News from Kent Greens
Our KCC councillor's end of year blog
Fri, 02 Jan 2015
Cuts upon cuts
While 2014 was pretty grim at County Hall, it is hard not to conclude that 2015 will be that much worse. The 'transformation agenda' - in other words, somehow trying to make the cuts imposed by central government - is in full swing, with a heavy commissioning aspect to it. The axe has recently been lifted from the county's community wardens but, of course, there is the question of what is next, as the austerity cuts into front line services.
For a single opposition councillor such as myself, a key role is to communicate with residents, scrutinise the decisions, try to influence the prioritisation (particularly within a council such as KCC which is pro-business at all costs and often associates this with large-scale road building projects), give voice to Green Party beliefs and policies, and try to highlight the worst decisions.
A lot of the savings are false ones, as has already been shown in areas such as youth services and children's centres. Meanwhile, this government has taken to playing cat and mouse with local authority funding, dangling it out of reach or moving it from one place to another and spinning it as new. This is the case with the £17 million promised by central government for flood defences in Kent but with the caveat that it won't be available unless matched by the council, as though KCC or any other council for that matter has that amount lying around in this era.
Austerity bitesā¦ and then bites again
For a staid body such as the Local Government Association to come up with an illustration of future spending that it touts as 'the graph of doom' is telling (http://www.local.gov.uk/first-features/-/journal_content/56/10180/4030861/NEWS). Austerity on top of austerity means the consequences will hit ever more people, ever harder, combined with yet more job losses in the public sector. 2015 could well see the first council's fail to provide statutory services. Don't forget, government funding for local councils will be 40 per cent lower by May than it was in 2010, with a further 13 per cent to be cut in 2015 and with no end in sight after this.
The quest to meet the budget targets at KCC is playing out in a particularly worrying way at present. Buried away within a 200 page tome for a KCC cabinet meeting was the revelation that if it doesn't meet its overall budget targets for 2014 then it is intending to grab any under-spend from the Kent Support & Assistance Service (KSAS) as a top-up. In a nutshell, KSAS is meant to provide help to Kent's most impoverished residents and, having had this provided for two years by central government, Kent looks likely to have £2.691 million left over. This was initially touted as allowing KCC to extend the service as (typically) central government looks likely to pull the funding. I highlighted the issue and am applying pressure to try to ensure the decision is reversed.
It is hardly as though there isn't the need. Any economic recovery is leaving behind large swathes of people and it is worrying as I circulate with residents and with voluntary groups and service providers to find common messages about the ever increasing number of people who are struggling. I am pleased to have been able to help the launch of the Shepway Food Bank but, of course, it is a damning indictment of our society that this is needed. At present, the Rainbow Centre's Winter Shelter is in full swing, with all beds filled each evening.
Benefits cuts, sanctioning, zero hour contracts, public sector wage freezes, a chronic lack of social and affordable housing, the impact of the cuts on public servicesā¦ certainly it is clear which parts of our society have been hardest hit by this government's ideologically driven policies. And I find no area more worrying than social services, with legislative changes (the Social Care Act) and increasing demand combining with the budget cuts bringing the potential to cause the perfect storm.
What about the environment?
Meanwhile, KCC is currently coming up with its latest mission statement. It was disappointing but no surprise to find nothing of note on protecting Kent's environment, countering climate crisis, reversing our biodiversity disaster, improving air quality, protecting our water supplies or making communities more resilient and sustainable.
The topic of devolution in England has been rife in the last quarter of the year, with the County Councils Network among those weighing in, calling for much greater choice related to council tax and business rates, budgets (including removing ring-fencing) and services. However, Whitehall relinquishing power, whatever the shape of next year's government, is hard to imagine.
I've spoken in full council and committees and written on many of the above topics. Of late, I've also led the call for greater transparency, after details about members' attendance at meetings were arbitrarily removed from the KCC website.
Local issues and projects
I've also worked hard on lots of local issues, with this taking at least half of my time. I grabbed the chance for Hythe to pilot a road safety scheme, finally secured the 20 mph limit for School Road in Saltwood, helped residents with their traffic concerns, from West Hythe Road to the west, Seabrook to the east, and Elham to the north. And Hythe now has its own Speedwatch equipment for residents to use. After a lot of perseverance, I've also finally secured a paid-for study to assess and propose remedial action for long-standing flooding issues in Hythe.
I've also been pleased to be able to support a number of local arts projects, including JimJam Art's Happiness Bank which brought a lot of smiles to Folkestone in February, Leigh Mullay's terrific herring gull mural in Folkestone, and Hart's inaugural exhibition of work by Hythe and Romney Marsh artists at the Tin Tabernacle in Hythe in December.
