Archive for the ‘Government’ Category

Hand Democracy to the People

September 26, 2014

Our democracy is broken. Only the people can fix it. We, the citizens of the whole of the United Kingdom, can thank the Scots, for finally putting constitutional reform at the forefront of public debate.

And in their passionate, deep-rooted engagement in the referendum debate – which looks likely to continue, they helped to make it clear who should carry out the reform: the people.

The fallout from the referendum vote – with the collapse of the supposed “devo-max” deal almost before the last weary, hard-worked counting official had laid down their pen – makes it clear that the Westminster elite cannot be trusted, and are simply not capable of leading on constitutional reform.

The row over the English Parliament “solution” to the West Lothian problem – with its clear self-interest on both sides – is a further demonstration of that.

The Tories’ “solution” of “English votes for English laws” within all of the existing frameworks is no answer at all – two separate governments in the one parliament and one building, quite likely of different political hues, continually at each other’s throats, with many of the same officials trying to serve both, and seeking always to blame the other for its difficulties and failures – would simply be untenable. When you consider that the “English” vote on tuition fees had implications for Scottish education funding – through the much debated Barnett formula – then it’s clear that no simple division is possible.

And an “English parliament” within Westminster, with the same members as before, carrying on otherwise much as before would, to much of England, look like a very minor variation of the London-centric, finance sector-dominated disaster that we’ve endured for decades.

I happened to be in Carlisle at the weekend, talking to Green Party members – and the topic of demonstrations against the Iraq War arose. I was quickly set straight in talking about the one million people in London; everyone at the meeting had been in Glasgow on February 15 2003 – and could remember the 60,000 count there. For many parts of England, London is a very long way away, a distant place, both geographically and, they feel, politically – it isn’t their centre.

From Cornwall to Newcastle, Birmingham to Blackpool, stopping at many points in between, no London-centric, centralised, business-much-as-usual system is going to satisfy voters.

That’s why the Green Party, along with civil society groups such as the Electoral Reform Society, is calling for a people’s convention to draw up a new constitution.

We’ve got ideas about what that should include: greater powers for local and regional government, “total recall” rights for citizens over their representatives, proportional representation, votes at 16 and everything codified, written down, so everyone can read and understand it.

And we have a suggested principle that should underlie it: that power flows up from the people, not down from the top.

But those are simply our suggestions, which we would put to the people making up a constitutional convention – to consider along with others.

And we’d also say it’s important that flexibility is built into the system; the possibility of change. For it is worth contemplating for a second how the “Mother of All Parliaments” got into such a parlous state.

The fact is, we have a Westminster that hasn’t seen significant reform in nearly a century – women getting the vote in 1918 was the last truly significant change.

Tinkering with this early 20th-century, now hopelessly out-dated and untrusted system (a recent survey found 15% of Britons have no trust at all in it, and 68% put their trust at rank five out of 10 or lower), is no kind of answer at all.

But the massive reform we need certainly shouldn’t be rushed, as David Cameron’s old Oxford tutor has been saying.

We’ve muddled through for a century with a constitutional settlement that may not have been too bad by world standards in 1918, but looks like a right undemocratic, confused mess that’s failing to produce functional, representative governments now.

Had we made reforms along the way – like proportional representation and an elected House of Lords – we might not be in this situation, but now we are, there’s simply no alternative but to start with an almost blank sheet. (The “devo-max” promises on which the Scots thought they were voting need to be kept to maintain at least a thread of democratic trust, and they need to live up to the promise of that name: giving Scots true control over their economic destiny, leaving only defence and foreign affairs at Westminster).

Hand democracy to the people – and implement their decisions. That’s a 21st-century model – the only model that’s going to get us out of this constitutional and political tangle.

By Natalie Bennett

Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales

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Greens push for leader Natalie Bennett to feature in TV election debates

September 26, 2014

Green party leader Natalie Bennett takes part in the global day of climate change protestsThe Green party is pressing broadcasters to ensure its leader, Natalie Bennett, is included in any TV election debate alongside David Cameron, Ed Miliband and others .

The move comes amid a surge of new popular support, particularly in Scotland, where a previously tiny membership has more than trebled since last week’s vote on independence. Being at the top TV table is seen as a way of cementing the electoral status it feels it deserves. It would also give the party a major platform to tap prospective votes from legions of people alienated from Westminster politics.

