Why the Furlough scheme is back to front and what the Government should do about it

Amongst the horrors of the global Coronavirus pandemic there are many things to be grateful for. More family time, getting to know the neighbours, a greater sense of community, quieter streets, better air quality, reading that book that you’ve never had time for, and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Closed sign

So it might be weird, then, that I am about to argue that people should be able to get back to work; however they should also be able to stay furloughed.

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is undoubtedly a lifeline to many small businesses – it certainly is for The Big Lemon and Brighton & Hove Community Transport and I’m very grateful for it.  However there is no doubt that the Coronavirus will change life for most of us long after the end of lockdown restrictions, and how many businesses will survive the new reality?

Restaurants will need to make more space between tables, and for most of them they will be “full” when they are only at 25-30% of capacity.  Plus there will be a whole load of extra costs (all for very important things): new rules to abide by, extra training for staff, extra cleaning, larger orders of hand sanitiser and of course higher costs of supplies considering that suppliers will also be subject to lots of extra costs.  And as more people tighten their belts and worry about catching things from others, fewer people are going to want to eat in restaurants.

Shops will face similar problems; with restrictions on the number of people that can be in the shop at one time, greater floor space being given to aisles, more training required, more regulations to adhere to, higher supply costs and so on. The High Street was already in trouble before Coronavirus, how is it going to cope after Coronavirus?

And in my own industry, Transport: will fewer people ride buses in the future? Will there have to be wider aisles, or will every other seat have to be vacant? Will standing passengers still be allowed? What extra costs will be involved protecting drivers and passengers from viruses?  And what extra training, regulation and supplier costs will there be?

In fact, it is hard to imagine an industry that won’t be affected. Offices and factories will have to be re-designed, staff will need training, many industries will suffer huge drops in customer demand, and all businesses everywhere will have to undertake a whole load of (unpaid) work planning how they will work post-Covid_19.

So, what does this all mean? It means that surviving the lockdown is only the first hurdle that businesses will have to overcome over the next couple of years, and rather than sitting at home watching Netflix, staff should be sitting at home researching, benchmarking, planning, discussing (virtually, of course) and preparing for the post-Covid world.

But they’re not. They’re not allowed to work. The only way businesses can afford to survive the next couple of months is by putting their staff on furlough, and anyone on furlough is not allowed to work.  So most businesses are battening down the hatches, trying to save as much money as possible, just thinking about how to get to the end of June without running out of cash.  Even company directors and managers are putting themselves on furlough because that’s the only way they can survive.

And when furlough finishes? Most firms will be hopelessly unprepared for the future and many will go out of business anyway. And even the businesses that survive will only do so by cutting their payroll costs, so hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of those furloughed will lose their jobs anyway.

So much for furlough. All that Government money going to protect jobs and businesses, and the likelihood is that thousands of those businesses – and hundreds of thousands if not millions of those jobs – will go to the wall anyway. And why? Because people weren’t allowed to do any work during the lockdown, work that could have – would have – saved many of those businesses and many of those jobs.

So what should the Government have done instead? Simply put, the scheme could have been identical to the existing scheme, but allowed staff to work (from home, with the right measures in place) so they could contribute to the re-configuration of their businesses to prepare for the new normal.

Why didn’t the Government do this? The most obvious reason is that it would have cost more; currently businesses have to pay the wages of those staff still working themselves, as normal; if the Government picked up the tab for these too (or 80% of the tab) the bill would be a lot higher. But what’s the point in investing all this money during lockdown if the economy is woefully unprepared for the future after lockdown and many of these jobs are lost anyway? They could have made it 70%, or 60% or even 50% – whatever would have made it affordable. The principle remains; if furloughed staff were allowed to work businesses would be in a fitter state after lockdown and there would be fewer jobs lost afterwards.

So what should the Government do now? Change the furlough scheme to a payroll grant scheme and get everyone who can safely do so, back to work.

I love family time, I love getting to know my neighbours, I love being active in my community, having quieter streets and breathing cleaner air. But I worry that this enforced break that many people are having – although lovely for a while – will not only loose its shine as people long for interaction with their colleagues and the feeling of involvement and self-worth that comes with working together on a project; it will also make their work an awful lot harder when they go back to it. And many may not even be able to go back to it at all.


Stand Together & Hug a Stranger

This afternoon I went to Stand Together Brighton & Hove, an act of solidarity with immigrants, Europeans and friends around the world following last week’s referendum result and an opportunity to reflect.  Despite the heavy rain a good few hundred people turned out with their macs and brollies, at the same as time as people across the country joined similar events in LondonBristolCardiffCambridgeExeter, LeicesterLiverpoolManchester and Oxford.

The event was organised very quickly in just a couple of days by a small group of people led by my friend Ali, who explained that she had never done anything like this before, but had seen the other events being organised in different cities and felt strongly that we should have one in Brighton & Hove too.

Caroline Lucas’ husband Richard Savage spoke first, reading a message from Caroline who, he explained, couldn’t be there due to commitments in Westminster.  It was a moving speech, Richard first telling us all how proud he was to be Caroline’s husband and then reading beautifully the points Caroline wished to make.

Through Richard, Caroline celebrated the contributions of people from all over the world to our society and said “You are welcome here”.  She also called for an early general election and the formation of a progressive alliance to unify the country and address the real causes of disenfranchisement in our communities.

The next speaker was Lucy Robinson, a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex, who introduced herself as the Minister for Nagging at the People’s Republic of Brighton and Hove.  I could not hear what Lucy said very well as by this point the rain had become harder and the megaphone was facing away from me.  However during her speech a kind man offered me shelter underneath his umbrella – a gesture that summed up the mood perfectly.

