Good morning, and welcome to the Brighton Seagull's Weekly Briefing. Congratulations to the University of Sussex on being ranked number five in the South East and number 48 nationally in The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide. Our editor is smug that her alma mater, the University of Southampton, is number two in the SE and number 17 nationally. Sorry, Sussex.
News This Week
Plans to improve private renting conditions due to be voted on this week
Proposals to consult on the introduction of two new property licensing schemes will be discussed at the Housing & New Homes Committee on 20 September.
The hope is that the schemes will improve conditions in the rapidly expanding private rented housing sector—nearly a third of households in Brighton and Hove are private rented.
Private sector licensing gives councils the ability to set conditions on property management and maintenance standards and allows enforcement action to be taken where requirements aren’t met.
There is already licensing for HMOs with more than five people across at least two households. If agreed, consultation will begin this autumn on introducing two-property licensing schemes, and a Selective Licensing Scheme for all private rented homes in certain areas.
This would allow the council to address issues such as poor management standards and poor property conditions.
The Selective Licensing scheme would initially be in four wards where evidence demonstrates a clear link between poor property conditions, deprivation and private rented homes: Kemptown, Moulsecoomb & Bevendean, Queens Park and Whitehawk & Marina.
Councillor Gill Williams, chair of the Housing & New Homes Committee, said:
Time and again we hear from residents about their poor experiences with landlords and uninterested letting agents, who fail to maintain their property and force tenants to live in sometimes disgusting, unhabitable conditions.
Tenants in the private sector often live with the fear of eviction or having their deposit withheld if they raise an issue. Many live with the uncertainty of short-term contracts or break clauses used to evict them at short notice.
We aim to raise standards in more privately rented homes in the city and help make sure that all tenants in the sector can live in safe, healthy and well-managed homes.
Consultation after two year secret conversations to give away local schools slammed by unions
A public consultation has begun to put Benfield and Hangleton Primaries under the jurisdiction of London-based Eko Multi Academy Trust, in a move that opponents say is 'out of the blue'.
This decision was made by the custodians of the schools (school governors and Emma Lake, executive head of The Orchard Partnership which encompasses the schools).
Brighton & Hove UNISON, GMB Sussex Branch and Brighton & Hove NEU say the fact that they were 'planning this in secret' for two years is 'scandalous'.
The first time the unions were made aware of the decision is on Tuesday 12th September, when Ms Lake and Rebekah Liyambo, Eko CEO, wrote to them.
The letter says that the proposed changes would see the schools join the Eko Trust from March 1st 2024, less than six months away, and that the school believes 'a partnership with them has the potential to benefit pupils and staff' of both schools.
The consultation period started the day the letter was sent, lasts for six weeks, and ends on October 23rd, with comments accepted by emailing the schools here.
They say the partnership plan 'is only being considered', with no decisions formally made, but that they do think the Eko Trust would be a 'perfect match' for the schools.
In a joint response to the letter, signed by Jo Viner, Liz Ritson, and Matt Webb, the unions said:
In those two years they could and should have been in talks with the Local Authority to address any genuine concerns they might have.
They could have spoken to us the unions who have a great track record of lobbying on behalf of our members in schools. They could have spoken with councillors . They could have spoken with their own staff, unions and the local authority which would have given them the opportunity to hear views other than that of the EKO Trust and provided governors with a more informed and balanced view.
The unions also expressed concerns that by 'refusing to engage with anyone' other than Eko, they will have been presented with a 'very narrow and prejudiced view that serves only the interest of a Multi Academy Trust', which may only be thinking about its own financial viability.
Matt Webb, education convenor at Brighton and Hove Unison, said:
Unions are concerned that the MAT may have told governors “we can fix all of your problems for you” and rather than discussing this with anyone else, questioning or challenging this, governors have naively taken their word alone for it and essentially said “lovely, well that’s agreed, before we give you the keys to the schools we need to rush through a quick box-ticking statutory public consultation”.
