Why I work for Brighton & Hove

24 09 2012

I have always loved Brighton, being raised in Eastbourne. At first I thought it was the diverse and vibrant music culture that was so appealing, but as time’s gone on I realised it is the atmosphere of tolerance and inclusion that makes Brighton & Hove such a fantastic place to be. I truly love this city and am proud & honoured to have been a candidate to represent the people on the council.

I believe we need to increase transparency and accountability on the council, and am strongly in favour of not only publically available but also publically accessible information- i.e. in formats that are useful and informative to the public. I am firmly localist and am happy to be supporting devolution of power to community groups as put forward in our manifesto.

I am very keen on promoting business development- Brighton & Hove has one of the country’s most qualified workforces, and it is on us to provide the environment that will both grow local business and encourage new ones so as to make the most of that workforce. Unemployment is a serious issue, particularly among young people, and I think we need a serious and realistic business agenda if we are to tackle it.

I believe in promoting public transport in the city (i.e. expansions of cycle lanes, more competition and incentives for buses), further incentivising & expanding our recycling programme and helping Brighton’s vibrant culture expand and improve. Our music & entertainment scene is a true asset to the city, as is the City’s unique culture of not only acceptance, but celebration of diversity. It was this culture that so drew me to live here, and I intend to work hard to see that it is valued and promoted.


Declaration vs Implementation: the importance of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act.

21 09 2012

Whilst on the surface it may appear that all laws are created equal there is a great difference in the real effects of law due in part to the separation between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. These three bodies interact in the application of law. The legislative write the law, the executive (the police) implement it and then the judiciary interpret it.

In a simple example: the introduction of a tax is a legislative function; collecting tax is an executive and administrative function; settling tax disputes is a judicial function, as is judicial review of executive decisions. What this can mean is a strong difference in the the implementation of law (the reality of law) and the declaration of law (the technicality of law).
For example, marijuana might be declaratively illegal (technically, it is illegal to possess/sell/transport and so on). However in reality, the law is not applied this way. Police amnesty and refusal to pursue criminals mean that for the common citizen, possession is unlikely to be punished.

So how does this reflect on Human Rights? The Universal Declaration of Human Rights made bold statements regarding the rights that humans are inherently due and that the committee founded to investigate the issue believed world governments should strive to provide, however in reality the impact of such a declaration is limited by the implementation of that declaration.

The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) established a legal body (the self-same court) with powers to enforce human rights transgressions with the weight of international law. The Human Rights Act went further by granting UK courts the power to deal with infractions of the ECHR within the UK legal system. It is these acts which are so very important in legislation. They are, in effect, the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.

The Evolution of Human Rights

20 09 2012

I think one of the most interesting thing about human rights is how our view of them as a people has evolved over time. Over on our facebook page we are documenting some of the key developments in the history of human rights, but this is only a snapshot of the highlights of a long and worthwhile struggle.

One of the most interesting developments for me is the slow progress from the rights of small interest groups towards universality. How small groups fighting for their own rights became larger groups until now we are humans fighting for the rights of all humanity.
From the rights of barons over the King to the rights of Englishmen, to the rights of Man and the Citizen, to the rights of women, civil rights and LBGT rights. The Universal Declaration of Human rights came after the deaths of millions across two world wars, but even those deaths pale to the millions more who came before fighting for a similar cause, just in a smaller theatre.

The history of political and philosophical thought on human rights is a long and worthy tradition that I will seek to share and document to show how our struggle now in the UK is one more step in the journey of millions to fight for and secure their rights.

I think it is all too easy to see the battle for the Human Rights Act as just more politics being played as a game in Westminster, forgetting the underlying history of the movement, but it is much more than that.  What we have here in the UK is just our small piece of a larger construct of liberty built over hundreds of years by thousands of hands.  I for one am not going to take a step backward.

Parking: the panacea antonym for Brighton & Hove

2 08 2011

At least, it is for Brighton & Hove. In general, the so-called “war on the motorist” is a complete fabrication: the cost of motor travel has grown significantly less than the costs of public transport (see here).  In larger cities though (#Brighton anyone?), there is certainly a war on parkers. Let me preface this by saying that I am strongly in favour of public transport, and, in fact, believe the best solution available to us here in Brighton & Hove is the promotion of competition in public transport (see, for example, how competition from the Big Lemon forced B&H Buses to reduce their fares).  This can best be achieved via incentivising competition e.g by providing transport subsidies to companies serving new routes (to encourage expansion) or by promoting other forms of public transport (such as expanding cycle lanes)

Neither am I opposed to paid parking in general: as you can see here, paying to park is necessary when demand outstrips supply significantly, if anyone is to ever find a space.

On the other hand, there is a detriment to the city, both to its residents, such as myself (and all other motorists), but also the wider city and its income (see: tourist tax.)  As a city earning a significant proportion of its income from tourism, I feel it is foolish in the extreme to discourage visitors from coming to Brighton.

We clearly need a review of parking and whilst the Greens are currently conducting one I feel, perhaps unfairly, that they have an equanimous view with regards to use of motor cars (e.g. their notion of introducing a city wide 20mph limit which would increase pollution as well as congestion (although 20mph zones do have  other benefits as you can see here)).

