Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Kirklees Warm Zone ends

It's been three year mission, to boldy insulate cavities and lofts that have never been insulated before and what a huge success it has been. The headline figures to date are Loft insulation – 41387 homes and Cavity wall insulation 20357 homes. It has been the largest insulation scheme of it's kind ever in the UK. This will rise by a few hundred but we're pretty much at the end of it. We have acheived the previous Labour Government's target of insulating every avalable loft and cavity by 2015 a whole five years early! (Incidentally no plan was ever produced by the last government to acheive this national target)

One particularly gratifying  things is to see the parliamentary debate on energy efficiency today to see the Kirklees scheme feature strongly with references to the strong community links by Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker and our own Caroline Lucas MP. The new focus under the Carbon Emissions Reduction Targets legislation is to have a greater a focus on insulation measures what is key is whether the insulation can be installed for free or at the very least with no upfront costs. We have shown in Kirklees that you get 3 times more installations with a free area based insulation scheme than you get with able to pay offers. If you are going to the trouble of knocking on every door in your council areas, as we did with Kirklees Warm Zone, then you want as much take up as possible therefore a free scheme makes perfect sense. Officers have calculated for every £1 that the Council has spent on the scheme a further £4 has been generated in the local economy. An anti-recessionary policy? You bet it is!

It's not quite the end. The Warm Zone may end but the offer of free insulation to Kirklees households continues so those who have somehow been missed will still be able to get their homes insulated. We now have to move onward and carry on driving down carbon emissions with other schemes

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Spot the Non-Policies no 1 - On your bike!

Today Iain Duncan(Donuts)Smith announced a Tory non-policy with echoes of Norman Tebbit' famous 'my dad got on his bike and looked for work' speech.

It will never happen, never had a chance of happening and the government has no real plans of making it happen. I am of course talking about the 'policy' to move households in council houses in deprived areas to council houses in areas with plenty of jobs. Since the Tories started selling off council houses in the 80's there are now much less available council houses anyway. You also have to ask yourself how much available council housing there will be in 'well to do' areas with lots of jobs - not many if any. So maybe they could build some more Council houses with all the money we haven't got. In any case even if they did have the money they have abolished the house building targets which throws all housebuilding plans into disarray. Of course you have to question the wisdom and morality of a government accepting that some communities should be allowed to sink into further decline as its more mobile working age (young?) people move away. This so called 'policy' is utterly meaningless and I am completely bemused how Duncan-Smith has got some status as a Tory welfare guru when he appears to be so devoid of ideas and initiative. Hence this latest nonsense.

Here's another 'non-policy',David Cameron talking about troops coming out of Afghanistan in 5 years. No plans to do it, no real plan to create a stable Afghanistan, no recognition that British Troops are not part of the solution in Afghanistan but part of the problem. Why 5 years, why not 4, why not 2, why not tomorrow?

Why do journalists give this sort of non-policy, non-story any credence whatsoever?

Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Culture, Tourism and Sport Report

Last year the Independent Group on the Local Government Association appointed me to the position of Deputy Chair of the Culture, Tourism and Sport Board. They obviously recognised my cultured demeanor, sporty physique and failed to notice my lack of air miles. The work covered has been very varied covering everything from the Olympics, to Library Policy to facilities for disabled tourists in our towns and cities. I have participated in all meetings of the Board and will only miss the last one for this cycle due to being on the interview panel for our new Chief Executive as our last one has been moved to Doncaster. I attended and chaired a Seminar session at the LGA’s Culture Tourism and Sport Conference in Newcastle earlier this year and was very impressed with their new library facilities (and not just the impressive solar water heating facility and display. Though it must be said I did ask more questions about it than about the books or the PCs or anything else at all really!).

It has been hugely valuable to come from a smaller Political Party and to have an input into policy formulation at a national level. The delivery of most government policy happens at the local level so the role of the LGA is vital to ensure national government gets an informed ‘reality check’ on policy implementation. As an example Government has proposed reducing administration cost for the National Lottery which on the face of it does appear to be a good idea. However the unintended consequence of this may be to reduce the likelihood of lottery outlets in rural locations (such as is being threatened at Grange Moor) and thereby further reducing the viability of local shops. This was a point I made during the Board meetings which will be fed into LGAs communications with national government.

The Tourism Working Group which I have attended had an item on the agenda regarding ‘Open Britain’ a new guide available on the web for the disabled traveller with information on where to stay, how to get there and what to do when you get there. With about 11 million disabled people in the UK this could be a very valuable resource. Promotional stickers will be available for establishments that are easily accessible for wheelchair users and people with a range of disabilities. It occured to me that certain campaign groups might establish a ‘Closed Britain’ sticker for particularly inaccessible venues!

