Dear Jason, Warren and Geoffrey

untitled (60)My open letter to the leaders of the three Political Parties with Councillors on Brighton & Hove Council. This follows on from “The Big Debate” which took place last night at the Metropole Hotel, organised by the Brighton Independent.

Dear Jason, Warren and Geoffrey

Last nights meeting was a great opportunity for you to listen to some of those who will be electors in May 2015, but perhaps just as importantly, people who care enough about the city to turn out on a cold February night in Brighton. Amongst the members of your own parties in the Regency Room were a significant number of people without any strong political affiliation. Along with criticism from some questioners and political broadcasting from each of you, came some valuable ideas and comments which must have been gold-dust to you and your fellow Councillors. I would be fascinated to know if any of you took away any of this valuable commodity from the evening?

I know that a significant number of questions or comments last night were on the theme of encouraging you all to work together. In part this reflects the fact that for three successive elections, we the electors have chosen a minority administration. Such outcomes demand different ways of working and working together is a big part of this. It presents a dilemma to each of you bearing in mind the recent vote of no confidence in the Green Party. That would suggest that amongst the people who spoke on this topic and several who didn’t we believe you have got things wrong and it is time to stop your posturing. I appreciate from speaking to each of you (or at least engaging via twitter) that you don’t always realise when you are posturing. However there are many people who I have spoken to who can see this for what it is and this would be a good time to be in listening mode. Sadly this closed ear syndrome (not a recognised illness) extends to many within your parties too!

At the outset of the meeting Jason referred to the impact of cuts to come over the next decade. This was no doubt uncomfortable for Warren and Geoffrey due to your allegiance to the national parties, but this is exactly the message I am hearing outside of the city from other Council Leaders of all Parties and senior officers. Irrespective of which party is elected in the General election in 2015 the current level of cuts will need to go much deeper. If our city is going to deal with this impending challenge we will all need to change our behaviour and expectations and you will each need to reconsider the way in which you express your political ideologies. My suggestion at the meeting that all three of your parties commit to work together to use Participatory Budgeting was not just because of the value this can have to sharpen up or even challenge the decisions you plan to make, but also because of the value it gives to those who participate in the process. I am not arguing for a bit of tinkering around the edges, but something that would allow us as residents to help you to reimagine what public services could look like with miniscule budgets. Sadly apart from Jason who pointed out that PB was easier to implement when budgets are growing than when cuts are being enforced, there was no take up of my idea. However I know from the feedback I received that others do support this approach.

So how about it Jason, Warren and Geoffrey. After the meeting someone kindly sent me this link to a website dedicated to PB. I share it with each of you for your own consideration. Done well, PB should empower residents, and this changes the relationship with our elected representatives. It will enable local Councillors to show leadership in the process of budgeting for the city and show them sharing the power which is ours in any event. Done badly and it will be no more than a paper exercise. However more of what we are all used to is not going to resolve matters which are evident to many of us. I look forward to your responses.

Best wishes


About ianchisnall

I am passionate about the need for public policies to be made accessible to everyone, especially those who want to improve the wellbeing of their communities. I am particularly interested in issues related to crime and policing as well as health services and strategic planning.
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9 Responses to Dear Jason, Warren and Geoffrey

  1. Tony Graham says:

    Dear Ian : I hoped to be there but wasn’t -and have just read your blog. I appreciate that your comments focus on cooperation (& “Participatory Budgeting”) for the longer term. It would be interesting to know where you stand in the immediate circumstances of this year’s Budget. Do you favour a Referendum as proposed by the Greens?

    • ianchisnall says:

      Hi Tony, To answer your question I am happy to point to a previous blog which explains my perspective when I first heard about the possible referendum. Since then the suggestion that the cost may be as much as £900,000 has been made. It clearly makes a difference if the cost of the process is 35% of the money generated compared to 10% which was the estimate when I wrote previously. However my view persists that there should not be this barrier put up by Central Government and our votes for a Local Council should determine what we get including the Council Tax decision, just as our Parliamentary Votes determine whether we go to war. As a Democrat I believe we must accept these outcomes as unpalatable as they might be. That said I don’t relish the idea of a Referendum and would clearly prefer a solution that delivers effective public services for a Council Tax that is affordable (whatever that means!). However we cannot expect anyone to pour a Quart out of a Pint Pot!

