Sun setting on World Bank support for fossil fuels

Headline-grabbing announcement of the day is definitely that “The World Bank Group will no longer finance upstream oil and gas, after 2019”.

While many will see the 2 year delay as a disappointment, the fact that the organisation is putting its weight firmly behind a move away from fossil fuels is a welcome one.

The huge amount of support that the industry relies on, not least from national governments, is only part of the story though. Luckily, there is plenty more to the World Bank’s One Planet announcement. You can see the full text here.

As well as moving away from oil & gas the Bank is taking positive action to support climate action, and says it is on track to shift 28% of its lending in that direction by 2020. It is also looking at its own activities and will start to monitor and report on greenhouse gas emissions from the investment projects it finances in key emissions-producing sectors, such as energy.

We can’t get too excited. Earlier in the year the World Bank worked with the United Nations, and oil and gas industry representatives on environmental and social issues, to produce a report on ‘Oil and Gas Industry Efforts on achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals’. It’s an interesting guide to how the industry might reform its activities and behaviours. As a necessary evil in the short term, it’s an industry that is in huge need of reform.

While some might promote the report as a sign of how they are mending their ways, we only have to look at the lobbying of Trump in the US to see how the fossil fuel dollar is used by the industry to avoid regulation and reform.

We need to maintain pressure to ensure that the fossil fuel lobby’s arguments on the economic benefits of oil & gas don’t provide a smokescreen to cover up the damage they are doing and the huge threat that they pose to us all.

The World Bank announcement is a welcome one, another sign that the tide is turning in favour of a cleaner future, but the fight is not over.

Parishing – the end of local democracy?

The following is a copy of my submission to the Council’s so called “Community Governance Review”. The Council’s proposals run rough-shod over any idea of local democracy. Ironically one of their claims is that it will *increase* local democracy, though they refuse to let us vote on it.

I share the view of the vast majority of people in Swindon in opposing the Council’s proposals to forcibly introduce parishes into non-parished areas of Swindon.

The imposition of parishes will be divisive, artificially segregating the people of Swindon against their will. Poorer communities will be disadvantaged while more affluent areas are more able to save threatened services. Council leaders have shown contempt for due process and for the people of Swindon.

My Preferences

As this is about money and Council finance a referendum should be held on raising Council Tax to meet the expected shortfall. Such a referendum should provide the people of Swindon with adequate facts on the costs and consequences to allow an informed decision to be made.

The choice of whether to become a parish should be a democratic decision by those that are to be affected. As a resident of Pinehurst I ought to have the right to decide, along with my neighbours, whether to become a “local” parish or become part of a larger one, or indeed NOT to.

If, and only if, the Council are determined to impose a parish on me (and I do NOT want them to) it ought to be a single parish encompassing all of the non-parished area. This would achieve the Council’s intended objective – to wash their hands of cuts and tax rises – while allowing some of the benefits of economies of scale enjoyed by a larger operation.

Should a Parish Council be imposed on me, it must NOT be made up of appointees of the Council. PC members MUST be elected to the post by the constituents within the Parish.

The Council has no mandate

I object to the imposition of parish councils without the agreement of the people that are affected.

Those making the proposals, which constitute a significant change to the way in which we are taxed and governed, have no political mandate and have refused to seek one.

No mandate was sought for these proposals during this year’s elections for Ward Councillors and calls for a referendum have been flatly rejected. While a referendum is not explicitly demanded by the laws governing the CGR there is nothing that prevents one from being held.

There is no appetite for the creation of additional parishes among the electorate. If there were then the mechanisms are in place by which requests could be made. No such requests have been forthcoming.

The case has not been made

The proposals that have been presented lack the level of detail that would allow a reasonable decision to be made.

The services to be provided by the PCs have not been defined. The actual costs of providing such services have not been identified. Accurate estimates of the precepts required by the proposed parishes have not been provided.

As a resident of the proposed North Central parish I have not been provided with the necessary details of the services currently provided to that area by the Council, their respective costs or the likely impact of the Parish precept on the residents.

