Archive for October, 2010

Government’s Cuts Are “Reckless Gamble”

October 31, 2010

Government’s cuts are “reckless gamble with the future of this country”, says Caroline on Question Time.

Chancellor’s strategy is to “close his eyes, cross his fingers, and hope that the private sector will manage to produce the jobs that have been destroyed in the public sector”, says Green MP on flagship current affairs show.

Green Party leader Caroline Lucas MP made a powerful contribution to last Thursday’s BBC Question Time programme, in which she condemned the government spending cuts as unfair and unnecessary.
The first question from the audience was put to Caroline first. Audience member Michael Teague asked: “Can the government really talk about fairness when it is talking about cuts that will devastate the unemployed, the sick and the poor?”

Caroline Lucas responded: “No, absolutely not. This reckless gamble with the future of this country and this economy is deeply unfair.
“And it doesn’t need us to say that, we’ve got people like the IFS – the Institute for Fiscal Studies – and many others, who are repeatedly saying that the poorest 10% are going to be paying at least more than the average when it comes to who actually pays the price for this.

“When you see what is being done, it is an absolutely wicked targeting of the most vulnerable.”

The Brighton Pavilion MP argued later in the programme: “I do not think that the best way of getting the deficit down is through cuts, and I appreciate that sounds counter-intuitive, so let me explain.”

“We do need to get the deficit down, but there is every risk that if we try to do that through throwing more and more people out of work, we will simply lose their tax revenues, we will have to pay out their redundancies, we will have to pay out benefits, and actually that’s going to make matters worse, that is more likely to tip us into that double-dip recession.”

“George Osborne’s strategy is basically to close his eyes, cross his fingers, and hope that the private sector will manage to produce the jobs that have been destroyed in the public sector.”

She concluded: “What this government should be doing is things like
tackling tax evasion and tax avoidance in a serious way, not in the pitiful way they are doing at the moment, and use that money for investment, for example, in energy efficiency and renewable energies.”

“This is the best way to get people back to work, it would also address the issue of climate change, getting our emissions down. There is an environmental crisis, there is an economic crisis: we can tackle them both at the same time.”

Caroline Lucas’s responses were greeted with applause and cheering from the studio audience. At the end of the programme, “Caroline Lucas” was the most mentioned phrase in the UK on Twitter, and 7th most mentioned worldwide.

Caroline Lucas appeared on the panel alongside Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond; Shadow Business Secretary, John Denham; former head of the British Army, General Sir Richard Dannatt; former political editor of The Sun, George Pascoe-Watson and journalist Polly Toynbee of The Guardian.

Published and promoted by Tracy Dighton-Brown for the Green Party of England & Wales, both at 1a Waterlow Road, London N19 5NJ.

Huhne drops Severn barrage to invest in wind power

October 19, 2010

Ambitious plans to harness the power of the Severn estuary to light up one in 20 of the UK’s homes are to be abandoned as a result of the Government’s attempt to address the nation’s deficit.

Chris Huhne, the Secretary of State for Energy, will tomorrow jettison the world’s largest tidal energy project, rather than make the taxpayer foot an estimated bill of £10bn to £30bn for the untested technology.

The move marks a victory for wildlife campaigners who feared a barrage would devastate the area’s world-famous wetlands, but the loss of a major injection of renewable energy will test David Cameron’s pledge to lead the “greenest government ever”.

In a Commons statement, Mr Huhne will outline details of how the government intends to keep electricity flowing in the next four decades while also cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

“We need to turn our grid from being one of the dirtiest in Europe to being one of the cleanest,” a senior Whitehall source said.

Among the measures to be announced will be a firm commitment to generate at least a third of our electricity from renewables by 2020 and to use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology to reduce the emissions from fossil fuel power stations by as much as 90 per cent. It will be a radical shift from the UK’s historic reliance on fossil fuels, which accounted for more than 80 per cent of all electricity generation until the late 1980s.

Mr Huhne, a Liberal Democrat, will also give the go-ahead in principle to nuclear power stations on eight sites in England and Wales near existing reactors, although the issue remains politically contentious for his party.

