Sunday, 29 May 2011

Independents on the Council

Should read 'Independents'
We've had a number of Independents on Kirklees Council over the years. The first I remember were discontented members of the larger parties who either left or were ejected from the parties they were originally elected for. Rarely if ever were they ever re-elected with the 'Independent' badge. So when Terry Lyons got elected for Holme Valley North (my local Councillor) he was a fair bit of a rarity and it was down to good old fashioned graft and getting round meeting the people. So plenty of respect there for that. He's had a few fellow travellers with the Independent tag over the years. Jackie Grunsell was elected as a 'Save NHS Huddersfield' Candidate and rode the wave of discontent over maternity services being moved to Halifax. She was heavily plugged by the Huddersfield Examiner which gave a considerable boost to her campaign. Jackie was part of the Socialist Party/Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition/Trade Unionists against the cuts, so when her and Terry formed a group it did appear to be a marraige of convenience rather than a meeting of minds. Without a media backed campaign Jackie was always going to struggle and failed to be re-elected. Khizar Iqbal a Conservative Councillor fell out with his group following the selection of a posh barrister Tory for the Dewsbury Parliamentary Constituency rather than himself. He sat as an Independent for a while but didn't form a group with Terry and is now back in the Tory fold ( poor chap!). This May the second Independent Councillor was elected to Holme Valley North Edgar Holroyd -Doveton beating the Liberal Democrats. They sought to 'out' him as a 'socialist' (never been a scary word for me) but Edgar's campaign was built on the same lines as Terry's with his support and the necessary graft. So now as a group the Independent Two seem much more coherent than they have in the past. Kirklees hasn't quite got the idea that they are a group yet and Terry wasn't invited to join the Mayoral Party with other Party leaders at the Mayor making but I guess they'll catch up pretty soon.

Friday, 20 May 2011

A Coalition Cold Front descends on Warmfront

In the spirit of ‘all in this togetherness’ the government has cut funding to the Warm Front scheme that provides heating and insulation to the vulnerable and people on low incomes. The Budget has been reduced £300 million last year to £110 million this year and £100million in 2012/13. Of course it is bad enough that people on low incomes will have less opportunity to get their homes properly heated and insulated but the government have put some of their own special touches in that will make matters even worse.

Benefit Entitlement Checks, which were part of the old scheme, have been cut. These helped people who were unaware of the benefits they could claim or perhaps were too proud to claim. This not only helped improve their incomes ( on average by £1850 in 2009/10) but also meant they could become eligible for a Warm Front installation that they previously didn’t qualify for (over 11,000 in 2009/10). It made the scheme a more holistic approach to tackling fuel poverty as it addressed both income and energy efficiency. The Government clearly are wanting to not only restrict the funding on warmfront but also on people who can legitimately claim benefits they are entitled to. Something the Government have done which I won’t argue with is cancelling the voucher scheme for reductions off the cost of central heating to pensioners. This never had any real validity wasn’t based on income and was never properly policied to ensure heating companies weren’t simply profiteering off it, but this is a small consolation compared to the decimation of a valued scheme like Warm Front

On occasions the costs of central heating jobs under Warm Front may not be covered by the grant maximum and so customers are asked to contribute towards the costs. So people in the direst circumstances could be asked to find £300, £500 or more. Sometimes this money can be found from a variety of pots, some local authority monies, though this is becoming limited, Royal British Legion or charities. What the government have done now is to limit the customer contributions ‘offer’ to 30 days meaning that many people may not be able to get the money together in time to arrange to pay for an installation and they will lose out.

When the Warm Front scheme first started a few years ago now there were significant issues with quality of workmanship which I and others took up with DEFRA. Many householders suffered with substandard, dangerous and illegal gas installations. As a result a strong inspection regime was brought into place which helped raised standards. This was vital when many customers are vulnerable and may be reluctant to speak up for themselves. All gas jobs were inspected now only 10% will be inspected.

Low Carbon technologies have been dropped from the scheme offer, though to be fair this was a bit of a shambles in the old Warm Front scheme with very little drive to make this a real offer

The big change is with the eligibility critera. Less people will now be eligible for Warm Front and there will be virtually no promotion of the scheme. This is supposed to demonstrate better targeting of the scheme. Only houses with an energy efficiency SAP rating of under 55 are supposed to be helped by the scheme which may sound reasonable but there will be no proper measurement of this it will be based on assumptions based on some basic questions. For all these reasons I‘ll stick my neck out and say they have restricted the Warm Front scheme so much that I believe it will underspend in 2011/12.

