Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Green travels on plane shock!

I love flying on planes. It’s the whole thing. The airport and anticipation of the flight, the flight itself and the feeling when you realise you have left the ground somehow defeating (if not exactly defying) gravity and coming into land at somewhere strange and exotic. Part of this fascination I’m sure comes from the fact that I travel on a plane once in a blue moon and then it is related to work.  So for the first time in 5 years I hurtled into the wild blue yonder from Manchester Airport on my way to a seminar in Dusseldorf for UK Trade and Industry. As a kid I was an avid watcher of all the Gerry Anderson stuff, Thunderbirds, Space 1999 all that sort of thing so all the hardware, the planes, the technology hits all those futuristic buttons that I like.  Funnily enough my (would have been) Father in Law, who is sadly no longer with us, worked with Gerry Anderson as a cameraman on UFO and Captain Scarlet. He told me, in what was sadly our only conversation, about his bemusement at all the strange Sci-Fi geeks who used to go through the bins at Century 21 studios in the 70s looking for cast off models of spacecraft. “Did they get anything good?” I remember asking enthusiastically and rather giving the game away regarding my own geekiness.

The environmental impact of air travel is now well known and completely disastrous as far as carbon emissions are concerned. I don’t believe air travel should be completely banned but it should have to play its part in reducing global carbon emissions and not be allowed to expand unchecked. Of course I checked out the rail alternative to Dusseldorf and it added another couple of days onto the travel arrangements and so I had to give it a miss. If it was a regular thing I’d probably work it into my work schedule. 

Manchester Airport seemed keen to display its environmental credentials. Top of the range hybrid diesel buses to transport you to and from the car parks (I got the train there), interactive environmental displays greet you on arrival from the train station and there are prominent recycling points and information. This is of course just scratching the surface of the environmental impact of air travel and flights can quickly negate a lot of positive work done to reduce carbon emissions through conservation and use of renewable energy.  This is why we have characters like Richard Branson trying to find ‘techno fixes’ such as bio fuels to power his planes.  These are very unlikely to be a realistic resource given the many pulls there will be on truly sustainable biofuels for road transport etc. Though I don’t share completely the line of the ‘no bio-fuels at all’ lobby I think it would be wrong to plough on with biofuel production without any fundamental changes in the amount of air travel we need. It is not a form of ‘growth’ that can go into the stratosphere forever.

Here's the first ever episode of UFO. Produced in 1970 set in the far off time of 1980 when we would all be wearing silver suits and living on the moon. Mike Rainer my wife's late father is credited on later episodes.

LGA Environment and Housing Board Report – June 2012

Flytipping on farmland
This Environment and Housing Board was in Birmingham to coincide with the LGA Annual Conference. It was half the cost of travel to London which I was pleased about. I suggested they held some meetings in Huddersfield – a nice central location.

The revised Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Local Government Association was up for discussion. There had been concern that DECC had on occasions implemented relevant policies (such as changes to Feed In Tariffs) with little or no consultation with Local Authorities. I made 2 contributions on the proposed shared statement between DECC and LGA. One to acknowledge that Councils had been the instigators of many of the leading energy efficiency projects that have occurred in recent years and that it is they and not central government that have the expertise and experience to deliver action on climate change.. Another point I made was that simply reducing local authority estate emissions on its own was not enough. If this was achieved simply through the sale of old energy inefficient buildings this and not through improvements to the existing stock this would not necessarily mean any reductions in carbon emissions in the area just a transfer of those emissions from the public sector to the private sector.

DEFRA are to hold a Flytipping Summit in July. One proposal on their agenda is to encourage Councils to exempt farmers from costs for disposing of flytipped materials. This proposal is fraught with difficulties. A small minority of unscrupulous farmers could effectively run illicit waste disposal businesses at no cost to themselves. There is also the question as to why should we exempt farmers as opposed to any other private landowner and why should cash strapped local authorities shoulder the cost of disposing of this waste. We should be focussing on the problem of flytipping not letting one particular group off the costs of paying for it. This proposal from DEFRA looks like an unworkable non starter.

The ongoing welfare reforms was another contentious issue on the agenda. The proposed benefits cap, the size criteria for under occupied rented housing and benefit payments no longer go to private landlords but straight to tenants all seem designed to make life more difficult for those on low incomes and to generate more homeless families and suffering. Government seems to have developed these policies  believing there is a mass availability of alternative cheap accommodation in other areas and that households would be able  to move many miles to  find a job in another area with cheaper accommodation.  The broad thrust of this was that households in London and the South East would move from the overcrowded and expensive south to the cheaper North where there are apparently lots of jobs. Clearly  a policy not in any way related to the real world.

I informed the meeting that I had been in touch with Councillors in Calderdale asking for feedback on issues arising from the recent floods  in my capacity as the Chair of the LGA’s Inland Flood Risk Working Group. Todmorden, Mytholmroyd and Hebden Bridge were badly affected by the recent floods and I am keen to ensure our contacts with DEFRA on flooding issues are informed by real life experiences from people and communities affected.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Working with Independents

Terry, Charles and Edgar - The Valley Independents
The Green Party forming a group on Kirklees Council with the Valley Independents has taken us up to 8 Councillors and we are now officially recognised as a 'major group' on the Council. The threshold of what constitutes a 'major group' was set at 7 in around 2003 by the larger groups and I always thought that this was designed to exclude the Green Party. At the time we were close to winning Kirkburton (and remained 'close' till 2007) so winning 6 seats for the Greens seemed to be reasonable in a just a few years but getting to 7 might take a bit more time. So I don't think the 7 seat threshold was just plucked out of the air, it was designed to preserve the power of the larger groups and the support they were able to call upon.

