Thursday, 2 July 2015

World Summit Climate and Territories - National policies should be a floor not a ceiling for Local Government action on Climate Change.

The World Summit Climate and Territories is the way Local Government and devolved administrations from around the globe are feeding into Novembers Paris Summit on Climate Change. It is being held in Lyon in France and I am there in my role as a Political Coordinator for the ENVE Commission of the EU Committee of the Regions. 

One of the most telling slides in one of the presentations contained the words 'Cities Act while Nations Talk'. Governments can set targets but ultimately it is the implementation at the local level that is going to deliver the changes we need. 

In the UK we seem to be going backwards. Onshore wind has been effectively outlawed in the UK with  recent Government pronouncements following the General Election. So called 'Zero Carbon Homes' due to enter building regulations next year, will be nothing of the sort following Government caving in to the Home Builders Federation on energy efficiency standards. So what has this got to do with the summit I am attending? A particular recommendation I have sought to get included in the text for the summit was calling for national government policies and standards on energy efficiency and renewable energy to be regarded as a minimum beyond which local government could set higher standards. Effectively I was calling for a national policies and standards to be a floor not a ceiling on individual Councils ambition and activity. 

Current agreements on climate change from Governments from around the world are inadequate if we are to have a chance of halting global temperatures at around a 2 degrees C. So one way that we could ensure there is greater progress would be to free Local Councils of the constraints on what energy efficiency and renewable energy standards they can specify in their local plans. In Kirklees I would like us to be allowed to specify Passivhaus standards for all new buildings. At a stroke this would cut new buildings energy demand by 90%. To put this policy in our Councils local plan would undoubtedly be challenged/thrown out by the Government's Planning Inspectorate as being too onerous or costly for those hard pressed developers. An International Agreement in Paris freeing Local Authorities to specify high energy effiency standards in buildings would be really helpful. Lets see what happens next.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

EU Committee of the Regions - SEDEC report

I went to my first meeting of he SEDEC Commission of the Committee of the Regions today.

What stood out for me on the agenda was the draft opinion on minimum wages across the EU. It had been raised as a issue by a Labour member and it was a fine enough paper in its own terms. One of the problems I had with the paper was that it didn't really look at low wages in the context of wider inequality and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. This is what I said,

"I am fully behind the sentiments of the draft opinion but I wonder whether the quickest way to help people on the lowest incomes is by introducing a maximum wage rather than just a minimum wage. Imagine how fast minimum wages would rise if the Chief Executive of a Company or Council could only be paid no more than 10 times the salary of the lowest paid worker. Addressing low pay is tackling one symptom of a culture based on inequality. If we are to have a holistic approach to poverty and inequality we need to address greed with as much vigour as we tackle need."

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Kings Bridge to close for 5 weeks

Cllrs Julie Stewart-Turner, Andrew Cooper and Karen Allison at Kings Bridge

Kings Bridge is to shut to through traffic between 13/7 to the 16/8 this summer for essential gas works

During the 5 weeks that the bridge is to be closed to vehicles it will be open for pedestrian use only. The work, costing £70k will replace old gas pipes with new and is being timed for the summer holidays to minimise disruption.

Northern Gas Networks have informed Kirklees that staff will be working 7 days/week to ensure the work is completed on schedule. Diversion signage will be placed at strategic spots along the route.

Green Party Councillors Andrew Cooper & Julie Stewart –Turner met with Kirklees Highways staff and Northern Gas Networks representatives to discuss the project and to see how disruption to the closure of this busy entry point to the Town Centre can be kept to a minimum.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Committee of the Regions report 3/4 June 2015

Mr Juncker addresses the Committee of the Regions
Economic Growth was a bit of a theme for me at the latest EU Committee of the Regions (CoR) meeting. Firstly the group I am affiliated to in the CoR, the European Alliance was debating the principles that itwill be pursuing through the CoR. Throughout the draft principles document were references to Economic Growth as being always a positive thing without question. Given some of the negative aspects of Economic Growth I had asked for this to be changed to Sustainable Development and this was accepted & without much disagreement from what was reported to me. Growth came up again in the Plenary session on employment rights. Again Economic Growth was put up as a positive goal to be achieved without any question as to its negative impacts and inherent contradictions. I gave my maiden speech at CoR Plenary by qchallenging the unquestioning positive assumptions people make about economic growth. There's a great book called 'Enough is Enough' which is a great read which rightly questions whether growth is always worth it in terms of the environmental damaged and lower wages that often result. The other point is to question whether or not Economic Growth is even achievable, in the long term, as an economic aim as it is exponential in nature but consumers and resources are finite.  At the bottom of this post is an interesting film which lasts only 18 minutes but outlines the inherent contradictions of Economic Growth.

