – already the second smallest in the council – is already less than adequate. And a sustainable way ahead to protect and hopefully improve these facilities for the future has to be found.

“So across a whole range of council services we are looking at doing things differently. And in terms of our decreasing ability to maintain sport subsidies, the best place to start was to talk directly to the clubs, the players and their governing bodies, giving the full financial picture for each sport including the shortfalls.

“We’ve been very honest and open about that so that everybody gets the full picture. And these discussions have been taking place for over a year.

“In relation to tennis, these discussions last month have produced an outline proposal from the Brighton and Hove tennis league that would enable greater control over the running of the courts by those who use the facilities including looking at how the retention of the revenue raised from tennis can potentially be kept by the league or by the clubs themselves.

“There are areas that need to be clarified within this proposal – and officers, the league and the Lawn Tennis Association are meeting to ensure that there is enough detail in the proposal for tennis players in the city to know what it means for them before again meeting with the tennis clubs to get their feedback on it.

“This will then be presented to councillors on this committee to decide whether it is something that can be accepted.

“This does have to be a careful and a collaborative process and is not something that can be achieved overnight.
“Officers are also exploring whether there is any opportunity to use planning gain money available for the area around Hove Park to draw in additional external funding. We have recently used this approach very successfully at the Hove Recreation Ground rugby pitches and the velodrome at Preston Park.

“It isn’t practical for officers to discuss these proposals with every single individual user of the council’s sports facilities.

“For tennis facilities, we are aiming to discuss them with representatives of all the clubs that use the facilities, any coaches booking the facilities and the sport’s governing body.

“I am aware that concerns have been raised about a club at Hove Park that was not being involved and I can assure you that they are now involved and will be invited to meetings of the city’s clubs.

“Officers and the LTA will next be meeting with the Brighton and Hove tennis league in the first week of February to review a hopefully more detailed proposal prior to sharing it with clubs.

“So this is an ongoing collaborative process. I appreciate it is difficult for us to reach out to every single player and to have individual conservations.

“But I can assure you we will do all we can to make sure that a proposal, when it is arrived at … and potentially it could come forward to councillors for approval … I will make sure that we do our utmost to ensure that all tennis players are aware of it.

“I hope that does give you some reassurance.”
Mr O’Dell said: “The parks leagues – as an organisation that would take over the management of 68 tennis courts – they have no experience of that type of model. They run a league.

“I think it’s very risky to accept that proposal.

“If you take Hove Park, for example, they represent only 25 per cent of the income that comes into Hove Park so 75 per cent of the income is not represented. There are four other clubs there.

“A lot of the clubs that play in the parks leagues are not properly constituted. They don’t have proper committees. They don’t have rules. They don’t have inclusiveness. They don’t have policies and procedures for children and equality and diversity.

“If these are the organisations that the courts are going to be passed over to, it does put the whole structure at risk.

“I’ve been speaking to people in Rottingdean who no one collects any money off to play on their courts. And they are saying, we don’t pay but we’d be more than happy to pay. We could get together with the parish council and we could look after our own court.

“There are little pockets like Patcham where people play regularly and there are good communities that could come together.

“All we are asking is to give us a period to create community hubs with each of the parks and perhaps an umbrella organisation to give out guidance to help those parks come together.

“But by adopting just the parks league proposal, it does limit the chances of success.”
Councillor Mitchell said: “Officers are meeting with a representative of Rottingdean Parish Council either this week or next in relation to the courts.”

She said that they were also meeting with a local community group too and added: “We are trying to cover all of the bases and you’ve made some very pertinent points. I hope that we can maintain the dialogue.”

Conservative councillor Tony Janio said: “I’m just pleading that the dialogue continues. I hope officers will listen not just to the official representatives.”

The committee also agreed to continue with the wider strategy for parks and open spaces.

Several councillors praised the assistant director for environmental management Richard Bradley and his colleague Ian Shurrock for a detailed report.

Conservative Lee Wares also praised the consultation – the council’s “big conversation” – about the future of parks and open spaces.

Councillor Wares added though that the 3,000 responses still represented just over 1 per cent of the local population.

He and his colleagues called for the consultation to continue as various proposals were worked up and this was agreed by all parties.

One councillor said after the meeting that this was just the start of a long process of trying to help local people to take much greater responsibility for their local parks, open spaces and sports facilities.

They would need support but the committee and the officers were trying to ensure that any changes would be sustainable.

 

First published in Brighton and Hove News on Wednesday 18th January

Lack of Funding Will Damage Parks

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Credit to Neil https://www.flickr.com/photos/neilhooting/1793622837/

THE lack of funding for parks is a “tragedy” which will irreversibly damage our green spaces, a Councillor has warned.

Councillor Louisa Greenbaum was speaking as members voted on the masterplan to run and manage Brighton and Hove City Council’s parks and green spaces over the next ten years.

However, the Green member for St Peter’s and North Laine said the council’s masterplan, called the Open Spaces Strategy, had “made the best of an unfortunate situation” and set out a good direction.

But she questioned how it had been allowed to get to this stage.

Speaking at the environment, transport and sustainability committee meeting, she said: “It is a tragedy that green spaces have faced these cuts.

“In 20 years we will look back and kick ourselves that we have let this happen. It is going to leave us with damage to our green spaces that can’t be reversed.”

The council’s plan to run parks and green spaces for the next ten years, as previewed in The Argus last week, was voted through unanimously by all parties on the committee.

The proposals were drawn up following one of the council’s most successful consultations, which saw more than 3,500 respond.