“We think we should be there. We think that it would be absolutely transformative,” Bennett said on Wednesday. “There’s a significant chance the debates won’t happen at all. But if they do, the Tories are going to push hard for us to be on at least one of them. Cameron wants us to be there as well as Ukip. Cameron is basically not going to let [Nigel] Farage on without me.”

The Greens have complained that they has been polling the same level of support as the Lib Dems, 7%, and yet struggle to obtain extensive media coverage beyond anti-fracking or climate change protests.

That only reinforces the idea that this is a single-issue party with little interest beyond the environment, unlike some counterparts in Europe, notably the German Greens.

In particular, Bennett and the party’s lone MP but best-known figure, Caroline Lucas, are keen to further increase membership, which has already surged by 40% since 1 January and is expected to hit 20,000 in England and Wales in the next month. Membership in Scotland, where the party is organised independently, has increased by 4,000 to 5,600 over the past week alone. Interest in the Scottish referendum has given the Greens renewed hope about voters’ desire for wider and widespread political change.

Bennett believes party policies to introduce an annual wealth tax on people with assets of more than £3m, a £10 minimum wage by 2020, rail nationalisation alongside opposition to free schools and academies will strike a chord with the public.

On schools, Bennett said: “We want a different sort of education system that educates children and does not think of them as future workers. We start education too soon.

“We call for formal education to start at least one year later. It is to get away from this idea that we have a sausage machine that we are just shoving children through and turning them into this identikit person.”

She added: “We have to get away from the idea that schools can somehow make up for the incredible levels of child poverty. We have one of the most unequal societies and some of the highest levels of child poverty. The test results just reflect that. Saying to schools that you have got to solve this problem is just unrealistic.”

Bennett is happy to position the party to the left of Labour, saying: “I think there’s a huge political space that’s vacant apart from us”, but is less keen to charge into quick changes on constitutional reform. “English votes for English laws would result in absolute chaos,” she said, adding that the Greens wanted a people’s constitutional convention to consider a range of issues including the future of the House of Lords.

North of the border the party believes it is on a roll and wants to ensure that promises of devolving power from Westminister result in a different and better country. Alison Johnstone, a Green member of the Scottish parliament for Lothian said: “Scotland has become a participative democracy. I feel encouraged and optimistic.”

Source The Guardian

Natalie Bennett: We need a Massive Transformation

September 24, 2014

natben2015Green Party leader Natalie Bennett writes that Ed Miliband’s speech did not signal a break with the past and that his focus on green technology is too narrow.

Increasingly, when you talk to people around Britain about the lives of their children and grandchildren, their outlook is negative. They might not always have worked out an explanation of what’s wrong, but they’re sensing, entirely correctly, that we’ve got a society headed in all of the wrong directions: economically, socially, and environmentally.

They’re reflecting the still enormous levels of youth under-employment: young people employed on zero-hours contracts, graduates working as bar-tenders and shelf-stackers. And that the 1% keep getting richer while more and more of the rest of us struggle; even the formerly comfortable are no longer certain that they won’t end up in the food bank queue. And, as tens of thousands showed in marches around the country last weekend, they understand that climate change – and other environmental damage, to our seas and rivers, our lost biodiversity, the degradation of our soils – is a clear and present danger.

We need a massive transformation.

But there’s no sign that the Labour Party, on the evidence of its conference so far, understands that. Real change isn’t on its agenda; a bit of tinkering is about as far as it stretches.

Take the example of the £8 an hour minimum wage by 2020 promise. That’s a 25 pence per year increase over the course of the next parliament, starting from the grossly inadequate base of our current minimum wage, the value of which the former Labour government allowed to slide, a trend the Tory-Lib Dem coalition has continued and enhanced.

Contrast that to the Green Party policy I announced a couple of weeks ago: making the minimum wage a Living Wage immediately and increasing it above inflation after that so that it reaches £10 an hour by 2020.

This isn’t a bidding war: it’s an argument about a principle that there’s strong evidence the British public supports – work should pay enough money to live on.

Labour leader Ed Miliband said yesterday: “when the economy grows, the wages of everyday working people should grow at the same rate”. That seems to mean he’s content to maintain the current deeply unequal, historically extreme, division between the few high-paid workers and the rest of us. Contrast that to the Green Party, which says the top paid worker in an organisation shouldn’t be paid more than 10 times the lowest paid.

