Saturday, 21 February 2015

My speech at the recent budget meeting


The ‘elephant in the room’ when it comes to discussing the budget are the cuts. The cuts dominate local government. Nationally, according to the chair of the Local Government Association, spending on adult social care has fallen by 26% over 4 years (with 200,000 clients no longer getting a service), spending on early intervention has fallen by 54%, on youth services by 55% and so on

They are part of the coalition government austerity programme that we – as Greens – believe is quite simply wrong. I was reading a report from the PCS union which pointed out that
‘From 1918 to 1961 the UK national debt was over 100% of GDP. During that period the government introduced the welfare state, the NHS, state pensions, comprehensive education, built millions of council houses, and nationalised a range of industries. The public sector grew and there was economic growth.’

The Coalition austerity programme - designed to cut debt - has seen it increase by about 80% from 2010 levels, but it is still below the level in which we managed to achieve all those feats between 1918 and 1961.
And of course, it is worth repeating that the victims of the cuts are those who in no way, shape or form caused the crisis in the first place, they are the poorest and most vulnerable in society. They disproportionately discriminate against women. Some are quite simply vicious – some councillors will have attended a briefing - as I did - about the Disability Living Allowance – in which we were told that 55% of recipients would have their allowance either cut or entirely removed.
The cuts are not an act of necessity. They are an act of ideology.
At a national level, the alternative to austerity is simple. It is to not do austerity. Keynes told us many years ago that you should spend your way out of recession, and pay the money off in the good times. The Institute for Fiscal Studies suggests that the coalition approach of cuts has potentially set the UK economy back to the tune of £100 billion. I’m not the biggest fan of economic growth,  bur even I can see that that is a big missed opportunity.

When it comes to the election, with the best will in the world, I don’t actually expect the Greens to form the next government. (pause) We do expect to be picking up additional MPs, especially one or two near here (smile wryly), but in reality the next government will be a version of business as usual.

So – if we get Cameron, well, the Tories have told us that they will cut public expenditure by  £25 billion. The LibDems will cut public expenditure by £16billion. And Labour – well Ed Milliband told the Hugo Young lecture in February last year that
‘Clearly the next Labour government will face massive fiscal challenges. Including having to cut spending.’
I gather Ed Balls has admitted that the first year of a Labour government will cut £3.3billion from local government expenditure.
None of them have said any money will go back into local government. You have to reckon money will continue to be removed. Indeed I have been told by senior officers that whoever wins, they expect Bristol to face cuts of 12% or £45m over the first two years of that government.

So where does this leave us locally? Well, looking at the amendments before you today, the majority take the easy targets – they go for the one-off funding that George identified in his budget. Some of them seek one off things. Others, however, clearly seek to maintain a revenue funded service for just one year. While I clearly understand the politics of this, I do hope the proposers explain how they expect the services to be maintained in the future. I don’t think anyone has a ‘Get out of Cuts free’ card.
When it comes to the Green Party approach, we have tended to view the one-off savings as a red herring. We have looked at a number of proposals – and I’d like to pay tribute at this stage to the excellent input of Cllr Malnick.

These include the use of prudential borrowing to generate further income. For example we wondered if it would be possible to generate income by investing in the City Design team - whose activities currently generate a small surplus. The answer came back that it is an interesting idea, but more of a policy change than a budget amendment. Similarly, we wondered if further investments in the councils Energy Company could generate both income and make the City more sustainable. The answer came back – ‘great idea but we have so much to do at the moment, we can’t cope with any more’. We asked about using some of the one-off moneys to increase support for early intervention projects now - investing today for pay off in years to come. The answer came back that the money would neither be enough nor for long enough.
We have considered seeking to introduce a work place parking levy. Something else which is not appropriate for a budget amendment. But – in my view, we do need to be considerably upping our game when it comes to improving our bus service. I’d like us to have a plan to double the number of buses users in the city and then double them again. Not by spending vast amounts of money on over-engineered projects which remove much loved pieces of green space. But just by having more buses and more bus routes. The money generated by a workplace parking levy could help to fund this.
And talking of over-engineered projects which remove much loved pieces of Green space, we did enquire about a cheeky little budget amendment to cancel the whole Metrobus project. It is no surprise that we weren’t allowed this, but I can’t help thinking that we are going to end up paying again and again for a project which will overspend and underachieve. Money which could be used to finance all sorts of other things - cycling and walking infrastructure, for example.
Overall, then, we support the intention and specifics of many but not all of the proposed amendments, we caution against getting too distracted by who gets what through, because we all know that this time next year, we will again be facing severe cuts, and choosing one cut from one vital service over another.
As for the rest of the budget, we support the increase in council tax because it raises the base level of local government expenditure. We think officers have actually made a pretty good job of managing the cuts process – I suspect far more would have closed had we been living elsewhere. We are pleased to see proposals for a swimming pool in East Bristol and recycling centre in Hartcliffe – on a personal level, I prefer the LibDem proposals because they have more of a plan to run them.
Bristol as a Green capital presents Bristol with the possibility to plan to become a city with a truly green future. However, there must be adequate funding to do this. We don’t need to cut Green capital legacy funding. We need to increase it. Perhaps the most significant event in creating a greener city is the project to create an energy company – something we applaud and support. We also welcome the proposals to improve local rail services, and plans to fund better cycling infrasructure.