There has been discussion about the loss of analogue radio for established stations by 2015. There was general agreement that the move to digital was a good idea but concern over the higher energy use associated with the new digital boxes and the impact of millions of analogue radios being effectively useless and being presented to Councils for recycling. It is estimated that there will be around 100 million such radio sets. Shropshire District Council has called on the government to review the decision to use the 2015 date and to address the financial hardship of poorer households who will have to replace their radio sets and the impact of dealing with the disposal of millions of radio sets.

DCMS has conducted a ‘Libraries Modernisation Review’ which LGA has input to. This focussed on Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council where DCMS conducted an inquiry into their proposals to cut 11 or 12 of their current libraries to see if it is consistent with their statutory duty to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service. I did not get the impression that they will be intervening much into any Councils proposals to close libraries. Much of the justification for closures is about the move to mixed use buildings not simply libraries and the increasing use of the internet to access information and entertainment. This does not bode well in the current climate and if Councils decide to go down the line of significant cuts in the Library service to achieve savings then there appears to be very little central government will do in terms of intervention.

So to prove I have some cultural leanings and for your entertainment here's Buffy Saint Marie who is 70, a native american and first woman to breastfeed on Sesame Street singing about environmental destruction. It doesn't get any more 'right on' than this. It was a toss up between this and Holiday in Cambodia by the Dead Kennedys.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Solar - Do we have a million pounds more than we thought we had?

Regular readers of this blog will recall that the Greens on Kirklees have successfully argued the case for £5 million worth of photovoltaic solar panels on Council buildings. We were able to do this by demonstrating that the Clean Energy Cashback/Feed In Tarrif will pay for the capital borrowing costs of the investment. That is however only part of the picture. What hasn't been taken into account, to my knowledge, is the value of the solar elecricity used in the buildings. So let's do some sums

Assume - £5million buys 1000kWp of solar panels (actually that is a conservative figure)

Assume a 1000kWp produced 800000 kWh at 12p/kWh(don't know what KMC pay for electricity but it will be in this ballpark) Therefore we may have £96000 that we weren't accounting for.

That £96000 will finance the borrowing of around £1million in Capital to help fund essential Council projects. Of course the Council may decide to simply take the revenue saving to save jobs or support services. The key point is that if solar is self funding and generates the Council vital revenue why are we just planning to restrict this project to £5million? Why not £50million (£1million revenue OR £10million capital) or a £100million(£2million revenue OR £20million capital). Imagine what that could do to help turnaround the Council's financial woes.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Kirklees Leadership - You can have any colour so long as its red!

Kirklees Council’s Annual Meeting, following the last local elections were in many ways business as usual and in some ways very different. As usual no Party had an overall majority on the Council. In fact no single Party had even a third of the seats. Labour were the largest Party following the election with 24 out of 69 Councillors and they put their leader forward to lead the Council for the next four years. The Conservatives with 19 Councillors did not put a candidate before the Council to lead Kirklees and instead, and bizarrely nominated the Leader of the Liberal Democrats with 20 Councillors forward. What was bizarre about this was they hadn’t even asked her before the meeting whether she was willing to be put forward and of course she wasn’t. It was just some strange political game being played out.

So the Labour leader Mehboob Khan was the only one put forward. His term is supposedly for 4 years but local elections and votes of no confidence could conceivably bring that date forward as could Cllr Khan’s promise to submit himself for re-election before the Council each year despite their no longer being any legal requirement for him to do so.

So the only option put before the Councils was a Labour leader. The four Greens on the Council backed the Labour leader on the basis that we would work together on protecting the local economy as much as we could from the effects of the recession.

(The picture is from Star Wars and is Garven Dreis who narrowly missed blowing up the Death Star and was shortly after killed by Darth Vader. And the relevance is? His callsign is 'Red Leader'. I guess I could have just put a picture of Mehboob Khan up there but where would be the fun in that?)

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Sunny Views in the Local Paper

Reader Letters Examiner letters, June 9

SOME months ago I wrote to Kirklees Council leader Clr Mehboob Khan regarding solar panels for my home. His answer was that the council would give me an interest-free loan.

Thanks, I said, but I can’t afford an interest-free loan and the energy bills are getting more costly. Can I have one of those panels that I am paying for out of my council tax that you are fitting free to council houses?

All went quiet on the western front.

Fairness never comes into it. It is all about party appeasement at the cost to the taxpayer. So, Mike Warren-Madden, do not hold your breath. Suffocation is final. They can talk the talk about saving energy but cannot walk the walk when it comes to handing it out.

R J Bray


Here comes the sun

MIKE Warren-Madden (I want a solar panel too, Mailbag, June 4) can certainly ‘Talk the talk.’

In fact, I doubt if there’s a donkey with a full set of legs within 10 miles of Brockholes.

