Thursday, 21 November 2019

EU Committee of the Regions - Signing Off!

My last day at the EUCommittee of the Regions
It was my last meeting of the Committee of the Regions in Brussels today. Not because of Brexit but because we are reaching the end of our mandate and I'll be unable to attend further meetings due to the General Election.

It has been 4 years and I've got to say I've enjoyed it. Are politicians supposed to admit they enjoy things? Well one of the things that I particularly like doing is getting to understand political institutions and seeing how they work and using them to get some positive change. So I understand that is not everybody's cup of tea but it is mine.

It was 4 years ago when I was offered a place on the EU Committee of the Regions by Councillor Marianne Overton, Leader of the Independent Group on the Local Government Association I was part of the 24 strong UK delegation giving a voice from the local level into EU policy making. As a representative of the European Alliance group I have participated in 4 United Nations COP Climate Talks, lead on 2 policy documents (opinions) and seen best practice on mainly environmental initiatives across the EU. By it's very existence it demonstrates the lie that we have no influence over EU policy.

 It has been a part of my working life for the last 4 years and I've reported on my activity fairly regularly on my Blog. The last few years, for  have been blighted by the Brexit vote in 2016 for me. Just as UK MEPs have continued to go to the European Parliament I have continued to go to the Committee of the Regions and provide my views from a Green and UK perspective on EU policy.

Today I made my last contribution. We heard from Jacob Werksman, Principal Adviser for International Aspects of EU Climate Policy, European Commission, who is the EU's chief climate negotiator to the UNFCCC COP25. He explained how he was working on something called the 'Climate Pact'  a process by which National Governments would make agreements with local authorities on how they could work together on climate action. My suggestion was that the EU Committee of the Regions, as the body representing Local and Regional Authorities, should be involved in the design of the Climate Pacts. This seemed to go down well and I'm hopeful that we will get a better document as a result. Depending on the outcome of the UK General Election,  UK Councils may or may not be involved in climate pacts with National Governments to address the climate emergency we face.

So farewell talented employees of the EU Committee of the Regions who guided us through EU policy and helped me achieve some of my policy ambitions, farewell colleagues and now friends who I worked with and some who I'll continue to work with.

Is it the end? Who knows what the next few weeks will bring.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Green Candidate says "Don't mess with Castle Hill"

The Green Party Candidate for Huddersfield, Councillor Andrew Cooper has called on politicians to leave Castle Hill alone.

"People in Huddersfield really value Castle Hill. Local people have an almost spiritual connection to it. When we come home from our holidays the sight of Castle Hill on the horizon tells us that we are near home. When we bring visitors to see the town it is one of the places we take them. Its history goes back to the Iron Age and anyone suggesting 'improvements' should tread with caution"

" It has not taken long for me to work out that suggestions that we might have a cable car going up Castle Hill is a non starter. It is not a theme park or a visitor attraction like Disneyland it is a place that people go to to look at the town they live in and the hills that surround us. I also oppose any suggestion that we should put a hotel on top of Castle Hill. I like many had a great deal of affection for the old Castle Hill Hotel and raised the alarm when the owners started to demolish it in contravention of their Planning Application. Sadly we can't recreate what they destroyed."

"What we do need on Castle Hill is a retractable bollard at the bottom of the road to shut it off to traffic at night and particularly around October/November when it becomes a magnet for setting off fireworks. It causes huge disturbance for local people and needs a significant clear up operation in the following days, usually by local volunteers. Kirklees Council has simply not enforced the Public Space Protection Order that banned fireworks been set off from the hill. Last year the whole side of the hill, that was tinder dry, went up in flames as a result. The Labour run Kirklees Council  needs to get a grip and when it declares a Public Space Protection Order actually enforce it."

Sunday, 17 November 2019

Kirklees Peer Challenge Report - A Corporate Opportunities Register?

How will Kirklees develop a buccaneering approach to risk and opportunity?
Kirklees Council has recently had a Peer Challenge Review conducted by the Local Government Association. They came to look at the Council , see how it operates, interviewed staff, councillors and partner organisations to get a clear picture of Kirklees and make recommendations on how it could improve.

The report makes fascinating reading for a Council insider and there are some clear observations about the Council's strengths and weaknesses. One particular criticism made me ponder,

"The peer team identified a lack of risk appetite in the Council, which could constrain the Council's pace and ambition. A bolder approach to risk and opportunity is required throughout the organisation and existing governance processes should be strengthened to support this. Taking calculated risks will help the Council to move forward with the delivery of its long term ambitions".

This resonated strongly with me and my view of the Council at present. When senior figures in the Council are asked how we are responding to this criticism, the generally well received Huddersfield Blueprint is referred to as proof that the Council has vision, ambition and is willing to take risks. It's a reasonable response but it stands out as an example of ambition and risk taking in a what is otherwise a fairly small 'c' conservative Council.

On Friday I was chairing the Kirklees Corporate Scrutiny Panel and a reference came up to the Council's Corporate Risk Register. This is a list of threats to Kirklees, its priorities, its reputation. It assesses how serious the risks are and what action is being taken to address and reduce those risks. The aim is to demonstrate the Council is thinking about all the bad things that could happen and how to mitigate them  through a Risk Management Plan. It occurred to me in the meeting that we don't take the same approach to opportunities and that perhaps we should.  How do we provide the space and structure for risk takers in the Council so they can thrive? Those people in the the council who have a buccaneering spirit that challenges the risk averse natures of so many local authorities. So perhaps to help those people we need a Corporate Opportunities Register and an Opportunities Management Plan that helps build a buccaneering culture that just doesn't recognise and address risk but also embraces it