I spoke next; the gist of my speech was as follows:

“I came to Brighton in 2003 for one year, and in 2016 I’m still here: this is the most welcoming, loving and caring city I have ever lived in and I’m proud to call it my home.  

Last Friday morning I woke up to the most momentus decision we have made in my lifetime and I’d like to share with you some of the feelings I have been having; I’m sure many of you have had similar ones.

My first feeling was one of disbelief: surely this isn’t actually happening?  Am I dreaming?  Are people on social media having me on?! No. It was real.  As it sunk in I felt like a stranger in my own country. This wasn’t the country I knew and loved. What has happened to my country? Give me back my country!

My next feeling was worry. What does the future hold? What is this country going to become? It dawned on me that those who have come here from the EU and elsewhere to live and play a part in our society might suddenly be at risk of abuse, a risk that sadly, as we all know, has become a reality for so many people.

Finally, anger.  I was angry.  Angry that so many people had been duped by a pack of lies.  Angry that the right-wing media had perpetuated the myths so wilfully and effectively. Angry that people had been taken in by all the bullsh*t and targeted their understandable disillusionment and frustration with the establishement, not at the people who are actually responsible but at the most vulnerable in our society.

So we must first show our friends in this country and overseas, that we stand together with them, that we are welcoming, warm and decent people, and that they are welcome in our community.  I’d like to ask everyone to turn to the person next to them, and give them a hug… [everyone hugged]

Then we must work to understand why people last week voted as they did and build a movement to take our country back from the liars, the cheats and the… [here I paused, forgetting for a moment what terminology I was planning to use next, until someone in the audience helpfully offered ‘scoundrels’ – which I gratefully accepted]… scoundrels who last week took it away from us.  Then we can once again recognise the community that we love.


The next speaker was Ben Walters from Brighton Anti-Fascists, who promised not to allow fascist groups any platform in Brighton & Hove, and then came Cllr Phelim MacCafferty, Convenor of the Green Group of Councillors on Brighton & Hove City Council.

Phelim gave a passionate account of the change in the mood from the point of view of an EU citizen (from Ireland) who made Brighton & Hove his home, and gave some examples of the very many benefits that migrants bring to our economy and our community.

Next up was a poet, Michael James Parker, who performed a special poem written for the occasion, which I shall try and find, and post here in due course. It was delivered spectacularly, and was very well received.

Finally Cllr Mike Inkpin-Leissner, a Labour Councillor on Brighton & Hove City Council, told how he had moved here from Germany ten years ago, had been warmly received in the city and had joined the City Council to give something back.  He apologised for being tired, explaining that he (and many other foreign nationals in the UK) had hardly been able to sleep since last Thursday, worried about what might be in store.  Mike explained how a veteran he had met last Friday shed tears when he heard about the referendum result, feeling that everything he had fought for was now at risk. Mike paid tribute to the armed forces in World War 2 who had saved Europe from fascism, and pledged to work with Greens and Tories on the city council to fight fascism in every guise, and fight for Britain’s place in Europe.

The rain continued throughout, and by the end everyone was thoroughly soaked but still they stayed and listened, and even joined in a song which Michael James Parker sang to round off the event.  It was a song about Jo Cox, and how even though she is no longer with us, she is with us.

RIP Jo Cox, thank you Brighton & Hove, and solidarity with our friends in Europe and around the world. 

Biggest Waste of Money in a Generation

A regressive plan to waste £15 billion by the end of the decade to increase traffic on England’s roads, was announced to Parliament today by Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander. For the official Government press release please click here. Warning: this document may contact misinformation, spin, half-truths, misleading propaganda and downright lies. I have edited it below, removing all the lies and spin to give a more accurate picture. Enjoy.


The government is borrowing money to finance more than 100 new road schemes over this parliament and next, 84 of which are brand new today.

Over 1,300 new lane miles will be added by schemes being delivered over the next parliament on motorways and trunk roads, exacerbating congestion and shifting some of the most notorious and longstanding problem areas on the network, to other areas. With 90% of journeys already taking place on our roads, this work will do nothing to help people get on and get around, and further increase our dependence on cars. 

These plans are published today in the first ever Road Investment Strategy (apart from the previous one of a different name), which has been developed to keep the population dependent on fossil fuels and the old economy alive.

This includes £1.5 billion of spending money we don’t have to add an extra lane onto key motorways to turn them into Smart motorways (whatever that means) between London, Birmingham, Manchester and Yorkshire.

Patrick McLoughlin said:

“Today I am setting out the biggest, costliest and most foolish roads programme for decades. It will dramatically undermine our public transport network and make it impossible for us to meet Britain’s carbon reduction targets.

“New roads are a barrier to our nation’s wellbeing. For too long they have been prioritised over protecting the environment.

“This government has a short term plan to put the country’s future at risk and this £15 billion roads programme is demonstration of that. More roads breed more traffic, and undermine local bus services which the poor rely on to travel for jobs and other opportunities across the country.”

Spending during the next parliament on England’s roads network will be increased further by maintenance funding worth more than £10bn across the local and national road network, unless we decide after the election that this funding will be cut.

