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.