There’s grave concern about our National Health Service – I saw that when I walked for a day on the People’s March for the NHS. We know we need more medical staff, more support staff, more resources in general for the NHS. The offer from Miliband of an extra £2.5 billion is therefore welcome.

But this is from the party that, when last in government, ran wild with the disastrous Private Finance Initiative that will over its lifetime cost you and I billions, that raced ahead with the disastrous Tory model of competition. The Green Party, by contrast, says that the profit motive has no place in healthcare, and backs the transformatory principles of proposed NHS Reinstatement Bill.

And that mansion tax that’s to raise some of the cash for the NHS under Labour’s plans? Well once again it’s a pale imitation of our far more broad-reaching wealth tax – which recognises that rich individuals gain their wealth from our society, benefit from its services, and should make a fair contribution to their maintenance.

Then look at the cut in child benefit. It was, observers generally considered, an attempt to demonstrate Labour’s “fiscal probity”. Or alternatively, you could consider it, as many did, as a continuation of the Tory-Lib Dem policy of making the poor and disadvantaged, particularly women and children, pay for the errors, the fraud and the recklessness of the financial sector. No real change here – in fact no change at all, but a further bowing to the Conservative narrative that blames government spending for the debt and the deficit, when in fact we should be blaming the bankers.

And where were the words from Miliband about reining in the still out-of-control banking system, of tackling what even insiders are calling the continuing extreme fragility of the financial sector?

There were some positives in Miliband’s speech, and the broader conference, in terms of somewhat more substantial environmental changes. The focus on energy conservation, particularly home insulation, is welcome – the Green Party has long been saying that reducing demand is central to resolving the energy conundrum. Although this isn’t “new” money – it’s been taken from other areas of infrastructure spending, where much is needed. The backing for the one million climate jobs agenda is also welcome.

But the focus remains narrow – on “green technology”. Focusing on conservation, on renewable energy and a smart grid are essential steps, but they are only a fraction of the environmental essentials. What is needed is a modal shift in transport towards walking and cycling that would improve our health, and clean up our air and cut congestion. We need a return of food production and manufacturing to Britain to create jobs and dramatically reduce supply lines. These are the kind of changes that have to be a key part of the mix.

That limited approach to the environment reflects the broader problem, identified by many observers, with the overall tone of this Labour conference. There’s been no break with the past, no signs of a search for a new model that takes us forward from our current economy that has clearly failed

Green energy co-ops blocked by government regulator

August 15, 2014

solar_powerThe future of community-owned green energy projects that ministers say are crucial to break the dominance of the ‘big six’ is being put at risk by the Financial Conduct Authority, according to co-operatives and the Labour party.

Thousands of towns and villages have clubbed together around the UK in recent years to set up energy co-ops to generate clean electricity from wind turbines and solar panels.

Ed Davey, the energy secretary, last year visited a community solar scheme on a tower block in south London and has said he “want[s] to see nothing short of a community energy revolution”, while the former climate minister, Greg Barker, said such projects were needed to “break the grip of the dominant big energy companies”.

But in the past six weeks the FCA, which registers new co-ops, has blocked several new energy co-op applications on the grounds that they would not have enough member participation, despite having authorised previous ones set up along the same lines.

Tom Greatrex, shadow energy minister, wrote a letter on Friday to Martin Wheatley, the FCA’s chief executive, warning that the shift in the FCA’s attitude put the future of co-operative energy in the UK at risk.

“David Cameron’s government talk a good game on community energy – but the reality is that future energy co-ops are being put at risk by a change of approach by the FCA. This sudden change threatens a model that combines the twin goods of decarbonisation and community involvement in energy,” said Greatrex.

“The FCA must urgently reconsider their approach – and Ed Davey needs to wake up and get a grip to prevent lasting damage to the prospects of more community energy projects in the UK,” he added.

Mike Smyth, chairman of Energy4All, which helps community groups set up energy co-ops, said that six weeks ago “completely out of the blue” the FCA stopped registering new energy co-ops, and had blocked six to eight applications that he was aware of.

“It has put a complete block on the development of this area of mutual activity, without any adequate explanation and showing a huge misunderstanding of what’s going on. The energy sector is completely appropriate for mutual involvement – there is huge amount of mistrust in energy companies – and they’ve [the FCA] put all that on hold.

