One of my personal highlights of the CIH conference was the chance to meet Cllr Bill Randall.
Bill is the current leader of Brighton and Hove City Council – the first Green Party representative in the UK to become a council leader.
Under his leadership, Brighton has introduced a succession of reforms to position itself as one of the most progressive local authorities in these islands. In just one year, the Brighton Greens’ list of achievements would be the envy of many administrations approaching the end of their term.
Just a few examples are:
- 499 council houses transferred to a non-profit organisation with the ability to borrow for improvements, bringing 180 unoccupied homes back into use
- An ethical lettings agency established to provide assurance of quality housing in the private rented sector
- 15 new council houses designed in cooperation with a tenants’ committee, with further sites identified to help people in under-occupied homes downsize without leaving their communities
- Tenant scrutiny organisations and housing consultative committees established to increase accountability of landlords in all sectors
- 15-day turnaround on council housing that becomes vacant
- Plans put in place for a city banking partnership to free vulnerable groups from loan sharks and payday lenders
- Living wage commission set up, resulting in a pay increase for the lowest paid council employees and to campaign for fair pay for all in Brighton
Bill’s story is an inspiration to all Greens. A former Independent correspondent – and previously author of Jackie magazine’s ‘Teen Scene’ column – he was elected as the first Green councillor in Brighton in 1993.
The party’s rise since then has been meteoric. It took just 18 years from that breakthrough to become the dominant grouping on the council, win one of the city’s three seats in Parliament and hold – and retain – one of South East England’s seats in the European Parliament.
As so often, the Greens will be doing it the hard way in Brighton. Unlike other parties, members are not whipped to vote with the leadership, but have to be persuaded of each policy on its merits. Year two will be even tougher after unholy alliance of Conservative and Labour councillors blocked a proposed council tax increase that would have helped sustain services despite cuts in funds from central government.
But nobody joins the Green Party in search of an easy route to the top. We join because it is the right thing to do, because we believe in what the party stands for. The Brighton experience shows that, with hard work, the public will give us a fair hearing – and that once Greens get into power, they make a genuine, positive difference to communities.
My place at the conference was paid for by the Greater Village Regeneration Trust