Among the measures include giving more responsibility to friends of groups to maintain parks, raising income through increased advertising and allowing residents to mow grass verges.

The council also proposes setting up a Parks Foundation to help with fundraising.

It is designed to tap into the large number of residents and visitors who use and love the city’s open spaces and the charitable nature of businesses in the city.

A similar foundation in Bournemouth raised £100,000 in its first year.

More all-weather sports pitches and natural play equipment are also planned to help reduce maintenance costs.

Councillors from all parties praised the strategy with cllr Lee Wares, Conservative for Patcham, describing it as “brilliant” and a “pleasure to read”.

However, he warned that while the more than 3,500 responded to the consultation, it still only amounted to 1.3 per cent of the population.

He therefore proposed that further views were sought from parks users on the plans before final approval was given.

His proposal was also unanimously agreed.

Among the other committee members to praise the plan was his Conservative colleague Joe Miller, for Rottingdean, who said officers should also look at getting schools to help with volunteering.

Unions have criticised the proposals as “pie-in-the-sky thinking”.

In particular the GMB has said volunteers would never be able to match the expertise of council workers, with standards of parks and green spaces inevitably falling.

First published in the Argus on Thursday 19th January

Two of Sussex’s busiest roads are in line for a clean

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/staffslive/6243752936/

TWO of Sussex’s busiest roads are in line for a clean.

Brighton and Hove City Council has announced workers will be heading along the A27 and A23 to clear rubbish.

They will be litter picking from the grass verges of both roads within the Brighton and Hove boundaries from Monday for four nights.

Cityclean staff will also be removing flytipped items from Falmer to the Southwick Tunnel along the A27 and to the two pillars on the A23.

A traffic management company will work alongside council workers to ensure their safety, closing the lane next to the verge.

The move has been praised by Conservative Councillor for Patcham Lee Wares. The council had been under pressure to act following criticism of the impression the littered verges gave to visitors to the city.

First published in the Argus on Sunday 29th January

Conservatives comment on Labour Budget plans

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Commenting on the release of the City Council Labour Administration’s Budget proposals, Conservative Group Leader Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald said: “We will study these proposals over the coming weeks but until we have the final local government finance settlement it would be wrong to comment in any detail. Particularly in light of the fact that there is still a worrying black hole in Labour’s budget of over £3 million, which indicates that they really are in a state of disarray. It is also very disappointing given that Labour don’t have a majority on the Council, that the Council Leader hasn’t once approached me, as the Opposition Leader, to ask if we can work together to try and resolve some of these difficult issues together.

Unfortunately, I think that the Labour Administration is now paying the price for blocking, with the Greens, a lot of the reforms to the Council that should have been carried out 4 or 5 years ago and which we advocated at the time. Compared to a lot of other councils, we are well behind the curve and as a consequence, Labour is having to rush through cuts to front line services without a proper coherent strategy.”

Pushing prices up will harm tourism – Cllr. Geoffrey Theobald

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Cllr Geoffrey Theobald

Much of the success of Brighton & Hove over the last few years can be attributed to its ever increasing popularity as a tourist destination, both for UK residents and foreign visitors alike. Every year over 8.5 million people visit our city contributing an estimated £780 million to the local economy. Make no mistake – tourism is big business for Brighton & Hove.

I was therefore, very disappointed to learn last week that the Labour Administration on the Council has decided, in its wisdom, to increase visitor charges at the Royal Pavilion by 10% next year. The rationale given for the rise is that the Council needs to ‘ensure that the Royal Pavilion and Museums achieve admission income targets’ in the face of falling visitor numbers to the attractions.

Well, perhaps the Labour leadership need to go back to basic economics! They clearly haven’t learnt the lessons from the introduction of a £5 charge for non-resident visitors to Brighton Museum 18 months ago which resulted in a halving of visitor numbers. I would be very surprised if the increases at the Royal Pavilion don’t have the same effect and visitor numbers drop still further.

We are always told that the reason city centre parking charges need to be so high is to act as a form of ‘rationing’ of demand. Whenever we have proposed reducing parking charges, we are lectured about how it will just fuel increased demand and make congestion even worse. Yet the same logic apparently doesn’t apply to other charges such as for the Royal Pavilion and Museum. I gather that a task group is being set up by the Administration to try and find ways of increasing the number of visitors to the Museum. I would like to make a suggestion to the task group – try reducing the charges. You might find that visitor numbers increase, enabling you to meet your income targets.

On a more positive note, I was delighted to see that work has now started on restoring one of the city’s most iconic tourist attractions, the Volks Railway, thanks to a £1.65 million Heritage Lottery Fund grant. The restoration will provide a purpose-built heritage visitor centre at the Aquarium station to tell the story of Magnus Volk; it will create a conservation workshop to protect the historic carriages, enable restoration work to be viewed, and provide training for volunteers to develop their skills; and finally it will restore and bring back to use three of the original carriages which will increase capacity on the railway.

Diggers started dismantling the Aquarium Station and car sheds last month, and both will have their foundations completely dug out in preparation for the new buildings.

The Volks Railway is very close to my heart as it is to so many of the volunteers and supporters who make such an important contribution to maintaining the railway. It is sad to see the old buildings go, particularly the remains of Magnus Volk’s station on the north side of the car sheds. However, they have been on their last legs for a number of years and this lottery money provides the perfect opportunity to give the railway a new lease of life and a boost for this important part of the Brighton and Hove seafront.

This article first appeared in the Brighton & Hove Independent of 25th November

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