Great news from the Hangleton & Knoll Project, our partners on We Live Here a while back, and a fantastic community organisation: they’ve only gone and won the Prime Minister’s Big Society Award! Very well deserved recognition.
This post is from Simon Bannister at the Hilly Laine blog.
A few weeks ago, the East Brighton By-Election was announced, with voting to take place on October 18th. The various contending parties swung into action with more or less vigour, and set about trying to persuade the local voters of their respective merits.
Being something taking place in just one ward rather than the whole city, by-elections can be quite discrete affairs, with those outside of the immediate area not really touched by events until the announcement of the winner. In traditional fashion, the discussion initially took place on the doorstep in the ward and through party leaflets stuffed through letterboxes. In these connected and interactive times though, the East Brighton discussion quickly spilled over onto twitter and a wider audience. With most tweets being about what was claimed on leaflets by one party or another, and being an interested sort, I set out on what I expected to be a fairly swift web search to find copies of leaflets under dissection so that I would know what everyone was on about. Seeing a chance to combine this search with the answer to an increasingly non urgent question ‘what is the point of Pinterest?‘, I logged on and set up a board.
Visiting the websites of the parties involved was a fairly obvious first step, but a scour of the Green, Labour , and LibDem local sites didn’t come up with anything. There were no leaflets on the ukip local site at the start of the search, but this has since been rectified. Equally nothing on the TUSC local site, but a wander around their Facebook pages did eventually find their pitch.
The first election leaflet collected was a rather crumpled conservative copy – this had been placed on a blog by a Green Party supporter. The next found was the Green leaflet – from the site of a Labour member. Both these sites include pretty critical commentary by political opponents. If these were my leaflets, I wouldn’t want the only place on the internet to find them to be such hostile territory.
After a couple of tweets, a Labour member supplied a copy of theirs, commenting that he thought this stuff should all be online anyway, and UKIP directed me to a site which held theirs. A couple of enquiries were directed to the LibDem candidate, but no leaflet forthcoming.
So – unless any of the contesting parties have any updates they would like to submit – I suppose that’s as far as it goes. Liking a challenge, I will probably do this again – perhaps for the Police & Crime Commissioner elections which are the next democracy moment locally.
The interesting thing about this exercise has been the way that local parties – presumably proud of their policies and candidates – seem reluctant to present their promises and statements to the wider audience, although the internet provides a virtually zero cost platform for this material. Considering all the effort which goes into making a campaign, running the risk of material being found only in a hostile environment seems on the face of it, a bit daft.
So – a gift to democracy. East Brighton leaflets presented as found without judgement or comment. And finally a use for Pinterest.
This great post on neighbourhood councils comes from Emma Daniel, from CVSF Brighton & Hove. She’s been watching the progress of the Council’s neighbourhood governance agenda from the perspective of the local voluntary sector.
Reminder – What are Neighbourhood Councils?
They are a mechanism whereby budgets and decision making are devolved from Local Authorities to a geographical area. There are areas of traditionally Council led work which has been identified by many sources nationally as appropriate for Neighbourhood control:
- Environmental spending: eg. Parks
- Leisure spending: eg. Libraries, pools
These areas of decision making and spend perhaps lend themselves most easily to a geographical decision making structure where the ‘users’ or to put it another way, those most affected by the decision take the decision. The CLG produced this report in 2006 on Exemplars of Neighbourhood Governance for further reading.
Planning decisions: The Localism Act sets out the ability for areas to set up Neighbourhood Forums which can develop a plan for their area in relation to physical/ building developments. This is worth noting as a possible role for devolved governance.
Brighton & Hove City Council has been consulting on this approach very widely between Autumn 2011 and May 2012 using many techniques and methods to get people’s views on this new programme.
What did consultation responses say & what is the council going to do?
- People who were consulted through various methods were largely positive about having greater control at neighbourhood level, they overwhelmingly voted in favour of ‘self-defined’ neighbourhoods as a preference for the pilots. The second preference was for ward based activity, we could speculate whether these responses largely came from areas where their sense of neighbourhood matched their ward boundaries but the data doesn’t show whether this is or is not the care.
