City devolution is not the right devolution model

This week we’ve seen the Chancellor pushing ahead with his idea to devolved limited powers to cities across the UK in an attempt to help what he calls the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ (coming from the north, this is not a term I am familiar with).

But I don’t understand how it can be a successful long term solution. It will just create a mess of devolved powers to some areas but not others when you consider the rules that go alongside it. You’ll have to agree to an elected mayor and large parts of the country – many smaller town and rural areas – won’t get the powers. I dread to think where we could be in 5 years if these powers start to be granted to individual cities.

We also need a serious think about what these powers will be. We currently have Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, London and the rest of England with different sets of powers to each other. This will make small parts of England have yet another different set of powers which differs from the rest of England – a right mess. The question the Government also wants to address about ‘English votes for English laws’ sounds an easy question to sort out at first, until you realise the situation we’re in mean could me any combination of MPs might be allowed to vote any issue, depending on the law. We don’t want to make that even more complex to resolve.

So things really need to change and need a big change. Politicians need to stop meddling with a small change here, a few extra powers there need serious debate and be properly thought out to give decent powers to regions right across the country. It needs to be a decision making process which includes everyone, not just the Chancellor and a few local council leaders. It is also one discussion across the country – what happens to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not separate to what happens in England. It is exactly the same, where the exact same decisions should be made right across the country to bring consistency and simplicity.

I was pleased to hear calls today by Gareth Thomas MP that London should become a so called ‘city state’ as he announced his intention to run to be Labour candidate for London mayor. I don’t know much about the specifics of the powers he was calling for, but the general idea is the exact same thing we need for Scotland, for Yorkshire or for the other regions – powerful regions with less power held centrally in Westminster.

It’s essential if parts of the country to fulfill their potential, and not just the few areas we see now. We need more people stand out and call for this for their region and for the whole country. It doesn’t matter where we live, we need devolved power to help our regions. Yet, as no one in Westminster wants to help, we need to fight for it more than ever.

I’ve previously laid out some ideas for how region parliaments and devolved powers could work, including doing alongside merging two-tier local councils in to one, so we don’t create too many layers of government. I’m sure I’ll expand on these ideas at some point soon.

Tories to keep records of your phone and internet use

Almost as soon as she was re-appointed David Cameron’s Home Secretary, Teresa May had brought her so called ‘Snoopers charter’ back on to the agenda, after dropping it back in 2013.

The powers will increase online surveillance by requiring records on everyone’s browsing activity, social media use, emails, phone calls and text messages to be kept by phone and internet companies for up to a year so they can be accessed at any time by the police and security services.

It’s easy to argue for such powers with lines like “if you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear”. But it’s just another way for Government to monitor our lives and encroach on our privacy and comes just days after US courts ruled the NSA unlawfully collected huge amounts of data on phone calls in the US.

Many groups have previously been out spoken against these new powers, including the human rights group Privacy International and the Open Rights Group.

The Liberal Democrats also opposed these powers, forcing the Conservatives to previously drop the proposals. How they are back in Government on their own, they have wasted no time preparing to bring them in again.

We need to protect our privacy and not let these powers be introduced. We need to call on the Labour party and others in Parliament to oppose these proposals and ensure they do not happen.

Media links




New boundaries will help Tories stay in power for decades

The Telegraph yesterday openly admitted, based on comments from senior Tories, that the Conservative Government will aim to quickly approve new Parliamentary boundaries that will significantly benefit the Tories. This would be done by splitting areas of opposition support and merging them in to Conservative strongholds or by creating what would be considered even safer seats for any party, which would be unlikely to ever change hands.

In blatant attempt at gerrymandering (the act of changing political boundaries for political advantage) the Tories hope to hold on to power for decades, even if they lose a significant proportion of their support.

The plans were put forward in the last Parliament, but were widely criticised outside of Parliament, opposed by Labour and eventually completely blocked by the Lib Dems. This prevented them taking effect by the 2015 election.

Election experts, as quoted in the Telegraph article, suggest the Conservatives would have won a larger majority in the 2015 election if these boundaries were used.