Even the suggested names indicate the artificial nature of the proposed parishes. I identify as a resident of Swindon, one large community. I attend events and activities across the length and breadth of the non-parished areas.

The so-called “pilot” offered as evidence of the success of devolving StreetSmart services is deeply flawed on several counts. It is a poor comparison and provides no basis on which the success or otherwise of the new parishes might be predicted.

The areas included in the pilot do not represent the same type of area as would be created under the current proposals. No benchmarking appears to have been carried out against which any objective improvement in services might be judged. The Task Group Report is subjective and insubstantial and only two PCs provided a response, no attempt appears to have been made to elicit the responses of residents.

The proposals are undemocratic

The refusal of the Council to hold a referendum is bad enough.

This is compounded by the way in which the councils will be initially constituted. The Council intends to appoint Ward councillors and co-opted individuals as PCs in the first instance, before democratic elections are held. This flies in one of the supposed benefits of local accountability as Ward Councillors were NOT elected to fulfil this role and appointees will have NO mandate whatsoever.

The idea that PCs provide local accountability is questionable in any case, since so many parish council members are co-opted rather than elected.

The result appears to be predetermined

The consultation process to date has been woefully inadequate and heavily biased. The leaders of the Council have failed to consider alternative courses of action, or to present such alternatives to residents.

The Council has failed to adequately consider responses received at each stage of the review. Public opinion during each stage has overwhelmingly against the forced imposition of parishes, yet that remains the only option being considered.

Presentations to the Council by those in charge of the review have been partial, subjective and unsupported by appropriate evidence.

Although Council officers have been careful to claim that no decision has been made it seems clear from the actions of the Council leaders that a predetermined decision (that parishes be imposed) has been arrived at outside of the formal setting of the Council chambers, and that all that will happen as a result of the “consultation” exercise will be some minor changes such as the tweaking of parish boundaries.

I understand that the Council has already made budgetary provisions that assume the introduction of parishes. If true, this gives the lie to claims that no decision has been made.

While Brexiteers had a referendum but no plan it appears that SBC are intent on carrying out their plan with no referendum, and in the face of overwhelming opposition.

The review itself is not fit for purpose.

The review appears to have been staged to allow Council leaders to implement a predetermined strategy, providing a fig-leaf of respectability to them washing their hands of tax rises and cuts to services.

The leaflet sent to households failed to reach many. As unaddressed mail it was delivered with (and often inside) other “junk” mail. Many houses (including mine) did not receive the leaflet at all. As this would be the only medium by which many households would receive information about the proposals this constitutes a significant flaw in the review. The Council has not taken adequate measures to ensure that people have been made aware of the review or of their proposals.

The meetings held to inform the public of the proposals have been inadequate. I was able to attend one near me and have heard reports of others. The time set aside for these meetings was already short and frequently cut even shorter, with weak excuses used to end them early. In some cases, the appropriate people were not present to answer questions, with those left holding the bag having to make excuses when the required information was not available. The meetings were poorly managed, with little or no structure and little or no attempt to present a coherent overview of the proposals.

No serious attempt has been made to consider alternatives to the current proposals and the Council has failed to provide the information that would enable an informed decision to be taken on those that have been presented and what has been presented has been partial.

I would expect that a strong case could be made for a legal challenge should the Council press ahead with its plans to forcibly impose parishes on the un-parished areas.

The way in which the review has been conducted will further erode public confidence in the council leadership and their ability to govern fairly, honestly and in the interests of their electorate.

On standing for the Council…

The Government’s austerity agenda, supported by our Council leaders, is having a devastating effect on local Council services. They have made a choice: handing out tax cuts to top earners while cutting benefits to the disabled and the working poor and slashing local government grants.
I grew up in a council house, went to a comprehensive school run by the local authority, borrowed books from the public library to help with my homework and read about amazing adventures and wondrous worlds. I was the first in my family to go to university, on a full student grant from my local council.

Without these things I would not be who I am today, and I will fight to give others the same opportunities in life that I have had.

