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Councillors Voting to Destroy Northamptonshire?

August 28, 2018

by Harry Mellor

Councillors will this week be voting at Borough, District and County level on proposals for reforming local government in Northamptonshire. The outcome is predictable: the county will be split into two ‘unitary’ authorities. Will their decision ultimately be financially disastrous for residents and businesses across the region?

For whatever cause, austerity, ineptitude or sheer bad luck, Northamptonshire, like many other councils in the country, is failing its people. This is not political failure, though politics is in play, it is an altogether bigger thing where the dynamics of an ever changing population meet an absence of planning foresight and where scarcity of funds combine with a local government generally lacking the ability and agility to respond to rapidly evolving circumstances.

Local government is responsible for delivering the essentials for the wellbeing of their community; responsive and trustworthy emergency services, good health and welfare, high quality education, safe roads with reliable public transport and, above all, positive civic vision and leadership. In the face of the county’s catastrophic financial failure Northamptonshire’s elected representatives are now having to decide how these public services are to be provided in the future.

The Secretary of State imposed strict conditions when he ordered the reorganization of Northamptonshire’s councils. As Councillors prepare to vote it is essential to review those conditions starting with the unjustified instruction to sever the county into two simply because the new authority areas must contain at least 300,000 resident. In fact only eleven of UK’s 55 unitary authorities have a population over 300,000. Though population size probably does matter it need not be the sole deciding factor. Slicing the county into two ignores the precise needs of the differing communities that will find themselves in the care of a new single authority. The councillors will stand up and say no to this split when they vote?

Condition number two is the requirement to reorganise and reform on the basis of a police authority area. But police authority areas are irrelevant to those communities on the county’s fringes. Whether it is access to shops, hospitals, workplaces or schools it is people and places that matter not the jurisdiction of a Chief Constable or Police and Crime Commissioner. Will Councillors agree that today’s bobby’s beats should shape tomorrow’s?

Third is the requirement that the proposal should have solid public support. The recent consultation exercise clearly failed in that respect. Fewer than 1% of all residents responded. To put it differently, just about 2% of Northamptonshire households gave an opinion. Will the councilors claim to have solid public backing for their decision?

More generally, and barely mentioned other than in the context of the potential for increased tax income, is the planned developments that swing through Northamptonshire following an arc stretching from Oxford to Cambridge. This proposed major infrastructure project involves new rail and road links servicing a corridor of interconnected new and expanded villages loosely associated with our existing towns. This is development on a vast scale with tens of thousands of new homes sprawling across virgin countryside. The new authorities are going to have to cope with implementing that ambition but there’s no mention in the proposal of any strategy or tactic to handle the social and community planning needs of such a major undertaking. What will voting councilors have to say on this?

It is current thinking that Town and Parish Councils could deliver more of the truly local services. Expanding this tier of government is at odds with the aim of achieving economies of scale through bringing all services under one organisational umbrella. Is that going to be approved by the elected representatives?

Last but not least is the proposal’s preoccupation with cash. It obsesses about paying for the reforms, about starting with a clean slate or not, and about the financial benefits of reorganisation. What is never mentioned is the quite evident dearth of talent able to drive through reform. Today’s council leadership teams are valued and rewarded as if they were captains of industry. But we have seen that high salaries do not equate to visionary and inspiring leaders. Where in the next few months, whether from the ashes of existing councils or elsewhere, are the leadership teams able to design, manage and deliver a democratic process of change, teams with vision capable of driving through the reforms necessary for building a solid foundation for a sustainable financial future? Will today’s voting councillors know the answer to this fundamental human resources question?

It is said that people get the government they deserve. One thing is for sure; the people of Northamptonshire will soon know what they are going to get. For what the people of Northamptonshire are about to receive, should they be truly thankful?

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Thank you to each and everyone who voted for me, I will continue to campaign for you, we will be back…

June 19, 2017

Jonathan Hornett - Your Green Party Candidate

Northants Green PartyThe General Election saw increases in vote share for the Conservatives and Labour at the expense of all the smaller parties.  The Green Party was definitely affected across Northamptonshire, where we saw our vote share come in at between 1.5% and 2.4%.  Green votes were significantly lower in constituencies where Labour genuinely a threat to the Conservatives.  Unfortunately a lot of people who would have wanted to vote Green felt that it was more important to vote against the party they didn’t want to get in than to vote for who they actually wanted.  I had lots of conversations with people after they voted and many said the Green Party had the best policies but they voted tactically.