“The government’s policy is that all new renewable energy generation from next year should be partially or more owned by a community energy organisation. And the FCA is actively undermining this policy by removing the most appropriate business for that. It makes things more difficult, stifles innovation, and precludes participation by people in the energy sector.”

At the heart of the issue is the question of whether energy co-operative members participate actively enough in the co-op. To register a co-op, FCA rules require a mutual to show participation which it lists as “buying from or selling to the society”, “using the services or amenities provided by it” and “supplying services to carry out its business”.

But unlike a co-op shop, which can sell direct to its members, energy co-ops are too small to apply for licenses that would mean they could sell electricity from a wind turbine directly to members – instead, they usually sell to the national grid via a broker, and divide the profits between members.

In the letter to Wheatley, signed by Greatrex, Mark Lazarowicz MP and Claudia Beamish MSP, it says: “We understand that there has been some ambiguity about the meaning of the word “participation” in ascertaining whether a project is a bona fide co-operative. Participation is clearly more than just a narrow question about whether the product of the co-operative is traded solely with members.

“There may be other forms of participation that the FCA has not considered. So long as this question remains open, we do not believe that the FCA can reasonably move to block future cooperative energy projects.”

Communities can apply for a separate mutual model, known as Community Benefit Societies, but Smyth said such societies were “less flexible” and “less appropriate”.

An FCA spokeswoman did not confirm whether there had been a shift in the authority’s stance towards energy co-ops, but said: “One of the conditions for registration is that the applicant must be a bona fide co-operative society where members participate in its business. When applicants cannot demonstrate this to the FCA, in accordance with the [Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies] act, we cannot register them.”

Source – The Guardian

Greens Polling at Highest Numbers Since 1989

August 10, 2014

*Greens steadily building on May 22 electoral successes
*Best ever performance in the Independent’s ‘poll of polls’
*Young Green membership surges in 2014

Ahead of the 2015 General Election, the Green Party is polling on 6.6% and neck and neck with the Liberal Democrats, the Coalition partners.

The Greens posted their best ever showing in the latest ‘poll of polls’ compiled by John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, for the Independent (1).

“Support for the Greens is steadily growing as the party benefits from the splintering of traditional political loyalties”, commented the national newspaper, which acknowledged that the Greens, “with only a fraction of the media attention paid to Ukip, have continued to build on their strong showing in May’s elections (2).”

Natalie Bennett, Green Party Leader, said:

“The fact that the Green Party are consistently polling at some of our best numbers since 1989 goes to show that our message of the need to reshape our politics and economy to work for the common good is really hitting home.

“It is our policies such as a wealth tax on the top 1%, making the minimum wage a Living Wage, renationalising our railways and having a publicly owned and run NHS that are both encouraging people to join as members and vote Green in growing numbers.

“Despite comparatively limited media attention, more and more people are recognising that only the Greens offer the real change that British politics and British society so desperately needs. They are rightly fed up with the three old, tired, business-as-usual parties.

“The Tories, Labour, Lib Dems and Ukip receive much larger donations – which allows them to comfortably out-spend us on political advertising – but Greens up and down the country are working tirelessly to share Green values and policies with the people they do and will represent. It is these efforts that have us polling neck and neck with the Lib Dems, the Coalition partners.

“Our support amongst young people is surging; membership of the Young Greens has grown by 70% since March this year alone, with overall membership up 28% this year, and poll after poll puts Green party support among young people at over 15%, more than the Liberal Democrats and Ukip combined.”(3)

Further links/references:

(1) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/poll-of-polls-green-party-support-grows-as-voters-continue-to-abandon-lib-dems-9652413.html

(2) http://greenparty.org.uk/news/2014/05/26/european-elections-greens-gain-50-more-meps,-push-liberal-democrats-into-fifth-place/

(3) http://younggreens.org.uk/news/2014/08/06/the-young-greens’-letter-in-the-guardian-today/

Greens demonstrate support for fairer trade rules

March 5, 2014

Banana

As Green Party members agree a motion at their Spring conference to oppose a new Transatlantic Trade agreement, green campaigners have been out across the South West supporting fairer trade rules through their involvement in Fairtrade Fortnight.

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is an agreement between the EU and the US, currently under negotiation in the European Parliament. Greens say, if passed, this agreement will weaken environmental protection, workers’ rights, health and animal-welfare rules. The Green Party passed a motion at their Spring conference in Liverpool to campaign against TTIP and Greens in the European Parliament are also actively opposing the agreement.

