Saturday, 4 April 2015

Leaders debates

En route to the Leaders Debates with Patrick Harvie MSP, Ross Greer and Cllr Jillian Creasy.

All good fun at the Leaders Debates for me in Manchester this week at Media City. I was part of the Green Party Team in the 'Spin Room' to provide commentary on the debate. The Spin Room was in a seperate building from the place where the debate proper was held. It was in a building called 'The Pie Factory' which I guess it might have been once. It looked like it had been very hastily put together as a studio to contain all the camera crews and milling politicos and their press teams.

 In the end I did a piece to camera for the Press Association and that was that, but interesting to be there nonetheless. Green MSP  Patrick Harvie described the atmosphere as being like a Count without the ballot papers and it was. The room was full of  prominent Politicians waiting around for hours many of whom I don't like much. it was just that instead of your common or garden Tory Cllrs we had George Osborne and Teresa May accompanied by their Special Branch minders. Reps from all the parties were there all in their huddles just like we were.

Natalie gave solid and substantial answers to the questions posed and the social media response to her was very positive. Nicola Sturgeon shone with righteous anger and Leanne Wood took first blood. She laid into the contemptible Farage. He seemed to have completely defaulted to his BNP factory settings by blaming immigration for every question posed to him. 

Cameron and Clegg we learnt nothing new about as a result of the debate. Clegg in denial of the harm he's caused and Cameron as 'smooth' and oily as ever. It was Miliband who was 'odd'. Now I know it isn't a revelation to say he is odd but Sheffield Central Candidate  Cllr Jillian Creasy reckoned he had over rehearsed. It was the way he stared directly at the camera as if he was trying to enter your very soul when he answered a question that freaked me out. It was obviously something he had been told to do but it didn't come across as natural at all.

Afterwards the team all met up and had a few shandies and got an early night. Nah!

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

He didn't even say goodbye! - Mehboob retires from Kirklees Council

 My sparring partner for many years on Kirklees Council ex Labour Leader Mehboob Khan yesterday resigned from Kirklees Council.  I'm pretty sure that he didn't give local Labour Party members much more, if any, notice than the Huddersfield Examiner and the Council got. With only a few weeks to go before close of nominations this allows the Labour Party and the other Parties little time to find an additional candidate. In theory it should be straightforward for Labour to get another name for the ballot paper in Greenhead. There was a selection for the Greenhead seat with 2 candidates and one came out on top and the sitting Councillor was deselected. So the 'easy' answer would be to make both of them Labour Candidates for the Local Election in Greenhead Ward. That may yet happen but the fractious effect and outcome of the previous selection contest would have to be set on one side and that may just be too difficult. There is the other complication that the deselected Labour Candidate is now selected for the more problematic Ward of Almondbury. You can't help thinking how much less complicated things would have been for Labour if Mehboob had just stood down months ago before the selection contest. A lot of Labour angst may have been avoided. Still not my problem!

At last weeks Full Council meeting, the last before the Local Elections, tributes were given to those members who were standing down. At that time Mehboob's name was not on the list so no tributes! He still had a year left to run on his term of office and had already spent a year being a Kirklees Councillor when mainly being based in London. You get the distinct impression that Mehboob's departure was as much of a surprise to the current Labour Leader as it was to the rest of us. 

There's a lot that has been said about Mehboob and his sometimes complex dealings and there's a lot more I and others could say. Recognising that both Teflon and Luck are finite materials has meant Mehboob has been able to choose the manner of his own departure, a luxury not many politicians have.

Here's a dramatised version of Labour Leader David Sheard responding to Mehboob's hasty departure!

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Green Party Spring Conference 2015 - Liverpool - Media Mayhem!

Green Party Spring Conference in Liverpool was huge. Well over a thousand delegates and around 400 journalists had booked for the event. Though some of them seem to have written the stories before the event e.g. The Daily Telegraph.

I was with Natalie Bennett as she approached the Conference to register with about a dozen TV cameras in her face as she attempted to get in the building with journos firing off the expected questions that were designed to intimidate. It really was media mayhem and it was a relief to enter the registration hall to spontaneous applause for Natalie as she went to get her delegate badge.

It was good to see that the new Green MEP for the South West Molly Scott Cato was on top form dealing with Andrew Neill on the Sunday Politics

My media interview was on a little later with BBC News 24 with my Energy Spokesperson hat on. "Why does the Green Party want to ban all cars?" Asked the Interviewer. "We don't!" It transpired that in the programme there was an amendment to Green Party policy with a misleading title hence the question. Seemed to bat that one off OK! The best and most definitive answer I gave to a question at Conference was from a delegate who asked me "Do you know where I can find Andrew Cooper?"