Another positive thing was I met other Greens on the CoR for the first time. At a meeting organised by be European Green Party 5 of us came together for the first time. There are about 12 Greens in the CoR but are spread across a number of groups. 18 Greens are needed across 7 countries to enable us to form our own group so we are not quite there yet and in any case perhaps our strength lies in having influence in a number of different groups. 

Mr Juncker, the President of the European Commission came to talk to us about his 300+ Billion Euro Investment Plan. He outlined some details of his plan and complained about a lack of an invite to the UK Govt for a visit so I was all lined up to ask a question but he left early before I had chance to put it. So exclusively for you here is the question I would have asked.

Quantative easing is likely to be a significant part of the funding for the Juncker Plan. If this funding is simply thrown at financial institutions it will either be wasted or unfocused or both. Using that funding to support Green Bonds could ensure it is linked to achieving EU Carbon & Energy targets and linking with the energy security aims of the Energy Union. I would like Mr Junckers view of this suggestion. 
I would also like to take the opportunity to invite you to the UK in the absence of an invitation from the UK Govt to look at the work of Kirklees Council is doing to address fuel poverty and reduce carbon emissions often in spite of the policies of the UK  Government rather than because of them.
So unfortunately we will never know whether Mr Juncker would have accepted my invitation to Kirklees after apparently being snubbed by the UK Govt. The question I asked is consistent with what Greens in the European Parliament have been asking for.
 My next aim is to develop a proposal for a CoR opinion. I'll keep you posted.


Sunday, 31 May 2015

2015 General Election - Looking Back & Looking Forward.

What went wrong in the 2015 General Election? Well pretty much everything.

A Tory Government pursuing a right wing agenda, full of 'near as makes no difference' climate change deniers elected on 37% of the vote with 100% of the power over our lives. They were elected on the basis of fear. Fear of Labour, fear of the SNP, fear of immigants, fear of economic collapse.

A Labour Party that believes that it failed because it wasn't right wing enough! Labour are falling in line with the Tory welfare and big business orientated agenda. Their Leadership candidates are now falling over themselves to be even more right wing as if that was the answer to all their /our problems. This is tragic to watch, even for a non- Labour supporter like me. People who genuinely believe in social justice are being dragged along by a leadership so delusional that you can see 5 years hence that they will fail to win on the basis that they are 'Tory Lite' as opposed to the truly offensive genuine article.

What went wrong in 2015? Ultimately it was the lack of any Party being able to articulate a genuinely inspiring vision of a positive future that enough people would buy into. Negativity ruled. Fear ruled. Without a compelling vision, without a robust distinctive agenda, a stumble off a platform, fear of the SNP or a bacon sandwich eaten awkwardly could and did make all the difference. Hell yes! The trivial can be ignored, set aside, even laughed at, if the vision is good and people can be offered a secure and better future.

There are silver linings. The Lib Dems were all but decimated and deservedly so. I did wonder for a while whether anyone would really buy into the 'we were a steadying influence on the evil Tories' garbage. Any objective commentator can see this was a more a right wing Government than even Margaret Thatcher in her heyday. The Lib Dems utterly wasted the opportunity they had. No reform of the House of Lords, no Proportional Representation, an abysmal and shameful record on addressing Climate Change and propping up the most appalling attacks on social welfare policies that the country has ever seen. If anything they had 8 too many MPs elected. UKIP  went backwards and are left with 1 MP who seems pretty disaffected from the much more unpleasant Farage leadership of the Party. Come 2017, and the result one way or the other of the referendum, that might be the end of UKIP who knows. I would even hazard a guess that UKIP's association with a NO vote in the referendum may work against them.In the same way that the Lib Dems association with the YES vote in the AV refendum had a negative effect on that result.

So we come to the Green Party. There is a good tale to tell and some honest reflections we should make.

The good tale is that we had more Candidates than ever before, we got a larger vote than ever before, we retained Caroline Lucas as our MP for Brighton and we had more coverage in General Election than we are used to and we nearly won Bristol West. We definitely moved forward and a lot of people in the Party deserve credit for that. The Green Party does need to look at where we go from here. The great thing is that we don't have to agonise with ourselves and ask why couldn't we be just more like the Tories because they won after all. We can look at our future on the basis that we have made sme progress. We have had faltering steps and got tripped up as we moved forward but nethertheless we have moved forward.Our membership has grown and continues to grow.

If we were just looking at the General Election then we are planning on a 5 year horizon but we have several rounds of Local Elections up till then. The Green Party needs to play to our strengths and address our challenges. Our strength is the strong message we have for idealistic young people who are more ready than ever for a principled alternative to the status quo. We were right to emphasise our commitment to social justice as it was all but abandoned by others. Criticism that we abandoned environmental issues was overplayed. Objective environmental pressure groups scored our manifesto very highly and Natalie Bennett was one of the few leaders to highlight Climate Change when she got the opportunity. Were there ways we could have highlighted our groundbreaking policies to address climate change more strongly? Very probably and by linking with our natural allies in the green energy sector, almost certainly.