Meanwhile, across the South West Green, campaigners have been reiterating their support for Fairtrade above Free Trade. In Devon, Stephen Best, a Fairtrade banana producer from St Lucia, has been working with Exeter based Green Party member Andrew Bell to deliver conferences in schools highlighting the benefits of Fairtrade. Mr Bell said:

“Stephen’s passion for Fairtrade and what it has achieved for his community in St Lucia is highly evident to anyone who meets him. Fairtrade has literally been the saviour of banana production in the country. After the World Trade Organisation, backed by the US, changed trading rules giving American banana corporations’ greater power, small scale banana producers in the Winward Islands faced obliteration. However, Fairtrade came to the rescue offering a guaranteed minimum price for bananas and a ‘Fairtrade Premium’ – an extra sum of money which the wider community can choose how to spend. But corporate power never gives up, and now we see a new threat in the form of TTIP.”

Speaking at the Green Party conference in Liverpool, leader Natalie Bennet made clear to delegates the distinctive, principled stand Greens are making against TTIP:

“TTIP would blow apart the power of our democratic decision making. The deal provides corporations with new rights to sue the Government for legislating in the public interest – that’s definitely not acting for the common good. It’s not surprising, really, when we hear Lib Dems trumpeting the proposed US-EU free trade deal as some kind of economic saviour. The Lib Dems are the lapdogs of corporate Europe, while the Tories are its war horses.”

Brighton: the battle for localism

January 23, 2014
ImageBrighton has a well established reputation for being ‘alternative’. The city returned the country’s first Green MP and the first green-led council, and it was among the first councils to reinstate the committee system. Now the minority administration is vying to become the first to put a council tax rise decision to the electorate.
Whether by design or not, the party that has traditionally shunned leadership is at the forefront of a debate that has wide-ranging implications. This is a battle for localism – for the right and the ability of local councils to set local tax to fund local services according to the priorities of local people.
It is a classic David and Goliath battle: the minority council, painted in the media as somewhat oddball, dares to take on the commonly held assumption that the public wants Scandinavian services for American taxes. It is a high stakes game.
The bar is almost impossibly high. As if asking people to vote for higher taxes were not enough, there is the unpalatable question of the cost of running the referendum, the lack of flexibility in the wording of the referendum question, the need to spend more money campaigning, and the obligation to poll the whole electoral roll, not only council tax payers.
Yet Brighton’s Greens, who unlike other councils are not tied by national party conventions, are the first to to be brave – or insert another adjective if you prefer – enough to put their convictions to the test.
They face two major hurdles. First is to get the plan through the council. The Greens hold 21 seats but Labour (14) and the Conservatives (18) do not support it. As Green leader Jason Kitcat says, it is technically possible if some dissenters abstain.
In the unlikely event the plan is passed, the public will be an even greater test. A ComRes opinion poll in Octobersuggested the Greens would come third if an election was called, and Brighton’s own consultation on support for a rise was far from conclusive. Only 6% of the 659 respondents supported a rise outright and half said they would support a rise under some circumstances at some point in the future.
A referendum in Brighton would truly be democracy in action. Whatever the outcome, this is a historic case. The local and national news stories will go some way to disabusing people of the common perception that council services are funded entirely from council tax, and will ensure that more people are aware of cuts to central funding.
If a referendum were to be held a ‘no’ vote would probably finish off Britain’s first Green administration. But it could also open up a conversation about publicly sanctioned services cuts – and a debate about the role of local government in future.
A ‘yes’ vote, meanwhile, could change the whole dynamic between central and local government, and between voters and the council. The implication would ripple much further than Brighton’s beaches.
The latter scenario is unlikely. But if it can happen anywhere, it would be Brighton.
Emma Maier, editor, LGC

What’s wrong with Capitalism?

January 16, 2014

East Midlands Green Party Blog

Vote Green if you feel you are not benefiting from capitalism.

