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Friday, 1 July 2011

Brighton & Hove: a good case for "localism"

This is really a memo to the Green Party which now controls the city council here in Brighton & Hove (that's one city of 250,000 people and the only Green controlled one in the UK), but I'll sketch in a bit of background first.

For most of its history, Brighton has been a weekend city. It's the seaside resort nearest to London and, traditionally, was the place to which London workers headed on their days off. See Graham Greene, Brighton Rock for an introduction.

It's still a place for day trippers and still the kind of seedy place Greene described.

But it's now also a city for young people (two universities and two hundred language schools) and gay people and it's more than ever a weekend city, a party town with a vast "club scene". The economy is driven by the sale of food and drink and drugs. Ice creams, Brighton Rock and scary rides on the Pier add a topping and there are, of course, hotels or student flop houses where you can sleep it all off.

Public holidays are days on which, if it's sunny, every one who works in the service sector is needed behind the bar and the counter, on stage or providing Security at the door. These are the busiest days.

The streets are always greasy with the residues of a million cheap take aways, the police are kept busy at weekends with the effects of alcohol, and the Accident and Emergency department is much engaged pumping out drink and drug filled stomachs.

Remarkably, public services seem always to have been organised on the usual lines, following national contracts. Public sector workers are Monday to Friday people. Saturdays and Sundays are overtime days.

There is an overwhelming case for local contracts here to reflect the nature of the city. We don't need Monday to Friday workers; we need Wednesday to Sunday workers - if there have to be overtime days, then they should be Mondays and Tuesdays. Better, all public services should employ staff on a rota with Mondays and Tuesdays as days of reduced activity but not shut down.

The Town Hall, the GP surgeries, the STD clinics, emergency services including support workers, refuse collection, libraries and museums ....

If "localism" doesn't mean something like this, then it doesn't mean anything.

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