The principal speeches were all good in different ways. Natalie's Leaders speech delivered the key messages we needed to get across very well. Caroline Lucas was passionate and engaging the audience as she always does. The Deputy Leaders definitely delivered. Amelia Womack  was on form but the real and unexpected revelation for me was Shahrar Ali our Male Deputy Leader who gave a cracking speech on climate change full of humour and anger. Just good really.

Spirits seemed pretty high at the Conference and some of the fringe meetings seemed about as well attended as some of our Conferences have been in past years.

Lots more to say but lots to do at the moment!

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Committee of the Regions - ENVE Commission Report

EU Commissioner Wella  was  dead centre in my field of view for the Cttee of Regions meeting
Today was my first meeting as Co-ordinator of the European Alliance on the European Committee of the Regions. I was finding my feet and working my way round the procedures. What matters in the Committee of the Regions are 'Opinions'. These are not your 'common or garden' opinions spouted by some guy in the pub or by a foaming mouthed Tory in a Council meeting. These are the representative opinions of the EU body representing Local and Regional Government and therefore have some significance. I'm still finding my feet but have a few ideas about 'opinions' I may want to pursue later.

As our Groups Coordinator I  have however been able to support other members opinions. The one I supported today was that of Plaid Cymru Assembly Member Rhodri Glyn Thomas on Ocean Energy where he is looking to develop a common approach to wind and tidal power across the EU. One that benefits local authorities and the communities they serve. Happy to support that. This is developing technology and policy area that needs careful development and thought. So exactly the area that the Committee of the Regions needs to be working on.

Star guest at today's meeting was EU Commissioner Wella who is working on the EU Energy Union and broader Environment policies. I asked about waste policy and pressed him on what he meant by 'ambitious' targets to reduce and recycle waste. The suspicion is that he is trying to actually dampen ambition and perhaps take more account of business interests than environmental ones. The other issue I raised with him was what action could be taken by the EU to tackle the UK and our abysmal record on renewable energy. Shamefully we look set to fail to achieve our diminished target. The EU average target is 20% of energy from renewable sources by 2020. The UK target is just 15% but even that is looking unattainable. They can slap a dirty great fine on the UK but the alternative in the mean time is to seek support from the EU under the 'infringements tool'. I know absolutely nothing about this at present but I think I'll make it my business to find out more about it.  

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Passivhaus Post Script - Huddersfield Planning Meeting

My last post regarding our successful Green Party Amendment to Kirklees Councils Budget dealt with Tory Cllr Donald Firth's description of the Passivhaus Developments we proposed to support as "mud huts". As if by design,  this week a private householder in Netherton submitted a Planning Application to build a 'Passivhaus' dwelling. The Planning Committee on Thursday deciding on the application included both myself and Councillor D Firth. Planning Officers presented the application and the Chair then asked if there were any questions from Councillors. My question was "Is it made of mud?" The officer looked confused and said "No" I then expressed my own confusion as Cllr Firth had carried out "research" saying they were made of mud. I heard Cllr Firth shout something or other and the meeting carried on. You have to get your entertainment where you can these days. The application was passed. Even Cllr Firth voted for it despite it being a "mud hut"!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Passivhaus a mud hut according to the Conservatives

A mud hut - what Tory Cllr Donald Firth believes a Passivhaus looks like.
One particular treat from last Wednesday's Kirklees Budget meeting was Conservative Councillor Donald Firth's speech against the Green Party amendment. He declared that he had done some research into 'Passivhaus' design that we had proposed for around 50 homes in Kirklees. His 'research' revealed that we were asking people to live in mud huts. I don't know where he did his 'research' but it is probably the same place where he comes up with his bogus reasons to oppose every wind turbine that comes to Planning Committee. The last one that came up was probably the smallest wind turbine in the world. The fact that I supported the application in the ward he represents lead to a tirade of abuse from him and his fellow Tory Councillor Ken Sims after the meeting. Telling me to "keep my nose out of the Holme Valley". Their anti Green views are so venomous and obviously nonsense that its almost funny listening to them. It's like they've been preprogrammed by the Daily Mail. What is bizarre is that hey were opposing housing which will have  energy bills that are less than a £100/year meaning more money in the local economy, less fuel poverty and also less greenhouse gases. Still that's logic and that's a foreign land to Cllr Donald Firth.
A real Passivhaus at Denby Dale

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Andrew Cooper - Budget Speech to Kirklees Council

This is not a fantasy amendment. There are no bridges striding majestically across the Colne Valley as in the Lib Dem Amendment. There is no ‘make believe’ building where Huddersfield Library will move into as in the Conservative Amendment.