View original post

Now it’s Fracking Bribery

January 14, 2014

The cynicism of the Con Dem government is staggering. It has deliberately driven Councils and Communities to desperation by cutting their budgets, and now it is bribing those same struggling Authorities to give permission for fracking that local communities have clearly rejected. If they do as the Government demands, turn a blind eye to the hazards, and the opinion of the electorate, they will be rewarded with extra cash from the fracking companies. Like some medieval torturer who, having starved his victim allows the smell of a succulent meal to drift into the torture chamber, so the Government waves the promise of cash at these desperate Councils. Inevitably this action will weaken further the trust between Councils and their electorate, as the Tories intend – residents will never be sure if a permission was given in the best interest of the community and country, or for the cash.

Cameron is now just acting as the industries mouthpiece. On the very day Total, the French energy company who are unable to frack in their own country because the French Government has banned it, announced a £30 million stake in UK fracking, he turns up at a drilling depot in Gainsborough. It just happens that Total have taken a stake in the companies that have exploration licences in Gainsborough. Doing the job of a company PR spokesman, he dutifully reiterated the claim that fracking will produce much needed investment, create jobs and lead to energy security, and that our robust regulations make it completely safe. There is no justification for any of these claims. They come from, a report commissioned by the frack company Caudrilla, headed by his friend Lord John Browne, ex of BP, that suggests that Britain can benefit by £3.7 billion a year extra revenue and 74,000 new jobs. These figures are just guesses. The 74,000 job claim included the extra staff needed in local shops to serve the security guards buying sweets! One wonders just how many of these 74,000 people will be security guards, such has been his governments and the industries failure to convince the British public that we need fracking.

To talk up the robust environmental regulations in the UK is to ignore the fact that the Conservative Party is doing all it can to abolish these regulations as ‘red tape’. It also conveniently ignores the fact that if the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations with the USA that they are so keen on, does get the go ahead from Europe, then all such regulations will prove to be useless. Governments will do all they can to minimise green regulations for fear of being sued by corporations for loss of profit.

The dash for gas is a high risk strategy, not one that can lead to energy security. It is not known how much gas can be won or at what price. The demand for water will be colossal and will lead to escalating domestic water bills and water shortages. The cost of the disposal of trillions of gallons of polluted waste water is unknown and we can’t be sure that we, the tax payer won’t be left with the disposal bill. The same applies to the costs of the pollution incidents that will inevitably occur. And the gas will run out but we will be tied to a gas energy infrastructure, then what?

The one claim, that Cameron didn’t make and that has been quietly dropped by the industry is that fracking will lead to cheap energy. It will do nothing for energy costs since the gas, if it is ever produced will be sold on the open market just as the North Sea oil was, and we British consumers will have to pay a premium price, as we did for North Sea oil, so that the big energy companies can maintain their bloated profits.

In all, this is a thoroughly bad deal for the British energy consumer and tax payer. The only beneficiaries are the big energy companies and their shareholders who will send their profits off shore. It is an even worse deal because there is a real deal available that would give us affordable and secure energy. This is to use the free energy that blows over our heads, laps on our shores and shines in our faces. Yes, the wind, the sun and the tides are free energy, all we needed to do was invest in the infrastructure to capture them, store the energy as necessary and distribute it. No big deal any of that, just use the technology that’s already there. But, no one can take a monopoly on the wind, the waves or the sun, no one can threaten to divert it or switch it off if they don’t get their own way. No one can put it in a barrel or down a pipeline and sell it back to us at a profit. So this Government of millionaires, for millionaires isn’t interested.

There is only one Party seriously opposing fracking and that is the Green Party. We also have a clear and workable alternative energy strategy that would end fuel poverty and our reliance on fossil fuels. The only thing that will make the main parties rethink their fossil/nuclear energy [policies is a big green vote. Work with us to make this happen.

January 14, 2014 by 

‘Bribe’ anger as PM backs fracking

January 13, 2014

ImageThe Government has renewed its push to promote controversial “fracking” for shale gas, as French energy giant Total confirmed it was investing in the industry in the UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced that local authorities in England would receive 100% of the business rates collected from shale gas schemes, rather than the usual 50%.

It is the latest move by the Government to promote the exploitation of unconventional gas in the UK, which the Prime Minister claimed could bring the UK 74,000 jobs, more than £3 billion of investment and cheaper and more secure energy.

But environmentalists criticised the business rates incentive as a “bribe” to reluctant local authorities.

And they warned that it raised serious concerns over conflicts of interest if the councils benefiting from the money were the ones deciding on planning applications.

Opponents fear fracking, a process in which liquid is pumped deep underground at high pressure to fracture rock and release the gas in it, for shale gas will lead to the development of industrial sites and disturbance in the countryside.

