Life back in Lancashire for the last five weeks has certainly had a different feel to that of Brussels and Strasbourg, with distinctly less travel, although I’ve still managed quite a few train miles within the region to various green and other events; to London for a Local Authorities Pension Fund investment strategy conference, and an unplanned family-related trip to Ireland (with much sadness due to an unexpected bereavement). I hear that for most of February, it also rained in Brussels.
I am missing my fellow MEP colleagues and staff teams, the conviviality, and the sense of influence! But it’s good to re-connect with lots of local and regional Greens, and of course, friends. Now that the Brexit process has started, the action at a local level by individuals, communities, campaign groups and local authorities is more important than ever.
In short, I have been busy with lots of catching up as City and County Councillor, so much so that my intention to carry on fortnightly instead of weekly blogs went out of the window. So this blog is a brief summary to highlight the range rather than the detail of events as former MEP.
Lancaster City Council news: Freeman’s Wood is saved!
Firstly, my huge appreciation to fellow Green Lancaster City Councillor Mandy Bannon who was newly-elected (with me in Marsh ward) to Lancaster City Council just three weeks before the European elections last year. I had reassured her I would be there to help her learn the ropes, then got swept off to Europe. She has done an amazing job of quickly assuming the role of representing Marsh ward – chasing casework, ward projects, campaigns and networking in our little corner of the Lancaster District. And as part of the Friends of Freeman’s Wood, Mandy helped to finally get Freeman’s Wood recognised as a Town Green by Lancashire County Council last month (after five years or more of waiting!). This is a really important achievement in helping secure the Wood against development.
I recently attended the AGM of the Lune Valley Flood Forum – a fantastically-led community group which looks to ensure the communities affected by flooding have a strong input into city and county policies, and provides very good networking. Chris – a former teacher and now lecturer at the University of Cumbria – is developing teacher training tools for teaching about flooding and climate change prevention across the curriculum. A great initiative. More about the LVFF here
I caught up with some of the Nanas of Lancashire again. While they are not required right now to defend our environment and communities by their roadside vigil at Preston New Road fracking site (as all activities there have ceased), they are busy with plans and supporting other campaign groups including the Youth Strike for Climate. Well done Nanas!
February was budget month for both Lancaster City and Lancashire County Councils. At City Council, the Green group of 10 are part of the cross-party administration, with Labour and the Lib Dems. The Greens have three cabinet members who hold the portfolios for Environmental Services (Dave Brookes), Housing (Caroline Jackson), and Economic Regeneration (Tim Hamilton-Cox). The budget is starting to be aligned with the climate emergency action plan. I will report more on this in my overdue report as MEP: Local authorities and the Climate Emergency: From Declaration to Action which covers Lancaster as a case study. Available very shortly!
Meanwhile, in the County Budget, climate measures are far less evident. My tabled amendment included: reinstating the Home Improvement Service, which helps keep people with disabilities and the elderly living with adaptions at home; funding for maintained Nursery Schools, which provide in particular for children with additional needs and are currently under desperate financial pressure, and a new post of climate action coordinator. Within the capital budget, I proposed at least five per cent of the transport grant should be ring-fenced for cycling infrastructure, plus more for pavement repairs from existing budgets. Labour and other opposition groups supported my amendment but with the Tory majority at County, it lost 26 to 41.
Pension Fund Event
Attending the LAPF investment strategy conference as a committee member of Lancashire County Pension Fund – an event funded by investment companies (the Black Rocks of this world) – for the second year running, I have used the opportunity to hammer home the message that corporate investors need to urgently take more leadership on demanding climate action by companies. Not surprisingly, I am recognised there as ‘having an agenda’. This year I received various comments such as “you must be delighted to see climate change mentioned in every workshop and panel session.” To which my answer was “I’m slightly encouraged, but I’d only be delighted if carbon emissions were now drastically reducing as a result of changes in business practices.“ Former speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, the after-dinner speaker, was entertaining.
Last week I was back in the Preston meeting of the committee. Lancashire invests far less than the average Local Government Pension Scheme in global equities and therefore has less exposure to fossil fuel companies – definitely a good thing. But there is so much more to be done, and my 7 year efforts at getting a clear commitment to divestment are still not succeeding. I am a lone voice, despite plenty of other councillors on the committee.
REGIONAL: North West
Salford University media department students, The DEBATE, invited me to be on a panel alongside an Extinction Rebellion activist. We debated the effectiveness of different types of campaigning in pushing the green agenda and the Green New Deal. It was very professionally chaired by Joseph Kelly.
I talked about my Green New Deal report at Trafford Green Party’s launch of their local May elections campaign, which I repeated at a public meeting in Lancaster – although no elections here this spring. In essence the Green New Deal is a chance to create jobs, training and reduce poverty whilst tackling the climate crisis. These meetings also gave me an opportunity to share again my wonderful experience as North West Green MEP and the delight – if I haven’t mentioned it before – of being in a room with 70 other competent, experienced, professional European Greens all committed to action on climate and protecting human rights.
Digital City Festival
This week I was the only politician(!) invited to speak on a panel at the Digital City Festival in Manchester, bringing together the leaders, creators and change-makers who are shaping the future of digital. We discussed the environmental and economic impact and opportunities that can come from applying AI, data and other emerging technologies to achieve green objectives IF rolled out with attention to ensuring good jobs and training, decent two–way communication with the public, and policies to ensure the benefits are widely spread. More Green New Deal in fact.
I also advocated the importance of carbon literacy training. I had interviewed some students about their role in Manchester Metropolitan University’s Carbon literacy project and the associated HySchool project (education about the role of hydrogen in a future renewable energy mix) when I was keynote speaker at their conference five weeks ago in my first engagement as former MEP.
International Women’s Day celebrations: I was pleased to be invited onto the BBC’s North West Sunday politics show on International Women’s Day. In answer to their key question- Yes absolutely more women are needed in the Cabinet -indeed more women from all backgrounds are needed in all areas of public life and leadership! Some beautiful photos here on the Guardian website of this year’s commemorations world wide of IW, which has been held every year on 8 March since 1977, when the UN invited member states to declare a day for women’s rights and world peace.
All things Corona Virus. Debate is now raging about whether the Government has missed opportunities to stop the spread of the virus during their commitment to the early ‘containment’ phase, and whether more should have been done to test population samples. It appears clear now likely the UK will move into adopting a ‘social distancing’ strategy very soon. Those most likely to be seriously affected and with higher risk of mortality if they contract this disease (people with underlying health problems and the elderly) are likely to need the very services provided by local authorities and community organisations whose funding has been hollowed out over years by austerity. If the UK gets to a ‘worse case scenario’ the lack of NHS provision may mean people will be treated at home who otherwise would have stayed in hospital. We can all look out to help people in our communities who may help, or need to selfisolate to prevent catching or spreading the virus. Public Health England is providing a regularly-upated blog
Where hope lies….
The Government introduced a big spend budget. It was just on the wrong things. Government has promised to spend on what is needed to tackle the Corona virus, and it could invest at speed to address the far more threatening climate, biodiversity and inequality emergencies. Green Peer Jenny Jones joins others in writing about this enormous missed opportunity.
Its important to keep the pressure on Government but meanwhile do all we can at a local level in the fight to environmental and social justice.
(More again on Europe next time. Please consider sharing this Long Read and encourage others to sign up for my newsletters!)