If elected, I will fight hard to find alternatives to the cuts being made to vital services like our libraries and children’s centres. I will work to restore openness in decision making instead of the phoney consultations and “engagement” sessions the Council is so fond of. No more decisions made behind the scenes.

Keep the libraries open

The Council wants volunteers to run library services. Many volunteers do wonderful work, but they cannot maintain the same standards as professional librarians. Services inevitably decline and fail, as has been seen in the dramatically falling lending rates at Walcot. I will ensure that the Council fulfils its statutory duty to provide a “comprehensive and efficient” service.

Save Lydiard Park, don’t sell it

The Green Party in Swindon believes that the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust should be given preferred bidder status for the lease on Lydiard. They are the only bidder created specifically to secure the future of Lydiard House & Park for the people of Swindon.
Disclaimer: I am on the steering group for the Lydiard Park Heritage Trust, a non-political group.

Protect Council housing, fight for better conditions for tenants

There should be more co-operation in politics, so I was happy to join with the Labour Party, the People’s Assembly and local housing campaigners to form the Swindon Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) . We are already making a difference for tenants in Swindon.

Parish Councils and tax rises: let the people choose

Council leaders plan to wash their hands of difficult choices, impose more costly bureaucracy and increase taxes by the back door. New Parish Councils will be forced to cut services or raise new Parish taxes.

I want a referendum to give every voter an honest choice of whether their own area becomes a Parish, or whether they agree to raise Council Tax to save services.

Children’s Centres – reverse the closures

Our Children’s Centres were marked for closure despite offering the best value for their work with children and families. The closures will rob Swindon’s most vulnerable of a vital lifeline – the effects of which, for them, will last a lifetime.

Swindon Greens Campaign For Better Housing

The housing situation in Swindon is something that affects us all. Whether we are looking for somewhere to buy or rent, or simply affected by the additional strain on local infrastructure and lack of parking from more people being crammed in to existing housing stock.

I believe that the council is failing to provide the leadership needed to ensure that the people of Swindon get decent housing provision. I have challenged the Council Leader over the provision of social housing in Swindon. Although 22,000 houses are planned in Swindon over the coming years, the council has no clue how many will provide housing for people on Council waiting lists or for those looking to buy their first home.

Nor is the council putting the required resources in to police the private rented sector, where conditions for tenants are steadily worsening while rents rise.

The Green Party has joined forces with housing campaigners and other political groups to form the Swindon Housing Action Campaign (SHAC). Over the coming months we will be campaigning together to raise the housing issue up the council agenda and get a better deal for all tenants in Swindon.

If you have been hit by high rents, ripped off by private landlords or found yourself unable to find decent accommodation for your family, we’d like to hear from you.

This is an important issue for me. I was brought up in a council house and I want others to have the same opportunity of a decent home that I had as a kid. It’s about more than just a roof over your head. The Council needs to be held to account to ensure the people of Swindon have access to decent homes.

Most vulnerable hit as Children’s Centres set to close

Against all the advice from experts, and despite evidence that says they provide a cost-effective service, it looks like the Council will press ahead with plans to close the remaining children’s centres in Swindon.

The Council’s consultation suggests that ‘there has been no obvious impact on social care from the closures’ but they’ve done nothing to measure it. How “obvious” would the impact be on a child until years later when they end up relying on support from social welfare agencies?

An important aspect is the ability of families to just drop-in to access the service, which makes them empowered rather than stigmatised. How many of the children exposed to domestic violence, or from the poorest households in Swindon, will lose out because they will not longer be able to access the Centres?

According to Paul Sunners from Swindon Green Party, an analysis of the Performance Overview 2015 data shows that the current provision offers ‘best value’ in terms of the preventative work undertaken with children and families.

The closures will rob Swindon’s most vulnerable of a vital lifeline – the effects of which, for them, will last a lifetime.

Parishes: Power to the People?

Council leaders look set to wash their hands of the provision of some services to residents in many parts of the town as they press ahead with costly plans to introduce Parish Councils across the whole of Swindon.

