Saturday, 28 June 2014

Highs and Lows of RHI

Flashback to 2010 our solar thermal panels  are installed
In the dying months of the last Labour Government the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) was conceived. The Govt had recently approved the Feed In Tariff for the generation of renewable electricity from small and medium scale solar, wind and hydropower. The approval of an incentive scheme for renewable heat technologies, such as biomass boilers, heat pumps and solar thermal, did comes as a bit of surprise from a government that had been pretty lacklustre on the green agenda for the previous 12 years in government. Before the details of tariff payments made there way through parliament in 2010, Labour went and lost the General Election to be replaced by the 'greenest government ever'. There followed a depressing spate of cuts of green energy schemes but not to the Renewable Heat Incentive which remained protected. Some cause for cheer one would think but then the years went by. Consultations, delay, promised start dates reneged on and more delays. The non domestic RHI did eventually commence but the domestic version was only launched a few weeks ago, nearly five years after it as originally approved.

At this point In the story, I will declare an interest. I had a Solar thermal system installed by Hebden Bridge company EcoHeat in April 2010. Any renewable heat technology installed after July 2009 with a valid Microgeneration Certification Scheme certificate would qualify for a legacy payment. So after more than 4 years I'd finally get the promised RHI payments but not without going through so e unnecessary hoops. First I'd have to get a Green Deal Advice Report at the cost of £120. This was supposedly to ensure I had insulation measures installed, but then I had an Energy Performance Certificate carried out only a couple of months ago to enable me to have cavity wall insulation installed. This just seemed to be an expensive exercise to allow DECC Minister Greg Barker to go on the television and claim people are 'taking action' as a result of Green Deal advice when I took action 4 years ago. Anyway I got the report done as otherwise I wouldn't have been able to claim the RHI.
So I get to the point where I'm completing the online RHI claim and it asks me if I have had any
Grant support for my installation as this will be deducted. I remembered I'd had a £400 grant under the Low Carbon Buildings Programme so declared that and pressed 'submit'. A few days later I get an email from OFGEM who were administering the scheme saying they wouldn't process my RHI claim without proof of my Low Carbon Buildings Programme grant. This was particularly annoying as I hadn't got proof, I'd volunteered the information, all solar thermal grants under he LCBP were £400 and anyway shouldn't they have a database of people who had LCBP grants anyway as they are acting on behalf of government. After making these points to them OFGEM relented and decided to trust me. My first payment comes in September. Now remember, other legacy RHI applicants to make sure you declare your LCBP grants like I did!

Monday, 23 June 2014

Vote Harry Perkins for Labour Leader!

Harry Perkins MP (sadly Ray McAnally RIP)
 There's a lot of talk about Ed Miliband's leadership of the Labour Party at the moment. Some of it is a reaction to him inadvisable holding a copy of 'The Sun' up in a photocall for said Murdoch owned rag. Some of it appears to be a contrived media fuelled campaign where Labour's reasonable Local and European Election results are being interpreted as a failure by BBC interviewers.

The Leadership issue for Labour is a real one, but at its heart is the lack of a distinctive agenda from them or an inspiring alternative vision. Simply saying we accept current govt spending and aping the Tory rhetoric on welfare must be disheartening to manĊ· qLabour activists, who presumably joined up to champion social progress. At a Billy Bragg gig this weekend I saw a few Kirklees Labour Cllrs obviously  enjoying his good music and his principled undiluted, full fat socialism. It must have been a much needed shot in the arm for them given the lack of that sort of message coming from the Labour Party at a national level.

If I was a Labour activist I know who I would want as Labour Leader and that would be Harry Perkins. "Who?" I hear you cry. "Is he an obscure up and coming backbencher that we should look out for?" No Harry Perkins was the fictional Labour Leader who 'came to power' following a run on the banks in Chis Mullin's 'A Very British Coup'. It is one of those peculiar dramas where the TV series is better than the book in my opinion. Harry is a fantasy Labour Leader who sticks by his socialist principles, opposes nuclear weapons and American bases, champions the NHS and  alternative energy. Through a combination of wily manoeuvring and being smarter than the entrenched right wing establishment he generally comes out on top. What comes across in Ray McAnally's portrayal of the Sheffield Trade Unionist turned Prime Minister is his authenticity, what you see is what you get. Agree with him or not you know he won't be mealy mouthed or slanting his message so as not to offend a particular constituency of opinion, probably identified following exhaustive fieldwork and opinion polling research. Ed Miliband's is as far from Harry Perkins as Brie is from Red Leicester. It depends on whether your taste in leadership is like your taste in cheese, soft and bland or hard and full flavoured (and red)

So who are the potential Harry Perkins types coming through the Labour machine? Well there aren't any that I can see. Chuka Umunna, one potential future Leader, is a classic example of what's wrong with Labour, He's undoubtably capable, a safe pair of hands and media savvy but lacking that uncompromising idealism that makes you under no doubt that his principles come first and last and won't be swayed by misinformation and supposed public opinion. He's definitely the SPAD or smart guy you want informing a 'proper politician' but not a Leader.
If Labour,  (and the Tories and Lib Dems come to that) failed in the May Elections it was by having Leaders who were so bland and seemingly interchangeable that they allowed Nigel Farage, a former Tory Stockbroker, to characterise himself as 'anti establishment'. That is a measure of how low the level of political leadership has become in the UK.