New projects announced today include:

  • South West: a promise of £2 billion (of other people’s money) to dual the entire A303 and A358 to the south west, including a tunnel at Stonehenge. This will allow people to drive on a dual carriageway from London to within 15 miles of Lands End, something they will have to do if they want to visit Cornwall because the railway line keeps getting damaged by climate change;
  • North East: setting aside £290 million (of money cut from the region’s council budgets for essential services) to complete the dualling of the A1 all the way from London to Ellingham, just 25 miles from the Scottish border, a Great Mistake;
  • North West and Yorkshire: driving environmental destruction in the Desolate North by completing the smart motorway along the entire length of the M62 from Manchester to Leeds, together with more widening from Manchester to Sheffield, the biggest mistake in transpennine capacity since 1971;
  • North West: committing to wasting some money on the Port of Liverpool after a previous Tory government largely destroyed its economy, as part of a plan of 12 projects designed to improve access to major international gateways on which the nation’s international trade deficit depends;
  • South East: funding £350 million of money we don’t have to the A27 along the south coast, increasing congestion on all the other roads around Arundel, Worthing and Lewes – consulting with the local community on options we’ve already decided on;
  • East of England: wasting another £300 million on the east-west connection to Norfolk, by dualling sections of the A47 and re-doing its connections to the A1 and A11, following the recently completed full dualling of the A11 from London to Norwich, to ensure everyone going to the east of England goes by car;
  • London and the South East: reworking one-third of the junctions on the entire M25, to make frustrated commuters get stuck in roadworks around the capital; and
  • Midlands: doing a whole load of damaging and wasteful things around Birmingham.

Chair of the Cabinet Infrastructure Committee and Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, said:

Twentieth century infrastructure inevitably means a twentieth century economy, but this project sucks in other ways to. It destoys communities and gives people fewer opportunities to get on in life. This is why I have ensured that this government has prioritised funding roads over railways, at a high level for future generations.

“For decades our roads have prioritised the needs of cars above all else, so I’m going to continue that trend and announce this expansive range of car-focussed road schemes today. Investment on this scale is only possible because we have taken the difficult decision to borrow more money because we have been unable to stick to our recovery plan, which is only delivering strong growth in the numbers of zero-hours contracts and part-time and temporary jobs rather than the stable, permanent and full time ones that people need.

“These projects, like the scheme on the A303, will destroy beautiful parts of the countryside and negatively impact both the public finances and the overall economy.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said:

”Our long term borrowing plan means today we can give an unprecedented £15 billion to our mates to improve their balance sheets and expand their profits.

“Our plans will transform the net worth of some of the country’s most wealthy people, with misguided projects to dual the A303, A1, A27 and the A47 as well as wasting money that could be used for more important local infrastructure to boost productivity and help local economies.

“For years the alternatives to cars have been neglected. Because this government has failed to fix the budget deficit, we cannot afford to invest properly in anything – but we’re going ahead anyway, locking jobs in the past, mortgaging the future and causing national growth in CO2 emissions by creating a road network that is only fit for the private car.”

As well as increasing congestion and shifting the problems on the busiest sections of the network, the government is transforming the Highways Agency into a government-owned company; this will mean we can privatise it in the future, and our mates can make at least £2.6 billion over the next ten years.

The strategy also contains measures to appease the communities affected by road upgrades, including:

  •  a comparably small amount, which we may later remove, to improve cycling provision at 200 key locations across the network, as well as a promise (which we may later retract) to cycle-proof any new schemes being developed;
  • £300 million environmental fund, which we may later remove, to mitigate a small fraction of the extra carbon emissions and slightly reduce the large number of people affected by serious noise as a result of our road-building. This fund will create new charge points for Low Emission Vehicles every 20 miles across the road network, as well as attempt to repair small pockets of the landscape we just destroyed, protect sites of cultural or historic heritage until such time as we decide to bulldoze through them, and slightly reduce the huge impact of building new roads on wildlife, countryside and habitats; and
  • £100 million to our mates for cheap housing developments, many of which will probably end up on flood plains and become increasingly likely to flood as a result of our policies

The Big Orange Bus Blockade

Last December I got a call from a friend. “Tom, we’ve got a problem. The rig is due at Barton Moss first thing Wednesday morning and we need to do something about it.”

The ‘rig’ is a drilling rig, used to drill for shale gas. If enough shale gas is found, a ‘fracking’ operation kicks off and we say bye bye to another piece of our green and pleasant land… not to mention the health of families and livestock in the area, the increased methane emissions (the most dangerous for global warming potential), the millions of gallons of water used in the process, the hundreds of lorries a day required to deliver it, and the damage caused to the local community and the environment in the process.


As long as the rig stays out of the compound, there can be no fracking. While there is no fracking, life is better.

I had a long think. What could I do? What should I do? It was clear that we can’t just roll over and let it all happen. There was no time though – Wednesday was just a day or two away. It was clearly time to think the unthinkable.

So I hatched a plan. Late on Tuesday night I drove The Big Orange up from Brighton to Barton Moss, near Manchester. Waiting for me was a group of highly trained professionals ready to use the bus for a striking display of resistance. We met for a cup of tea, went through the plan, and got to work. A quick recce of the site entrance showed that the coast was clear, so in went the coach, and the brave souls who had chosen to attach themselves to it got in place.

Three people had attached themselves to various parts of the inside – front door, back door and steering wheel, in a way that meant the coach could not be entered, moved or driven. One person was attached by a D lock to the underside of the coach, and another was on the roof.

For six hours the bus stayed in place at the front of the gate, stopping the rig from getting through, while security guards and Police tried to figure out what to do about it. Despite the chilly wintry morning, the atmosphere was full of warmth. People were teeming round the coach, offering blankets, hot soup and encouragement to those attached to the vehicle. Unfortunately I had to head back south as I was due in court in Hastings the next day, so I missed most of it.

