Conservatives are optimistic government policies are working

Councillor Geoffrey Theobald is the leader of the Conservative Group
Councillor Geoffrey Theobald is the leader of the Conservative Group

The last months have seen a raft of figures that give cause for cautious optimism.

The last few months have seen a raft of figures that give cause for cautious optimism about Brighton and Hove’s future - and demonstrate that the government’s long-term economic plan and welfare reforms are working.

I would like to highlight a few of these:

Unemployment benefit claims are at their lowest level in Brighton and Hove since records began in 1992. There is now a record number of people in work;

A record number of companies were formed in Brighton and Hove last year. The influential Centre for Cities think-tank recently said Brighton and Hove is the third-best place in the country for small- and medium-size businesses to operate and that they are helping to fuel the United Kingdom’s economic recovery;

The number of empty shops in Brighton is at its lowest level since the recession and one of the lowest rates in the UK;

There has been a significant reduction in the number of council tax benefit claimants over the last year, saving council taxpayers £1.2 million;

The city’s business-rate base is growing. Thanks to the government’s new Business Rate Retention Scheme, this means more money is staying in the local economy rather than going straight to the Treasury;

The government has just agreed Growth Deal investment of £443 million with the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership, including funding for exciting regeneration schemes at two large disused brownfield sites in Brighton;

There has been significantly lower than expected expenditure on homelessness and hardship funds in Brighton and Hove in the last year;

More than 250 council homes in Brighton and Hove that were previously under-occupied - for example, single people living in three-bedroom houses - have been freed up for local families to move into since the government abolished the Spare Room Subsidy.

While we obviously cannot be complacent, these are all very promising signs that the economic recovery is taking hold here on the south coast.

The Labour Party’s predictions of Armageddon about the government’s economic policies and welfare reforms have proven to be nothing more than scaremongering and I urge them to now get behind the city’s businesses and residents rather than constantly talking the economy down.

While the government is getting on with creating new jobs and helping to get people off welfare benefits, all the local Labour Party can offer is a year-long talking shop – or “Fairness Commission” - to “tackle poverty and inequality” in the city. No doubt many forests-worth of paper will be sacrificed to arrive at the momentous conclusion that the way to address ingrained poverty is to get people off welfare dependency and into work.

Brighton and Hove is an incredibly-popular and vibrant city where creativity and entrepreneurship abound. Clearly, difficult challenges still lie ahead, not least addressing the chronic shortage of housing in the city, which must be a top priority in the coming years. But with the continuing positive economic news and £420 million of government funding secured for a new state-of-the-art hospital, we have every reason to be optimistic and positive about the future of our city.

Geoffrey Theobald is leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and Hove City Council. This is part of a series of articles by leading figures in all parties in the run-up to the local and parliamentary elections on May 7 2015.