Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Barry - "Gordon should resign because........"

Barry Sheerman Labour MP for Huddersfield today called on Gordon Brown to resign. But why? Was it for the continued lack of regulation for the financial sector?, wasting billions on the Trident missile system?, the ongoing tragic farce of Iraq and Afghanistan? or even the Government's pitiful action to address climate change? No it was none of these things it was because the electorate don't 'love' him. 'Sherlock is not going to the toilet' as they say!
In the Huddersfield Examiner he is quoted thus,

"I think over the last two-and-a-half years he hasn't shown that he can engage with the electorate. I think they respect him to a large degree but they have failed to fall in love with him. You need that mixture of love and respect."

If the policies were right, if the economy wasn't in such a mess, if we weren't involved in dubious international conflicts I am sure 'the love and respect' would be easier to come by than it is for Labour. Barry is the archetypal loyalist usually. Blairite before Blair. In policy terms Gordon Brown and Tony Blair couldn't have a better ally but it seems that Labour have had a bit of a foul up in the PR department and Gordon doesn't smile convincingly enough so Barry is getting the knife out Of course in the run up to a General Election it is very convenient for Barry to distance himself from a very unpopular Prime Minister. Given his lack of policy differences with Gordon Brown it is also a wee bit cynical.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Dem Fibs from the Lib Dems

Politics can be a dirty business and the trustworthiness of politicians is probably not rated much higher than second hand car salesman or estate agents. What is needed at this point more than ever is demonstrable honesty by politicians. So when I was passed the latest Lib Dem leaflet from Almondbury I had hoped for better but was to be disappointed. Imagine my astonishment when I read that the Green Party have called for lower insulation standards in council housing than the private housing improved under Warm Zone and that we wish to put concrete insulating render on historic buildings. Lib Dem Leader Kath Pinnock is quoted as saying "only the Greens could think it sensible to destroy our stone heritage buildings at a huge cost to the tax payer". None of this is true, of course. At Full Council as I was leaving the chamber I asked Cllr Pinnock why she had said these things but she refused to talk to me about it and parted swiftly saying "You shouldn't take credit for Warm Zone!". All became clear at this point. The Lib Dems had indeed proposed the Kirklees Warm Zone but not with free insulation. There are any number of Warm Zones up and down the country but without the Green Party amendment making it free it would have less than a third the take up of the current scheme, up to 40'000 homes might never have been insulated under a Lib Dem Warm Zone. The credit, locally and nationally the Greens have received for the free insulation scheme has clearly got up their nose. They usually put a misleading statement in their leaflet like "The Lib Dems introduced Kirklees Warm Zone that provides free insulation for all households". I usually let this pass but this latest leaflet is beyond the pale.

At a meeting on Thursday evening she asked me to tell he if there were any grant schemes to provide solar panels for church buildings. I told her about a suitable grant scheme but not before pointing out the irony of her asking for my advice.

Cllr Kath Pinnock isn't beyond stretching the truth to the limit as this link to the blog on the Yougen website illustrates ;

Saturday, 5 December 2009

17 years of Green Party Christmas Buses

This year marks the 17th year of the Green Party's Christmas Bus Service in Huddersfield. The service is run by volunteer drivers and stewards and was the brainchild of David Taylor a Green Party member from Linthwaite. 17 years ago Bus Services had been cut back with the removal of services on Boxing Day and New Years Day with reduced services on New Years Eve and Christmas Eve. People without a car were forced to either get an expensive taxi or stay at home if they needed to get around. Plenty of people did need to go places, shopping in the sales, going to the football, visiting family and friends in hospital or simply going to work. The service itself started as a protest, to shame the bus companies and Metro to reinstate withdrawn services but as years went by it became a commitment. The service linked Berry Brow, Newsome, Huddersfield and the hospital and was free to users with only donations being requested. An amendment to the Council budget around 8 years ago enabled the hire of buses for a range of voluntary organisations and now there are several services operating. 3 years ago Metro had a rethink and Boxing Day bus services were reinstated but unfortunately not on New Years Day so the volunteer service goes on. There are still areas not served by the Boxing Day service and this year we will be running a service linking Flockton, Grange Moor and Huddersfield for the first time with Green Party members Derek Hardcastle (pictured) and Michelle Atkinson taking the wheel.

Complaining about services being withdrawn is important but if we have learnt anything from this it is not enough to simply protest, real empowerment comes when you take action.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Standing for Parliament

I was recently asked to write a 100 words on why I wanted the job as Huddersfield's next Member of Parliament so for your interest here it is (a bit more than a 100 words though!)