Judging by the photos on the internet later, it seemed like the main method employed by the Police to deal with the situation was old fashioned brute force.




After smashing a window, forcing entry, arresting those on the bus and towing it away, the Police then asked me to attend an interview at the local Police station to answer questions, amongst other things, as to why the bus was in such a poor condition.

I went back up to Manchester, answered their questions, and a couple of months later received a court summons to answer charges of “Obstruction of the Highway”, and “Driving a vehicle in a dangerous condition”

“What a cheek!” I thought. Not only do they damage the vehicle (the repair bill was over £3000 and needless to say they haven’t volunteered to contribute) they then pretend that much of the damage was already there. Things they quoted were the front door not working due to disconnected air pipes, a plastic seatbelt cover missing (seatbelt still working though), two seats dislodged and loose, and a luggage flap so damaged it would be, in the words of the Police officer I spoke to, “liable to fly open any minute”. Strange then that I’d spent six hours driving from Brighton to Manchester and it hadn’t done so.

The other charge, of obstruction of the highway, was just as ludicrous. Everyone knew it was not a ‘highway’ but actually designated as a public footpath. In fact a judge had ruled on the matter only two weeks earlier:


Someone had even spotted the Police taking away the footpath sign in an attempt to hoodwink everyone:


Now, nine months after the event, I’m standing outside Manchester City Magistrates Court about to go in. The Police didn’t fool the public, let’s hope they don’t fool the magistrate either.

The Happy Bus

Last weekend I was lucky enough to attend the “Happy Startup Summer Camp” on a farm just outside East Grinstead.  It blew my mind.


Run by the Happy Startup School, Happy Startup Summer Camp brought together entrepreneurs, potential entrepreneurs, mentors, coaches (the human variety), and business people of every kind, to explore and share ideas and experiences around happiness in business.  The thesis is simple: happiness is good for business.  A happy team delivers happiness to customers and finds fulfilment at the same time.

It started off, as all good things do, with a journey on a Big Lemon bus, to a farm on the edge of the Ashdown Forest.  Here, in an old barn, Sanderson Jones (co-founder of Sunday Assembly) gave a rousing welcome to the 100 or so delegates and a brief history of the Sunday Assembly.  “Live Well, Help Often, Wonder More”.  What a great philosophy.  We were in the mood for a weekend we’d never forget, and we got it.

After describing Richard Dawkins as “created by God to make atheism look unattractive” to howls of laughter Sanderson introduced us to the speakers and facilitators who would help us become better businesspeople, by giving us strategies for creating happy businesses.

The next couple of days was a big happy sandwich stuffed with wisdom.  I only managed to get a fraction down on paper, but I still filled three notebooks.  Here’s a random selection:

 IMG_0679     IMG_0661     IMG_0662

   IMG_0664     IMG_0665     IMG_0666

IMG_0667     IMG_0668     IMG_0669

IMG_0670     IMG_0671     IMG_0672

IMG_0673      IMG_0674      IMG_0678

One of my favourites is “Will it make the boat go faster?”  This is from Olympic rower Ben Hunt-Davis, whose team never won an Olympic medal until they decided to live their whole life by one simple rule: when making decisions, always ask yourself “Will it make the boat go faster?”

“Shall I go to the pub? Will it make the boat go faster? No.  Shall I do a couple of hours on the erg? Yes, that will make the boat go faster”

Ben’s team won Olympic Gold in Sydney in 2000.

This morning the cat started sneezing at ten past four.  I woke up, went to the loo, then thought “Shall I go back to bed? No, that won’t make a great business. Shall I go to the office and write about the Happy Bus? Yes, that just might…”

So, what is the story behind the Happy Bus?

One of the workshops we had was called “Creating Your Minimum Viable Brand”.  This was given by Jeremiah Gardner, author of The Lean Brand (coming out next month).  His message was simple: what you need for a minimum viable brand is a story, “artefacts” (noteworthy events/experiences/ memories that form part of the story) and invitations (to the artefacts).

Jeremiah set us an exercise: to come up with our own story, artefacts and invitations.  My table worked together, and we decided to invent a made-up business, and work out our minimum viable brand for that business.  “What shall we call it? I asked. One of the team said “the Happy Helicopter”  Great. “And what does the Happy Helicopter do?”  “The Happy Helicopter rescues people, and makes them happy.

We invented a story about how we had been climbing in the mountains, broken a leg, and been rescued by a helicopter… and how this had given us the idea of rescuing people with the Happy Helicopter.  The Happy Helicopter would turn up unannounced at someone’s workplace, school, office or even their home, and whisk them away to a happy place, to do something fun, or simply escape from the humdrum of their everyday life and relax with a loved one.

We thought this would be especially nice for people who’d had a tough week, some bad news, or just needed a lift.  The Happy Helicopter would rescue them and make them happy. Our first artefact would be a random swoop on an individual who’d been nominated by a friend, colleague or family member, and we would invite people to nominate their friends by email and social media.  We would then choose the most worthy candidate, and, with help from the person who nominated them, book something special for them.

As our idea progressed, I started thinking to myself “What a minute…!” and at the end of the session I told the group that I liked the idea so much that I’d like to run with it… with one small change: the helicopter would be replaced by a bus.  And so the Happy Bus was born.

Happy Bus

Jeremiah Gardner paying homage to the Happy Bus

On Sunday I left Happy Camp early to do our Sunday Walk.  We walked from Sheffield Park to Chelwood Common, and finished up at the Coach & Horses pub.  While the walkers were enjoying Sunday Lunch I hot-footed it back to the bus, and headed back to Happy Camp to take the happy campers back to East Grinstead station and Brighton.