He will concede that a 10-mile Severn barrage, stretching from Weston-super-Mare in Somerset to Cardiff in south Wales, is financially unviable. The idea of using the Severn to generate electricity on a massive scale dates back to the 1920s. Successive Labour ministers have argued that the project offered a “huge prize” of generating 5 per cent of Britain’s needs.

Mr Huhne will stress the economic case for investing public funds instead in emerging technologies, such as CCS, that have the potential to be developed and exported, particularly to rapidly developing economies such as China. “If we are going to be incentivising things, there is only one Severn tidal stream,” a source said. “You can only do it once. There are not the export opportunities there are with carbon capture, solar or wind.”

Mr Huhne also believes CCS in particular could be a “huge growth area”. UK research, which leads the world, includes a study into using the North Sea to store unwanted carbon emissions for some 200 years. Publishing a series of National Policy Statements on energy, ministers hope to “give industry maximum certainty” and prevent sensible proposals falling “victim to unnecessary hold-ups”.

Some public money could be made available for further feasibility studies for a smaller project on the Severn, but industry insiders suggest it will be difficult to raise the necessary private-sector funds for such a scheme.

Wildlife campaigners, including the Countryside Council for Wales, had claimed the barrage would “cause irreversible impacts” to the estuary’s “internationally important habitats”, affecting the tens of thousands of wading birds that feed on its mudflats and marshes, and the migratory fish, such as salmon and eels, that come from rivers to spawn.

Some groups remain anxious that the scheme could yet return in some form. Lissa Goodwin, the Wildlife Trusts’ living seas officer, said: “If we are ever going to harness tidal energy from the Severn, we have got to do all we can to make sure we do not destroy everything that makes it such an amazing place.”

Mark Robbins, from the RSPB, added that it was a “great shame that we have wasted this time” on exploring the Severn project instead of focusing on other renewable energy forms.

Ahead of Mr Huhne’s announcement, Greenpeace warned him against using it as “yet another attempt to talk up the prospects of nuclear”.

Jim Footner, head of Greenpeace’s climate and energy team, said: “The economics just don’t add up. Nuclear power is hugely expensive, and there’s no way any more reactors will be built in the UK without a taxpayer hand-out. The coalition has very clearly said that there won’t be any subsidies for the nuclear industry. Huhne and the rest of the Government need to drop this costly distraction and invest in the real technologies that will tackle climate change and provide tens of thousands of new British jobs.”

It is understood that of 10 sites identified as suitable for a nuclear plant, two – at Kirksanton and Braystones in Cumbria – have not made the grade. But Mr Huhne will stand by his commitment that the first new reactors could be operational by 2018, despite his party vowing at the election: “We oppose construction of further nuclear power stations.”

Under the coalition agreement Lib Dem MPs could abstain on a vote on the issue. However, Mr Huhne has since said “there is an important place for new nuclear stations in our energy mix as long as there is no public subsidy” and that his role in delivering the policy is part of the “deal” with the Tories, who have given ground on Lib Dem policies.

At present, 10 nuclear power stations in the UK generate around 13 per cent of our electricity. The Lib Dems hope a greater emphasis on renewables, particularly offshore wind, will shift the balance away from nuclear while providing sufficient power at a time when the number of households in the UK is projected to grow by 31 per cent by 2031.

Mr Huhne’s energy strategy will also give more detail of his ambitious Green Deal, which he claims will create 250,000 jobs. Companies would pay upfront to insulate homes, with homeowners paying back the loan through savings achieved on their energy bills.

There will also be financial support for the wind industry, particularly offshore, to fulfil his pledge to replicate the giant Thanet wind farm off the east Kent shoreline “right the way around our coasts”.

Industry leaders believe wind is on the verge of a major breakthrough in capacity, after figures showed that on 6 September, wind accounted for 10 per cent of the UK’s supply. They hope the minister will back a £60m fund to upgrade the UK’s ports to support the manufacture of offshore wind turbines – considered a major growth area for the economy.

Expert Reaction: ‘We all felt it would have been catastrophic’

“The barrage idea raises its ugly head every few years. I don’t know what the answer is but I’m delighted it’s not going ahead. Every time I hear about it I groan because I worry someone’s going to take it up again.”