AGREED AT CABINET: 2 pilots, one which is neighbourhood based which is Whitehawk and one which is ward based which is Hollingdean & Stanmer. The reason for including a ward based pilot is to be able to ‘contrast’ the pilots.
- The clear top three issues/ services that people wanted neighbourhood level control of were: Community centres or buildings; parking, and; parks and open spaces. There is no indication of what budgets or services will be prioritised for neighbourhood governance.
- The key barriers for involvement were identified by consultees as timing of meetings and free time to participate. The overwhelming preference was for questionnaires to involve people in decision making but local meetings was also very popular. The report states an appetite for using social media which isn’t a conclusion that is easily drawn from the data sets in the consultation summary. Email was marginally a preferred mechanism for communications of the social media tools. We that work in the community sector realise that digital services and communication methods are a key tool that we need to increasingly use to deliver services both because of efficiency and engaging a wider audience but respondents were not showing enthusiasm for this method.
AGREED at Cabinet: The pilots should make significant use of social media tools to engage people in the pilot projects and, that the ‘We Live Here’ project tools and support may help with this.
- The focus groups were particularly concerned about the equalities engagement with these structures. They felt that marginalised groups may not be heard through this model.
AGREED at Cabinet: There are several recommendations to meet this concern and it will be an aspect of the pilots which is monitored and reviewed very closely.
So what did our position statement say and how did our members experience count?
We said: Build on existing foundations: A lot of capacity and expertise exists especially in areas which have benefited from community development.
Yes – This approach will make use of a community development methodology as well as council approaches (presumably tenant/ resident structures and participation) and will use Community Development Support and the We Live Here project as further support.
We said: One size does not & should not fit all! The type of geographical boundary and levels of devolution should be the choice of the community within practical boundaries. The geographical boundary might also be dictated by the issue in question e.g. a green space or leisure facility that straddles two neighbourhoods. One solution could be to develop a self-assessment questionnaire and tiered options. Balancing choice and pragmatism.
Yes – The pilots are based on the premise of different approaches fit for different areas. One will be ward based and one will be neighbourhood based.
We said: Invest in skills, capacity and support and make this offer clear to areas interested in applying to be a neighbourhood council. This should include clarity on financial resourcing – an idea of how much financial support there would be for Neighbourhood Councils, and roughly how much budget it might be possible to devolve.
Yes – The Community Development Commission will be used in part to support this approach along with a Brighton & Hove City Council budget of £175k over two years.
You may or may not know that Sussex will be electing its first Police and Crime Commissioner on 15 November. This is what they’ll do.
Scrapper Duncan has interviewed the three leading candidates in Sussex – some very in-depth questioning of each of them. Here they are:
Worth a read before November.
The Full Council debated marriage equality the other night. The Labour party had put down a declaration supporting equal marriage rights for gay and lesbian people, which was supported by the leaderships of both Conservative and Green parties.
The only vote against came from Cllr Christina Summers (Green, Hollingdean & Stanmer), who made a speech (which will shortly be available on the Council’s webcasts page) opposing equal marriage, and then voted against it. She was the only councillor to do so, and the fact that she was a Green caused a lot of anger and confusion on Twitter.
Was it right for her to vote with her conscience (she is a committed Christian) against the party line? Here are two views of what should happen next, extracted by longer posts from Scrapper Duncan and the anonymous Brighton Politics Blogger.
Scrapper Duncan first:
Summers has not made any attempt to explain her vote to the wider Green Party membership. Immediately that the news broke, a tidal wave of anger was unleashed inside the party. I’ve called for her swift expulsion and a public apology. Plenty of others have agreed with that view. Although a few voices have expressed the desire to give her space to defend herself (something which a disciplinary process will give her anyway), no-one has defended her position. There have even been calls for her immediate suspension, pending the resolution of the inevitable disciplinary process. It is inconceivable that she will be allowed to remain in our party.
And here’s the Brighton Politics Blogger:
I fundamentally disagree with the position that councillor Summers takes on the issue. At the same time I think that should any action be taken against her would be wrong, even discriminatory on the grounds of religion and gender.