What all the amendments cannot do is fix the impact that Government cuts will have on Adult Social care. We can seek to limit the impact of cuts. What we need from Central Government is funding for free adult social care as a right in the UK. It should be a human right and the mark of a civilized society in the 5th or 6th richest country in the world.

What our amendment does is recognise the cards we have been dealt with by the Lib Dem/ Conservative Coalition Government and seeks to find to find positive actions that we can take using the power we have.

We have spoken to the Administration about our proposals because if we didn’t then these amendments that we have submitted would be nothing more than posturing. Posturing amendments put forward with no expectation of implementation. The Lib Dem and Conservative Amendments are put forward by parties that cower away from responsibility. These are Parties that, I guess want votes but don’t want to do anything with power if they are given it.

Greens and Valley Independents have already put real time and effort into protecting our Libraries. Not though a fantasy fix. Not an  attempt to hoodwink voters like the Tories with a non-existent magic bullet but concrete proposals built on time and effort and I have tremendous respect for my colleagues who have worked so hard and with real commitment working towards a more secure future for our local libraries.

We are proposing a workable alternative to food banks. So food banks will be there for immediate and emergency cases but for ongoing support low income householders will be able to get food at a third the retail price for a 6 month period to help them get back on their feet. Not only that but they will receive a package of advice and support to help them improve their lives. This is not fantasy. This is reality. Myself and Councillor Julie Stewart-Turner went with Cabinet Members to ‘Community Shop’ in Goldthorpe near Barnsley. They take surplus food that would otherwise go to landfill and use it to help feed households who have some very difficult choices to make on a limited budget. The fact that they will be paying for it even at a discounted rate gives people back their dignity. It is not charity. To the Council this is a one off cost not an ongoing one but the benefits are numerous.

Building Services provide gas servicing and boiler replacements to tens of thousands of Council properties. There is nothing in law that would stop them operating in the private sector. So if you or I or any citizen of Kirklees wanted our boiler fixing or servicing why should we go to a company that is associated with one of the Big 6 Energy Suppliers for instance when Kirklees Council could provide that service for the same cost or better and use that money to support local services such as Adult Social Care.  This need not be at the expense of local SMEs. It could well be that Kirklees Building Services works in partnership with local companies to deliver services. We believe the indicated income figures are probably unduly conservative and no one wants to be unduly conservative.

The Coalition Government has caved in to the big housebuilders and as a result homes built will not be ‘Zero carbon homes’ as they are described but still cost over£1000/year to run in energy costs. Question is how do we deal with that lack of ambition from the ‘Greenest Government Ever’. We can set our own standards for homes built on Kirklees land that we own or as a condition of sale on land we sell. That is why the we propose using the internationally recognised ‘passivhaus’ standard for homes on Kirklees land Such homes would have energy bills of less than £100/ year. This would only mean that there was less money going to energy utilities but it would also mean more money going into the local economy.

We think there is merit in reviewing our electoral arrangements at Kirklees. We have General Elections every 5 years, Parish Council Elections every 4 years yet Kirklees Elections 3 out of 4 years. Other principal councils elect every 4 years such as London boroughs. This Council is in a constant state of warfare due to the practically constant electoral cycle operating. That isn’t good for the governance of this Council. It needs reviewing. My own view is that we should aim for an election in 2018 when all seats are up for elections and seek to bring forward the Parish Council elections so we begin working on a common cycle of local elections. There is a financial saving identified here but the benefits to the Council, its governance and the people we serve goes far beyond that.

There are acres of Kirklees owned disused and derelict land and also roofspace on Kirklees owned buildings. This is a resource which can generate not only energy from solar panels we propose a partnership with both companies and communities sharing the benefits of this funding with the Council. The revenue raised will help support local services.

Moving Kirklees mileage rates to HMRC rates was something I was lead to believe happened years ago and I was shocked when it hadn’t. So I am pleased to be able to move this amendment today.

So this is our amendment. We would like to do more. When we proposed an ‘All Party Shared Administration’ for Kirklees Cllr Palfreeman quoted the Fantasy author of Game of Thrones, George R R Martin. The quote he used was ‘Most men would rather deny a hard truth than face it.’  The Fantasy here is not mine it is yours. Closing and relocating Huddersfield Library – somewhere? Fantasy. Another famous quote from George R R Martin is ‘Winter is coming’ meaning hard times ahead. Hard times are coming for Kirklees and for many local councils and the people that we serve.  The hard truth is for the Tories is that if you don’t want the responsibility in these times then don’t ask for the votes.