We do need to take the opportunity to re-evaluate the Green Party message. We need to ensure that social justice is at the heart of our message and well grounded and consistent with our strong emphasis on sustainability. Green policies need to be firmly rooted in our core values if they are to be meaningful. We are not Old Labour and we are certainly not New Labour and never will be. The social justice and stability offered by the Green Party has to be one that is consistent with our environmental and economic aims and articulated in a way that everyone in the Green Party can buy into.

We have to continue to demonstrate that we have the practical policies and know how to put cutting edge policies forward in spite of this Government and seek to implement them through Local Councils, regional bodies and devolved governments We need to form alliances with others inside and outside political bodies to show that we do not just speak for ourselves but for a broader consensus of people seeking solutions to climate change , social injustice and a range of policy issues.

There's a lot of work to do. Lets get on with it.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Green beginnings

Going through the Green Group Room at Crown Court Buildings mucking out ready for the move to Civic Centre 3 I came across this leaflet in an old folder. It is my first leaflet as a Green Party Candidate from 1989.   A leaflet had been prepared and was ready to print the previous year as I was scheduled to be the Liberal Party Candidate for Paddock Ward in Kirklees but I had joined the Greens following the merger with the SDP so they had to bin that.

In 88 I'd gone back to North Staffs Poly to finish my degree and did my dissertation on the Political Strategy of the Liberal/SDP Alliance. I had worked for them for a couple of years as a Political Agent so I knew a bit about them. I went back a much better student. I was heading for a third  before I broke my studies for a couple of years but a few years out, not drinking every night and spending more time in the Library meant I scraped a 2.1 . I also cut my teeth as a Green Party Candidate in the 1989 Staffordshire County Council Elections. There was a printers at the end of the road so I went down there with my artwork freshly letrasetted and pritt sticked and decided bright green on white paper might make a bit of an impression. I also persuaded my girlfriend Liz to stand in the elections as well. She had pointed out to me that she had been voting Green longer than I had anyway. So there we were, the only 2 Green Candidates in the whole of Staffordshire. We delivered a few thousand leaflets and plastered a mates car with the leaflets so people could read it on their way to the largest Polling Station. I got around 11% and Liz 9% in her ward.

 The next time I persuaded Liz to stand for election again was in 2004 in the Kirklees Elections when we needed loads of candidates in the 'all out' elections following the boundary changes. The quality of the leaflets had improved somewhat by then. Somewhere I know I have a Nick Harvey  Election leaflet from 1985 printed on a duplicator when recycled paper was little better than blotting paper. If I find it I'll let you know!

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Kirklees Councillors move out of Crown Court Buildings

Crown Court Buildings
A time of big changes at Kirklees Council. We are re shaping ourselves into 'New Council'. That just doesn't mean a smaller council with less budget and less  staff but also a culture change as well. One way that this is being put in place is by moving all Councillors out of Crown Court Buildings which is opposite the Town Hall and conveniently next door to The County Pub. The new home for Councillors will be in Civic Centre 3 with Kirklees Directors and the Chief Executive. The 'them and us' seperation of Councillors and senior officers was highlighted in a recent external report in a negative light and this change is one way of addressing that issue.Packing boxes and seeing the building begin to empty you cant help thinking 'if only these walls could talk'. I know they would have a few interesting tales to tell!

Crown Court Buildings was refurbished around 20 years ago as Councillors offices, a couple of years before I was elected. When the first Green Cllr Nick Harvey was elected he wasn't given an office so he worked in the Members Lounge with its telly and comfy chairs. He reckoned he found out more there than being in an office anyway. Not only was there a Members Lounge but also a Members Library with a dedicated Librarian to help Councillors with research. Sadly this was very under utilised and the function and the member of staff went back into Huddersfield Library. The Members Lounge also disappeared and quite rightly became a large meeting room instead.

When I was elected in 1999 the Green Party Group of 3 finally got an office. It was possibly the smallest room in the building if you don't count ones containing a toilet. We later got allocated a space on the top floor on the same corridor as the Press Team lead then by David Bagley. They have been out of the building a few years now and there rooms were replaced by the Tory Group who we have shared the floor with us to this day. One of the great things about our office space was the balcony. I say 'balcony' it is more access to a flat roof space through a window. For a couple of years I quietly  grew vegetables on it and took pleasure in carrying bags of compost through Reception looking as shifty as possible. I'm sure they thought I was growing cannabis on the roof. It was great to sit out there in the summer between meetings. Other Kirklees officers will soon move into Crown Court Buildings, in the short term at least, but it will eventually be sold  off if a suitable buyer can be found.

So not just a new building but a new era for Kirklees Council. Moving people around is one thing but shifting the culture of an organisation is quite another. I am hopeful and optimistic, but that has always been a failing of mine.

My old roof garden on Crown Court Buildings - definitely no cannabis!

Access to 'the balcony' in the Green Group Room