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP for Brighton

“This is surprising news as it was an important part of the Government’s plans to increase the use of renewable energy for 2020. More planning permission should be granted to renewable energy sites because at the moment the number is very low.”

Britain’s Shock Doctrine

October 19, 2010

The economic crisis is the disaster the Conservatives have been praying for. Now they can reshape the economy on corporate lines.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 19th October 2010.

We’ve been staring at the wrong list. In an effort to guess what will hit us tomorrow, we’ve been trying to understand the first phase of the British government’s assault on the public sector: its bonfire of the quangos. Almost all the public bodies charged with protecting the environment, animal welfare and consumers have been either hobbled or killed(1). But that’s only half the story. Look again, and this time make a list of the quangos which survived.

If the government’s aim had been to destroy useless or damaging public bodies, it would have started with the Commonwealth Development Corporation. It was set up to relieve poverty in developing countries, but when New Labour tried, and failed, to privatise it, the CDC completely changed its mission. Now it sluices money into lucrative corporate ventures, while massively enriching its own directors. Private Eye discovered that in 2007 this quango paid its chief executive just over a million pounds(2). The magazine has also shown how the CDC has become entangled in a series of corruption cases(3). Uncut. Unreformed.

The same goes for the Export Credit Guarantee Department. The ECGD effectively subsidises private corporations, by underwriting the investments they make abroad. At one point, 42% of its budget was spent on propping up BAE’s weapons sales(4). It also pours money into drilling for oil in fragile environments(5,6). A recent court case showed how it has underwritten contracts obtained with the help of bribery(7,8). Uncut. Unreformed.

The Sea Fish Industry Authority exists “to help improve profitability for the seafood industry”(9). Though it is a public body, all but one of its 11 directors work for either the fishing industry or food companies(10). They seek to “promote the consumption of seafood”(11), to “champion the industry in public debates”(12) and to “influence the regulatory process” in the industry’s favour(13). Uncut. Unreformed.

Can you see the pattern yet? Public bodies whose purpose is to hold corporations to account are being swept away. Public bodies whose purpose is to help boost corporate profits, regardless of the consequences for people and the environment, have sailed through unharmed. What the two lists suggest is that the economic crisis is the disaster the Conservatives have been praying for. The government’s programme of cuts looks like a classic example of disaster capitalism: using a crisis to re-shape the economy in the interests of business.

In her book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein shows how disaster capitalism was conceived by the extreme neoliberals at the University of Chicago(14). These people believed that the public sphere should be eliminated, that business should be free to do as it wants, and almost all tax and social spending should be stopped. They believed that total personal freedom in a completely free market produces a perfect economy and perfect relationships. It was a utopian system as fanatical as any developed by a religious cult. And it was profoundly unpopular. For a long time its only supporters were the heads of multinational corporations and a few wackos in the US government.

In a democracy under normal conditions, those who were harmed by abandoning public provision would outvote those who gained from it. So the Chicago programme couldn’t be imposed in these circumstances. As the Chicago School’s guru, Milton Friedman, explained, “only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change.”(15) After a crisis has struck, he added later, “a new administration has some six to nine months in which to achieve major changes; if it does not act decisively during that period, it will not have another such opportunity.”(16)

The first such opportunity was provided by General Pinochet’s coup in Chile. The coup was plotted by two factions: the generals and a group of economists trained at the University of Chicago and funded by the CIA. Their ideas had already been comprehensively rejected by the electorate, but now the electorate was irrelevant: Pinochet used the crisis he had created to imprison, torture or kill anyone who dissented. The Chicago School policies – privatisation, deregulation, massive tax and spending cuts – were catastrophic. Inflation rose to 375% in 1974; the highest rate on earth. Even so, Friedman insisted that the programme was not going far or fast enough. On a visit to Chile in 1975 he persuaded Pinochet to hit much harder. The result was a massive increase in unemployment and the near-eradication of the middle class. But the very rich became much richer, and the corporations, scarcely taxed, deregulated, fattened on privatised assets, became much more powerful.

