Phelim Mac Cafferty: Local groups are ideal to provide council services

Councillor MacCafferty
Councillor MacCafferty

The practice of councils buying goods and services is, granted, hardly a headline grabber. Yet its impact on local services can affect us all.

In Brighton and Hove local organisations that define the very best of our community are losing key contracts to national organisations at an alarming rate.

This worrying trend saw the popular Brighton Big Screen pass from its local founders over to a giant London-based company.

A group from outside the city will run a project tackling obesity that was previously provided by the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership. Local disability charity Possability people raised serious concerns when ‘People Plus,’ took a disability services contract. People Plus is a branch of profit-making company A4e, who have a far from positive reputation for work with disabled people.

Between them, these local groups have helped communities grow food, empowered disabled people and engaged with marginalised communities. Local groups add social and economic value. By keeping money in the city and pulling people out of poverty, they ensure public money goes further.

Greens say we should recognise the social – as well as economic value – of local organisations. The lowest price is too often a poor indicator while local knowledge is vital in growing the value of public money. When we hire local we can keep a closer eye on performance and environmental and social practices too.

While the council’s rules require us to look beyond the price tag, there’s a yawning gap between the policy and practice of the Labour Council, which has failed to take political leadership of this vital issue. In a growing number of other councils, councillors have rewritten the rules so that local groups can compete for contracts- something we should do here. But Labour has done little to show they understand social value. Brighton and Hove has no shortage of groups with a track record of talent and expertise.

It is a crying shame Labour are willing to let an increasing amount of that go to the wall.

Phelim Mac Cafferty is the convenor of the Green Group on Brighton & Hove City Council.