      • Tony Graham says:

        Many thanks, Ian. I read the post you pointed to – and agree with the fundamental point you make there (and above) I understood that the choice of the Euro elections date was a necessary way of minimising the cost, should a Referendum go ahead. For there to be such hugely varying estimates of the cost of a Referendum on that date seems … strange. I’d assume that an accurate and unbiased calculation by CouncilOfficers would have to be confirmed urgently. Thank you for your time, TonyGraham.

  2. Davy Jones says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post, Ian. I have to declare an interest immediately as I am standing for the Green Party at the 2015 General Election in Brighton Kemptown. My feeling is that there is clearly an “anti-Tory” majority in the City. At the 2010 elections, the vote split almost three ways between the Greens, Labour & Tories, with the Greens & Labour taking almost two thirds between them. The Greens suggested a coalition with Labour but they rejected it. Most progressive electors in the City do not understand why the Greens & Labour do not work together on the Council. I do not see how either could realistically work with the Tories, whose government nationally is doing so much to destroy local government services and local democracy too in the process. But, despite their many differences, I believe Labour should seriously consider working with the Greens – I know many of their supporters and voters expect them to.

    On Participatory Budgeting, again I have to declare an interest in that I have been a passionate advocate of PB for more than 10 years. I organised the first national conference in the UK on PB in 2003 when working at the Audit Commission. I was the Chair of the national PB Network until last month, and I have worked hard with local communities and the Council to get PB off the ground locally. There have been PB pilots now in Moulsecoomb and in Whitehawk over the last two years, and another round is in preparation now. I would certainly be happy to work with yourself and all parties (as PB cuts right across political boundaries – nearby Adur Council is in its fifth year now of running PB!) to help promote and develop PB further locally.

    • ianchisnall says:

      Hi Davy, I think there are two questions. Would PB be effective on a city wide basis? and would the Greens as the lead party be willing to open up the budget to residents in a manner that meant sharing power with citizens?

      • Davy Jones says:

        1) In principle yes. PB has been used city-wide in other places (notably Latin American cities like Porto Alegre). But it requires a significant investment of time and resources. In such places they have a whole dedicated team of staff to work on it. I would argue that is worthwhile but some politicians, on recent evidence (!), would no doubt denounce it as a waste of money, saying this is what councillors were elected to do. I disagree. I don;t think any councillors from any political party (including the Greens) envisaged quite this scale of dramatic cuts to local government budgets. And citizens do want a say on these issues: polls show this consistently – all the bigger shame that two of the three parties locally have opposed the Referendum. The national PB network is keen to work with councils to develop a UK-wide approach to using PB for the overall budget or at least for significant chunks of it.

        2) I cannot speak for the Council ! I would be for it, and I know most Green councillors instinctively support greater devolution of power to citizens. How easy this would be in the current local political climate is an issue for discussion. This is citizens’ money after all – why on earth should they not have a serious say on how it is spent?

      • ianchisnall says:

        The comments about PB are very encouraging, sadly the comments about the local politics are very discouraging (although not unexpected)

  3. Andy Silsby says:

    HI Ian,
    Long time no see so hope you are ok? Just an update about PB. We have been supporting one of the Neighbourhood Pilots covering Whitehawk, Manor Farm and the Bristol Estate where we have utilised PB methods to distribute funding in the form of grants to local organisations successfully. Since the end of the pilot we have assisted residents to form Charitable Incorporated Organisation to continue this resident led initiative under the name of DueEast. Currently there is another round of PB allocation for Communities First funding and we are working with a member of the National PB network to see how the principles can be best utilised to engage the wider community in deciding on issues of community concern and prioritising the ongoing work of the Neighbourhood Council. Fully endorse the concept of PB and happy to discuss further its implication in neighbourhood decision making.
    Andy Silsby
    Serendipity Enterprising Solutions CIC

    • ianchisnall says:

      Hi Andy, I’m ok, thanks for reading the Blog. I knew about the PB on small budgets and local neighbourhoods. The question in my head is could it open up City wide budgeting?

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