By 1982, Friedman’s prescriptions had caused a spectacular economic crash. Unemployment hit 30%; debt exploded. Pinochet sacked the Chicago economists and started re-nationalising stricken companies, whereupon the economy began to recover. Chile’s so-called economic miracle began only after Friedman’s doctrines were abandoned. The Chicago School’s catastrophic programme pushed almost half the popultaion below the poverty line and left Chile with one of the world’s highest rates of inequality(17).

But all this was spun by the corporate media as a great success. With the help of successive US governments, similar programmes were imposed on dozens of countries in which crises ensured that the population was unable to resist. Other Latin American dictators copied Pinochet’s economic policies, with the help of mass disappearances, torture and killings. The poor world’s debt crisis was used by the IMF and the World Bank to impose Chicago School programmes on countries that had no option but to accept their help. The US hit Iraq with economic shock and awe – privatisation, a flat tax, massive deregulation – even as the bombs were still falling. After Hurricane Katrina wrecked New Orleans, Friedman described it as “an opportunity to radically reform the educational system”(18). His disciples immediately moved in, sweeping away public schools while the residents were picking up the pieces of their lives, replacing them with private charter schools.

Our crisis is less extreme, so, in the United Kingdom, the shock doctrine cannot be so widely applied. But, as David Blanchflower warned yesterday, there’s a strong possibility that the cuts programme will precipitate a bigger crisis: “it’s a terrible, terrible mistake. The sensible thing to do is to spread [the cuts] over a long time”(19). That’s another feature of disaster capitalism: it exacerbates the crises on which it thrives, creating its own opportunities.

So we shouldn’t wonder that 35 corporate executives wrote to the Telegraph yesterday, arguing, just as Milton Friedman used to do, for a short, sharp shock, before the window of opportunity closes(20). The policy might hit their profits for a while, but when we stagger out of our shelters to assess the damage, we’ll discover that we have emerged into a different world, run for their benefit, not ours.

http://www.monbiot.com

References:

1. https://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?key=0AhsZb7eJoMM5dHlDMXhaMmM1TTdsSE9LTUZiQlh1NGc&hl=en#gid=0

2. Richard Brooks, 3rd September 2010. That’s Rich! How Britain’s poverty relief fund abandoned the poor … while its bosses cleaned up. Private Eye.

3. As above.

4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/oct/02/bae-jobs-sfo

5. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/aug/16/russia.climatechange

6. http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/30/uk-loans-brazil-offshore-drilling

7. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/jul/08/mabey-johnson-serious-fraud-office-plea-bargain

8. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jan/02/scamsandfraud.money

9. http://www.seafish.org/upload/file/about_us/Economics%20team%20LR.pdf

10. http://www.seafish.org/about/board.asp?p=bc

11. http://www.seafish.org/upload/file/about_us/MarketingComms.pdf

12. http://www.seafish.org/upload/file/about_us/MarketingComms.pdf

13. http://www.seafish.org/upload/file/2008_sea_fisheries_statistics_summary/SSI%20brochure.pdf

14. Naomi Klein, 2007. The Shock Doctrine: the rise of disaster capitalism. Allen Lane, London.

15. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, quoted by Naomi Klein, as above.

16. Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman, Tyranny of the Status Quo, quoted by Naomi Klein, as above.

17. Naomi Klein, as above.

18. Milton Friedman, 5th December 2005. article in the Wall Street Journal, quoted by Naomi Klein, as above.

19. http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/oct/18/david-blanchflower-warns-against-spending-cuts

20. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/letters/8069609/Osbornes-cuts-will-strengthen-Britains-economy-by-allowing-the-private-sector-to-generate-more-jobs.html

Coalition to Reform Licensing Laws

October 7, 2010

News reports indicate the coalition government is looking to reform licensing laws, starting with banning the sale of below-cost alcohol. This is particularly pertinent for the city, as outlined in your recent report on alcohol availability. (The Argus, 1st October 2010)

It has been recognised by many bodies that selling alcohol below cost price encourages the binge-drinking. This has serious health impacts for the city and affects our communities and neighbourhoods, thus the banning of such loss-leading offers is something we’ve been asking for some time.