When selected to stand in Hollingdean and Stanmer, Christina Summers made no secret of her religious affiliations. At the time she was a member of the Calvary Church in Viaduct Road, a church with a social conscience but with clear views regarding homosexuality, abortion and the headship of men (views which I find repugnant). While I don’t know whether and how much councillor Summers subscribes to these views, it should come as no surprise to anyone if she did. In a political party like the Greens, it is rather perverse to now say she now cannot obey her conscience. To take action against her now would alienate the Greens from many Christians.
No judgement on this from me here – it’s a difficult case of conflicting values and politics, and we stay as neutral as possible on issues that involve party politics. It’s one to watch though – we’ll share more as we know it on Twitter and Facebook, and here as well.
News from the Argus today that John Barradell, the Council’s Chief Executive, is leaving to take on the robed splendour of Town Clerk to the Corporation of London, a truly historic role in fascinating bit of local government. I couldn’t let the news pass without a brief personal post, since John and I were briefly colleagues at the Council and, particularly with CityCamp and We Live Here, we’ve had joint projects running over the past three years.
Heading back up the A23 (at least for work) is a good move for him, and I hope it goes well, but I’ve seen from Twitter this afternoon that a lot of people in the city will be sorry to see him go, as will I. He’s always been a great supporter of participation events like CityCamp and the Open Data Cities conference, and his time in post has seen the council’s administration open up on social media and improve their online presence (for which credit should also go to head of comms John Shewell and his colleagues).
Brighton & Hove is known across the country as an innovative council (“more pilots than Gatwick” I was told, repeatedly, when I started working there), but that’s partly because it’s home is an innovative city, and the city demands an innovative approach in its services.
I hope that the panel of councillors who choose the next Chief Executive will find someone who can carry on working with what Alan McCarthy used to call the “grain of the city” – continuing the push for openness, bringing our civic innovators and public services closer together, and – particularly important – involving people still more in decisions about their place.
When Anthony asked if I could read the Brighton and Hove City Plan my heart sank slightly and even more when I saw it, as it is 200 pages long, with lots of supplementary documents.
And yes, I have not read the whole document from cover to cover, but what I have read is very interesting. It is not highly technical, it is about the place that I live in and care about and proposes redevelopment of some of the less attractive parts of my neighbourhood.
There are plans for so many areas of the city which I use: the seafront, the city centre, the Marina, Lewes Road, London Road. (the full list of ‘development’ and ‘special’ areas are listed below). It also deals with a number of important issues for the city such as providing more housing and jobs, improving public spaces and transport, and a permanent site for travellers.
We are lucky to be bounded by the sea and the Downs and these beautiful natural features do give a lot of character to the City but it also limits expansion. There is a plan to build more than 11,000 new homes as well as more schools and GP surgeries. There are also citywide themes for the City which cover areas such transport, employment, public places and a health.
This is a consultation document which is the overall plan for the city to 2030 and the next month is the last chance to change anything, so it needs us to provide feedback. We are going to discuss ideas on how we can get people involved in the plan at the CityCamp meetup tonight (7pm, Hove Kitchen), and we’ll be posting more here on the Demsoc blog on Friday.
- Brighton Centre and Churchill Square Area
- Brighton Marina, Gas Works and Black Rock Area
- Lewes Road Area
- New England Quarter and London Road Area
- Eastern Road and Edward Street Area
- Hove Station Area
- Toad’s Hole Valley
- Shoreham Harbour
- The Seafront
- Central Brighton
- Valley Gardens
- Urban Fringe
- The South Downs
- Sustainable Neighbourhoods
Final question before the State of the City Event:
Does the panel consider that the existing communication between the business community and the council is adequate, and if not, how could it be improved.
There are plenty more I haven’t posted, and I’m sure some of them will come up from the floor of the event.
Join us here, and on Twitter, from 6 o’clock for our information and evidence around the topics being discussed, and if you aren’t there in person, follow Brighton Chamber’s Twitter account for a live account of what’s going on.