Labour and Conservative leaders agreed to work with Greens where it was in the city’s interests during the recovery from the covid-19 coronavirus crisis.
Councillor Mac Cafferty took over the new administration yesterday (Thursday 23 July), just days after two Labour councillors resigned from the party, leaving the Greens the largest group.
The new council leader said that the council owed it to the 159 victims of the coronavirus in Brighton and Hove to work together in as unified a fashion as possible.
He said: “Right now, residents need a council that will focus on getting us out of the crisis. Right now, we are concerned about people’s livelihoods and their health.
“Greens come into administration when the council’s finances are the worst we have ever known them.
“Around the country, the outlook for local government has never been bleaker, with several councils now on the verge of bankruptcy.
“The pandemic comes on top of almost an entire decade of government cuts.”
Councillor Mac Cafferty spoke of the “massive hole” in the council’s budget as it continues to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds a month on personal protective equipment (PPE) at a time when it faces reduced income from council tax, business rates and parking.
The budget gap – somewhere between £17 million and £39 million this year – was “considerably more”, he said, than the savings that the council had to make during the worst year of austerity.
He said: “Most economists are now talking about a historically massive recession. The end of the government furlough scheme will have a huge impact on the city, from people becoming unemployed to businesses struggling.
“In a city that has thriving culture, hospitality and tourism sectors, we must ensure we weather the storm.”
Now was the time for a green recovery, he said, and the mass insulation of homes would create jobs, reduce toxic emissions and warm homes.
He praised Brighton and Hove’s creativity, ingenuity and flair, adding: “If there is a place that can respond to this crisis, it is Brighton and Hove.”
Councillor Mac Cafferty said that the Greens would work “cross-party” where possible, when it was in the city’s best interest to do so, to get through the challenges ahead.
The outgoing Labour council leader Nancy Platts – now leader of the official opposition – said that it had been “an honour and privilege” to lead the city she loved.
She said: “I am proud of the achievements of this Labour administration, both since 2015 and of the manifesto that we stood on in the local elections.
“Since May 2019, we have continued to prioritise building more homes, including council homes and affordable housing.
“We have set up a climate assembly to achieve our goal of becoming a carbon-neutral city by 2030, and I have enjoyed working with a cross-party group, and now advisers and experts from across the city, on this project. It is essential that this work continues.
“More recently we have helped to steer the city through an unprecedented public health crisis and focused our efforts on economic recovery, backing our local businesses and supporting our most vulnerable residents, including children, those with disabilities, older people and homeless people.
“We must never forget that during such hard times many people in our city are not interested in party political differences – they are forced to focus on the basics like keeping a roof over their head and ensuring their kids don’t go hungry.
“We must continue to support our food banks and the most disadvantaged in our society.”
Councillor Platts said that the Labour administration had worked constructively with opposition parties and would continue to work to bring the city together.
She thanked many well-wishers for their comments over the past few days as news emerged of the change in power.
Councillor Platts said: “I want to congratulate Councillor Mac Cafferty and the Green group on their new responsibilities.
“The Labour group will play our part in handing over and supporting the new administration get to grips with leading the council at such a difficult time. We also look forward to working co-operatively and constructively with you.”
Conservative group leader Steve Bell apologised to members of the public who had expected to present petitions, public questions and deputations to the council.
They would have to wait for at least two weeks to put their case to councillors because of the political upheaval.
He said: “We are seeing global crisis after global crisis, all of which we as a council are trying to work together to minimise the impact on all of us who live and call our city our home.
“As we didn’t expect the crises we now face, none of us could have foreseen that just 14 months after forming an administration, here we all are again looking to see a new administration take over the 700-plus services we as councillor all oversee and provide to you, the residents of the city.”
Councillor Bell pledged the Conservatives’ support for an agenda which is for the good and the benefit of residents and the city.
He added: “We will work tirelessly with other parties to ensure that by our positive and non-discrimination actions together, we will achieve this and see our city rise from these issues which beset us at present.
“We want to see the seal of our city proudly raised high and produce a council that is fit for purpose.”