At the most recent Full Council meeting, your Labour Group of Councillors pushed for action on a range of issues including improving basic council services, tax justice, better public toilets, proper licensing of airbnbs and short term holiday lets and more.
As part of Labour’s campaign for gender equality, we also brought forward a motion calling for the Council to adopt a cross-cutting gender equality strategy, developed in consultation with women’s organisations across the city, and designed to target gender inequalities in health, safety, education, the economy and more.
For a blow-by-blow account of the meeting, see our Twitter thread from the day itself here.
Downplaying, Dismissing & U-turning: The Greens all over the place on gender equality
In the public engagement section of the meeting, local resident Bella Sankey excellently presented a deputation highlighting gender inequalities in the city, and calling for a gender equality strategy to be adopted (much like our motion later on).
The response from the Green administration to Bella’s deputation was deeply disappointing. When presented with data that showed over a third of women missed their smear tests last year, and Brighton & Hove ranking below the national average for cervical screenings year after year, Cllr Powell of the Greens decided to question the accuracy of the statistics. Why the Greens would want to downplay rather than address this serious health inequality when cervical cancer kills hundreds of women every year, we have no idea, but it was not a good look.
Furthermore, in the Greens’ response to Bella’s powerful deputation, they said outright that they would not support or adopt a gender equality strategy. Apparently left hand hadn’t spoken to right hand, because when our motion calling for a gender equality strategy was heard later in the meeting, the Greens u-turned and lent us their support. Gender inequality was raised several times throughout the meeting, and frankly, the Greens were all over the place on the subject.
A reminder of the council’s duty of care
During oral questions, your Labour Councillors held the administration to account on key issues such as seafront infrastructure maintenance, dentist services, graffiti, street litter, cost of memorial plaques and more.
We did not always receive the most constructive of answers…
Covid denial from the Tories
Moving into the main part of the meeting, next on the agenda was plans to gradually reduce some of the Covid-19 restrictions at Council meetings, whilst sensibly still keeping some in place in order to keep council staff and members of the public safe.
The Conservatives chose to speak up on this item, and present plans to scrap all Covid safety measures, and act as if Covid-19 does not now or ever did exist.
Showing a total disregard for the safety of staff and public, the Tories tried to scrap masks, LFT tests and more safety measures at council meetings, whilst UK Covid cases soared to record highs.
Fortunately, we voted down the Conservative Group’s reckless plans.
Hard work pays off with Kingsway to the Sea
Labour Councillors Carmen Appich and Chris Henry have been campaigning hard for investment and improvements in Hove, so were delighted to welcome the Kingsway to the Sea report.
This exciting project, which will create a lovely accessible linear park, with state-of-the-art planting, new sports facilities and toilets along our western sea front is fast taking shape.
Persistence has paid off it seems, well done Cllrs Appich and Henry for tirelessly campaigning for improvements on Hove seafront on behalf of local residents.
Tory/Green expenses row
Next up was the Audit & Standards report on Councillor expenses, following complaints for overclaiming childcare expenses against former Green mayor Cllr Phillips.
Labour’s chair of the Audit & Standards Committee, Cllr Gary Wilkinson, said he takes ‘allegations of misconduct, particularly in relation to taxpayers money, incredibly seriously’.
He went on; ‘We have recommended now putting in place a series of measures to better safeguard public funds and ensure any such discrepancies, from councillors from any group, do not occur again in future’.
Unfortunately, the debate descended into back-and-forth mud-slinging between the Conservatives and the Greens, with Tory councillor Anne Meadows making some particularly serious allegations about the Greens, before the Greens reminded her of previous allegations against Cllr Meadows which had led to her suspension in the past.
Labour remained focused on the facts, and finding a constructive way forward.
Labour leads march towards fair taxation
Next up, Labour brought forward a motion (seconded by the Greens) for fair taxation.
Labour’s co-leader of the opposition, Cllr John Allcock highlighted that; ‘so much of our taxes get swalled up in government waste, corruption and tax cuts for the wealthiest, it is little wonder that many of us are livid about the recent increases to national insurance’.
He went on; ‘Unfortunately, we have all seen the worrying purposeful creep towards privatisation of publicly owned services started by the Thatcher Government that has accelerated over the last 21 years of Tory rule…
‘…research commissioned by the Fair Tax Foundation has revealed that between 2014-19 a huge 17.5% of UK public procurement contracts were won by businesses with connections to a tax haven. Those contracts were worth a combined value of £37.5bn…
‘…it has been conservatively estimated that losses from multinational profit-shifting (which is just one form of tax avoidance) could be costing the UK some £17bn per annum in lost corporation tax…
‘…with the cost-of-living crisis biting, and taxes for the most vulnerable rising, let’s start by making the changes here in our Council…
‘…Labour believe that we should do what we can to encourage fair tax practices amongst supplier companies when the Council buys goods and services, and we want to be given more powers to help tackle tax dodging.’
We’re pleased the motion passed with Green support, but predictably, without Conservative backing.
Support for a year-round ice rink
Next, our sensible amendment to an independent motion made it workable, and ensured the council expressed support for a year-round ice rink if an appropriate bid comes forward for an appropriate site.
Our amendment also called on the council to give local residents the opportunity to decide upon a meantime-use for the land next to King Alfred until the site’s long term future is actioned.
This was another positive intervention by Labour, marred only by Cllr Nemeth of the Conservatives disrespecting the Town Hall Chamber by telling a blatant lie.
Moments after Cllr Robins outlined Labour’s long record of campaigning for a year-round ice rink in the city, Nemeth claimed the Conservatives were the only party to have campaigned for one. A bizarre, and false claim, and the sort of dirty tactics our politics would benefit from going without.