I’m not saying our current boundaries and electoral system are perfect, but these changes move us in the wrong direction – leading to election results that are even less proportional than we have now and making it more likely that an individuals vote does not count due to the increase in safe seats. These issues are before we even mention the attempt at gerrymandering.

We need to oppose these changes and try to block them at every chance we get.

The real danger of voting Green

Unless you live in Brighton Pavilion a vote for Green this time around is not going to result in a Green MP. You might think it’s harmless to vote Green and will simply support a smaller party who may one day in the future, either through increased support or change in the electoral system, have more representation in Westminster.

However, we’re also in one of the closest fought elections we’ve ever seen in the UK. Labour and the Conservatives are neck and neck in the polls. And despite what many people still try and say, there is a very real difference in the direction these two parties want to take the country.

It’s for this very reason a vote for the Green party in many constituencies is a real danger to the direction the country is about to go down.

I’ve been looking at the ‘nowcast’ results published by YouGov on the current estimated results if the election were held now. The results suggest Labour will be the largest party with 276 seats and the Conservatives just behind on 272. But around 50 seats are too close to call meaning all is to play for. Just 3 seats going differently could make the Conservatives the largest party with the biggest mandate to govern.

So where does the Green danger come from? It makes the chance of a Conservative victory much greater. I looked in detail at those seats which YouGov is saying are ‘too close to call’ which have Labour in second place and those which Labour won in 2010, but are not on course to win now. Surprisingly there are 24 seats which the combined Green and Labour support, if all went to Labour would move Labour in to first place.

This would see Labour win extra seats in England, Scotland and Wales than what is currently expected – not just from the Conservatives, but from UKIP, Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Plaid Cymru.

Overall, it would make the YouGov ‘nowcast’ suggest Labour would get 300 seats to the Conservatives 258.

While around 50 seats would still be too close the call, it makes the likelihood of a Labour victory [and a direction of the country more pleasing to the Green voters] significantly more possible.

I’m making an assumption here, that if it were a choice between a Labour-lead and a Conservative-lead government, the vast majority of Green voters would choose Labour (if you disagree, please find me Green voters who would prefer the promises made by the Tories). I’m also assuming votes for other parties would remain the same.

But I find it interesting to see how different this election could be playing out. We have a choice this Thursday on whether we help elect a Labour-lead government or help elect a Conservative-lead government. Which do you want more? If it’s a Labour-lead Government, a vote for the Greens is only going to hinder that – so please use your vote wisely.

The constituencies where a Green vote could cost Labour a seat and lead to a Tory Government

  • Aberdeen North
  • Arfon
  • Calder Valley
  • Cambridge
  • Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire
  • Cleethorpes
  • Colne Valley
  • Dudley South
  • East Lothian
  • Edinburgh North and Leith
  • Edinburgh South
  • Finchley and Golders Green
  • Glenrothes
  • Gloucester
  • Great Yarmouth
  • High Peak
  • Lanark and Hamilton East
  • Norwich North
  • Rossendale and Darwen
  • Rugby
  • Sheffield Hallam
  • Thurrock
  • Warwick and Leamington
  • Worcester

I would urge anyone considering voting Green in any of these seats to instead vote Labour to keep the Tories out.

What about Brighton Pavilion?

The only place the Greens really have a chance – what should you do? Plenty of people say to vote Green here. But I’m calling on people to vote Labour. As the election is so close we cannot afford to give the Conservatives a way in. If we find the Conservatives have a majority of seats on Friday, then they have the mandate to form Government. One Green MP does not help given Labour a mandate. But one more Labour seat takes them one more step ahead of the Tories. If you vote Green in Pavilion on Thursday and they win, what will you think if the Tories pull ahead by one seat? It’s not a risk worth taking.

Greens and UKIP working together in Brighton Pavilion?

Got home today in Brighton to find a leaflet stuffed in my letterbox. “Exciting” I thought. “Who’s been delivering things today?”

I pulled it out and look, it was the Green:


I turned it over and saw UKIP:


Very confused. One side was Green, the other UKIP!


It turned out there were two leaflets, but they had been delivered together.

Is this a sign that the Greens and UKIP have joined forces in Brighton to deliver each others election material? Or that neither party is bothered enough about winning my vote that they pay a company to deliver their leaflets rather than make the effort to come to my house themselves?