But when it comes to ‘walking the walk,’ he clearly prefers to let others put the effort in. With that in mind, might I ask him a question about his latest letter?

Mike, you asked about who might get solar panels. Have you done anything to try to find out? Have you tried to contact Clr Andrew Cooper about it? Have you written, phoned, or left an email for him?

My guess is that you haven’t.

R A Vant


Cost of ‘free’ energy

MIKE Warren-Madden wrote regarding the Green Party’s proposal┼á to pursue a free solar panel installation scheme for householders in Kirklees.

He asks if it will just be for council house tenants and if council taxpayers will end up paying the bill. The answer to both these questions is No.

The scheme we are proposing will be paid for through the Clean Energy Cashback introduced in May this year. This is a tariff available to anyone who installs solar panels from their energy companies.

So, very roughly, if you were to install solar electricity panels at a cost between £8,000 to £10,000 on your home it would give you about £25,000 back over the 25 years that the tariff would be available for.

Of course, a lot of people haven’t got access to that sort of money, particularly at the moment. The role of the council would be to install the panels for free but to take a proportion of the Clean Energy Cashback to pay for the full costs of the installation and any interest.

Households would still get the benefit of the electricity from the solar panels in their home, saving them between £150 and £200 a year.┼áThe solar panels wouldn’t replace your grid-supplied electricity but mean you will need less of it.

The proposal stacks up financially. The next issue we have to address is ensuring that the legal issues of signing over the Clean Energy Cashback are dealt with and then going through a tender process to get qualified installers.

Once this is done I envisage it would be delivered in much the same way as the free insulation scheme that the Green Party proposed. Assessors would go door-to-door to assess the suitability of the property for the solar panels and, if all is OK, then a few weeks later the panels would be installed.

So this scheme would save money, save energy, reduce carbon emissions, create skilled jobs and not cost the council taxpayer an additional penny.

Mike asks if we can install one at his house as soon as possible. Well, I’m not saying it’s going to be tomorrow but we’re on with it. If he, or anyone else, has any more questions, either contact me directly or through the Examiner letters column if that’s what you prefer.

Clr Andrew Cooper

Green Party Councillor, Newsome Ward

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Two Years On - A Postcard from the Age of Plenty

This video was produced for Kirklees Greens by the national Green Party for the May 2008 Local elections. Looking back it was produced in a different age. We were in the times of relative plenty before the public purse would have to pay for the private banking sectors excesses. We were quite chuffed about it at the time, having our own local election 'broadcast' and we promoted it on our literature. It took a couple of days to put together with an all 'star' cast including me, Councillors Graham Simpson, Julie Stewart-Turner, Derek Hardastle and Kirkburton Parish Councillor Michelle Atkinson.

It's interesting to look back on it to see just how much has changed (or not) over the last couple of years. The free insulation offer in Kirklees Warm Zone had just got into its stride having been kicked off just over a year previously and was a runaway success. Our allotment initiave hadn't started but we had been successful in obtaining the funding to get sites restored and improved so, at the time, we had no idea how popular it would become and how it would give a timely boost to the local food movement. The RE-Charge scheme which helped people get solar panels and other renewable technologies installed with no upfront costs was just an idea when the video was produced and now its has won the 2009 British Renewable Energy Awards as Best Advocate for the renewables sector and hundreds of homes have benefited. What doesn't seem to be coming off though is the recycling of the funding I mentioned. The Feed In Tarrif has changed the economics of solar panels reducing the need for second charge type arrangements. Pool cars have become a reality in Kirklees Council linked to changes to terms and conditions of service. We also now have City Car Club which now has 7 vehicles being used by Council staff and other local businesses and individuals.

Other things in the video have come to pass such as the end of Christmas Parties for Party Groups paid for by Council Tax payers see previous posts on how this came to pass and

It hasn't all come true though. The can crushers initiative never actually happened or the free reusable nappies for new parents. These would have been great initiatives but seemed to end up as too difficult to acheive. One we'll have to look at again in less financially constrained times. If we were to do another one of these what policies would we promote in these days where recession seems to be government policy. If anything the policies we were advocating 2 years ago are even more relevant on the national scale today when we need to generate new jobs and industries to tackle fuel poverty and climate change. Lets see what happens and be hopeful.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Growing Newsome Grows

Here it is my first video link to my blog. This is from the Growing Newsome Seed Swap event taken by local food guru and organiser Diane Sims. Its really inspiring stuff. Yes the basic ingredients are tea, coffee, cake and seedlings but ultimately it's about people taking a bit more control of their own lives and becoming less dependent on supermarkets. People are also using their own local environment to do this and with their neighbours who become friends. Its so positive I think it should be the cornerstone of a lot of action to build successful and happy communities.

Well allotmenting tomorrow for me to plant my stuff.