Happy Campers hop on the Happy Bus

Happy Campers on the Happy Bus

After dropping the majority off at East Grinstead Station, the Brighton crowd and I  continued towards Chelwood Common, to pick up the walkers from the Coach & Horses on our way back to Brighton.  And then a funny thing happened.

As we drove across Ashdown Forest I spotted four lads hitch-hiking at the side of the road. In the happy spirit we were all in, we decided to stop and see where they were going.  They said they’d wanted to catch a bus from Forest Row to Lewes, but there wasn’t one… so they’d started walking.  They had already walked about 3 miles across the forest, and had tried (unsuccessfully till now) to thumb a lift.  In the spirit of Happy Bus, we rescued them from the forest, and took them to a happy place – in this case Lewes (not forgetting to pick up the walkers from the pub on the way!)

So Happy Bus is happening!  Watch this space for more details of Happy antics…

And big thanks to Jeremiah, the Happy Startup team and all at Happy Startup Summer Camp… and of course the walkers and hitch-hikers too!

Happy Bus tea monster 2

Update – February 2015:

Another Elm Tree Under Threat in Brighton

Sadly I found out last night that a beautiful mature elm tree in the grounds of Brighton College is under threat.  Is it diseased?  Is it about to fall over?  Is it shedding branches and putting people at risk?  No.  It’s in the way.

Brighton College is redeveloping its campus to update its facilities and cater for increasing demand, and it has submitted a planning application which will be debated and voted on at the City Council’s planning committee this afternoon.  The College has an impressive number of supporters listed on the application, although the addresses suggest these are mainly from staff and students’ families’.  Local residents have voiced a number of concerns:

 Overdevelopment of an already crowded College campus
 Loss of light and space taken from residents
 The Old Music School is a heritage asset of national historical and cultural significance
 The height of the building is out of keeping with nearby homes
 Noise pollution from the construction process and heavy vehicle and machinery operation
 Loss of privacy from more students, parents and their cars, and the coaches that park along Sutherland Road for lengthy periods causing pollution.
 The development will enable an increased pupil capacity which will exacerbate existing traffic problems
 The loss of the Elm tree is unacceptable

The view from Sutherland Road.  The elm is in the middle and the Old Music School is in the background behind the lampost

The view from Sutherland Road. The elm is in the middle and the Old Music School is in the background behind the lampost

So what’s the problem?  Isn’t it just a tree?

No, it’s an elm tree, indeed it looks very much like a Wheatley Elm, one of the rarest species of tree in the country.  Apart from a number of them in Edinburgh and a handful in Scarborough and Eastbourne, Brighton & Hove is the only place you’ll find one.

Elms were once common in the British Isles, and were especially popular urban trees due to their majestic stature.  However Dutch Elm Disease wiped out the vast majority of them in the 1970s and 80s, a total of some 25-30 million trees.

Brighton & Hove was lucky.  Not only did it have a unique protective shield against the disease in the form of the South Downs and the sea, it also had a number of people in the local authorities (including Brighton Council’s Rob Greenland) with the foresight to put in place an effective strategy to combat the disease.

The work paid off.  Brighton & Hove now has the finest collection of elms in the country, called the National Elm Collection due to its importance to the nation.

But we’re not out of the woods yet.  A BBC Newsnight feature in 2010 highlighted the continued threat to the elms, and more recently the Brighton Argus has reported new outbreaks of the disease in the city in October 2012 and July 2013.  And in June this year two mature elms in Hove succumbed to the disease within a few days of each other and had to be felled.

But why do I care so much about elm trees?

There are many reasons why urban trees in general are important:

 They reduce pollution
 They provide habitats to insects, birds and other wildlife
 They improve health and wellbeing
 They make people feel good
 They reduce crime
 They ‘breathe in’ carbon dioxide, reducing levels of carbon in the atmosphere

And on top of all this, elm trees are rare, beautiful trees.  We’ve lost so many, but we’ve still got a fine collection due to the hard work of many people over a number of decades.  Isn’t that worth something?  Shouldn’t we be protecting each and every healthy mature elm in the city?

According to the City Council’s Arboricultural Section, we should at least be protecting this one.  This is what they have to say (p170):

5.19 Arboriculture: Objection.

The Arboricultural Section objects to the loss of the Elm tree.
5.20 This site is situated within the College Conservation Area. There are no Tree Preservation Orders on the site however the College has always maintained their trees to a high degree and the Arboricultural Section has never considered further protection of the trees necessary.
5.21 There is no doubt that this tree is worthy of Preservation Order as well as helping to make up the National Elm Collection, of which the City is very proud.
5.22 The Arboricultural report submitted with the application states that the tree is 20 metres high has been categorised as a B2 (meaning it is of moderate quality) with an estimated remaining contribution to the area of 20 – 40 years. The comments state it is “one of two mature Elms growing centrally within the College. Broad spreading specimen and considered a noteworthy feature within the grounds. Good height clearance over surrounding area.” The Arboricultural Section concurs with this.
5.23 At the time of the inspecting officer’s visit, there was minor deadwood in the canopy which could be pruned out. Apart from this, the tree appeared to be healthy with no major defects.
5.24 The tree is situated in a tarmac car parking area with a grass slope to the west. The tarmac is ruptured and this is likely to have been caused by the tree roots. There are already some buildings within the root protection area of the tree.
5.25 The proposed development sits at a lower level than the current parking area and buildings. The cutting away of the area west of the tree (including the grass slope) to facilitate the proposed development means that structural roots are likely to be severed and the structural integrity of the tree cannot be guaranteed and therefore it would be advisable to fell the tree if the development is required.
5.26 The felling of this tree is not acceptable to the Arboricultural Section and therefore would recommend that this application is refused permission.