Here’s our own efforts last week to take leaflets to people’s homes in Patcham ward of Brighton Pavilion:

Electoral reforms and devolved powers – changes we need to see from 2015

Many people are talking about the changes we need to our elections and elected institutions, from House of Lords reform to devolved region powers. Here I’ve set out my top 10 headline changes we should see that would lead more accountability, decentralisation of power from London and a fairer system which works for the people. They aren’t necessarily perfect and need more detail to make then work, but the are a starting point for what I want to see happen.

1. Created devolved regional Parliaments for English regions, with equivalent powers as the Scottish Parliament to decentralise power away from London.

2. Hold a referendum in some parts of the country to decide which region they fall in to, as some people may dispute which region the belong to.

3. Scrap the two tiers of local councils in the areas with two, moving powers to the remaining council or the regional Parliament.

4. Reduce the number of seats in Westminster by around a quarter to a third, to acknowledge the lower work load and reduced responsibility, with a similar reduction in the size of Government.

5. For devolved powers, eg education, the relevant central Government secretary would become a facilitator for cooperation and coordination across the regional Governments.

6. Set strict limits on the numbers of special advisers the Government can appoint, with lower limits on how much they can be paid and restrictions on the roll they play to ensure the power is kept with elected officials.

7. Scrap police and crime commissioner elections and change back to previous system.

8. Scrap hereditary peers and party political appointments to the Lord.

9. Have elected party political Lords from each region in a form of PR election and supplement with appointed ‘crossbench’ experts in various fields decided by an independent panel.

10. Introduce a right to recall elected officials if enough of the electorate call for it and hold a new election.

Brighton and Hove council election 2015 predictions

Labour are on course to become the largest party on Brighton and Hove City Council, based on my latest predictions, winning 24 seats – an increase of 11 from 2011. But they will fail to reach an overall majority, continuing the trend of there being no overall control of the council since the last boundary changes were first contested in 2003. It would also mark the first time Labour has been the largest party since the 2003 election, with the Conservatives being the largest after 2007 and the Greens after 2011.

The overall predictions for the 54 Councillors across 21 wards are:

Labour 24 (+11)
Conservative 18 (0)
Green 12 (-11)

Liberal Democrats are not expected to regain any seats, given their decimation in national polls. While UKIP will fail to make enough of mark locally to win any seats.

The overall change above hides a wider change in the city, with Conservatives set to gain seats from the Greens, but also lose some to Labour. So let’s have a look at some specific wards.

The Greens are expected to hang on to the central wards of Brunswick and Adelaide, St Peter’s and North Laine and Regency. This has long been their area of ‘core’ support and should remain so. Even though Regency has recently been represented by unpopular council leader Jason Kitcat, his departure is expected to be enough to keep the ward Green.

To the east of the city, expect no changes in the Conservative strong holds of Rottingdean Coastal and Woodingdean. While Labour should easily retain all the seats in the ward of East Brighton, returning Labour group leader Warren Morgan.

Queens Park will see the Greens fall back – completely handing the ward back to Labour as Green support there shows it’s temporary nature. However in Hanover and Elm Grove the march forward of Labour seen in the 2013 by-election will be halted as the historic Green support holds up, boosted slightly by the student population in this area – splitting the seats 2 to the Greens and 1 to Labour.

A similar picture will be seen in other former Green strong holds of Goldsmid and Preston Park as the Greens slightly drop back. The former seeing the seats split 2 to Labour 1 to the Green and the latter 1 to Labour and 2 to the Green.

Interestingly Hollingdean and Stanmer and Mouslecoomb and Bevandean should both go with Labour, depsite covering both the University of Sussex and University of Brighton. The Greens are expected to do well nationally among students, but given the new individual voter registration has made it harder for students in university halls to get on the electoral role, with Brighton being particularly hit (losing over 12,000 voters from the electoral register at the last count), the student vote shouldn’t make the results here favour the Greens.

Patcham, Westdean and Hove Park should remain with the Conservatives, but perhaps with a closer race with Labour than recently seen and Green support there shifts to Labour. Conservative Group leader Geoffrey Theobald should there be safe and win in Patcham ward.