As cuts continue in vital services they plan to spend thousands to add another layer of bureaucracy and introduce another charge, the Parish Council “precept” to pay for it.

Some people see Parishes as a good idea that brings control of local services nearer to local people, but this move is seen by many as a way for the Council to raise taxes on the sly and let others take responsibility for the cuts they are making. It’s a big change to the way that Swindon would be governed, that wasn’t mentioned during the last council elections. The Council have no mandate from voters and they think they don’t need one.

The Green Party in Swindon thinks every voter should get a say in whether their own area becomes a Parish, and we support calls for a referendum to be held alongside May’s local Council elections. The proper way for the Council to give power to
the people is to give them the vote.

Saving Lydiard: we need a pause for thought

I welcomed the recent Council decision to listen to calls made by the Friends of Lydiard Park for a three month pause in deciding the fate of Lydiard House & Park. It is a shame that there was no real pause. While they say they are
talking, the Council are pushing ahead with their privatisation plans.

At the recent public meeting held by The Friends I asked the panel why we can’t just thank the companies who want to profit from Lydiard for the ideas they have come up with, then have the council sit down with the Friends and Trustees of Lydiard to work out how we implement those ideas ourselves?

These companies know there is money to be made. I hope it is not too late for the Council to negotiate a deal that brings together the Friends and the current management to secure the future of Lydiard for all the people of Swindon.

Why I’ll be supporting the Junior Doctors’ strike action

I’ll be supporting the junior doctors today as they escalate their industrial action and go on strike: After a long battle I don’t think that the government will negotiate in good faith unless they do.

Doctors at Swindon’s Great Western Hospital will be joining their colleagues across the country in coming out to protest. It’s been 40 years since the last time, it’s serious not just for junior doctors but for the future of the NHS too.

While Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his supporters in the press would like you to think it’s all about the money, and have been quick with their smears (checkout the reaction on Twitter #smearthedocs), there are some important changes in the contracts that are potentially far more damaging.

Mr Hunt has been accused of gambling with patients’ lives as he attempts to push through radical reforms to doctors’ contracts. “Jeremy’s Punt” focusses on changes in working hours, patterns and conditions for junior doctors while weakening the monitoring system that protects the number of hours junior doctors can work.

Doctors fear that safeguards to prevent hospitals from forcing them to work dangerously long hours, which have been in place for over 15 years, face a drastic alteration that could put the public’s lives in danger.

Changes to the definition of ‘office hours’ weekday and weekend working, such that a doctor could work up to 2 o’clock in the morning and not be classified as being on a night shift (with the associated breaks and rest periods before being back on duty that would entail) should ring alarm bells. Junior doctors are right to be worried that the new contract will lead to increasingly unsafe working patterns without adequate rest and recovery.

While the most recent study revealed that fatigue could see a significant increase of medical error, the Department Of Health has confirmed that there has been no assessment of patient safety under the new contract, showing that Hunt’s actions are a gamble.

I don’t believe that the Health Secretary has negotiated in good faith. Instead he has embarked on a campaign of misinformation and brinkmanship to try and force the doctors to capitulate.

You can join the doctors in their protest, or just visit to show they have your support. They will be at the entrance to the Great Western Hospital in Swindon (or at another hospital near you) from 08:00 to 12:00.

I believe that in taking this action the junior doctors are standing up on behalf of all of us in defence of the NHS that we value so highly. I wish them luck, and give them my thanks, as should we all.

Swindon’s Green MEP blasts government vote for fracking under National Parks

Molly Scott Cato, South West Green MEP, has blasted the Conservative government for voting through controversial proposals to allow fracking under National Parks and other protected areas such as Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage sites.

“In the South West, we have a number of areas that are protected by national and, in some cases, international law. It is also a region that relies
heavily on tourism, so this decision could prove extremely costly not just for our precious environment and landscapes but also for our rural economy.

“If the UK government is really committed to keeping its end of the Paris deal, it must rethink its support for fracking and invest in safe, clean, renewable energy instead.”

Dr Scott Cato is opposed to fracking in all areas and believes strongly that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground. She has called on people from across the region to write to their MPs and local councillors to express their considerable concerns about this matter.