I think it’s worth noting that this is a conservation area, and the only reason the tree does not have a Tree Preservation Order on it is because Brighton College have previously looked after their trees very well so the Arboricultural Section didn’t think it necessary to issue TPOs on the trees within the College Conservation Area.

But ultimately it’s not the fact that it’s a conservation area, or that the tree is an elm, or that the tree is rare, or that the tree is an important habitat and carbon sink… the biggest reason I object to this tree being felled is that it gives the wrong lesson to the next generation.  We have an ecological disaster unfolding in front of us, where the scale of habitat loss and climate change puts us as a species at risk for the first time in our history.  If we are to successfully overcome the challenge we face we need young people to have a strong idea of what’s important.  Trees are the givers of life: they provide the air that we breathe, they provide habitats, mental wellbeing, shade when we need it, a sense of community, a sense of continuity… they are precious.

This afternoon councillors on the planning committee have a choice: either you teach our young people that trees are expendable, that if they’re in the way they should just be chopped down.. or you teach them that trees are important, that they ought to be valued, appreciated, and protected.

Brighton College is a top-end educational establishment, and many of the young people there will be in positions of influence in the future.  Do we want those people to view the living world around us as nothing more than a bit of decoration; or do we want them to value it properly, to recognise that we are ultimately dependent on it for life itself?

The "Save Our Tree" campaign was a beautiful thing that really brought the community together

The elm tree at Seven Dials: originally under threat, the tree was saved after the local community rallied together and the true value of the tree became clear. Plans were altered to allow the tree to stay.

Straw poll: What do you think?

What you can do:

1. Email the planning committee to make your concerns known.  Keep it short and sweet and ask them how they plan to vote.  Click here for members’ contact details

2. Come to planning committee!  It’s at 2pm today, Wednesday 17 September in the Council Chamber at Hove Town Hall.

3. Share this page on Facebook and Twitter etc and email it to anyone you think might be interested or may be able to help.

4. Tweet @Brightoncollege and tell them to save the tree – for the kids, for the future.

Letter from the South Downs National Park Authority about a proposed drilling site at Linchmere

Dear Sir/Madam

Application SDNP/13/05896/CM The installation of a well and associated infrastructure, including access road and soil bunds, for the drilling of a vertical borehole for the exploration, testing and evaluation of hydrocarbons for a temporary period of 3 years at Nine Acre Copse, Vann Road Lynchmere, West Sussex will be considered at the 11 September Planning Committee meeting and will be held at the South Downs Centre.
Please note: This meeting will be filmed for live or subsequent broadcast via the Authority’s website on the internet – at the start of the meeting the Chair will confirm if all or part of the meeting is to be filmed. The images and sound recording may be used for training or any other purposes by the Authority. By entering the meeting room and using the public seating area you are consenting to being filmed, recorded or photographed and to the possible use of those images and sound recordings for webcasting and/or training purposes. If you have any queries regarding this, please contact the Member Services Officer .

Public seating is limited at the venue to 120, places will be allocated on a first come first served basis and ticket numbers will be allocated. If you would like to attend this meeting you will need to register to attend by using the online form on the Authority website southdowns.gov.uk . Entrance will be for those with tickets only, members of the press/media and those wishing to speak at the meeting will also need to register to attend.

Members of the public will not be permitted to bring banners, or instruments with them into the hall.

If you wish to register to speak on this application; you will need to email using the online form on the Authority Website http://www.southdowns.gov.uk providing the following information no later than 12 noon, 5 September.

Your Name, Address and Telephone Number and Email Address.
Confirmation of whether you wish to speak in support or against an application or other matter.
Confirmation of whether you are representing yourself or anyone else.
Confirmation that we can provide your details to other people in the event that there are more than the allocated amount of registered speakers. This is in order that you can agree which people will speak.
Details of any special access or other arrangements that you may require

In accordance with the Public Speaking Protocol the Chair has agreed that on this occasion the number of speakers permitted to speak will be:

Up to three individuals or group representatives who are opposing the application
Up to three individuals or group representatives who are supporting the application
2 local Parish Councillors, 1 from Lynchmere Parish Council and 1 from Fernhurst Parish Council;
A local District Councillor for the ward, and
The local County Councillor

If you have any queries regarding the meeting, please use the on line form on the Authority website http://www.southdowns.gov.uk .
Please note that there is no public parking outside the Hall for attendees of these meetings. All vehicles should be parked at the North Street, pay & display car park across the road from the South Downs Centre

The Officer’s report for this application will be published on the 11 September Planning Committee page of the Authority website no later than 5 working days prior to the date of committee.
Information regarding public speaking at Planning Committee meetings and the public speaking protocol can be found on our website by following the links below;



Click to access Planning-Committee-Public-Speaking-Protocol-Appendix-3-of-Standing-Orders-approved-January-2014-Contact-details-change-June.pdf


South Downs National Park Authority

Why I’m standing for election as a Green Councillor to represent Regency Ward on Brighton & Hove City Council

Over the last few weeks Green Party members in Brighton & Hove have been voting in the first round of the selection process to nominate their candidates for the city council elections in May next year.  The vote closed last Saturday, and on Sunday I was told I’d been selected to stand in the city centre ward known as Regency, alongside my fiancée Alex who will be my wife next Saturday.  This is the ward currently held by Council Leader Jason Kitcat and his wife Ania who are both stepping down next May.  So weirdly voters will have the opportunity to elect another husband and wife team.  But some may ask  why would I want to stand for election to the City Council?  And why for the Greens?