Of course this is really none of my business. I'm not a Labour Party member and don't regard myself as a socialist (even though the Kirklees Tory Leader has described me as an extreme socialist!). All I can say is that many people who do regard themselves as socialists find themselves more comfortable  in a principled party like the Greens than having to make excuses or apologise for the lack of direction and leadership from the Labour Party. Fortunately for Labour in Kirklees they now have there own version of Harry Perkins in the form of the unabashed, unashamed, unreconstructed Socialist Councillor David Sheard.

Here's Harry on form

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Kirklees Local Elections Reflections

The 2014 Kirklees Local Elections were unusual in that every Party that was defending a seat held their seats. The much overused 'Time for Change' election slogan went unheeded by the majority of electors.

UKIP stood in 5 seats in Kirklees. They got their worst result in Newsome. Their Candidate seemed quite a pleasant sort of bloke when we met and chatted with him briefly on Polling Day. He was standing in the corridor of the Polling Station at Newsome Church Hall to greet and chat with voters and I'm sure that probably didn't go down well with everybody. They got some reasonable votes elsewhere, spurred on no doubt by their media fuelled coverage for the Euro Elections. What the longevity and depth of their support is remains to be seen I guess.

Highs and lows for the Green Party. Obviously we were pleased that Karen Allison held Graham Simpson's seat in Newsome with a comfortable majority. After years as a committed Green Party activist she is now a Green Party Councillor.  
Selfie by Newsome Labour Candidate Sheikh Ullah who I bumped into at Lockwood Petrol Station - NOT an endorsement!
  It was disappointing that we didn't take the last seat off the Tories in Kirkburton Ward. The usual lies and half truths from the Tories in their pre poll leaflet about the Green Party. One particularly annoying claim was that the Conservative Candidate was,

" the only Parish Councillor to have argued consistently that the Parish Tax should not be increased"

Actually he emailed every Parish Councillor in November last year suggesting it be raised by 2.5 % which coincidentally was just a little more than the eventual agreed rise. He then turned up at the Parish Budget meeting and proposed a standstill budget from the floor with no prior discussion or papers provided. No one supported him not even the other Conservative Parish Councillor who was present. It was such obvious cynical politicking and so predictably appeared on his last election leaflet. Shameless stuff really.  I'm just glad that we can be proud of our campaigns win or lose. It is always a tough fight in Kirkburton, but we always make sure we learn from setbacks and continue to tell the truth.

In Newsome, Labour's Candidate was Sheikh Ullah, who fought a pretty clean campaign compared with the one Labour ran in 2012. A prepoll leaflet they put out had a very dubious graph entitled 'Polling Report' on it which would make a Liberal Democrat blush. It still showed us winning but fortunately not by as a big a margin as we eventually won by.  Again, as in, Kirkburton we need to learn from every election we contest and this is no different in the Newsome Ward.

Dodgy Newsome Labour 'Polling Report' graph
 The count was the usual unpleasant experience. You're always wondering if all the effort you put in comes off in the end. At the end of the day we are exactly where we were numbers wise and so is everyone else. One Conservative Councillor quipped that we could have skipped the election and saved everyone the effort and the money.

The pleasing thing for us is to have a new Councillor, who is well equipped to do a good job having been a council employee and a long time Green Party activist. The important thing now is to make a difference for people and make best use of the votes and faith they have placed in us.

Karen Allison takes her seat in the Council Chamber

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Post Election Kirklees Party Leaders debate

This debate, hosted by Kirklees Local TV, took place about 2 days after the European Election result. I think I'm looking pretty cheerful all things considered.

 Local Party leaders should do more of this sort of thing. We usually meet behind closed doors for Leading Members meetings with the Chief Executive or in the Kirklees Full Council meeting, a combination of political theatre and every now and again a bear pit. This Question Time format is good because adds a new layer of accountability for local politicians and more visibility and challenge for the positions we take on local issues. There's a bit of editing here. I think we had Robert Light a bit more on the ropes on the Tory position on the LDF than is shown here, but maybe that's a rose tinted recollection. 

