Seagull Weekly Briefing 04/12

Council issues finance warning, home with solar panels adorning, Home Office UAS housing legally unconforming and more.

Seagull Weekly Briefing 04/12
Source: The Brighton Seagull 

Good morning, and welcome to the Brighton Seagull's Weekly Briefing. It's mad cold, innit? Team Seagull has had to break out the winter duvets, hats and gloves. The real secret to winter success, though: electric handwarmers. Cheap, rechargable, can keep your pockets and hands warm—they're magic. Good present for someone in your life who's always a bit chilly, too. Now: the news.

News This Week

Two Labour councillors suspended pending investigation

Source: Brighton & Hove City Council

The Seagull broke the news last week that councillor Bharti Gajjar, councillor for Kemptown, and councillor Chandni Mistry, councillor for Queen's Park, have been suspended from the Labour Party.

The councillors were both newly elected in May. Councillor Gajjar was elected with 26% of the vote, alongside councillor Gary Wilkinson. Councillor Mistry was elected with 29% of the vote, alongside councillor Tristram Burden.

Since the discovery of the suspension, Brighton & Hove News have revealed that Cllr Gajjar was sacked from a previous job for fraud, and they might both live not in Brighton, but in Leicester.

Brighton & Hove Labour Chief Whip, Cllr Amanda Grimshaw, said:

Pending the outcome of an investigation by the Labour Party, Cllr Gajjar and Cllr Mistry have been removed from their positions on outside bodies, committees and lead member roles until the investigation is complete. They are also currently not permitted to attend Labour Group meetings.

As of yet, there is no confirmation as to why the councillors were suspended, or when we can expect to hear the result of the investigation. The Seagull will update this story with any developments as and when we receive them. We have reached out to both councillors for comment.

Home Office housing children in hotels was 'unlawful'

The High Court ruled on Tuesday last week that the Home Office action in relation to unaccompanied asylum seeking (UAS) children was unlawful when it chose to place them in hotels rather than into local authority care across the country through the statutory National Transfer Scheme.

In the judgement, the court found that the National Transfer Scheme, by which UAS children are transferred into the care of a local authority, was operating unlawfully until July 2023, when the court first ruled the use of hotels to be unlawful.

In future, the National Transfer Scheme will need to ensure that it will operate in a way that stops the use of hotels to accommodate UAS children.

Brighton & Hove City Council provided evidence in the claim which demonstrated that the funding local authorities currently receive for UAS children is inadequate and relies on local authorities making up the deficit of what is needed from their already overstretched council budgets.

Councillor Bella Sankey, council leader, said:

These judgments from the High Court bring this miserable chapter in the treatment of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children to an end, locally and nationally.

I am relieved that as a result of these judgments the Secretary of State can no longer resort to the routine use of hotels for unaccompanied children.

I’m proud that Brighton & Hove City Council brought this ground-breaking legal case and has continued to hold the Home Office to account.

It’s an enormous achievement and marks a significant step change in how these extremely vulnerable children are treated in this country.

Upcoming changes to city's Pride celebrations

Source: The Brighton Seagull 

A report to the council's Culture, Heritage, Sport, Tourism & Economic Development Committee this week sees proposals outlined for the city's Pride celebrations, from 2025 to 2028.

Brighton and Hove Pride (BPCIC) are proposing a new vision for the Fabuloso In The Park, the festival at Preston Park which runs across Pride weekend.

From 2025, it's proposed that events at Preston Park will take place across two weekends, starting at the end of July and finishing the first full weekend in August.

The traditional Pride celebrations, including the parade and Kemptown Village Party, will still take place in the first weekend of August.

But why the additional weekend? According to BPCIC, it's 'a mechanism to reduce financial risk'. It won't be a part of the City Pride celebrations, and will be independently branded and promoted, but will create an additional revenue stream.

BPCIC also plans to explore 'a local programme of midweek community activities and events for everyone in the city, including shows, comedy nights and more. It is hoped that 'greater utilisation' of the park during Pride will lessen the impact on local residents.

There are also plans for Pride Village Party, which has taken place in St James's Street for the last decade, to be reviewed. A review from the council of this year's celebrations found that 'more work is needed with partners in the coming year to explore options that improve the experience and safety' for everyone.

Changes include moving the box office from Victoria Gardens to closer to the site, with a further review coming next year to assess the event further. This will include a review of the wristband scheme. Watch this space!

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🖋 News in Brief 🖋

  • If you are concerned about someone who is rough sleeping, contact Streetlink with the details and the information will be passed on to an outreach worker. You can also support local charities helping people who are rough sleeping by making a donation to the Make Change Count page on the Just Giving website.
  • This month, work will start to install solar panels on approximately 800 council houses across the city, to help with the cost of living crisis and to reduce carbon emissions. The council estimates that tenants could save up to £250 a year on their electricity bill, and the equivalent of 0.5 tonnes carbon dioxide per year.
  • Two car parks will be cheaper from today until January 31st 2024. Chapel Street will be £6 for four hours, and £9 for nine hours. London Road will be £7 for four hours and £11 for nine hours.
  • New pothole just dropped! Local resident Xavier Voigt-Hill spotted this pothole on Gloucester Street, saying:
I saw it on my birthday and it ruined the day. While we were looking at the pothole, there was a car very concernedly looking at us. This must not be allowed on one of Brighton's top 1000 busiest roads. I could put my whole foot in there, and my foot is quite big, a size 12 or something. It's not as bad as the ones opposite Boots where you can clearly tell that the buses have made a groove, but sort it out, local councillors!
If you have a story for Seagull, please get in touch with our editor at [email protected].

The Big One

Source: The Brighton Seagull

What's happening? The council has issued a warning regarding its finances, saying that they're in an 'extremely perilous' state.

Why is that? Bella Sankey, council leader, says the local government settlement in the Autumn Statement falls 'disastrously short’ of meeting 'huge inflationary costs', and increasing demands on services.

How much has it fallen short? Across the last 13 years, in real terms, the council's budget has been cut by £120 million, they say.

What is the council's budget gap? £31 million for next year's budget. The government’s Autumn Statement has provided no new funding from what was previously announced in 2022, despite a period of very high inflation and growing demands for council services and homelessness support.

What does this mean going forward? Although the council says it is doing everything it can to reduce inequality and tackle poverty and homelessness during the current cost of living crisis, the shortfall in funding will mean 'extremely difficult decisions' being taken to protect essential services. The council will have to look at the services it provides and decide which is a priority and which isn't.

What is being done? Councillor Sankey wrote to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, saying:

There was absolutely nothing in the Autumn Statement to provide relief for this council or local authorities who have faced a decade of heartless central government austerity or any real-world financial help for struggling families.

Even the Government’s own Household Support Fund, which allowed the council to give extra help to households in Brighton and Hove struggling to pay for food, energy and other essential costs, is being cut.

She said demand for services increasing, especially in adult social care, SEND children, and homelessness.

What have councils in other positions done? Many other councils have issued a ‘Section 114 Notice’, effectively declaring themselves bankrupt. The council say they are not in this position yet.

What has councillor Sankey said? She said:

I want to reassure all of our residents we are doing everything we can to make service improvements while balancing the council’s budget, which is a legal requirement.

We’ve had a staff vacancy freeze at the council for most of the year, worked quickly with officers to find in-year savings this year and have been working on budgets and savings for next year.

The disastrous Autumn Statement means that we now have even tougher decisions ahead but must find ways of reorganising the council to ensure we are at the very least providing basic and essential services.

To put it bluntly, the less money we have the less services we can provide.
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