Thursday, 11 September 2014

PRESS RELEASE - Green Party and Independent Councillors Priorities for a Shared All Party Administration of Kirklees Council

The Green Party and Valley Independent Group Councillors have detailed their priorities in an All Party Shared Administration of Kirklees Council. Green Party Leader Councillor Andrew Cooper said, “We need to get some dialogue between Political Leaders on Kirklees Council about what we would each want out of a Cabinet which involved every political Group on the Council. As we have a ‘hung Council’ and the greatest finanacila crisis Kirklees has ever faced we all need to work together. Sitting in comfortable opposition when Councillors were elected to take responsibility should not be an option. You could argue that voting for Councillors who then shy away from the opportunity of taking power on the Council is simply a wasted vote. That is why I have outlined some of the key priorities our group would pursue in an All Party Shared Administration. If other parties lay out their priorities then we have the basis for dialogue” Green Party and Valley Independent Group Priorities for a Shared All Party Administration of Kirklees Council - Prioritising support to the most vulnerable. Adults and childrens services is the greatest part of the budget and where we need to focus effort not just to ensure funding but to demonstrate effective budget management. - Ensuring local control over a proportion of limited resources. We know that there are going to be less resources available so ensuring that these are allocated according to local priorities will be key. Politicians demonstrably working with representative community organisations is key. We need to argue strongly to government that we need a fair settlement for Councils like Kirklees not one that just favours the leafier Councils in the Home Counties. - Protect local green space from development but where development does occur encourage the highest construction standards and prioritise developments to new householders particularly those on limited incomes - Establishing effective partnerships with the private sector as appropriate to help the council realise income from its property portfolio - Use our links with community and voluntary sector organisations to draw in funds and resources that the Council cannot access to help protect local services. Kirklees needs to establish strong and real partnerships with Community Organisations. This will needa reprioritisation of limited budgets and dedicated staff to ensure real change happens.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

PRESS RELEASE - Greens and Independents call for an ‘All Party Administration’ on Kirklees Council for ‘the common good’

Green Party and Valley Independent Councillors have called for an ‘All Party Shared Administration’ for Kirklees Council to address the huge cuts facing local jobs and services. Green Party Leader Councillor Andrew Cooper said, "The loss of around £152million from Kirklees budgets each year by 2017 is the greatest threat to local services that the Council has ever faced. The impact on the services provided by the council cannot be overstressed, Roads that are already poor will get even worse, costs for adult social care will rise, funding for vulnerable children is uncertain, libraries and museums are threatened with closure. At a time when Kirklees is facing its greatest ever crisis it makes no sense to have a minority Labour Administration having the responsibility alone of trying to protect the services that people across the district rely on, need and value. It is all too easy for opposition parties to criticise from the sidelines with the comforting knowledge that they have no responsibility for any council decisions that are made, while knowing that if they were in charge they would be faced with exactly the same dilemmas. At times of real crisis political parties should put aside differences and work together on solutions that are built around consensus and the common good. There are no easy answers or silver bullets to address the problems that the Council is facing. That is why every Councillor, of which ever political party, has a duty to want to responsibility to get the best outcomes possible for local people. For these reasons we are calling for a shared All Party Administration of Kirklees Council. This proposal will not work if one Party decides it prefers the comfort of opposition and we would only consider being part of a Kirklees Cabinet if all Parties represented on Kirklees took part. I have today written to the other Party Group Leaders on Kirklees Council requesting a meeting to discuss our proposal ENDS

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Some thoughts on the House of Lords

Congratulations to Ex Kirklees Lib-Dem Leader Cllr Kath Pinnock on her elevation to the House of Lords. I'm sure she will make valuable contributions to political life there and be a working peer. I look forward to hearing her official title' Baroness Pinnock of Cleckeaton' maybe? The latest round of Lords appointments brought the  not unexpected controversey, a number of big donors to the Tory Party got their rewards by being appointed to 'The Lords'. For the Lib Dems this latest round of appointments takes their numbers over the 100 mark. The Green Party has 1 member in the House of Lords, 'Baroness Jones of Moulscomb' or Jenny to her freinds. Moulscomb is the name of the Council Estate in Brighton where she grew up and when she was 'signed up' for the Lords she wore a fake ermine gown for the ceremony so really proud of Jenny for sticking to her principles on that one.