It was suggested by Kirklees Local TV that they might want to do this every quarter. I'd certainly be up for it.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Parked cars are parking illegally and blocking pavements on streets around Lockwood

Councillors Andrew Cooper and Karen Allison are pictured with Lockwood residents Betty Hyland and Robert Brook on Victoria Road, Lockwood

Parked cars are parking illegally and blocking pavements on streets around Lockwood .

Green Party Councillors Andrew Cooper and Karen Allison met with residents of a Lockwood Residential Home who have had real difficulty getting about on their mobility scooters due to inconsiderate parking by motorists.

Councillor Andrew Cooper said,

“Parking around the Lockwood area is a long standing issue which is becoming more acute for local people now the new Kirklees College building has opened nearby. We were told when the planning application was submitted for the building that the college had a travel plan and there would not be a problem.  Now predictably there is a problem on a number of streets in the Lockwood area. What is really  needed here is permit parking scheme and enforcement of obstruction by vehicles that park on pavements. It is simply not acceptable that people using mobility scooters and parents with pushchairs have to use the road when there is pavement there for them to use safely. When Kirklees have established their new parking permits policy we will seek a scheme for the Lockwood area”

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Euro Election Reflections

2014 Green Party Euro Candidates - Yorkshire and The Humber
It may have escaped your notice but I wasn't elected as Yorkshire and The Humber's first Green Party MEP in the recent Elections. What has been nice has been all the concern for my well being from all sorts of people. Thanks folks but I'm absolutely fine. I made it a personal rule not to start thinking beyond Polling Day and thereby raising my own expectations. Winning was clearly a possibility and a number of opinion polls gave us cause for optimism but the surge of media fuelled protest votes, for the Party which has had far too many mentions and coverage already, put paid to that.To avoid overusing the name of the Party for the purpose of this blogpost lets just call it 'Adolf'. A name I picked at random.

I enjoyed the campaign and attended lots of hustings meetings. Adolf didn't turn up to at least 6 meetings. They later claimed they hadn't been invited to these meetings which contradicted what I was told by the various organisations arranging the Hustings. The opportunity to take on 'the bad guys' in these meetings was one I got a real kick out of. My favourite moment was when one of the Tories asked what was stopping the Government passing its own policies to protect workers rights rather than being lead by the EU? All I had to say was 'because you're Tories' This got quite a few laughs but drove the point home about the value of EU rules in protecting people's employment rights,

Notre Dame College Hustings in Leeds (note Green Euro Candidate Kevin Warnes playing Dimbleby)
 Of the Candidates I met Labours Linda MacAvan and Richard Corbett were clearly committed people of calibre who were worthy winners, but the Adolf 3 are clearly going to be a complete waste of space and our money. Obviously I was pleased that the Greens beat the Lib Dems into 5th place but I actually quite liked Edward MacMillan Scott despite him starting every meeting by feeling he had to explain his defection from the Tories to the Lib Dems after the last Euros. He had a good sense of humour and he needed it having clearly backed the wrong electoral horse.

The role of the media in the Euro Campaign remains controversial. The OFCOM ruling effectively elevated Adolf to major party status and cut the Greens out of the vast majority of TV coverage and was a constant source of frustration. Clearly the result putting us ahead of the Lib Dems vindicates our claim that this was a 5 party contest not a four party one. We beat the Lib Dems and gained an MEP despite the media and I can't help wondering how different things would have been if we'd had the exposure we deserved. I believe there were very genuine attempts by the BBC regionally to give us what they regarded as fair coverage within the rules they set themselves (as guided by OFCOM) . I think we do however  have a very strong argument that those rules were flawed as they didn't actually reflect the support we were polling or indeed the end result. What I really wanted was to be included in the studio debates something Green Candidates in other regions did manage to do.

Being interviewed by Len Tingle at Stirley Farm at our launch

The real buzz  I got in the campaign was working with committed Greens from across the region working together in a common cause. I really felt we pulled together and had a pride in the message we were delivering and the principles we stood for. I focussed on drawing in resources from the EU, improving energy efficiency of buildings, addressing fuel poverty and meaningful jobs for young people in particular.The 6 Green Euro Candidates we fielded were all capable, worked well together and were a real pleasure to work with.

During the campaign we had several encouraging polls which showed us about where we needed to be to win a Euro seat in Yorkshire and The Humber. I even wandered into the count at Leeds Town Hall to be told by one of the Labour team that they thought I might get the 6th seat but unfortunately not. My main disappointment was not having the opportunity to push for an EU target to reduce fuel poverty. The great thing is that we got another Green MEP elected in the South West. Molly Scott Cato will do a great job and I'm really pleased for her and yes a bit jealous.

At Green Party Spring Conference with Lead Candidate for Eastern Region Rupert Read and Lead Candidate for the South West Molly Scott Cato MEP