Along the Hove seafront we should see smaller swings towards Labour from the Green. Not enough the change the results in Westbourne, where the Conservatives will hold on to both seats. But in Central Hove it allows the Conservatives to gain a seat winning both. While in Wish the advancement of Labour seen in 2011 will continue as they gain a seat from thre Conservatives to win both in this ward.

Hangleton and Knoll is often a split ward with both Labour and Conservatives win seats. This should happen again, though with a gain of seat for Labour so they hold 2 seats to the Conservatives one.

Finally in the west of the city, we can expect no change in North Portslade and South Portslade, Labour retaining all 6 seats in these wards. Though we can expect to see the strongest UKIP gains here, but still only enough for them to come behind both Labour and the Conservatives.

It’s still nearly three months to the election in May, so a lot could change before then but what is likely is a decline in the Greens across the city due to their unpopularity in control of the council, despite the national rise in support. But a total wipe out of the Green that some have hoped for is unlikely, in part due to the popularity of the Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas keeping enough Green support in that constituency. Overall this should see the Greens fall back to third place on the council and let Labour gain enough seats jump above the Conservatives and form a minority administration.

Summary of results

Ward Labour Conservative Green
Seats Change Seats Change Seats Change
Burnswick and Adelaide 2
Central Hove 2 +1 -1
East Brighton 3
Goldsmid 2 +2 1 -2
Hangleton and Knoll 2 +1 1 -1
Hanover and Elm Grove 1 +1 2 -1
Hollingdean and Stanmer 3 +2 -2
Hove Park 2
Mouslecoomb and Bevendean 3
North Portslade 2
Patcham 3
Preston Park 1 +1 2 -1
Queens Park 3 +3 -3
Recency 2
Rottingdean Costal 3
South Portslade 2
St Peter’s and North Laine 3
Westbourne 2
Wish 2 +1 -1
Withdean 3 +1 -1
Woodingdean 2

Housing benefits and private landlords

This article highlights a major problem with housing benefit (from The Mirror, Sunday 26th Jan 2014).

Landlords set high rents, which force people to need Government help to afford to live anywhere big enough for their family. Landlords take the money, spending almost nothing on the property, letting it decline. People live in horrendous conditions, unable to afford to move, while landlord makes a healthy profit from the tax payer.

Of course, not all landlords are like this, but far, far too many are…the stories keep coming out to prove it, like this. So, want to cut housing benefit costs? Tackle the problem of crazily high rents. Want to improve the quality of housing? Force landlords to keep their properties in livable condition. This is a bit of an over-simplification of the problem and solution, but demonstrates where the problems do lie.

Brighton bin strikes: totally avoidable and affordable?

Brighton is in the middle of a week-long strike, with further action set to happen just three days after the first. Our bins aren’t being emptied and as each day goes on, our streets are getting worse and being classed as a health hazard.

This was the screen just three days in to the strike action:

The strike by refuse and recycling staff is over a restructure of Brighton and Hove City Council workers pay and allowances, where some face cuts of up to £4000 a year. A lot is being said about the strike, but true facts are hard to come by making it hard to make a fair assessment. So here I’ve done some stats hunting to see how many people are affected by the restructure, how much it would save us and how affordable it is.

The council itself tells us there are around 8,000 council workers. Green council leader, Jason Kitcat said on his blog back in May that:

The majority of staff, about 90%, will see little or no change to their total pay, and of those affected more will gain than see detriment.

So we estimate that around 800 people will see a significant change in their pay and allowances and are told more than half off these will ‘gain’. We can therefore set an upper bound on the number of people who will lose out at no more than 400. The implication from Cllr Kitcat’s blog is that the true figure is likely lower. Keep this in mind as we continue.

We’re also told in the blog that:

Anyone who is unfortunately suffering detriment will be generously compensated for that loss with a lump sump payment. For example someone losing between £1,001 and £1,250 a year is proposed to receive £3,550 in one-off compensation.

So not all of the 400 people will see a loss of £4000. But for purposes of over estimating the cost to the city of not implementing the restructure let’s assume they do. This means the cost to the city will be no more than £1.6 million.