We hope the reforms will not end there though – there are a number of proposals we recently submitted to the council’s consultation on licensing that could ease anti-social problems for residents. These include: enlarging the cumulative impact area to include North Laine, London Road and Lewes Road; including health impacts as a consideration for licensing applications; and better guidelines for venues to better manage the dispersal of their customers as they leave the premises.

Time and time again residents have asked why such weak licensing legislation means they must put up with disruption and intrusion. We call on the government to hold true to their promise of reform to empower the council to make positive decisions for local people.

Councillor Pete West
St Peter’s and North Laine
Green Group Spokesperson for Licensing

Support Wind Farm (& Solar Park) Applications

October 5, 2010

Renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are both sustainable, environmentally friendly, and in the long term economically viable. The fact that we are running out of fuel and the fact that we are running out of time to replace our ageing power stations means we have no choice but to find alternative sources of electricity now, before it’s too late. Of course most people do prefer the status quo, and yes many people do not believe in climate change or peak oil, but just like me, many others do believe there is an answer – renewable energy.

Wind power essentially utilises a free resource without polluting the environment. Yes it does take energy and money to make turbines, but it also takes energy and money to build power stations too. Unlike power stations there is no transportation of fuels, burning of fuels, pollution or disposal of spent fuels. It’s green because it generates power without damaging the environment once set up and running.

Solar power also utilises a free resource without polluting the environment. And yes it also does take energy and money to make solar panels, but don’t forget it takes energy and money to build power stations too and just like wind there is no damage to the environment after installation.

Renewable energy generation is also greener because the electricity does not have to be distributed as far, so more of it will be used rather than wasted.

All renewable energy generation suffers from bad press because of campaigns against it by people that oppose wind farms or solar parks because they are deemed to be too close to where they live and may affect the prices of their houses. These same people would also campaign against a power station if it was built near them too, but this is very un-likely to happen because these power stations are very dirty and dangerous. If the government decided to promote new power stations instead of wind farms, many national newspapers would be telling us that power stations are bad news too.

They way forward is not to let a few ‘nimbys’ ruin sustainable environmentally developments. If we approve wind farm applications, the worst that can happen is that they are taken down again; wind turbines can at any time be removed leaving the sites almost undisturbed. In most cases they are so far away from houses and are so close to major roads they never disturb anyone. Many people even like the look of them.

I can’t think of many reasons not to approve wind farm applications, but I can show you lots of evidence to support wind power, and we will be sharing some of this aswell as discussing other ways to support local projects on Thursday 7th October in the Plaza, Thrapson from 8pm.

New equality rights in workplace come into force

October 2, 2010

New rules aimed at banning discrimination by employers, covering areas such as age, disability and pay, have come into force across Britain.

The Equality Act covers many workplace areas and draws nine separate pieces of legislation into a single Act.

Equalities Minister Theresa May says it will now be easier for firms to comply with anti-discrimination rules.

However, some business groups argued the new legislation will impose a heavy burden on employers.

The new law applies in England, Wales and Scotland.

The new law restricts the circumstances in which employers can ask job applicants questions about disability or health prior to offering them a position, making it more difficult for disabled people to be unfairly screened out.

“In these challenging economic times it’s more important than ever for employers to make the most of all the talent available,” said Ms May.

There are also new powers for employment tribunals.

The Act will also stop employers using pay secrecy clauses to prevent employees discussing their own pay, which means men and women can compare pay.

But the Act will not make employers reveal how much they pay men compared with women, as had been planned by the Labour government.

Some campaigners argued that this revision undermined the new legislation.

“Rowing back on the requirement for big business to publish and take action on any differences in pay between men and women employees is tantamount to endorsing the shocking gender pay gap,” said Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality.

Business cost

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “Everyone is protected by the new law.

“It [the Act] covers age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex (meaning gender) and sexual orientation.

“Under the act people are not allowed to discriminate, harass or victimise another person because they belong to a group that the Act protects, they are thought to belong to one of those groups or are associated with someone who does.”

But some business groups argued that the new rules place an extra burden on companies at a time when they are still trying to recover from the recession.

“Businesses are really concerned,” Abigail Morris from the British Chambers of Commerce told the BBC.

