LGBT hustings, Queen’s Hotel, Brighton, Tuesday 21st April 2015

This hustings was for council candidates, with the panel comprised of three incumbent Brighton & Hove councillors and one Lib Dem challenger. The panel were: Phélim MacCafferty, Green, Brunswick & Adelaide Warren Morgan, Labour, East Brighton Geoffrey Theobald, Conservative, Patcham Paul Chandler, Liberal Democrats, East Brighton.

As with the parliamentary LGBT hustings, the event was chaired by Chris Gull of the Community Safety Forum. Chris is also chair of the Rainbow Fund, which covered the cost of hosting the event. The format was also the same, with candidates’ answers limited to two minutes each (with a warning bell after 90 seconds) and the speaking order determined by drawing lots.

Opening statements

Paul Chandler is a Liberal Democrat, 65 years old, casting 29th and 30th votes on 7th May and has always voted Liberal / Lib Dem, and never for a successful candidate outside of the European elections. He is standing for both a seat on the Brighton & Hove council and as a parliamentary candidate in Brighton Kemptown. He says he’s fed up with pre-election pledges and that voters should decide based on long-term party ethos.

Phélim MacCafferty says that Green councillors have been ‘working relentlessly’ to deliver ‘meaningful and lasting equality’. Amongst other achievements, Stonewall recognised the council as best in the country for tackling homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools in 2014.

Warren Morgan is head of the Labour councillors and ‘proud to be leading Labour’ into the local council elections. If Labour achieve an overall majority on the council, he would form a safety committee. He also raises the need to address mental health issues, work towards cleaner streets and tackle bad landlords.

Geoffrey Theobald gives his thanks for the invitation and says the Conservative Party are proud to have led the coalition government that introduced equal marriage. There is a ‘strong council commitment’ for LGBT support and he backs both the Pride parade and Allsorts Youth project, which was spared from cuts.

Q&A section

The trans community has expectations of continuing work; how do you expect to deliver this?

Warren Morgan says the scrutiny budget on the council has been cut and there is a need to protect this in the next council. Phélim MacCafferty says ‘I get where the question is coming from’ and that there have been ‘myopic, unfair cuts’. He would prioritise housing and health; the trans community have identified access to health as their biggest issue. Paul Chandler points out he’s at a slight disadvantage as there are currently no Lib Dem councillors in the city, but we know there will be further cuts needed in the next council no matter who wins on 7th May. Priorities will have to be chosen but LGBT facilities have his full support. Geoffrey Theobald says there have been lots of recommendations following reviews and consultations commissioned by the council, and the findings need to be implemented.

Brighton & Hove is enriched with diverse communities, yet there is little contact between them all. How do we create social cohesion?

Phélim MacCafferty is in complete agreement with the questioner and says LGBT, BAME (black, Asian & minority ethnic), disabilities groups etc. all tend to meet separately. The council has maintained Equality Impact Assessments and Phélim concludes ‘there has to be much more work together’. Geoffrey Theobald says it’s a difficult question and one that he is not sure how to answer. The Conservative manifesto provides provisions for groups such as the visually impaired and those on the autistic spectrum. Warren Morgan says he is struck by increasing division across the city and the rise of poverty is worrying. A Labour council would devolve more power to neighbourhoods and establish a Fairness Commission. Paul Chandler says ‘diversity is not the first thing that springs to mind looking at this panel’ (all-white, all-male) and that greater representation of the whole community is needed in politics.

Hate crime is still a daily issue and trust in the council and police is low. How would you counter this?

Warren Morgan believes there has been a vast improvement over the past 20 years but he is worried police cuts will endanger this. Labour would abolish the post of Police & Crime Commissioner, and use the money to protect local police from further cuts. ‘If one person isn’t safe walking on our streets, no one is safe.’ Paul Chandler says that the police have been making efforts but progress is slow and there is no room for complacency. Geoffrey Theobald defends the post of Police & Crime Commissioner, saying that Katy Bourne (Sussex PCC) has been doing a great job, including tackling hate crime and domestic violence. Phélim MacCafferty says the Safe in the City initiative and the LGBT unit within the police are intended to counter this. There has been an increase in hate crimes, although this is in part because the way in which crimes are reported has changed.

What are the challenges for smaller HIV and LGBT groups, and how will you help them?

Phélim MacCafferty acknowledges that groups offering services and engagement with the community are under threat of cuts. Greens are committed to working with them and have pledged to do so in their manifesto. Paul Chandler says that ‘small charities are very, very effective’. They are good value for money and he hopes they would get favourable treatment from the local authority. Warren Morgan says he’s looking at moving to a commissioning model rather than a grants model for the community and voluntary sector. Geoffrey Theobald is pleased and surprised to hear that Warren is considering a commissioning model. He reads from page 19 of the Conservative manifesto which says the party will ‘work with small groups’ to protect grants and funding where possible.

We need a mechanism for the council to be able to help small groups and there have been previous failures from all parties to deliver on this promise. Would you commit to a needs assessment of the LGBT community?

Warren Morgan says ‘yes’ and leaves it at that. Geoffrey Theobald says the council doesn’t always do things best; some areas are best left to voluntary and independent sectors. Yes in response to the question. Paul Chandler says he will certainly commit to the needs assessment. Phélim MacCafferty says ‘I think we would’ but he can’t ‘make policy on the hoof’. What is certain is that the cuts will get worse and we need to ‘stand up for each other and fight for each other’.

