22 Mar 2016

Fossil fuel divestment within the Merseyside Pension Fund

Divestment from fossil fuels is a key plank of Green Party policy in dealing with climate change. Since being appointed to the Pensions Committee that oversees the Merseyside Pension Fund (MPF), I have pushed for this issue to be addressed with a view to reducing the fund's exposure to fossil fuels. This is not just an important ethical concern. As the Governor of the Bank of England and many others have pointed out, investors in coal, oil and gas risk their assets becoming worthless if action on carbon emissions progresses as it must do if we are to secure a safe climate.

Yesterday's committee included a detailed report on carbon risk. You can read that report here. You can also watch the debate as it happened via this link. My contribution begins at 08:30.

While full divestment from fossil fuels is a long way off, I am hopeful and will continue to press for reduced exposure to fossil fuels within the MPF. Developing expertise around climate risk also gives Merseyside the opportunity to take a real lead on this issue and in time promote the use of pension funds to green our economy.

My sincere thanks to John Brace for providing this video.

18 Mar 2016

Proper consultation on future plans for Birkenhead

Last Monday's council meeting included a motion on regeneration, specifically referencing plans for Birkenhead. Notable in its absence was any reference to consulting the people of Birkenhead on the plans which will dramatically their lives.

With the help of Lib Dem councillor for Oxton Alan Brighouse I put forward the following amendment which commits the council to meaningful consultation with the people about future plans for the town including the more immediate scheme for the Europa Pools area:

Council believes that the prospects for the regeneration of Birkenhead will be strengthened
if proposals are developed through an open and meaningful consultation with local residents,
if the Constituency Committee is consulted at the earliest stages of any projects, and that
effective, timely and widespread consultation is undertaken  about future investment plans.
Officers be requested to develop mechanisms to establish this for consideration. 

My amendment was passed unanimously and I will be holding the council to its word in the months and years ahead. Below is a copy of my speech in delivering the amendment:

My thanks to Cllr Brighouse for seconding this amendment

Many will have seen the Move Ahead Birkenhead literature and website which has recently been promoted. It has several positive features in terms of its long term aspirations for Birkenhead. It focuses on the right areas – the incredible potential of Woodside and the river front area, Birkenhead's amazing heritage assets, the sad decline of Birkenhead market and how it could be revived.

It also asks the right questions such as how we can revive the waterfront and link it and Hamilton Square to the rest of Birkenhead. How do we create an attractive town that people from outside Birkenhead want to visit. How do we create an attractive environment for people who live and work in Birkenhead and, crucially in my view, how do we exploit Birkenhead's position as the main public transport hub for all of Wirral. There is a strong contintental influence which is very welcome given that urban space in much of Europe is far better planned than in this country.

To quote directly from their literature:

This is a conversation that involves everyone who lives, does business, visits or simply cares about the town. Because we believe it's high time we learned from our past – and looked to the future.

And while it is right and proper that we should have high aspirations for Birkenhead there are also many, many lessons to be learned from the past.

The most recent has to be the thankfully withdrawn and deeply unpopular road scheme for Hamilton Square. If this scheme had been presented in outline form at an early stage to the constituency committee it could have been strangled at birth and much time and aggravation saved. So let's make much more effective use of the constituency committees across Wirral as a sounding board for important proposals.

The Hamilton Square scheme was also a very clear example that when you prioritise traffic movements you get bad town planning. The best town planning is based around people. If you create a pleasant environment for people lots of other good stuff happens.

And that's why this amendment explicitly calls for "open and meaningful" consultation with the people.

On that score and referring back to Move Ahead Birkenhead they recently held a three day publicity exercise in The Pyramids. Unfortunately, only 48 hours notice was given through local media. I as ward councillor wasn't notified. The Birkenhead and Tranmere Neighbourhood Forum and other community groups were not notified. Anybody without internet access was very unlikely to know anything at all about it.

If residents are not consulted properly it is self evident that they are likely to form negative views about the motivation behind these plans.

Which leads me to my final point. While the long term objectives for Birkenhead are excitingly aspirational the near term proposals for Europa Boulevard contain several controversial features. Apart from replacing an existing leisure facility which is less than 20 years old, the over provision for car parking in an area with excellent public transport links is very disappointing. A drive through McDonalds at the centre of the plans surely sends entirely the wrong message about how we should plan and perceive the future for Birkenhead.

So let's start as we mean to continue, by listening to the people we serve and giving them the best possible investment that meets their needs and our aspirations for Birkenhead.

Wirral Change Sew Together

I was really pleased to attend the Sew Together exhibition at the Williamson Art Gallery today. It's the culmination of a nine month project involving 160 people from across Wirral run by the lovely people at Wirral Change.

The exhibition features eight patchworks, each one representing a different ethnic community in Wirral. The picture shows me with Malena Eriksson-Lee from Wirral Change and the Arabic patchwork.

This is the culmination of a process that has taught many people valuable life skills and encouraged them to repair and re-use fabric. It's a great antidote to our throw away society and I am sure the self esteem of those who participated has been really lifted by seeing their work on display.

The exhibition runs until May 1st and you can find it in gallery 11 at the Williamson. More details here.

3 Mar 2016

Statement on Wirral Council Budget for 2016-17

Tory assault on local government is terrifying.

The cabinet report to this budget outlines the government's continued and intensified attack on local government and the blatant unfairness in how councils like Wirral are targeted. The Green Party concurs with that view.

Specifically we have a government which, this year, that can only extract £12 million in tax from the world's largest corporation (Apple) while Wirral sees its funding slump by a further £28 million.

A government that brags about Google's 10 year tax contribution of just £130 million while, in just half that time, Wirral has lost over £150 million.

Clearly this government has no concept of fairness and its policies can only lead to yet more despair and inequality. I echo the calls from Caroline Lucas for a progressive alliance to stop the terrifying prospect of a further decade of Tory rule.

Outsourcing is not the answer

Until then we are faced with making the best of a very bad deal. The Green Party pays tribute to all those council staff who do their best every day to serve the people of Wirral. We recognise that retaining and nurturing in-house talent and experience is vital for the future of public services.

Just yesterday a Guardian investigation showed that in 36% of cases, councils found that delivering services in-house could save more than outsourcing to commercial companies in long-term partnerships. Our own experience in street lighting has shown that outsourcing can lead to a sharp reduction in the quality of service and much higher than expected costs. I hope we will learn from that in future particularly in regard to Girtrell Court.

And when we look at the many service cuts which our grant reduction forces upon us people will, inevitably question our spending priorities. They will, quite rightly, question our levels of executive pay and in-house expenditure be it for furniture, taxi fares or Executive Support Officers. They will question the large sums already devoted to converting farm land and green belt to golf courses and tarmac.

Freezing council tax has played into George Osborne's hands

This time last year I spoke out against accepting government bribes to freeze council tax. The reality is that three years of that policy has significantly eroded our tax base. Had we taken a different path we would not now have to endure the anguish around Girtrell Court and the threats to many other vital services. We could have reversed the unfair imposition of council tax on the very poorest in our borough.

Austerity: there is an alternative.

The Green Party opposes the austerity programme imposed by the Tories and supported in principle by Labour since 2010. We believe that vital public services should be properly funded by ensuring that major corporations and rich individuals pay a fair share of tax, something all political parties should embrace.