Did I mention 'principles'? It is always interesting talking about 'principles' and the House of Lords. A few thoughts. Recently in the news we had the positive news that women could soon become Bishops in the Church of England as that institution comes kicking and screaming into the 20th Century just as we are well into the 21st. What I found bizarre was the lack of much mention that this progressive move would mean that these new women bishops would find themselves automatically appointed to the archaic unelected House of Lords. OK quick quiz question, 'Which 2 countries allow religious priests into their legislative bodies?' Ok you know one, it's the UK right! The other is another beloved well respected democracy, yes you guessed it, Iran! Is there any logic to having people in the House of Lords, who represent a body that as a central tenet believes in the supernatural? Well they have gone through an election process of sorts from within their membership unlike many Tory donors . I'm always happy when someone stands up to the many Government policies which I regard as regressive and that is often Bishops in the absence of many political defenders. It does however make me feel uncomfortable that these champions of the underprivileged seem about as relevant as the wizards in Hogwarts Castle. They are generally benign but the fact that I am reluctant to see them go is more a reflection of the awful state of our backwards democracy more than any logical argument for their retention. in our legislature.

This brings us, (on the subject of principles and the House of Lords) to House of Lords reform, the Coalition Agreement and the Liberal Democrats. It was going to be great, well better anyway. We were going to have a wholly (or mainly) elected second chamber elected by proportional representation with 450 members. The draft bill when it went in front of Parliament in 2011 was by no means perfect. There were still appointments and 12 'Lords Spiritual'. Ultimately 91 Tory MPs defied their Government Whip and Labour didn't exactly cover themselves in glory by effectively allowing the status quo to continue.So it was dead in the water and so much for the Coalition Agreement. Future appointments to the House of Lords were to reflect Party shares of the votes at the 2010 General Election but definitely not the 2014 Euro Election where the Greens beat the Lib Dems. I'd like to see more Greens in the House of Lords influencing policy but I find it bizarre that the archaic House of Lords is allowed to continue in existence as well as still having elections by the 'first past the Past system. We are truly a backwards excuse for a 'democracy'. We may well be the mother of all democracies but our children have by far surpassed us and left us behind.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Festival time - Cambridge Folk to Huddlefest

I describe my blog as "about Kirklees Council and our activity to improve the local and global environment (and also anything that I fancy talking about)" Well this post comes under the category of 'anything I fancy talking about'. Just got back from Cambridge Folk Festival and it was their 50th Anniversary bash. Its probably around the 10th time or more our family have been there. It is the usual mix of good company, food, music and beer that make it a relaxing 4 days. It's not as big as Glastonbury but still thousands of people go and research has shown that it is better for the local economy than Mr Eavis's Glastonbury making  a cool £1.7million for the local economy each year for the Cambrige economy. So any lessons for Kirklees Council here on holding events to raise cash for the Council? Of course any Council can selflesssly support events for the community which may well come at a cost to the Council but have a wider benefit to the Local Economy. How much Councils could and should support such events when budgets for vital services are threatened by the Coalition Government cuts agenda is a reasonable question. In the 2013/14 Cambridge City Council budget book it quotes a net income from the Folk Festival of £237,000 from the paying punters like myself so a useful sum. To reduce the cost of the Festival the Council are looking at transferring the organisation of the Festival to a charity which they reckon will save the Council around £1 million over 5 years. Obviously there are real concerns about the transfer of jobs and pay and conditions issues for employees but the attraction for the Council in ensuring jobs remain, council budgets are healthier and the festival continues are very real.

Huddersfield does have a Festival coming up called Huddlefest in Greenhead Park on Saturday 20th September. This is not a Council event but is using council facilities, lets hope it is a success. Inspiral Carpets and Aswad are playing and here's a link

And here's 'The Melodic' a band I came across in one of the lesser stages at Cambridge in 'The Den'. They are really good.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Passiv Insistence versus 'Zero Carbon' homes

From the Solar Trade Association & the Renewable Energy Association
At the last Cabinet (Holding the Executive to account) meeting Lib Dem Councillor Christine Iredale submitted the following question.

" Because of the Government’s zero carbon housing policy developers will soon be required to pay for carbon reduction schemes in Kirklees. Would the Cabinet Member agree that this “allowable solutions” money could be used to further enhance the homes building policy Kirklees Liberal Democrats will propose later today?  For example, it could help to pay for the installation of energy efficiency measures on the new homes, such as solar hot water panels.”

