Several parts of the press have suggested that by becoming leader of the city council last week I have taken on a poisoned chalice. Others have suggested that I must be a glutton for punishment.
To be fair I can partially see their point, but I view this as a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference to the lives of those with whom I share the city.
Within a few minutes of becoming leader of the council, I was receiving reports about issues and problems the city was experiencing. Over the last week I have attended many briefings where our challenges have been laid bare, and the great ideas, enthusiasm and proposals of our officers, colleagues and partners have been put forward.
However I met my greatest challenge last Sunday. Speaking to a range of residents on the doorstep, I was able to use the line “I’m Daniel Yates, I am the leader of the city council and I’d like to know if you have any problems with the city council’s services?” Surprisingly many residents told me that there was nothing major that affected their lives currently – or at least they couldn’t think of anything on the spur of the moment. However for some residents my approach was met with a large smile and a chance for them to explain where things weren’t perfect and what issues – small or large – were affecting them.
I’ve already started working on these concerns and, like the items I picked up on that first night, we as a council need to be prepared to accept that we can and should do better. Some of the problems are long term issues which we are already working on and trying to help solve – issues around anti-social behaviour, drug use and better traffic management for example. Several of the issues were smaller specific problems that I’ve asked officers to address. However even these often bring to light problems with the way the council tackles minor issues. I hope that we can learn from these in the future and build better systems, so that when someone has a minor issue it doesn’t become a major problem due to our own internal processes.
Interestingly, when talking to businesses, community groups and organisations over the last few weeks, very often the same concerns about anti-social behaviour, drug use and the council’s ability to respond to issues have been raised. So it’s not something that city residents are alone in noticing. As a council, we know that we can always work to be more open, listen more and learn faster. That’s going to be a focus for transforming the council internally over the next year. With a commitment to learn, hopefully in a few months when I am knocking on doors I will be able to listen to stories of how the council has helped to solve community or individual problems at speed – and for the long term.
In twelve months’ time at the next annual council meeting, I will be very proud to be able to think that the council I lead has strengthened its reputation and learnt to learn.
Cllr Daniel Yates is the Labour leader of Brighton & Hove City Council.