Fears have also been raised over the potential for small-scale earthquakes and water pollution, and that a drive to exploit new gas reserves will turn the focus away from efforts to develop a low-carbon economy to tackle climate change.

Protests against a proposed fracking site at Barton Moss in Salford, Greater Manchester, have continued for almost seven weeks, with campaigners claiming hundreds of people turned out over the weekend to voice their opposition to the development.

On a visit to Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, in the area Total will be looking to develop shale gas wells, Mr Cameron defended the plans to push ahead with fracking, saying environmental concerns would be assuaged once people saw the benefits.

He said: “We have the strongest environmental controls in this country. Nothing would go ahead if there were environmental dangers. I think people can be reassured by that.

“But I actually believe it’s when these wells go ahead, when people start to see the benefit, when people see there aren’t environmental concerns, they will see that it is quite right that this is part of our long-term economic plan.”

Kathryn McWhirter, from Balcombe, West Sussex, where protesters took direct action while energy company Cuadrilla conducted exploratory drilling at a site on the outskirts of the village last year, claimed Mr Cameron was giving out more misinformation on fracking to the British public.

She said: “First, he said shale gas would lower prices and create vast numbers of jobs.

“Both claims have been shot down by his own advisers, yet he continues to repeat them.

“Now he wants to bribe local people and council planners – what a conflict of interest, what desperation.

“After two years’ sober research, we in Balcombe are all too aware of the hazards of modern fracking and our message to him is this: Our health and our environment are not for sale.”

Officials said the commitment on business rates would mean councils hanging on to up to £1.7 million extra a year from each fracking site.

The industry has already pledged to give local communities £100,000 for each test drilling – and a further 1% of the revenues if shale gas is discovered.

And today it was announced that the industry would further consult on how to deliver the money to communities, with options including direct cash payments to people living near the site or setting up of local funds directly managed by local communities.

The Local Government Association’s Mike Jones said that given the tax breaks proposed for shale gas and the impact it would have on local companies, payments should be higher at between 5% and 10%, in line with other parts of the world.

The community benefits of fracking should be enshrined in law, so they could not be withdrawn, and community payments should go into a charitable sovereign fund to be spent on local priorities, he argued.

But Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said that encouraging fracking by offering “bribes” to councils, and handing tax breaks to fracking companies, was ” beyond irresponsible”.

“It’s outrageous that councils are being put under financial pressure to accept this at a time when they’re being forced to make cuts to vital services.”

Friends of the Earth’s Jane Thomas said: “This latest Government move highlights the depth of local opposition to fracking and the desperate lengths ministers are prepared to go to overcome it.

“People are right to be concerned about the impact of shale gas extraction on their communities – especially as experts say it won’t lead to cheaper fuel bills.

“This move raises potentially serious concerns about conflicts of interest, if councils that benefit from this money are also the ones who decide on planning applications from fracking firms in the first place.

“The Government should be encouraging the development of Britain’s huge renewable power potential, instead of coming up with new incentives that keep the nation hooked on climate-changing fossil fuels.”

Energy Minister Michael Fallon said the 100% business rates incentive on offer was the same as for renewable technologies, such as wind farms and solar energy.

But Anna Jones, climate campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “Comparing the incentives for renewable energy to the naked bribery of the Government’s business rate bung simply isn’t comparing like with like.

“Renewable energy is a proven energy source that will not damage the environment. Compare this to the environmental damage and disruption that fracking for a dirty fossil fuel would cause, and which may be too costly to extract.

“It’s an obvious no-brainer that renewables are the energy of the future, not shale gas.”

Opposition to fracking has not stopped interest from oil and gas companies in exploiting potential shale gas reserves across swathes of the UK, with Total announcing its investment today.

The company has taken a 40% share in two gas exploration licences for drilling in the Gainsborough Trough, in an area between Doncaster and Lincoln.

Total, which is already involved in shale gas projects in the US, China, Australia, Argentina, Poland and Denmark, described the move as an important milestone for the company in the UK.

The initial exploration will be conducted by partner IGas, and Total will take over operations as the project develops.

The project is part of £1.2 billion annual investments in oil and gas production by Total E&P, which is set to make it the largest oil and gas producer in this country by 2015.

Source – Press Association – ‎13th‎ ‎January‎ ‎2014