You can read her full statement here.

Swindon’s social cleansing

Swindon Borough Council is quietly consulting on an ASBO-like crackdown on certain behaviour in the town centre. It’s the first of a number of Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) planned across Swindon. I’m less than impressed. At best it wastes money on unnecessary additional red tape, at worst it criminalises some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Swindon. I believe we should only add more red tape and extra laws where there is a real problem that needs fixing. SBC are trying to criminalise behaviour that isn’t actually much of an issue, and they haven’t said where the money is coming from to enforce it.

 

There isn’t much information on the Council web site. The draft PSPO outlines seven things it wants to ban. Depending on the nature of the “offence” anyone breaking one of the rules in the PSPO could be subject to an on the spot fine of up to £100 or up to £1000 if it goes to court.

The consultation is being done as an on-line survey, you have until the 31st of October to take part. A petition has also been started on Change.org to oppose the new rules, I’d urge you to sign it.

Dogs on leads: “Any person in charge of a dog, at any time, must keep the dog on a lead”. This won’t apply to support dogs, such as hearing dogs for deaf people, or guide dogs for the blind.

Out of all of the proposed provisions this is the one I’d have the least problem with, but what is the point of it? I don’t recall ever seeing a dog causing an issue around town.

It’s already against the law to let any dog be dangerously out of control in a public place. That applies not only if it actually injures someone but even if it makes someone worried that it might injure them.

In my experience, dogs off the lead in such an environment tend to be rather better behaved than most, trained to walk to heel and act on voice commands from their owner. There is existing legislation to protect against irresponsible dog owners so this addition seems unnecessary. We shouldn’t be adding more laws and red tape to fix problems that don’t exist.

Alcohol: The PSPO proposes to make it an offence to, “at any time, drink alcohol or have an open alcohol container”, unless they’re in an area with an appropriate license (essentially in the pub, or a seated area outside that’s covered by their license).

So the offence is having an open bottle or can, or taking a drink from it. It’s nothing to do with actually causing a disturbance, being aggressive, or committing any other crime.

Just having an open can of beer would be a crime. Why? There are existing laws to deal with breaches of the peace and other anti-social and criminal behaviour associated with having too much to drink.

Why criminalise an act that in itself is harmless? It makes no sense that having a drink in one of the pubs in the town centre is fine, but step outside a few feet and you would be committing an offence.

Begging: “Any person is prohibited from, at any time, placing himself in a position to receive alms for a continuing period

I had to look up the word “alms” to check the meaning. According to my dictionary it’s “Money or goods given as charity to the poor”. Why would you want to ban that? The Queen gives out “alms” every year when she hands out her Maundy money, who’s going to tell her she can’t come to Swindon to do it?

I’ve seen far too many homeless people in Swindon, but the problem isn’t that some of them occasionally ask for help. The problem is that we’re not doing enough to help them to not be homeless. Rather than dealing with the problem this just seeks to sweep it out of sight.

Whenever I’ve given money to someone who asked for my help I got a thank you, I’ll often get a thank you even when I don’t give anything just for acknowledging they were there with a “not today mate”. It’s not the begging that’s a problem!

Criminalising the poorest in society and trying to perform some sort of economic cleansing of the high street is not something that I want to see happening in Swindon. If someone has to be out on the street begging what the hell is the point of slapping them with hundreds of pounds in fines? We should be finding them homes to sleep in not jail cells.

Peddling/Street Trading: “Any person is prohibited from, at any time, peddling/trading goods without the written permission of the authority, even if licensed

Again, what’s the problem that this seeks to fix? I don’t know whether the woman I saw selling balloons had a license, or written permission. I suspect the bloke flogging cut price perfume with his market-stall patter probably didn’t. They have two things in common though: neither of them ruined my day or hindered me in any way shape or form. It’s not a problem that needs fixing.

Marking surfaces/chalking: “Any person is prohibited from, at any time, directly marking surfaces such as walls or pavements with paints, chalk or similar without the written permission of the authority

Chalk. Chalk that washes off without doing any damage. Really? You want to make that an actual crime?