I was rather surprised the Lib Dems are wanting to talk about the Coalition's so called Zero Carbon Homes policy as it is widely regarded as a big disappointment by those concerned with reducing the carbon emissions of new homes. With the backtracking and the amendments to the policy a 'Zero Carbon Home' is one that emits carbon at 32kgC02/m2 as opposed to the 47kgCO2/m2 that a house built to 2006 Building Regulations emitted. You would be forgiven for thinking 'zero emissions' meant well 'zero emissions' but that is Government 'Newspeak' for you. It is really a measure of the success of the Home Builders Federation in getting the Government to lower standards and therefore their costs.

"allowable solutions" simply means opting out of high efficiency solutions for buildings by paying a sum of money to other carbon saving initiatives.  Funding  was, at one point, going to be destined for use by Local Authorities. This would have made a lot of sense, as it could have been targeted at those people in fuel poverty or on community renewables initiatives but now developers decide how they want to use it and there is a lot of uncertainty over where it will end up and what it will be used for.

In  Planning Resource magazine it stated,

Housebuilders will decide how to meet carbon mitigation requirements under the zero carbon homes policy rather than local authorities, the government has confirmed.

Colin Morrison who is a  director and head of sustainability at a building consultancy Turley, said:

 "Based on our experience of allowable solutions projects and policies within emerging local plans, this will come as a disappointment to local authorities as it could have represented a significant source of funding for local carbon reduction projects. 

So unfortunately the ‘greenest government ever’, with a Department of Energy and Climate Change led by a Lib Dem Minister, has failed to come up with the green goods yet again.

However in the absence of effective policies coming out of the UK Govt, Kirklees Council can, within the Local Plan, set its own standards for buildings erected on land the Council owns and they can be better than those established by central government.  Housing built to a Passivhaus standard has very high insulation performance, low heating demand , controlled ventilation and very low fuel bills. A Passivhaus social housing development built in Oldham by  Keepmoat has homes that are costing tenants no more than £20a year in fuel bills and the builders were trained by the Green Building Company which is based in Huddersfield.

So I so will certainly be pushing hard for Passivhaus standards on Council land as part of the new Kirklees Local Plan. In the absence of good policy from central government we at least can do our best at the local level and show them the error of their ways.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

Open Rights Group Euro Hustings 8/5/14

Government surveillance of citizens has been high on the political agenda with the 'emergency' Data Retention & Investigatory Powers Bill' that was passed by 438 - 51 in the House of Commons. Backed somewhat amazingly by the Liberal Democrats but what it has to do with Liberal values I really don't know. During the Euro Election Campaign we had a hustings on digital rights  (no UKIP Candidate attended yet again or Labour but that was unusual for them). Not an amazing attendance it has to be said but if you've got a spare couple of hours here's the panel debate. It is supposed to be raining this weekend and the telly might be rubbish. I'm really selling this!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

'The first 100 Days of the next Government' the Local Government Association vision and the Energy Company Obligation

The Local Government Association  launched its new vision document 'Investing in our Nation's Future - The first 100 days of the next government'. It marks the vision of the LGA under the new Labour Leadership of  Cllr David Sparks.

 I was able to offer some input on an earlier draft on the the issue of the Energy Company Obligation.

 On Page 8 it states a proposal to

"allow Councils, not just energy companies, to use the percentage of money already collected for energy efficiency schemes through fuel bills to insulate homes, reducing household bills and giving those families in greatest need more money to put towards rent and mortgages" .

All very well so far, but I argued that the money from the Energy Company Obligation should be managed exclusively by Local Authorities and 'The Big 6' should no longer act as the gatekeepers of ECO funding. So I was pleased to see on Page 22 with the tabulated summary of the proposals that  the word 'just'  from the above quote is removed, effectively cutting the Energy Companies out of management of ECO'. The £0.9 Billion/year indicated is well short of what is needed for a mass national energy efficiency programme like the GreenNew Deal,  but at least there will be a greater opportunity to ensure funding is properly targeted if made available by Government directly to Councils. The best way of targeting this limited funding would be to ask Councils to produce credible plans showing how they will deliver energy efficiency schemes in their areas, reducing fuel poverty and carbon emissions. Local authorities would be encouraged to find matched funding from a variety of sources such as the EU, public health budgets etc to demonstrate joined up working and thinking.

There are some disappointments in the document. An assumption that the fracking issue for local government is all  about how much money localities can extract from the process with an implicit assumption that Fracking is an acceptable policy option.