County councillor work, Local politics, Uncategorized

The new Green group on Suffolk County Council – my first report

Robert, elfrede, Andrew 2

Me, Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw and Andrew Stringer – the Green Group on Suffolk County Council

New County Council 

There are now 52 Tory Councillors out of the 75 total on Suffolk. Greens increased from two to three. We three Green County Councillors have teamed up with four LibDems and five Independents to form the LD, Green and Independent Group.  Here we are at Endeavour  House (county hall) – minus Richard Kemp
Guild Group, SCC
We are the second largest group after Tories because Labour have been reduced to just 11.  However, we have said we do not want the status of “official opposition” – which means our leader gets a bit less money, but we don’t have to come up with alternative budgets, etc.  
Our leader for the first year is LibDem David Wood, (on the far left) and Andrew Stringer is deputy. This is likely to change in the second year. We have appointed a spokesperson for women, the LibDem councillor Caroline Page. We are the first group on the county to do so, and she has received some press coverage for highlighting an underspend on carers. We are a big enough group so that at least one of us is on every committee.  Our two rules are:
1. We share all information from committees etc
2. No one tells anyone else in the group how to vote, except by persuasion.
We are the only group whose members all represent the people in the divison where they live. I have been appointed to the audit committee and the pension committee. 
 
Risky pension?
The pension committee is preparing to put the bulk of its £2.6bn in assets into a “pooled pot” with other local authorities across the East and South East as demanded by central Government.
This will reduce, but not remove, the ability of Suffolk County Council to invest sums in the local economy, which is something I am keen to see it do. Though it is early days I would also like to see the pension fund examine whether it is wise to remain so heavily invested in fossil fuel companies. This is because I agree with the Governor of the Bank England Mark Carney who has warned that government legislation to cut CO2 emissions could pose a substantial risk to the value of oil and gas assets.  The London Borough of Waltham Forest has already agreed to do this.
 
£400k for care beds for the dead
I have attended my first audit committee which heard that the council has inadvertently paid £400,000 to private care homes for beds for people who have died. This seems to have been a mixture of some care homes not telling the county when their patient dies while in other cases they told the county but no one in the county told the people making the payments Fortunately this was spotted by the head of internal audit and we are told better internal reporting measures introduced. The last time they checked the overpayments had reduced to just £40k. The county has recovered all the money it is owed. The county’s own care homes were all outsourced about four years ago to Care UK. I suspect that when this contract happened, county staff were not geared up to control payments.
 
More say for backbenchers and opposition
Before the election, my friend and the then Green group leader Mark Ereira and the then Ukip leader proposed a motion to introduce a committee system to the council and scrap the cabinet system. This was amended to something like “explore the options in a cross party working group”. The Conservative-dominated working group has decided that they want to have cabinet committees, which is a hybrid system that allows the Conservatives to control everything, but hear opposition voices from the committees. Labour and our group have pushed them successfully to have 12 members on each of these committees which means there will be two from our group, alongside two Labour and 8 Tory councillors on each committee. They can only advise and the 100% Tory cabinet will make the decisions still, but it’s better than before.
 
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Local politics, National Politics, Nature, Politics

Pope to issue edict saying climate change is a moral crisis

Pope-Francis

You read it here first! Pope Francis will on Thursday issue an edict on the moral necessity to take action on climate change.

This has been in the air for a while (and I see there is a Guardian piece on it today) but it was the first I knew about it. I heard about this morning at a talk and workshop at St Mary’s Church, Hadleigh, organised by the local benefice, and run by Colin Bell of something called the Faraday Institute. As far as I can tell Mr Bell and the Faraday Institute are working to turn the Church of England green.

The Pope has spent the past two years honing this edict, says Mr Bell, and the hope is that the Church of England and other protestant churches will follow him. If they don’t they risk being seen as more conservative than the Pope. He also showed us a rather good cartoon summarising the recent history of international climate talks  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B11kASPfYxY

And there was a great quote from one of Pope Francis’s scientific advisors: Bishop Sánchez Sorondo, Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences has said: “The challenge of climate change has become not only economic, political or social. It is also an issue of morals, religion, values such as justice and social inclusion, the obligation of solidarity with future generations and the moral obligation to care for the earth, namely creation, which is our habitat.”

The other good thing about this session in Hadleigh was that it might just lead to a Transition Hadleigh group, to try to make the town and the church greener and less dependent on fossil fuels and to get existing groups in the town working together.

Pleased to see our new Conservative MP James Cartlidge was there, although he did not stay very long. There are key decisions for world leaders coming up in Paris in December as part of the next round of climate agreements – known as COP21. There have been positive noises from the G7 about becoming fossil fuel free by end of the century and from China and President Obama on a bi-lateral deal to cut carbon emissions. So things are going in the right direction for once. I hope our MP will take on board the importance of these talks and press his superiors in Government to pledge big carbon cuts for Britain – both before 2020 to meet existing commitments and for tough new commitments after 2020.

If you feel the same please write to him, or try to go see him on Wednesday 17 June in Westminster at the Climate Change event.

Another thing it would be great to see would be Suffolk County Council, which has a well meaning initiative to be “the Greenest County”, getting its pension fund to sell its huge £15m stake in BP – one of its single largest investments. At least four fifths of the world’s declared oil reserves need to stay in the ground if we are to avoid 2 degrees of global warming. BP’s business plan is extract and burn as much oil as possible. So why is Suffolk’s pension committee risking its members’ retirements by investing in a company intent on releasing more carbon than is compatible with the survival of human civilisation?

Next on my to do list – start a divestment campaign aimed at Suffolk County Council’s pension fund.

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