This vote was polarised by the popularity of two very different party leaders, it was not an accurate reflection on how popular the Green Party are locally.  Our campaign in the Wellingborough…

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I’d Vote Green but…

February 25, 2017

…if I vote Green, I get Blue. 

To an extent this is true, this is part of the problem with our electoral system. Winner takes it all and smaller parties get completely marginalised. One of the Green Party’s main policies is electoral reform towards proportional representation to avoid this situation. I have tried tactical voting in the past and don’t feel that it worked. I voted for someone I didn’t really believe in and it didn’t change the outcome of the result. If we had an election where everybody voted for who they actually wanted and not the person to stop the person they hate, then we might get a turnout more reflective of our views. In order to achieve this our elected individuals should reflect a broader cross section of our communities. This won’t happen whilst the same two parties remain in charge.

Even worse is that if you don’t vote at all, you’ll probably get more of the same. My local council election in 2013 had a turnout of just over a quarter of voters. 5000 local residents didn’t vote for their councillor who currently has a majority of just shy of 700. You could argue active apathy due to disconnect with voters which is what we would try to address. Another big Green policy is to take local decisions in local hands. If people could see that their vote had an effect, then maybe they would vote more.

….all you politicians are the same.

Again correct to an extent. We feel most politicians are the same. The Green Party however is different to all the others in how it is funded, from voluntary member donations and not large donations or trade unions. The fact we are different and don’t have our noses in the  trough mean we might actually provide some sort of opposition and scrutiny to local policymakers. Although most of our local members haven’t held public office, we give up a lot of our time for free to provide a Green alternative. You might call out inexperience, but you can’t accuse us of being in it for the money!

We are also locally run and are given a lot of free reign by the national party. This allows us to come up with policies that work locally and are not dictated by national policy such as Labour’s blanket ban on electoral co-operation.

…you only care about the environment.

This is a common misconception although our media coverage tends to be about environmental concerns we have a full range of policies which you can read about here in our 2015 manifesto. We have well developed and radical policies about taxation, electoral reform, social equality and much more.

What’s more is even in small numbers, having Green councillors can achieve a lot as our Association of Green  Councillors can attest. They have a wide range of stories about positive things Green Councillors are doing around the country.

The fact that all parties claims green credentials is a testament to how just our concerns are.

…my friends will call me a hippy

This is the easiest one to debunk. Just attend one  of our meetings. Our local party are drawn from broad walks of life or geography. Despite being slightly too “white middle aged man” as far as I can see nobody fits the stereotype of being a “hippy”. Unless by hippy you mean peace-loving, humanitarian and environmentally friendly? Our meetings are usually an interesting mix of debate, event planning and socialising and usually end like all good meetings do, with a drink. There’s no dancing round trees or choruses of Kumbaya in the ones I’ve been to. We always welcome new members with new ideas, the more the merrier!

…I’m worried my taxes will go up.

It’s currently  unlikely that we will be majority members of a council locally and the way local government funding is being squeezed we will have to work with other parties to really challenge the current status quo of service cuts and general inertia within our local council.

We want to properly fund our services and we need to seriously look at other ways to save money so we can afford to look after our children, elderly and vulnerable. One way may to completely overhaul our current three tier system to remove gridlock and improve proximity of decisions by making unitary authorities.

We know tax increases are unpopular, but nationally we’d look to completely overhaul taxation to make it less regressive and ensure those with broadest shoulders and large corporations pay their way. Locally, we’d seek to devolve power (and hence money) to local government to allow local decisions to have local effects.

 

Air Quality Campaign is Bearing Fruit

December 13, 2016

Towards the start of this year, I started doing some digging into the air quality around Northampton, and discovered that although we had several areas in the town with recognised air pollution problems, the Borough Council didn’t seem to be doing an awful lot about it.

Since then, we’ve made FOI requests, published Press Releases, asked questions of Council, carried out our own air quality testing, produced more Press Releases, we’ve been interviewed on BBC Northampton and BBC Look East. We have presented to several audiences, spoken at Council several times, attended meetings of the Scrutiny Panel and generated a front-page story in the Chronicle & Echo.