“The government’s own impact assessment shows that this is going to cost £190m just for businesses to understand the legislation, and this at a time when we really need them to be concentrating on creating private sector jobs and driving economic recovery.”

During the summer there were some concerns about the new rules expressed by shipping companies.

Some claimed the laws could force them to quit the UK because they would have to pay UK rates to foreign-based seafarers who do not have the burden of British living costs.

Source – BBC

ET calls on council leader to intervene in council pay row:

October 2, 2010

This week county council leader Jim Harker faced some of the staff set to receive significant pay cuts as part of a wide-scale review of salaries.

He listened to them talk about pay cuts of up to £10,000 a year and worries about paying their mortgage and saving for retirement, but told them it was a necessary review of pay structures.

After a night to consider the pleas by council staff for the council to reconsider, the Evening Telegraph asked Cllr Harker, is there nothing the council can do to help these workers?

He told them: “The pay review was requested by Government about two years ago and they said that all local authorities had to introduce this pay review. The way it has been organised is that the council agreed responsibility would be delegated to the council officers.

“I have complete confidence in my officers to carry it out.

“A number of speakers made very good points on their personal position and I have no doubt these points will be listened to through the established appeal process.”

The staff affected are among the lowest paid workers and include teaching assistants and care workers.

The new pay scale will see salaries cut by up to 25 per cent. One teaching assistant at a special needs school says she will be on £7,500 less a year.

Cllr Harker’s own income from the council was £50,935 last year, which was up from £49,786 the year before. This includes a basic allowance of £7,086, a special responsibility allowance of £34,408 and travelling and subsistence expenses.

When asked whether he could cope with a 25 per cent cut to his income, he said: “That is not a relevant question, it is not what the review is about.

“The point is that the appeals process is ready and properly established to make sure people are being treated fairly.”

The Evening Telegraph also had some questions for chief executive Paul Blantern, who is ultimately responsible for conducting the review, about why the cuts could not be phased in.

But the council said it wasn’t willing to answer the questions.

A county council spokesman said: “Due to ongoing negotiations, we are unable to comment further on the details of the pay and benefits review.”

Jonathan Hornett, of Northants Green Party said “His medalling is sickening and he quite obviously does not care one bit about the people of Northants. He’s a Conservative through and through and what was meant by Labour as an equality restructure of pay in the public services has been turned sour by these wicked Tories.”

“I know lots of hardworking care staff and teaching assistants who believed that their pay may have increased with these actions, but all have had their pay cut. Does anyone actually know anyone who has benefited from this pay re-structuring? It’s a con from the conservatives and should be ConDemned by everyone else.”

Corby Council Houses Set to Have Solar Panels.

October 1, 2010

Council house residents in Corby are a step closer to having solar panels installed on their roofs.

Corby Borough Council last night agreed to invite bids from energy companies to roll out a major programme of putting solar photo-voltaic panels on its homes.

The plan aims to provide extra funds to improve the council’s housing stock and give tenants their electricity at a reduced rate.

Under the 25-year programme, a company will pay to fit the panels to around a quarter of its 4,800 homes if the tenants give permission or when they become unoccupied. It also hoped to extend the scheme to its commercial properties and land, with the possibly of creating a large-scale “solar park”.

Council chief executive Chris Mallender said: “As a Yorkshire man you
are brought up with a saying ‘you don’t get owt for nowt’. I think this is one programme which disproves that theory. We are encouraging Corby to embrace new technology.”

He added a typical set of panels would produce 40 per cent to 60 per cent of a household’s energy needs.

The move was possible after the Government allowed local authorities to sell renewable energy generated on their land.

Further funds would be paid by the energy provider to the council for additional energy exported to the National Grid and for rental of its roofspace. If 1,000 homes have panels fitted, it would generate £52,000.

Councillor John McGhee said: “The cost of £52 is a lot of money to some people. Since it has been on television a single mother who lives on the Hazel Leys estate has phoned me to asked if she can apply. It needs to be available in all areas.”

However some councillors expressed concern about the panels’ reliability and they agreed their maintenance would be discussed with potential providers.

Source – Northants Evening Telegraph