The unions have requested an urgent meeting with Ms Lake and the governors to air their concerns, considering this decision to be 'a direct breach of our recognition agreements' and one that shows 'an unprecedented and absolute breakdown of trust'.
They will also be meeting with staff and mobilising 'over the coming days and weeks'.
🖋 News in Brief 🖋
- According to research from claims.co.uk, Brighton is the seventh most dangerous place in the UK for drivers, in terms of being penalised, stolen from, or getting into an accident. Road accidents are actually Brightonians and Hoveites' biggest risk, with 446 happening per 100k residents—75% higher than the national average. So make of that what you will.
- Sussex Police has widened its investigation into allegations of medical negligence and cover-ups regarding 'dozens' of deaths at the Royal Sussex County Hospital. The Guardian broke the news back in June—read more here.
Dog(s) of the Week
It's just a bit of fun!
Friends of The Seagull, Geeta and Andy, are the doting parents of Augustus and Pedro, and it's for this reason that we're doing our first ever dogs of the week. Pedro is two, enjoys smooth jazz and a glass of scotch in the evening. Augustus is one, and is 'more of a walk on the beach kinda gal'.
The Big One
Community calls for Labour councillor resignation for transphobic tweets
What's happening? Labour councillor Alison Thomson has come under fire in the last week after transphobic content was seen on her Twitter feed.
Who is she? Councillor Thomson is one of the newly elected councillors from May, winning 920 votes, or 17% of the ward's vote. She beat Green candidate Ricky Perrin by one vote.
What were the posts? The content included tweets with the hashtag #transwomenareMEN, a tweet calling trans women 'males who believe they are women', and a tweet saying that trans rights would 'destroy female rights'.
Recent ones? Yes. Some of the posts, which include retweets and endorsements of controversial Australian writer Germaine Greer, were from as recently as January of this year.
Before the election. Indeed. Those criticising Thomson say she should not have been allowed to run to be councillor, and have asked how this was not picked up during the selection process.
What has she said in response? Councillor Thomson said:
I apologise unreservedly for endorsing these social media posts which contain anti-trans sentiments.
I recognise that they are offensive to the transgender community and I am deeply sorry for the hurt caused by this.
I am committed to undergoing training to better understand the lived experiences of transgender people and with the aim of becoming a good Trans ally.
What have the community said? Upset has been rife from residents, and from councillor Thomson's counterpart in Regency ward, Green councillor Chloe Goldsmith, who said the 'awful tweets' show 'an utter lack of respect for—and even disgust towards—trans people', and criticised Labour's response for not being 'strong enough'.
What was the council's response? Council leader, Bella Sankey, told The Seagull:
We know that Brighton & Hove is a beacon city for trans, non-binary, gender queer and Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual communities. People come to our city because we are known as a safe and inclusive city with a thriving diverse and intersectional population.
As your Labour Council, we stand in solidarity with our Trans, Nonbinary and intersex communities and are proud of our commitment for Trans equality and we celebrate our city’s diversity.
I want to reassure the Trans community that any expressions of anti-trans sentiment in any form will not be tolerated.
Councillor Thomson has now, rightly, apologised unreservedly for her actions. I have also taken the decision to remove Cllr Thomson from her lead role on City Centre Renewal, while further investigation is carried out and subject to her completing training.
It is not yet clear what training councillor Thomson will be undertaking.
What can I do if I'm upset about this? A petition calling for councillor Thomson to resign has been started, started by group Brighton Trans, which says her comments go against 'everything our city stands for', as well as showing upset at the Labour group's response.
They go on to say:
Brighton & Hove Labour have decided that the only action they are going to take is to remove her from a totally unconnected role and ask her to undergo ‘training’. We need to show them that this isn’t even close to being an adequate response to open hate against an entire group of people.
Let us stand together as residents of Brighton & Hove united against discrimination and demand that Cllr Alison Thomson take responsibility for her actions and step down from her position immediately.