If someone starts scrawling offensive words on the pavement or tries to incite crime by painting on shop windows… there are laws already on the books to stop them.

If someone wants to create a bit of street art to get across a message or persuade us to part with a bit of change then where’s the harm? I’ve seen that chap writing stuff on the pavement: some people stopped to read it, others trampled over it oblivious.

There’s not a problem that needs fixing, if anything the town centre could do with a bit more colour!

Skateboarding: “Any person is prohibited from, at any time, using a skateboard or similar in a way that may damage property or cause nuisance or annoyance

This is really poor. Laws shouldn’t be written in such a way as they mean different things to different people. If I see someone skating through the town centre how am I to judge whether or not they “may” damage property? It says “use” rather than “ride” so maybe it’s only an offence if they pick it up and start beating rubbish bins or shop doors with it… and if I get annoyed because they ride one much better than I ever could… is that covered by this rule?

I suspect that they want to say you can’t ride one in the town centre at all, but if that’s the case why didn’t they just say that? And why stop at skateboards? People might be tempted to run or cycle recklessly through the shopping centre, or perhaps might imagine a near miss with an electric mobility scooter as it zips past rather too speedily.

But then are any of those things actually a problem that needs fixing? Do we need to criminalise skateboarders? (or runners or cyclists or even wannabe Evel Knieval mobility scooter riders?).

Aggressive Charity Collection: “Any person is prohibited from, at any time… engaging in assertive or aggressive (commercial or charity) collection or soliciting of money

Aggressive? Have charity collectors been pulling stockings over their heads and pinning people up against the windows of Primark to demand money from them? Where’s the point at which a polite request for a few moments of your time becomes “aggressive”.

A simple “no thanks mate” has stood me in good stead whenever a stranger I didn’t want to talk to has approached me. Ones I have stopped to chat with have always been polite and taken rejection well (I never sign up to on-street collectors, I always go home to check out the charity before donating).

I think the worst I’ve had on the street wasn’t the charity collectors but the religious couple who told me I would burn in hell for all eternity for being a Humanist. Would that count as “assertive” or “aggressive”? Seemed pretty harsh to me!

I’m no legal mastermind but I’m pretty sure that actual aggression towards passers-by on the streets is frowned upon by the law and could be dealt with under current police powers. Again, I don’t think there’s a problem here that needs fixing.

 

These proposed new rules seem to be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. If there is a body of evidence that documents issues with out of control dogs, harm done by chalking or acts of aggression carried out by charity collectors, where is it?

If the council has evidence of the issues these rules are supposed to fix, let’s see it before making any decisions. On what I’ve seen so far I’m against every single one of these proposed measures as they seem like a crackdown and criminalisation of things that just aren’t a problem.

I’d also like to see the costs of enforcement. In the paper submitted to the council in February this year it is stated that the costs of the scheme would be paid for “from within existing housing and community safety budgets”. So what schemes will that money be taken from, what additional cuts are being proposed? At the very least the council has a legal obligation to ensure that the area covered by the new rules has signs up to let people know they are entering the PSPO area and what the restrictions are. That’s a lot of signs.

A friend of mine suggested this might be just the thin end of the wedge, and that further restrictions would be placed on Swindon residents and visitors in the future. Sure enough, according to the story in the Swindon Advertiser “Further consultations will be posted for future PSPOs, including one that covers the whole borough”. I’d like to see them publish all their proposals up front, so we can see where this is all leading. If there are real problems affecting Swindon that would be solved by these new laws, why chip away at them bit by bit?

Overall I don’t think the case has been made to justify the criminalisation not only the homeless on the streets of Swindon but anyone who might fall foul of these rules. The council has provided no evidence to demonstrate that there’s a problem, the rules it has drafted are vague open to misinterpretation and it has provided no costings or suggested how these rules might be enforced.

The consultation is being done on-line HERE. I urge you to let them know your own thoughts. You have until the 31st of October. You can also sign the petition to oppose the new rules.