Improving local access to abortion services
The Greens then brought forward a motion on abortion rights, which Labour welcomed, and then strengthened with our constructive amendment.
Whilst we echoed the warm words in the Green motion, it lacked any tangible actions, which we felt were necessary.
Therefore, our amendment went further, calling on the council to work with healthcare partners to improve access to local abortion services, with Cllr Grimshaw pointing out that some residents are sent to London following the closure of some clinics.
As Cllr Grimshaw put it; ‘Having a termination is not an easy decision it should be the most supported and efficient procedure, long waits, visits to London, a complete lack of flexibility and closed clinics is not what I want to see in our city’.
She went on; ‘Our residents deserve better and our services should be a beacon of light and inspiration for others across the UK and the World. Whilst we look to the world and other areas of the UK, surely we must ensure our own house is in order as a priority to our residents’.
Our amendment also called for the full decriminalisation of abortion in the UK.
Cllr Meadows of the Tories continued her eventful evening by making a very ill-judged intervention to the debate over the abortion rights motion, calling it ‘a low moment for this council’, and suggesting the debate was not worth councillors’ time.
Nevertheless, Labour councillors were pleased to win support for amendment that called for words to be followed by actions to support women in the city access abortion services locally.
Labour calls for a Gender Equality Strategy
Cllr Clare Moonan pointed out that the gender equality gap; ‘is just not closing. In some cases, it’s widening’.
She went on; ‘The Council is not being ambitious enough or showing the leadership we might, to really cover all the broad areas where women and girls are being disadvantaged… can we say hand on heart we are doing all we can?’
‘Only by developing a systematic and comprehensive strategy, with all key partners, across all sectors (voluntary, public and private) can we hope to see some of these persistent and deeply embedded issues start to re-balance…
‘…earlier in this meeting Cllr Powell said the Green administration will not make a commitment to a Gender Equality Strategy which I find hugely disappointing. Without any strategic thinking, things will remain piecemeal.’
Once again, the Greens disappointingly decided to downplay the scale of the problem, and question the statistics. This is the latest example of the Greens seeming to take it personally if the official opposition raises an issue on behalf of residents where the council could and should be doing more. It’s a worrying attitude for the administration to adopt.
Meanwhile, Cllr Meadows of the Tories strangely used this debate to ramble on about recycling. Independent Councillor Bridget Fishleigh downplayed the scale of period poverty in the city, before offering our motion her support on the grounds of the importance of tackling period poverty. Odd interventions across the board from the other groups and councillors.
Fortunately, however, we welcomed the Greens sharp u-turn, and we won their support for our motion following a minor amendment. The Tories, predictably, showed no interest in gender equality and chose not to back our motion.
The hard work starts now, and we hope the administration will work with us and partners across the city to develop a robust gender equality strategy that will address inequalities in health, safety, education and the economy.
Greens water down Labour calls for action on Airbnbs
Labour brought forward a strong and ambitious motion on short term holiday lets and airbnbs, calling for proper licensing and regulation.
This followed recent data from The Big Issue which shows holiday-let listings are more than four times higher than the number of homes to rent in Brighton & Hove. This is obviously having a severe impact on the housing crisis our city faces.
These party houses also harm the local economy, particularly local bnbs and hotels, and even the local hospitality trade, as often visitors will bring crates of alcohol and food with them to camp out in these party houses and cause noise and disruption suffered by local residents.
Cllr Gill Williams presented our motion that sought to take action. She said; ‘The Localism Act 2011 does not prohibit local authorities to require registration. I strongly advocate that we use this power to accelerate regulation.’
We were very disappointed that the Greens watered down our motion with a wrecking amendment. They claim they don’t think we have power to do anything about these short term holiday lets (despite the provisions in the Localism Act Cllr Williams outlined), but it appears there is simply a lack of political will on their part.
If we’re serious about tackling the housing crisis, we should be taking every opportunity out there. Looking for every possible site to build more council and genuinely affordable homes. Banning second homes in new developments. Properly regulating short term lets. That’s what Labour is pushing for.
Sadly, the Green approach can simply be summed up as; lack of ambition, lack of vision, lack of will.
Labour calls for improvements to customer service and public toilets
Finally, the Labour/Green joint amendment to the Conservative motion on customer service passed.
The Tories were right to raise the issue of low resident satisfaction with basic council services (even though they picked the data out of a report they didn’t think was worth calling before the last Policy & Resources committee meeting).
They were also right to demand that residents who are unable to access digital services can receive an uninterrupted face-to-face service throughout the week.
However, that doesn’t mean scrapping hybrid working altogether as the Tories seemed to suggest, channeling Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Our amendment called for improvements to face-to-face services, and response rates to letters, calls and emails. However, we maintained that hybrid working can and should continue, so long as residents do not suffer in terms of the service they receive from the council as a result.
Next, on public toilets, our sensible amendment to the Tories’ motion was bizarrely voted down, which led to the entire motion not passing.
We highlighted the dire need for improvements to public toilets in the city, particularly on our seafront, with many being unclean or even just unopen.
We called for the administration to bring forward proposals for interim measures, including the option of portaloos if appropriate.
Sadly, reason did not win out on this occasion, and the Greens have not agreed to take any action on public toilets.
All in all, this was broadly a positive Full Council meeting, where Labour secured some big wins for residents.
We won support for a cross-cutting gender equality strategy, for fairer taxation practices, for lobbying government to regulate short term holiday lets and to improve local access to abortion services.
The low points of the meeting were the behaviour of the Tories and Cllr Meadows in particular, the Conservatives choosing not to support action on gender inequalities, and the Greens watering down our plans for regulation of airbnbs.
We will continue to push for better services for residents, and a fairer future for Brighton & Hove.