Brighton and Hove City Council must stop hindering – and start helping – small businesses in the city.
Brighton and Hove has long been considered a good place to run a business. And for good reason: the city has good weather, a great vibe, lots of talent, and lots of support for business.
There’s the Chamber of Commerce, Economic Partnership, Hove Business Association, Green Growth Platform, Federation of Small Businesses, the Platform social enterprise hub, Wired Sussex, the Happy Startup School, and many more. However, notably absent from this list is Brighton and Hove City Council. If you ask businesses in Brighton and Hove whether the council has helped them become successful, most of them will say no. But worse than that, many of them will tell you how the council has actually stood in their way.
During my relatively short time as a councillor I have had to defend dozens of small businesses and community organisations from the council’s actions, on one occasion even ending up in court. Many of these I’m happy to say have since thrived, some sadly have not.
The most recent casualty is the much-loved community pub Doctor Brighton’s. Rated eighth out of 126 nightlife venues listed on Tripadvisor, Doctor Brighton’s has been described as ‘a pub with a real sense of community’ and ‘the best bar in Brighton’. For two years the landlord, Charles Child, has tried to get a long-term lease from the council and finally, in July it looked like he had done it. However he was then sent contracts that required him to take responsibility for all the building repairs the previous leaseholder should have done, and given less than 24 hours to sign them. Describing the last year as ‘the most stressful year of my life’, Charles has decided to call it a day.
This sorry story is not an isolated one. Last autumn the council gave notice to Brighton and Hove Community Transport at Preston Barracks to make way for the redevelopment, and then, when Community Transport tried to do a deal with Whitehawk Football Club to enable a move there, the council asked for a 40 per cent surcharge on the new lease. Unable to afford the charge, Community Transport was left with nowhere to go.
Even worse was the heartbreaking story of the City Reuse Depot, an inspiring venture by local award-winning waste goddess Cat Fletcher. Despite helping the council save thousands of pounds and win a National Recycling Award through her work finding new homes for the entire contents of Kings House, Cat was refused permission to put the City Reuse Depot at
Preston Barracks in 2015, and then evicted from her new site in Wilson Avenue just a few days after she moved in. Three years later she is still looking for a site.
Brighton and Hove City Council needs a culture shift and the administration needs to show some leadership, take a holistic view and join the dots. It’s time to stop putting barriers up and start supporting local businesses to succeed. This means every council department working towards the same goal: to create the right conditions in the city for businesses to thrive.”
Tom Druitt is a Green councillor in Brighton and Hove.