But can we get a better estimate? Let’s look again a Cllr Kitcat’s blog. He tells us that:

Most of those seeing detriment will, it is estimated, lose less than £25 per week.

This equates to about £1300 a year. ‘Most’ also implies a least half of these losing out will lose out by no more that this. So again, to over estimate the cost to the city, we’ll assume half of the 400 people lose out by £1300 and the other half lose out by the full £4000. This gives us a total ‘cost’ of £1,060,000 a year.

What does this mean for the city? Again from the same blog post, we see the city spends about £180 million a year on employees pay. Our £1 million cost from not making the changes is therefore just increasing the wage bill by 0.6%. On the cities total budget of around £700 million, it’s just 0.15%. We can see it’s a very small amount we’re arguing over.

Now, I know plenty will argue that £1 million is still a lot of money and you can’t just find it from nowhere, even if it’s just 0.15% of what you spend. But let’s put it in to context of a recent new story.

It was reported last Friday that the council underspent by £4.6 million on it’s 2012/13 budget – 0.65% of the whole £700 million budget. If we saw £1 million of this surpless used to off set the pay and allowance cuts, we’s still see an under sending of £3.6 million this year. Of if we used this over the next few years, we could afford to keep pay at the same levels until at least summer 2017!

We should also consider the ‘compensation’ being offered to people facing cuts. I quoted earlier from Cllr Kitcat’s blog that people losing between £1001 and £1250 will be compensated with a £3550 lump sum. We can assume that people losing out by less or more might be similarly compensated – getting a lump sum of at least 3550/1250 = 2.84 times what they are losing. This would equate to a compensation package cost of over £3 million. If we weren’t paying it now, it’s enough to extend current pay levels even further – to at least summer 2020.

I don’t think anyone is arguing we shouldn’t be sorting out complicated pay and allowance structures and making a “fair, consistent and transparent” system. What the staff are arguing about is the unfair hardship caused for some of them by unnecessary, and for many, extremely large pay and allowance cuts. This, after they’ve already faced three years of pay freezes.

What the public are angry about is having to face dirty and smelly streets from an avoidable situation. The Green-lead Council, with Jason kitcat a the head need to wake up and sort this issue out and get their priorities right. We can avoid these strikes without any cost to the city. We need to do it now before we further damage this city’s reputation and tourism industry, on which it relies so much.

Yet the Greens would rather hike our city centre parking charges. In the last year these increases (to as much as £20 a time if you want park near the sea for more than 4 hours) have been responsible for loss of nearly £1 million in expected parking revenue – almost as much as the cost of not making the pay structure changes.

Then there’s the £1.5million wasted on bringing in the 20mph zone that most don’t want, motorists are ignoring and police won’t enforce. Again, this money could have been better spent on avoiding these pay cuts, with some left over to even increase it for the lowest paid.

Everything is quite literally such a mess here in Brighton and cost wise, so avoidable. Jason Kitcat and the rest of the Greens need to wake up and see the problems they are causing by wasting money and hurting the people who work in this city. It’s highly damaging and not at all acceptable. People won’t stand for this much longer.


I’ll finish with a little disclaimer that all this is based on the figures I’ve been able to find. I’ve been cautious in the calculations, always trying to set bounds at the extremes which work against my arguments. If you have or more accurate stats, let me know – I’m happy to re-do this with better data to build up a more accurate picture.

A tour of TSR

Back in February we moved in to new offices at The Student Room. We left behind our brick walls, wooden floors and exposed pipes at The Grain Store and moved in to what could have been a more basic office right by Brighton station.

But some awesome work by a whole group of people made the new office something special. Taking the theme of Brighon Pier, some special touches were made to transform a basic box in to one amazing work space. We got wooden boards to walk on from the real Brighton pier as they replacement, named and styled the meeting rooms after attractions you’d find on a pier and added character by introducing our new branding to various parts of the office. To top it all office, we didn’t just get a kitchen – instead we got a whole ‘bar’ area.

Want to take a look for yourselves but can’t make it to Brighton? We had the Google guys in a few weeks ago to photograph our office. Now you can take a 3D tour of our office like you can the street you live with the image below. Enjoy!

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