If we are to have a parking system, which we clearly need given the available road-space and population density, then we need a realistic system for handling it.  I would suggest buying out the NCP car parks so their rates can be made reasonable (perhaps scaling them down from their current rates until the purchase is covered).  Introduction of park and ride for tourists (perhaps based at the university since the bus routes from there are already in place).  Then we need to introduce an oyster card which would not only simplify our brighton-london links, our use of buses, but could be integrated with parking meters so that one pays only for the time one is parked.

This automation of parking meters could also ensure that no-one overstays their ticket (i.e. is lucky enough to miss a warden).

I will be pushing for the introduction of a Brighton & Hove extension of the oyster card, and its integration with parking meters, to be included in our next manifesto.  Let me know if you are in favour in the comments.

Admin Solutions – Printing 10 Part Dividers

30 06 2011

So I’ve decided that this blog is also a suitable avenue for sharing certain problems and solutions that I’ve encountered in my time working in administration.

This one was a particularly irritating one: 10 part dividers (such as these), generally require either writing by hand or the use of printed stickers to denote their use.  In our case we use 10 mini labels and 10 large labels (all colour printed), which are then stuck on by hand.  Whilst I inititally assumed that the major cost was in the price of labels and coloured ink, in fact in any minimum wage environment, the human resource cost makes even the price of labels seem like tuppence.

As such, I decided to investigate a way to direct print on to 10 part dividers.  The templates I found online only covered 8 part and 5 part dividers, but with a little bit of tweaking ladies and gentlemen: hey presto.

What you need:

A3 Printer
10 Part Dividers
Gareth’s 10 Tab Template (or you can design your own)

What you don’t need:

Lots of time

I’m sharing this mostly because when I googled a solution I didn’t find one.  Hopefully the next admin looking in to this problem will quickly find this solution.

GAYE: incidental charity

27 05 2011

I was very pleased to read that David Cameron is supporting the roll out of charitable donations via PAYE; I call it “Give as you earn.”  I’ve been a supporter of this idea for several years now as I find the main objection to charity isn’t the amounts involved, but the hassle (opportunity cost) of signing up.  People have money, but they don’t have time.  I am of the general opinion that instead of bewailing people’s lack of consideration for one another, they should focus on how to get the most out of people the way they already are.  People are busy, they don’t necessarily want to know, they don’t want to be stopped in the street.  But they do want to help, if it’s not too much trouble.  Some might find that cynical, but I don’t see the problem with it- there are ways of leveraging that human nature to the advantage of millions of people in need.

Equally, I’m sure that for many people, giving to charity seems like it won’t achieve much.  The Oxfam “£2/month or whatever you can” ads certainly had a strong impact on me as a child, although whether that was the awesome music is another question.  Nonetheless, it’s getting people to buy in to the idea that if we all just give a little, just a little, then on aggregate that’s a huge difference.

I would like to see by law, in every PAYE contract, a tick box granting 1% of your salary (or 0.5%) to a standard group or a rotating group of 5 star charities each month (or a given charity of your choice).   1% of net income (i.e. after tax) is, for reference, £10/month to someone earning £1000/month.  In 2010 UK GDP was £1474bn; 1% of that would be £14.7bn/year.

Charities received £52bn in 2009/2010 [source – The UK charitable sector: a snapshot, www.philanthropyuk.org], so we’re talking about increasing their income by almost 30%.  So 1% gives 30%, and all it would require is a change to employee contract law to include a tick box.

For reference, I’m already signed up to a scheme of this kind, via Bell Fundraising.  In order to run a scheme, a company needs to have an agreement with a PGA (Payroll Giving Agency), there are 3 main PGAs who all offer a similar service, CAF, Charities Trust and Charitable Giving.  If you’re reading this whether it’s as an employer or employee, I sincerely ask that you at least consider either signing on to this or a similar scheme, or emailing your colleagues and managers and asking that they do so.

This is a small change that makes a big difference, we’re talking about 1% less for you and me meaning 30% more for those in need.  As a Liberal, forcing people to give isn’t charity, it’s theft; but not including the option to give seems like indifference to the point of cruelty.

To be honest we’ll sack you

23 05 2011

I hesitate before writing this.  I don’t wish to convey, in the least, that I imagine a utopian society where lying is acceptable, encouraged or seen as inevitable.  It isn’t.  I also think we live in a society that is distinctly not a utopia.  To improve the world, you have to work with systems that are in place.  Societal norms must be used even as they are not accepted and work is done to change them.

It aggravates me to hear people complain about politicians lying to them, or if not lying, then being less than 100% honest about their views, when the merest slip of the tongue, no matter how valid, honest or accurate the opinion, will get them fired (or much flak to that effect).

I think people need to perhaps consider that it is their attitudes that, in effect force politicians to be less than wholesome with the truth.  I challenge anyone reading this to imagine a politician being totally honest and keeping their job.  To not evade a question, to give complete answers, to share both the negative and positive sides of their policies and political positions, and retain even a hope of re-election.

Would you trust a politician who lacked the sense to conceal elements of the truth given the current state of our society, the bias of the media and the unwillingness of people to do read behind the headlines?  I wouldn’t vote for someone who was so naive.  Would you?

Is it then the politicians who can’t be trusted, or we who in effect, with our vote, are asking them “please lie to us”?