I’m New Here – What’s It Like Being a First Time Councillor?
Our work as a trusted community energy co-operative means that we are very closely aligned with Brighton and Hove City Council.
Whether we’re partnering on fuel poverty schemes like the SHINE Project or developing renewable energy projects for local schools and community centres, BHESCo is in regular communication with local Councillors and have developed many close relationships over the years.
Following the recent local elections of 2nd May 2019, we wanted to catch up with one of the 21 new Councillors who are representing the city for the first time.
We are very thankful to Martin Osborne, Councillor for Hollingdean and Stanmer ward, for giving up his valuable time to share with us his aspirations and expectations for his first term as a city Councillor.
When did you decide that you wanted to become a Councillor?
I got interested in politics following the financial crisis of 2008. There seemed to be so many problems and things seemed going in the wrong direction. It felt like a radical change was needed.
I promised myself that whatever I decided to do in life it would be to make an impact for the good of other people. I want to look back and feel that I made a positive difference, whether that’s by increasing accessibility, supporting older residents, or reducing climate damaging emissions.
When it came to standing for Council, I had been involved in local campaigns and felt like I was able to create real change to solve some of society’s problems.
I think that very often change won’t happen at a national level until Governments can see successful examples of things happening locally. By joining up the dots of transport, housing, infrastructure, etc, local councils can find sustainable solutions that can in turn make national Governments more receptive to change and help to drive policy thinking.
What lessons did you learn from the campaign?
That you need to be good at publicity. Magid Magid (Mayor of Sheffield and MEP for Yorkshire and Humber) is a great example of someone who found a niche and delivered his message brilliantly through social media.
I also found that political engagement is low. Its very important to build capacity long term, you can’t do it all at the last minute.
There is always more to do, and you need to work hard, but the hard work pays off.
What do you hope to achieve as Councillor over the next four years?
As part of the Housing and New Homes Committee I’ll be working closely with other Councillors to identify ways to make better use of the city’s housing stock. We need better lodging schemes, better compliance from landlords, and all homes need to be retrofitted with insulation and solar panels.
The Government recently declared a state of climate emergency, and there should be policy legislation to say that every house in the UK must have an EPC.
All Council houses need to have an EPC rating so these can be analysed ward by ward. We can then see which wards have the worst EPC scores and take action to make improvements. We could do the same for the private rented sector.
I want to commission a report into how much it would cost per house to retrofit the current stock of private rental properties. Only once you understand the scale of the problem can you start to deal with it.
What are the biggest challenges you expect to face over the next four years?
The cuts are going to keep coming, austerity is not going to end. The Council budget will be reduced by £30-40 million pounds in the next few years up until 2022.
This means that services will continue to be squeezed even more and many are currently operating at a bare bones minimum as it is. There are already a few councils around the country who have reached their debt deficit spending ceiling and I expect that soon there will be more.
Ultimately the cuts could result in job losses at the Council which may mean less officers available to complete the vital work thats needs to be done.
In a time of austerity there will inevitably be a lot of competing demands for the very limited resources available – what do you prioritise?
The Council recently declared a climate emergency- what does this mean and what can we expect?
The resolution was unanimously passed and commits the city to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 (20 years earlier than the goals recently set by the UK Government).
The Council will be launching a ten year action plan soon, which will begin from the budget next year. This will detail how we can find the money to do what we want to do in terms of housing, social welfare, and environment.
This is a great opportunity for the current Council to get a long term plan in place to address the issue of climate change.
We want to have a citizens assembly about the climate emergency where we will invite groups from across the city to contribute suggestions on how best we can solve the climate crisis.
Brighton and Hove is a hotbed of innovative social enterprise. How can the Council support these businesses to thrive?
We want to strengthen the Council’s sustainable procurement plan, which decides which businesses are selected to deliver certain services.
We want to embed more sustainable and more ethical procurement practices within the Council. So for example, we could favour organisations that use electric vehicles or generate their own renewable energy on site.
I would love to see a lead on the Council for local enterprise, someone to support and promote the activities of social enterprises and to encourage local residents to go to their events and buy their products.
The sustainability agenda can become an overarching agenda for all work across the Council.