Running mates... Alex and I running from the Palace Pier to Eastbourne Pier to raise money for the Clock Tower Sanctuary in 2011

Running mates… Alex and I running from the Palace Pier to Eastbourne Pier to raise money for the Clock Tower Sanctuary in 2011

I have thought long and hard about these things and decided that I want to do my bit.  Play a part.  Take on a new challenge and enjoy a different life experience.  I have worked with councillors of all parties in my role at The Big Lemon, and I have a huge respect for what they do.  They are in the main very committed and dedicated people, who work very hard for very little reward, either financial or otherwise.  Why do they do it?  Because they want to do their bit for the community.  Because they feel strongly about certain things and want to help change them for the better.   It’ll come as no surprise to most readers that I’m also a pretty opinionated person who feels strongly about a number of issues, and I would like to do more to make a difference where it matters.

I’m not a very partisan kind of person however, and the decision to stand for election on behalf of a political party was not an easy decision to take.  I have enjoyed working with a number of councillors and MPs from across the political spectrum, and have learned that although there are inevitably differences of opinion amongst them they share one thing in common – to make things better.

What kind of things, and how, depends on who they are and what their priorities are, and that’s why I joined the Greens.  Obviously it is rare for anyone in politics to agree 100% with their party’s policies and that’s certainly true of me, but in general I find most of the things that I feel strongly about – protection of green spaces, renewable energy, sustainable transport, social enterprise, independent business and a fairer more equal society are things that fit most closely with the priorities of the Greens.   A society where life chances are not simply decided by how much money you’ve got, what age or sex you are, or what  your sexual orientation, religious beliefs or ethnic or social class is.  We have some very serious issues to deal with as a society, and I believe we need a combination of solutions from the local community, from campaigners, the business community and across the political spectrum if we are to tackle these issues effectively.  So why put myself forward for Regency?

The “Save Our Tree” campaign really brought the community together and it was a privilege to be involved

For those who are wondering what part of town this is, the Regency electoral ward stretches along Brighton seafront between the Palace Pier and the Peace Statue and heads up as far as Seven Dials (where my favourite elm tree stands!) It it is the heart of the city and includes some of the city’s most beautiful period architecture, hence its name.  When I moved to Brighton in the early noughties I first lived in Regency, and during the next few years I grew to love the neighbourhood, especially the atmosphere, the people, the cosmopolitan feel and the vibrant small business community.  I bought a house there, and set up The Big Lemon from a desk in my bedroom.  The Big Lemon’s first public meeting was held in the Cricketers’ pub in the Lanes, and it was also in Regency years later that I joined other local residents to save the much-loved Seven Dials elm from the chop. Although I live on the eastern edge of town now to be close to The Big Lemon’s depot, Regency is the area I feel most enthusiastic about representing and have most connections with.

I have also been thinking a great deal about what politics needs, and what kind of contribution I might make.  I think politics is in a bad way at the moment, and our democracy is suffering because of it.  This is largely as a result of those politicians (mainly national ones) who abuse the system, hide things from the public, do dodgy deals behind closed doors and so on.  This not only detracts from those politicians who are doing good work for their communities, it has a hugely detrimental effect on society.  We clearly need greater integrity in politics, but also greater transparency.  This would help facilitate understanding, and trust.  If elected I aim to work together with members of the local community, interest groups and the business community, build trust and be always open to challenge and scrutiny.  That way better decisions are made, and our community will be the better for it.


The place for me to start is in being open about a matter I need to declare should I be elected as a councillor.  This is my role as a shareholder and Managing Director in The Big Lemon, which runs a service (route 52) on contract to the City Council.  This means I must declare an interest and must withdraw from the discussion and not take part in debates or votes, either in Council meetings or in Green Party meetings, which might affect the outcome of any tendering for bus routes.  This is not an unusual situation as councillors often have business or employment interests that require them to declare and withdraw from discussions.

It also means that if elected I will not serve on the Environment and Transport Committee or take part in debates or votes directly affecting bus services or bus infrastructure more generally.  I will still take part in debate and voting on the annual budget (unless advised not to for legal reasons) but only on the budget as a whole and details not connected to buses.  I will also publish a record of debates I have taken part in and votes I have made, and allow comments and feedback which I will respond to.  By making this clear now I hope this will give people confidence that things are being done properly, and that local democracy will be the better for it.

So I’m looking forward to the election campaign, and looking forward to the opportunity to do my bit on the City Council if the good people of Regency elect me as one of their representatives.  If you live, work or play in Regency ward I’d be very interested to hear what you want me to do for you.


Reply to Katy Bourne: Thank You But Sussex Police Needs To Do Better

Dear Ms Bourne

Many thanks for your response to my letter about Sussex Police, and please accept my apologies for not replying sooner. Partly this is down to time constraints, but to be completely honest with you it’s also partly down to the perceived futility of the exercise. I appreciate you taking the time to respond, but I think it’s also fair to say that it was a pretty unspecific, stock response, and unless you have an appetite to properly address the issues then I’m not sure either of us are spending our time wisely.

In my letter I asked a number of very specific questions.  To remind myself, I’ve gone through it again and copied them. I asked:

1. “What makes Cuadrilla special?  The Big Lemon doesn’t have a team of Police officers on standby to help with anything we need at the drop of a hat; why should Cuadrilla?”  (This was in explanation of why Cuadrilla had so much Police support at Balcombe even when there were no crimes being committed, whereas The Big Lemon received little or no support even when crimes were committed)

2. “Why can’t they just phone the Police if they have a problem – same as everyone else –  and wait their turn?”