As a Green, I want to see a socially just and environmentally sustainable city, country and planet. In Bristol, there are some positive moves towards sustainability. People, however, are only going to consider their long term future when their short term future is secure. And, set against the backdrop of the cuts, too many poorer and vulnerable people have been made the victims in ways which can only make me fear for their future.

We must all therefore support the council and the mayor to develop long security over its finances, its infrastructure, but above all, improve the security for those most in need.

I thank you. Anyone for a pint.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Response from mayor re Blacklisting

Question(s) to the Mayor from Councillor Fodor

Could the mayor please say what actions have been taken to implement the
'Blacklisting motion (shown below) agreed by full council on 10th September
City Council is deeply concerned by revelations that major companies have been involved in
blacklisting in order to deny employment to workers who have engaged in trade union
activity, such as reporting breaches of health and safety regulations.
The Information Commissioners Office (ICO) found that a blacklist of over 3,200 construction
workers was maintained, and their personal details traded for profit. This blacklist was used
by over 40 companies and included information about workers personal relationships, trade
union activity and employment history.
Many of the workers who were blacklisted for reporting breaches of health and safety work in
the construction industry which employs 5% of all workers in Britain but produces 22% of
fatal injuries.
The ICO list of companies which used the blacklist service includes companies contracted
by Bristol City Council. The use of such blacklists is unacceptable and cannot be condoned,
having a potentially negative impact on the employment rights of Bristol’s 8,000+
construction workers.
Several local authorities across the country have passed resolutions to refuse to accept
tenders for publicly funded contracts from companies that use blacklisting. It is time that
Bristol joined them.
This Council resolves, wherever lawful to do so to:
- exclude companies involved in blacklisting of workers from securing future Council
- require companies tendering for contracts to demonstrate that they are not using blacklists.
- require that companies that tender for Council contracts demonstrate that they have
processes in place to encourage the reporting by workers of workplace concerns, particularly
in respect of health, safety and welfare.
- seek, where this can be done without financial or legal penalty, to terminate contracts
where companies are found to be using blacklists.
- examine existing contracts with any of the companies listed by the ICO and ask for
reassurances that the company uses no form of blacklisting to inform their employment

Since the Blacklisting’ motion of the 10th September 2013 the Council has introduce a
vetting process in all appropriate procurement projects at the Pre-Qualification Questionnaire stage ensuring that companies tendering for Council contracts demonstrate that they are not using blacklists.

In addition, a termination clause is incorporated into appropriate contracts to allow the
Council to cancel the contract if it is discovered that a company is or has used a blacklist.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Supporting Lower Lodge (in Bower Ashton)

I have just submitted a statement supporting the Lower Lodge proposals to 'do up' the lodge and turn it into an asset, rather than a crumbly old ruin. Virtually all the money has been raised through applications to trusts....

As one of the ward councillors for Southville ward, and also, as a recent member of the Bristol Building Preservation Trust, I urge you to support this project.

Your report says it all:

The Lower Lodge, a grade II* listed building, has been derelict and deteriorating
for many years due to its location next to the busy A 370 and its situation within
the boundary of Ashton Park School. It is included on the English Heritage
Buildings at Risk List. The Lodge is owned by Bristol City Council (BCC).

This proposal has received the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and other
funders with £1,027k of the required £1,110k funds now secured.

I was at a presentation at one of the Trust meetings of the fantastic work that has been done by officers, board members and others to raise the vast majority of funding  towards the total needed, and have been very impressed with the dedication of those involved.

Anyone who travels down the A370 could easily have missed the sad-looking building covered with sheets on the right-hand side as you leave Bristol. Well, by supporting this project you can turn it into an asset of which the city can be proud.