It would be wrong however to think that the Green Party working with the Valley Independents is simply a marraige of convenience. I do know that the term 'Independent' can cover a range of political views. My Grandad, on my mothers side, was an Independent Councillor in Newcastle under Lyme and he was a Daily Express reader with views probably not too distinguishable from a Conservative. Though we have worked with Conservatives on Kirklees in the past it would  be totally inconceivable for us to feel comfortable working in a group with them or people who to all intents and purposes were Conservative in all but name. The Independent Group leader Terry Lyons had been a Labour Party member and Edgar Holroyd-Doveton (who has his own blog) is a former member of the Green Party before he moved to Kirklees. So we were not dealing with any 'Con-dependents' here.

We spent the best part of the last year working together on the budget and other issues. So we have built trust and dialogue to better understand where we were both coming from. We both rejected the 'Party whipping system' and therefore the use of 'Party discipline' on dissenting members. A respect for difference of opinion was shared and therefore if on occasions we disagreed it would not necessarily be a huge issue. Consensus, mutual respect and leadership by consent, as opposed to coercion, were at the heart of this partnership. Following the local elections when the Greens won in Kirkburton and the Independents in Holme Valley North this took us over the magic 7 threshold with 8 Councillors. Another thing that bound us together was our shared experience of being elected largely through our own efforts regardless of the national swings to and from the larger parties. It makes getting elected harder but once you're there you should be more resilient to the ups and downs which effect the larger parties.

 The 3 wards we each represent share a common boundary so over a wide area of Kirklees  people are now used to electing representatives who are not party of the big 3 parties.Providing real choices for people is important and showing they are not constrained by traditional parties is empowering to communities freeing them from the paternalism which often characterises the larger parties.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Examiner Letters on Kirklees Leadership

Mr R J Bray of Shelley is a regular contributor to the Huddersfield Examiner Letters column and invariably supportive of the Conservatives. Obviously the Tories abstaining at the Annual Council meeting on the Leadership and allowing Labour to run the Council presented him with a bit of a dilemma. Here's how he dealt with/rationalised it and my response below that.

“Local people gave the Labour Party an increased number of councillors showing we’re in tune with residents,” were the resounding words of Clr Mehboob Khan after his re-election as leader of our council.
I and others were unhappy that the Conservative councillors decided to abstain from the vote.
This is to a degree understandable when all they would face would be derision at failing to oust Clr Khan from his secure seat.
If the Conservatives had voted against Clr Khan it would have made no difference whatsoever. He is leader by the constitution for four years even though he puts himself up for re-election each year it’s a case of the winner of this year’s one horse race is. The Labour Group has 32 members and the Conservatives have but 18.
If, however, Conservative Clr Robert Light had put up for council leader not one of the other groups would have supported him.
The Greens would not have voted for an alternative. It was the votes of the four greens three years ago which lost the Conservatives control of the council. The Lib Dems would not support the Conservatives nor would the Independents.
The four independents – three of whom are now in with the Green group – voted against and the other independent voted for Clr Khan.
This year was the first time the Greens voted against Clr Khan and the main reason being they did not get the chair of Scrutiny Panel or any chairs of major committees which they wanted.
They therefore voted as a matter of pique rather than policy.
Labour is the largest party and so by the constitution has to form the administration. All other minor groups would not support the Conservatives running the council.
Perhaps Clr Andrew Cooper and Clr Kath Pinnock would care to explain why they would not support the Conservatives in running the administration as the major opposition party thus trying to break the cycle of negativity from the clueless Labour party.

R J Bray

 And my response

R J Bray says in his letter (Examiner, May 28) “Perhaps Clr Andrew Cooper and Clr Kath Pinnock would care to explain why they would not support the Conservatives in running the administration’’.
The fact of the matter is that they never sought support and never made a ‘pitch’ to other groups.
I tried to get the non Labour groups round the table on a number of occasions to discuss how to address the leadership of the council and to put pressure on the Labour Party on issues of mutual concern, such as the libraries, but to no avail.
There simply wasn’t the will for joint discussions from the Conservatives.
Personally I have no particular enthusiasm for either Labour or the Conservatives running the council but my prime concern, in a hung council, would be about the policies they were seeking to pursue and their willingness to involve other groups in decision making.
The Greens have supported (and opposed) all the other political groups on the council at different times on different issues on the basis of the policies and their impact on local people.
Another statement by Mr Bray in his letter was “the Greens voted against Clr Khan and the main reason being they did not get the chair of the Scrutiny Panel or any of the chairs of major committees that they wanted”.
This maybe what he believes but it simply isn’t true.
Clr Khan threatened to remove the Green Party from chairing the Resources Scrutiny Panel if we didn’t support him as Leader before we made our decision.
It would be true however to say that these threats did inform our view of his character as a potential leader of the council.
In the end we didn’t support him because we couldn’t get a firm commitment on policy issues, including the libraries.
As a consequence of our decision at the annual council meeting Labour voted in favour of the Conservatives taking the Chair of the Resources Scrutiny Panel from the Green Party and Valley Independent Group as punishment to us and as a reward to the Conservatives, for abstaining on the vote on the leadership, thus allowing Mehboob Khan to become Leader of the Council.

Councillor Andrew Cooper
Co-Leader of the Green Party and Valley Independent Group