Other reasons to be cheerful
Other reasons to be cheerful? Well, Shepway Green Party has mirrored county and country trends with a doubling in members during the year. We've more and more youngsters joining us and it was great to launch Shepway Young Greens during the year and to have the chair of the group, 19 year-old Jasmine Heywood, as a by-election candidate in October. She will be among our great roster of candidates for the local elections in May, when I am sure that we will gain additional breakthroughs here in Shepway, as we provided the enlightened and energetic option to the traditional parties.
Residents petition Kent County Council to Keep Kent Frack Free
Mon, 24 Nov 2014
The Government is offering for sale licenses for onshore oil and gas exploration across the whole of Kent1. The licenses would allow extraction of fossil fuels by controversial and environmentally damaging methods including fracking, and coal bed gasification. But local residents are calling on Kent County Council to protect the countryside by ensuring that no oil or gas exploration is permitted in Kent.
A petition organized by Tim Valentine, the Green Party's prospective parliamentary candidate for Faversham and Mid Kent at next year's general election, will be submitted to Kent County Council at County Hall, Maidstone on Tuesday 25th November. The petition, signed by more than 2,800 people, demands that the Council should not permit oil and gas exploration in Kent because the industrial development of the countryside cannot be sustainable. Under Council procedures petitions with over 2500 signatures trigger a debate by a KCC committee.
Tim Valentine said: "Development of shale gas and oil would industrialize the Garden of England, and increase heavy goods traffic on Kent's already-congested roads. Production from wells is short-lived - so many wells must be drilled. The industry uses massive quantities of clean drinking water but Kent's water supplies are already severely stressed. It would produce large quantities of polluted water which cannot be disposed of safely. Development of shale gas will cause planning blight, and reduce the value of people's homes. Instead of extracting more fossil fuels which damage our children's future, Kent County Council should be encouraging renewable energy to meet our present needs".
Martin Whybrow, Green Party councilor for Hythe, said: "This petition shows the huge concern among residents about this form of fossil fuel extraction. I do not feel that nearly enough consideration is being given to the strong evidence from around the globe that this is high risk. It is also clear that many experts feel it will have no impact on reducing residents' energy bills. I also worry that there will be no 'localism' in the decision-making, with this pro-fracking government ready to steamroller through the applications, cheered on by energy companies and business speculators."
1. New onshore licensing round opens https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-onshore-licensing-round-opens. A map of onshore licenses and prospective areas is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/map-of-onshore-licences-sea-areas-and-prospective-areas
2. It is planned to submit the petition at County Hall at 2pm on Tuesday 25th November.
BBC's by-election debate sparks new call for Green inclusion in General Election debate
Tue, 11 Nov 2014
In the wake of the BBC's broadcast of the debate with candidates in the Rochester and Stood by-election, which saw overwhelming opinion that Clive Gregory, the Green Party Candidate, had won the hearts and minds of viewers, Kent Greens have written again to the BBC to demand inclusion in next year's General Election Leaders' debate.
Over 200,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Greens to be in the televised leaders' debates next year. Recent polling has put the Green Party ahead of the Lib Dems.
Stuart Jeffery, Chair of Kent Green Party and Candidate for Canterbury, commented: "I have been in correspondence with the BBC over the past few weeks as exclusion from next year's debate is fundamentally undemocratic. In the wake of the response from last night's debate, I will be stepping up the pressure from Kent.
"Last night it became clear that being able to get our distinctive message across in a televised debate demonstrated to the public just how in tune our thinking is with theirs. The response of the audience, people on Twitter, and on the phone-in on Radio Kent afterwards overwhelmingly showed that Clive Gregory was the best candidate with the best ideas.
"The Green Party is soaring in the polls, regularly ahead of the Lib Dems, despite our low level of national media coverage.
"Being able to have a voice in politics is central to a democracy. Until our leader can take part in next year's debate, democracy will not be served."
Huge surge in Kent for Green Party membership
Tue, 28 Oct 2014
Kent Green Party Chair and candidate for Canterbury has welcomed a huge surge in Green Party membership in the county, including a single week in October which saw a 7% rise in just 7 days. The party membership in Kent has grown by almost 60% since January. Canterbury has seen a 36% rise in the past 3 months alone where the Greens achieved 18% of the vote in the city putting them in contention for the Parliamentary seat in 2015.
Across the UK membership has risen by 45% and last week's Ashcroft Poll on General Election voting intention put the Greens ahead of the Lib Dems. Across the UK, Green Party membership has reached 30,000.
Stuart Jeffery, Chair of Kent Greens and Parliamentary Candidate for Canterbury: "While the national media focuses on and therefore drives the rise of UKIP, it is clear that the Green Party is rapidly growing and gaining support. This is despite that refusal of national media to give us a level playing field.
"Membership in Kent has rise steeply this year and is up almost 60% in nine months. In Canterbury we have seen a huge surge in the past three months alone, with membership rising by 36% since June.
"In Canterbury we achieved 18% of the vote in the EU election, far ahead of the Lib Dems, neck and neck with Labour and just behind the Tories and UKIP. This puts us in a great position to win our first parliamentary seat in Kent in 2015."