Our aim in this was to generate awareness of both the air quality issues in the town, and the Public Consultation that was taking place about the Low Emission Strategy. This strategy is now making its way through the Council’s Scrutiny process and recommendations / actions from that process will be taken back to Cabinet for approval.

I spoke at the start of last night’s meeting of the Full Council, addressing again the issue of air pollution around Northgate Station. At most of the meetings I’ve been to this year, whether I have been asking questions or addressing Council, I’ve tended to be the only person speaking about Air Quality.

At last night’s meeting, everybody wanted a piece of the action.

The Liberal Democrats had a motion asking for traffic analysis to be carried out in the town centre because the new Bus Station is obviously inadequate. Air Quality was one of their reasons, and it was mentioned a lot in the surrounding debate.

The Labour Party then proposed a motion suggesting that the Council should immediately start fining drivers who don’t switch their engines off when they are stationary. This included a contribution from the leader of the Labour Group on the council advising that “Everybody is talking about the air quality issue.”

Both of these motions were, unsurprisingly lost. The Labour one, in particular, seems a bit pointless when the overall strategy is still going through the scrutiny process.

But two things are very clear.

1 – We’ve successfully raised awareness of the air quality issue. The opposition parties are looking to make political capital of it, even if they don’t really understand the issues.

2 – There’s going to be a lot more of this over the next few months.

Steve Miller 13th December 2016

Emerging from the Green Closet

November 23, 2016

As you may have noticed this blog has been on a fairly long hiatus in 2016 and now  has changed hands, so I’ll start with a “hello!”.

My name is Scott and I was nominated at our local AGM to take over running of the website and social media presence. I am Northampton born and bred and work in the county, in healthcare not computing so I’m no master of code or web design but I will try my best to at least keep things up to date.

I joined the Green Party in 2015 but had been a closet Green Party supporter since about 2010. I say closet because I come from a blue family in a blue town so the subject was largely avoided at family and social gatherings. Anyone I did tell usually garnered the response.

“So are you hippy now or something?”

This usually means I have to explain myself, which tends to work out positively.

There are 3 main reasons I joined and am keen to be active in the Green Party.

1: They actually do something locally. I live in South Northamptonshire which is as safe a Tory seat as they come, so have never been heavily canvassed by anybody. The only time I ever saw local politics in action was when the Green Party had a stall in town, were protesting against something or undertaking litter picks. I had received a couple of lib dem leaflets whilst living in the town centre, but nothing of any consequence. Currently, fellow local party members are trying hold our council to account on air pollution, traffic and provision for safe transport. This is being done without any representation on the local council. Imagine the work we could get done with elected members.

2: They  aren’t the  Tories/Labour/Lib dems: Since graduating in 2009, I have worked in the NHS and have seen the problem change from overburdening targets and bureaucracy to overburdening targets, bureaucracy and chronic under funding. As far as I can see the only difference being the  colour of government. I am quite sure the current government want to remove the N in NHS. Evidence for this is seen in Health & Social Act 2012, Scrapping  nursing bursaries and the upcoming STPs. Whilst the lib dems seemed to temper the Tory excesses in 2010-15 I can’t vote for them due to crossing their own red line of Tuition Fees. My experience of the labour party in this time seems to suggest they can’t even decide what or who they stand for let alone fight an election. A number of times I’ve hoped they would oppose something e.g. Trident or Heathrow expansion, but have been found wanting. As yet the Green Party have not been mired in corruption, scandal or betrayal. Maybe it’s naive to suggest they never will be, but it is a good place to start.

3: I actually agree with their policies: Kind of an important one, No? No political party can completely align with ones world view but I think the Green Party aligns closest of all the parties. I feel that the biggest threats to our long term safety and well being are not Islamic terrorism or feckless spending but climate change and poverty so tackling these in my view transcend party politics and should be centre stage of any policy. With Brexit and Trump it feels like the world is moving away from Green issues, and people are looking for alternatives to the establishment. This is exactly why we should become a bigger political force in the coming years. It would be nice to dispel the “mad hippy” myth.

 

Our focus for now is to prepare for local county council elections in 2017 and continue the Air Quality Campaign in Northamptonshire. We meet every month and I was hoping the blog could be opened up to our members to post about local or national issues that are  close to their heart. If you have something you would like to write about that you think would fit with the Green ethos please message me via Twitter and see what we can do!