"As a Green Party Councillor in Huddersfield for the last ten years I have seen first hand the issues affecting people day to day around Huddersfield . People are trying to make ends meet financially while local services and facilities diminish and disappear around them. We need a totally different philosophy in Westminister which values and cherishes locally delivered goods and services and where care for the most vulnerable in our society is not compromised. Our values as a society have to change. We need to move away from a confused and confrontational foreign policy to one of certainty where putting our armed forces in the firing line for the most dubious of reasons simply does not occur.Sustainability is a principle that drives Greens but it is at least as relevant to the economy as it is to the environment. Just as our natural resources are been squandered so our approach to finances has been one where greed has won out over good governance.For all these reasons i decided to stand for election as Huddersfield's first Green MP to ensure these principles and ideas that are shared by millions at last get a voice in our Parliament."

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Fruit Trees and Honey Bees

This year Newsome Green Councillors are planning to get a thousand fruit trees planted on public land in the ward. Newsome isn't a huge area but we believe we have identified enough space for the trees. The 1000 fruit tree project (I must think of a better title) has 2 aims:-

Aim 1 - To plant a 1000 fruit trees - We want to plant a mixture of fruit species giving people a range of free food in their own backyard. We are keen to involve school children in the planting to give them a sense of connection with the land around them and to give them the ability in a few years of being able to eat food from a tree they planted. I believe the benefits go beyond the food itself and it helps give people a sense of place and a better connection with the geography around them.

Aim 2 - To get the word 'Beellotments' into the Oxford English Dictionary - People are familiar with the word 'Allotments' . You get a patch of ground from the Council and grow stuff on it. Recently people have tried putting hives on allotments but the bees annoyed other allotment holders. With the thousand fruit tree scheme we have the opportunity to fence off an area of trees specifically for hives which the Council can rent out to beekeepers. The bees will emerge from their hives with trees to pollenate on their doorstep and we will be doing our bit to protect our vital bee population. Magic!

Friday, 6 November 2009

Lighting the way

Finding ways of addressing the energy use of streetlighting has been an ongoing theme of the Kirklees Green Councillors over the last ten years. It is a huge issue and represents a significant proportion of the Councils carbon emissions. Early experiments were off grid solar streetlights on Malvern Rise, Primrose Hill. They worked, but they would never replace a standard streetlight in tems of illumination but ideal for places where an electrical connection is difficult. A hybrolight, combining wind and PV power for off grid locations is on a footpath between Close Hill Lane and Towngate is up and running and justified on the basis of the avoided costs of not connecting a long electrical connection. Our first grid connected solar streetlights were installed this year on Edale Avenue and they perform well and are comparable with a standard streetlight in terms of performance. There is an 'however' however and it is to question why have a streetlight connected to the grid which simply acts as a platform for a solar panel why not just stick a load of solar panels on top of a building instead of lots of little ones on top of individual streetlights. I guess the answer to this is to imagine them as part of a very intensively localised energy network utilising all available space to generate the maximum amount of electrical power. That is clearly not where we are at the moment but probably in my ideal scenario is where I would like us to be. Back to the 'here and now' we need to reduce the carbon emissions associated with streetlights quickly.

There is a whole agenda at the moment around dimming and turning off street lights in the early hours of the morning in isolated spots say between 2 and 6 in the morning. The other approach is to get streetlights which produce the same amount of light but use less power by utilising LED technology. We have trialled LED Streetlights with a Green Party initiative with 29 columns in the Highfields area of the ward and they are working fine (apart from the one pictured which was on during the day!).

Our next, more low tech, solution is to put stickers on lighting columns telling people who to ring if the light is on during the day (dayburner) or isn't working at all. I have reported stacks of dayburners over the years to Kirklees Highways but the quicker they are noticed and reported the better and these stickers will help.

One last thought. Each year we go through a portion of space littered with dust particles sometimes resulting in spectacular meteor showers. Why not turn off streetlights for a few hours in the late evening/ early hours of the morning on that day, so we can have a free meteor show for the area without the distractions of light pollution.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

... and solar energy in Sheffield

As a bit of a footnote to my last postI went to a showcase event in Sheffield on refurbishment of housing last week and they had a demonstration 'eco' refurbishment that the Council had conducted on a property in the Page Hill area. It had solar thermal and solar pv panels and was very much a 'one off'. It shows how far Kirklees has come that we can give tours of whole estates using solar energy and Sheffield has just one. They made the same error I made in my first solar project of putting a solar thermal panel on a small property with very limited hot water demands. I'm not having too much of a go at Sheffield though. They are the second Council in the country to introduce a free insulation scheme for all their residents but over a 6 year timescale not a 3 year timescale like the Kirklees scheme.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Solar Energy in Huddersfield

Huddersfield is a great place but I think you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would regard it as the solar energy capital of the UK. Yet it undoubtably is.