3. “So, it’s not a question of resource.  But what is it then?  (That’s not a rhetorical question – I really would like to know the answer.)”  (This was in relation to Sussex Police having seemingly unlimited resources for Balcombe, but little or none to deal with actual (albeit low-level) crime.  The essence of this question is about the role of Sussex Police: is it a crime-reduction agency or is it an arm of Government with the aim of enforcing Government policy, even where it is unpopular?)

4. “It’s clearly not a bus, and there’s clearly a large van easily passing by next to it.  Why did she [Inspector Bartlett] write that [it was]?” (This was in relation to Inspector Bartlett’s written evidence that I had blocked the entrance to the road-building site at Combe Haven with a bus, when she must have known full well that it was a taxi, and not blocking anything)

5. “Why hadn’t Sgt Russell told me that in his reply to my email [that I had misidentified him]?” (In response to our email correspondence where he did not deny it was me he’d spoken to, but then in court he produced evidence that he hadn’t been there that day and couldn’t have had the conversation with me)

6. “Either it WAS actually Sgt Russell who I’d spoken with; or Sgt Russell had replied to my email giving me the false impression that it was him, when it was actually PC Barden.  Why would he do that?”  (As per previous question)

7. “So, we see an evidence bias towards the Police, and we see Police lying in court to get protesters convicted.  But why?” (In response to the Judge stating that he would take my ‘good character’ into account, seeing evidence that Inspector Bartlett’s evidence was false, and finding parts of Sgt Russell’s evidence ‘contradictory’, yet accepting the Police evidence and rejecting our evidence on every occasion where the two were in conflict)

8. “Why does it matter to the Police whether a prosecution is successful or not?”

9. “Is there a cultural bias in the Police against protesters?”

10. “Is there pressure on officers to ensure convictions are successful?”

11. “Are there government targets to meet?” On this last question I was very glad to read that your Police & Crime Plan

“has removed targets and the associated performance pressures they bring. There is now an emphasis on strengthening police officer discretion to focus activity around local priorities which differ by district and division. This approach empowers local District Commanders and staff with greater discretion to exercise their professional judgement to ensure that offenders are dealt with effectively, safe in the knowledge that no one outcome is favoured over others.

Strengthening police officer and staff discretion should also help promote a more victim-focussed approach, by removing perverse incentives for forces to record and pro-actively pursue certain crimes on the basis of locally-set detection targets. It will also encourage officers and staff to consider the needs of victims and the importance of engaging them throughout the criminal justice process.”

This partially answers questions 10 and 11 – but are there some targets that you cannot remove?  If so, what are they? Are there targets for conviction rates?  If so, this would explain why it was so important for Sussex Police to try and get a conviction.

Sussex Police

Clumsy: Sussex Police’s attempt at redaction came unstuck as soon as activists changed the colour of the font in word-processing software (Daily Mail)

In light of the recent news that “Sussex Police are accused of using mass arrests, draconian bail conditions and section 14 notices under the Public Order Act 1986 to criminalise peaceful protest at the site in Balcombe” and that Sussex Police “tried to cover-up spying operation on fracking protesters

I am sure you will agree that urgent action is needed to restore public confidence in Sussex Police. Please answer the specific questions I have raised, or pass them to the Chief Constable for him to reply.  It is clear that what is needed is some soul-searching and frank communication and I’d be very grateful if that process could start here.

Many thanks and best wishes


Tom Druitt

Mixed Feelings on Armed Forces Day

Today is Armed Forces Day.  If you’re not familiar with it, it was brought in by the Labour Government in 2006 as Veteran’s Day, and became Armed Forces Day in 2009.

I have a lot of time for members of the Armed Forces. Many of my fondest memories are of time training with members of the forces, and many of them are still my best friends.  The bond you build with your ‘buddy’ is second to none and years later they are still like family.

However, rather than fill me with joy that these people, who endure extreme hardship for the sake of others, are being celebrated, Armed Forces Day always fills me with frustration and sadness.

Cameron    Miliband

Armed Forces Day is the day when celebrities and politicians go gaga at the military and tweet drivel to impress us with their patriotism.  Words like ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ feature a lot.  It’s ironic, then, that not many politicians have yet had the bravery and courage to stick up for servicemen and women when it matters.  Why, for example, were soldiers sent to Iraq without enough body armour?  Why are ex-service personnel still without sufficient appropriate help following their departure from the Forces?  Whether it’s homelessness, alcoholism, suicide, time behind bars or mental health issues, ex-service personnel are significantly more at risk than the population at large.

Armed Forces Day seems to me to be a cynical attempt to gloss over the real issues that face serving and ex-service personnel, whilst diverting the nation’s attention away from the difficult questions of why our Armed Forces got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place.  ‘Veteran’s Day’ was one of Blair’s last initiatives in office; was it an attempt to silence critics of his military interventions by making it ‘un-patriotic’ to do so?

It might be nice to wallow in patriotic fever for a day, but let’s not forget the reality: Blair’s government sent the armed forces to war under false pretences. It then failed to equip them properly. Politicians of all colours have since failed to support them when they’ve come home.  Some have never come home, and have left their loved ones wondering what it was all for. Rather than smiling at the camera and tweeting fake praise to make themselves look good, it’s time for politicians to join grieving families and ask themselves “What is it all for?”