How would you address the need for 1) a gender identity clinic and 2) a central point of referral for the whole LGBT community?

Paul Chandler sees the clinic as ‘a real winner for Brighton’ and would support it. He thinks the idea of a one-stop referral is ’eminently sensible’. Geoffrey Theobald says that Simon Kirby will work to bring the clinic forward and he’s support it. Warren Morgan says that Angela Eagle is launching a Labour LGBT manifesto which will include a section on gender clinics. There is an advice hub already in place and he would like to see more linking together. Phélim MacCafferty picks up on the same point that Caroline Lucas made the week before: if you attend the Charing Cross clinic you face a long wait and high cost of travel. There are also 80% delays in medical transitioning and a high proportion face negative comments in public spaces while waiting for further treatment. This means the gender identity clinic is ‘more important than it ever has been’. The idea of centralising services should be discussed in the future.

Homelessness is increasingly urgent. How can we work towards a quick resolution?

Warren Morgan says the level of homelessness in Brighton & Hove is ‘an absolute scandal’. The Labour manifesto doesn’t go far enough and he wants to push for zero homeless by 2020. A Labour council would also put in place a champion for mental health and ensure more low-cost housing was available. Geoffrey Theobald remarks that people sleeping in doorways is ‘just not appropriate’ (I promise, he really phrased it like that) and something we need to resolve. He would continue to work with Off the Fence and similar groups. Phélim MacCafferty says high rents are driving up homelessness and this is an outrage for the sixth richest country in the world. Welfare reforms are pernicious. There is a fear amongst young LGBT that coming out to their parents could result in having to with nowhere to go. Paul Chandler agrees that this is a real issue; he works at the Citizens Advice Bureau and has had members of the LGBT community seek advice after being thrown out of the family home. Rents in Brighton are very high and we need a long-term solution that includes reforms in the private sector. Mental health amongst the homeless is also an important issue and the Lib Dems have committed to getting mental health treatments on par with physical health.

What is your position on Pride continuing to receive a cash grant from the council?

Warren Morgan says it’s been provisionally agreed that the funding of £20k will be tailed off gradually as the success of Pride continues to grow. He adds ‘we value the street parade hugely’ and makes clear the council will provide continued support through road closures and clear-ups. Paul Chandler attended Pride for the first time last year and it was a wonderful day. It’s an ‘internationally renowned’ event and it would be a tragedy if it was to cease. (He implies but doesn’t state he’d back a cash grant if it proved necessary to the continuation of the event.) Geoffrey Theobald deals with an implication that the Brighton Festival gets preferential treatment by explaining its cash grant in part goes towards the upkeep of buildings such as the Dome and Cor Exchange, which the council no longer directly funds. The Pride parade is his wife’s favourite event of the year and he’s always backed it. Phélim MacCafferty points out there are different elements to Pride. The park events & parade may need two different approaches and longer-term thoughts. He has doubts about a fully private model and thinks it would need careful preparation.

Would the panel be happy to support inclusive marking and logo displays for trans-friendly businesses?

Warren Morgan says it sounds like a good idea and the trans community need more visibility. Geoffrey Theobald says ‘same as Warren’. Paul Chandler also agrees it’s a very good idea. Phélim MacCafferty says the trans community isn’t currently reflected and he’d love to see the trans equivalent of the rainbow motif (which is the pink triangle) being taken up and displayed.

How would you improve access for LGBT disabled and elderly people, particularly in Kemptown?

Phélim MacCafferty shares his experience of being blindfolded and walking the streets for an hour in order to replicate the experience of a blind person and says it was terrifying. There are lots of older and disabled people in our city, and their needs are carefully considered in all new planning permission discussions. The Green manifesto is committed to improving access. Geoffrey Theobald says he only appreciated the difficulties during recovery for a hip replacement. The council has invested in dipped curbs to cross the roads but some buildings are difficult to alter for disabled access. Paul Chandler says we must keep trying to make things better and it would help if people would stop cycling on the pavement. He would like to hear more about the specific difficulties faced in Kemptown. Warren Morgan adds that Brighton & Hove isn’t naturally fit for modern needs. We can use smart technology to make new buildings more accessible, including the new King Alfred Leisure Centre.

What would you seek to protect from the next round of cuts?

Paul Chandler is asked to answer first and says he really needs more time to consider the question, but we know the cuts are coming and the Lib Dems have chosen to protect against rises in council tax. Phélim MacCafferty puts the figure at around £86 million for further cuts. He sits on the board of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and there are ‘some real horror stories’ amongst the financially vulnerable so he would prioritise that. Geoffrey Theobald says that lots of services are already either protected or have their budgets passed down by central government. Warren Morgan says ‘no child chooses to be born into poverty’ and tackling that would be his priority.

Conclusions

It was another very civilized and well-chaired hustings, with Chris intervening in a couple of occasions where the panel over-ran their answers or threatened to start sniping at each other in the manner of BBC Question Time. Warren and Phélim seemed confident in their answers, Paul considered everything carefully, and Theobald answered some immediately and others haltingly, with his content a little out of touch in places. Phélim handed out the relevant section of the local Green manifesto at the end of the hustings, and it was good from my point of view to see a candidate for my own ward and the leader of one of the council groups at the same event. As ever, apologies for any errors or omissions in this report. I really should learn shorthand so that I can make more thorough notes at these events!

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