The first solar panels were for water heating and were installed in Council Housing in Kirklees on Tolson Crescent in Dalton in 1995. 8 properties were helped but in retrospect it was a poorly conceived project and I was responsible. 6 of the properties were flats with pensioners living in them with very low hot demand and as the Estate Management Officer at the time I sourced funding from Kirklees Environment Unit to get them installed. Half the Councillors in Kirklees at the time traipsed through the tenants houses feeling their sun sourced hot water. Another 7 properties were installed the following year at St John's Avenue in Newsome (pictured) as Labour's attempt to show there was no need to vote Green. As I remember I was specifically not required for the photocall on that occasion. Though I was the project manager I was also the Green Party's Campaign Organiser and that didn't endear me to the Labour administration of the time.

There followed a bit of a lull until 2000 when we established the Renewable Energy Fund and since then it has been project after project. In Newsome Ward alone we have a multitude of projects including Primrose Hill Solar village, around 120 properties with solar PV and some solar thermal, Castle Grange Residential Home with 10kWp of solar PV, the new Hillside School with a range of renewables, Croftlands with 30 or so properties with PV, Civic Centre 3 with 18kWp on the roof, Lowerhouses Junior and Infants also has a small pv system and not forgetting our solar street lights on Edale Avenue. With the RE-Charge scheme that we established for private householders taking off we have another 15 or so PV systems going in soon along with PV going in on the Edale Avenue sheltered block.

It is all exciting stuff and with the Clean Energy Cashback coming in next year we should be in for another boost. I have proposed a £5 million project to use the new feed in tariff to fund the capital outlay of purchasing and installing the photovoltaic panels. This will effectively mean we will be able to install as many solar panels on Council buildings as we like for free with no impact on the Council Tax. All we need now if for Government not too muck up the legislation and we will be fine. I also have to think of a name for the scheme. Ideas welcome.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Reflections on 'Together'

'Together' is Kirklees Council's free magazine that goes out to all households every couple of months or so. I was a bit surprised in the last one to see Cllr Mehboob Khan make reference to the support his administration have from the Green Party and the Lib Dems. I'm a wee bit more philosophical about who we cooperate with on the Council. If your starting point is that there isn't really a lot of political difference between any of the larger parties then your chief considerations are the personalities involved, whether or not you can trust them and what you can get out of them to help further the Green Party's objectives of protecting our local and global environment.

Our story of cooperating with the larger parties began with the 2000 budget in the February of that year when Labour needed 2 votes to get their budget through and we had 3 Councillors. That was the year we established the Renewable Energy Fund which since it was created has levered in millions of external funding. These were the dying days of a Labour administration that had been in a majority position for many years. Relations between the Greens and Labour were not good. It was due to the three seats we took off them that they lost their majority but the deal we secured was a good one and they were keen to demonstrate they were acting in good faith. You could be certain that their word would be kept.

Following the local elections in 2ooo we ended up with an all party administration with all groups represented and with the Green Party responsible for Housing Policy. It didn't last long with Labour and the Conservatives falling out with the Liberal Democrat leadership who they accused of taking credit for the things that went well and sharing the blame for what went wrong. They walked away and we stayed put in a Lib Dem/Green Shared Administration. Graham Simpson was our Cabinet Member for the first couple of years and he helped steer Kirklees Council into putting its housing into an Arms Length Management Company. I followed on from Graham and we managed to get some significant initiatives up and running such as free insulation for the over 60s, planning notice signs, support for vountary Christmas Bus services etc . As time went on it became more difficult working with the Lib Dems and they were obviously running out of steam and were cracking under the strain of relentless pressure from Labour and the Tories in Council meetings. We had also had enough and felt we were getting little real progress from working with them by this point and trust was breaking down. If they had survived the 2006 election we decided the price for staying in the shared Lib Dem administration would be high in terms of our policy demands and if they weren't met we would more than happily walk away.
When the Tories came to power our approach was pretty much the same as it would have been for the Lib Dems- the conditions for our support would be pretty high. We are a party of the progressive left and the idea of the Tories running the council did not really appeal to me or our party members. We ended up asking for, among other things, a £21million free insulation scheme to make the rather underpowered Lib Dem inspired Warm Zone scheme actually work. The Tories agreed ( the reasons how and why are another story) but they were as good as their word and our proposal became the properly funded Kirklees Warm Zone. Its been a combination of annoying and amusing since then to watch every Party on the council claim it was down to them. The Tories actually turned out to be not as rabid as they were in opposition and for their first couple of years did a pretty good job before they tore themselves apart trying to make the Building Schools for the future programme build a Birkenshaw High School, against evidence from officers on the educational benefits and additional costs (again another story).