Monday, 9 May 2011

What have the Greens done for us?

Labour's 2011 Kirkburton leaflet

It's always interesting, waiting in anticipation to see what the opposition decide to throw at you. With Mike Greetham in Kirkburton this year it was 'What have the Greens done for us?'. The great thing about it is that it begs the pythonesque response, "Well there's the free Boxing Day Bus Service" "Yes well they 've done that for years" "and then there's the thousands they've saved by abolishing water coolers, free insulation for thousands of households etc etc". I could go on on this tack for quite a while and oddly enough for a number of years we did run a page on our main election leaflets entitled "What have the Greens ever done for us?" and then went on to list our achievements.

On this occasion Mike's on about the Kirklees Budget and the fact that we were the only party not to sign up to slashing millions off the social care budgets. He says that we,

' had no alternative budget and said the Council should spend at the previous levels. The Greens would bankrupt the Council just as Lambeth and Liverpool did in the 80's'.

Leaving aside the fact that these were Labour Councils that he is criticising, the Green Party did actually go through the whole budget process and felt that to support the cuts as the other Parties had done was something that we could not do as a matter of principle. We never said the Council should spend itself into debt. We disagreed with the rules of the budget game laid down by central government and we saw no reason to put our hands up for a budget that we fundamentally disagreed with. Ultimately government should take more from the rich and the banks and give it to those in the direst need. 'We are all in this together' is not an acceptable statement for a millionaire to make to a pensioner on a low income needing personal care. If you don't buy into the Coalitions programme for cutting the deficit you cannot support this by proxy by voting through cuts at the local government level.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

The politics of posterboards

We've been putting posterboards on lamp posts for a number of years now since Kirklees approved us being allowed to do so. Early on we had a few problems. Not making our wall paper paste thick enough was one irritating early problem. When our posters start flapping off their boards in Kirkburton one year the Tories put out a pre-poll leaflet with an article entitled 'Green campaign comes unstuck'. You've got to hand that one to them! The other occasional problem was making sure they're the right way up. Just because they're the right way up on one side of the lamp post doesn't always mean they are on the other side!

There are of course rules that Kirklees make which are often ignored by certain parties such as don't put them on lamp posts with other signs attached which they could obscure if they slip. Another is that they should not be nailed into trees or telegraph poles. All these rules were ignored by the Conservatives in the Kirkburton Campaign. Another irritating thing was that we were given permission to put up our boards on land around Farnley Tyas by the landowner and so were the Conservatives. One morning our boards had disappeared and were replaced with Conservatives ones. Now I'm not implying anything, well maybe I am.

There are benefits to getting your posterboards up first but the downside is that the opposition can come by afterwards and turn your boards sideways while they're putting there's above yours. We've always prided ourselves on getting ours down early and usually Derek Hardcastle is getting them down in Kirkburton the next morning. One year we were a bit slow at getting them down and found some of ours pushed higher up the lamp posts presumably by the oppostion while taking there's down. Nice!

Four more years!

Yes indeedy!
The votes have been counted, the beer has been drunk and it hasn't been a bad election for Kirklees Greens. Julie Stewart-Turner returned with a majority of over a thousand in Newsome and Derek Hardcastle won Kirkburton with 82 votes over the Conservatives (Kirklees Results). The Kirkburton Count was as unpleasant as usual from the usual source unfortunately but we got the result at the end of the day. There seemed to be an assumption by the Conservatives that they were going to romp home due to their 1100 majority last year but they failed to take into account the fact  that their vote was boosted in a General Election year with voters turning out who may not be as engaged with local and community issues. Derek worked incredibly hard during the campaign getting out and about seeing people and was a worthy winner.

We also had a good showing in the Kirkburton Parish elections with 12 Greens being elected onto a Parish of 25 (Parish Results). The really satisfying thing is that we now have at least one Green Party Parish Councillor in every Parish Ward in the Kirkburton Ward which bodes well for the future. It was a  shame that we didn't get the rest of our 6 Parish Candidates elected but hopefully better luck next time. The important thing now is to turn that result into more successful local action at the community and Kirklees level.