So we come back to where this short tale began with a Labour administration. They were however brought in essentially because the Tories had to be removed. 'Trust' was an issue for us with Labour at the start but so far so good.

If I've learnt anything from the last ten years it is being clear about what you want from politics and make sure your proposals are significant enough to warrant you putting your support behind whichever Party is prepared to put themselves in the Kirklees Cabinet. Not knowing what you want is fatal for politicians they lose direction, focus and become vulnerable to circumstance and crisis. I've seen a Party try to run the Council with no clear programme and you start wondering why they went to all that effort of trying to get elected in the first place.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Christmas cancelled shock vote!

Well the Council voted for our motion to end the party groups hospitality allowance. Not enthusiastically and certainly not all of them but they did. Basically the game was up and no one was going to stand up and defend it. The Conservatives bizarrely abstained on the vote without comment.

The interesting thing now is to see how its abolition will actually happen in the council budget.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Greens propose cancelling Christmas!

Well not really! At the next Council meeting we will be putting a motion proposing an end to the Party Groups Hospitality Allowance. It has to be a bizarre anachronism that political parties can spend up to £2000 on booze and food for Christmas Parties usually inviting key party activists.
Whenever I bring this up with other Party Leaders they mutter about 'posturing' or say it's a small amount compared wth the Councils overall budget. They miss the point and the principle. Why should political groups be able to buy booze on the Council Tax? I can't imagine many people supporting it particularly in the current political climate and a time we are supposed to be looking for efficiencies and putting services under increasing pressure.
I have proposed in every Green Party budget amendment for the last few years to abolish the Hospitality Allowance. While the Greens have managed to get millions for insulation and renewable energy we have been singularly unsuccessful with our attempts to stop the Xmas Booze Tax. Perhaps in my more charitable (and naive) moments I could say it was because this particular proposal was wrapped up in a budget amendment with lots of other proposals that it made it difficult for the other Parties to support it. So now I've made it really easy for them. At the next Full Council meeting we will have a single motion on the subject. So what will happen next Wednesday? I honestly don't know!

Friday, 9 October 2009

Huddersfield - Give us a sign!

I read in today's Huddersfield Examiner how their (and Ken Davy's) campaign to get 'Welcome to Huddersfield' signs have been successful. Modesty prevents me from pointing out that it was actually me who kicked off this campaign earlier this year. Now Barry Sheerman will apparently be joining us at the official launch of the signs tomorrow. It's like the free insulation scheme all over again, everyone wants a share of the glory and why not.

The important thing of course is that we will have boundary markers which will help give the town more of a distinct identity from Kirklees (which is in Calderdale). There is a wider question of ' What is our vision for Huddersfield?'. The growing danger is that once people head over the Huddersfield border they will hit a ring road lined with supermarkets with a town full of empty shops. Then we will need another sign on New Street saying 'You are now in the 'dead centre' of Huddersfield'

The attached photo is from when I kicked off the campaign for Huddersfield signs and is my personal entry for the ' Glum Councillors' blog

Sunday, 13 September 2009

From 37 to 35 hours

Whichever government we get after the General Election we know that to pay for the bankers we will have a huge contraction of the public sector. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are under threat. It will be the next dip in the recession within 12 months. If the choice is cut jobs or cut hours my vote goes for hours. To have potentially thousands of breadwinners becoming unemployed is unacceptable. The question for Kirklees Councillors will they take the 'we are a service not an employer approach' (yes someone has said that) and put thousands of families on the dole OR can we find another way. A 35 hour week would save the Council millions yet preserve jobs. It would also drive efficiencies in the way Kirklees operates.

Is it possible, politically, to acheive a 35 hour week? We'll see. If I manage that I may try the more difficult problem of getting the other Party groups to abandon the £2000/year party groups hospitality allowance. Stop free beer for Councillors now that would be an achievement.