I have been trying to write this report for more than two weeks now but the world keeps changing.
The situation in Ukraine is heartbreaking. I am not interested in any justification or explanation for what Putin is doing right now: he heads an authoritarian, nationalistic, uber-capitalist regime which has admitted using thermobaric weapons. We had long been warned about the Russian government by many people- from Teresa May to Jeremy Corbyn. Meanwhile Johnson is off to Saudi to negotiate more oil: Saudi the country that has been viciously attacking Yemen for 7 years. Maybe now after all these wars we will stop putting a ‘good deal’ on oil or gas above our principles, and develop our own renewable energy and storage capacity and improve our energy efficiency. I know West Bridgford is a generous community, with broad shoulders, so many people in will want to sponsor Ukranians. We will need to make sure something is done to provide school places as although I believe things were better this year from children coming up from primary school to secondary school, Hong Kong refugees in West Bridgford are being sent to primary schools that are miles away. Meanwhile Host Nottingham have told me that not a single refugee has come via the Afghan resettlement programme since the evacuation ended last summer. Having looked at the website they need to use, I’m not surprised.
But appalling as this war is for Ukrainians, it will also impact on people in Nottinghamshire. The price of fuel and food is increasing, turning the cost of living crisis into a catastrophe. Even before the war started, both the Borough and County Labour Groups realised that residents needed support. I don’t believe councils should run up debts to end up paying interest to banks, and it is clearly important not lurch between periods of austerity and growth, but we must be prepared to change tack in an emergency. And this is an emergency for many families in Nottinghamshire.
We must pay taxes to have good quality, well run public services, but those taxes must be fair. Council tax and National Insurance are ‘regressive taxes’ which means that the poorest pay disproportionally more. To make matters worse, the government don’t provide enough support to local councils, forcing up council tax. The rebate of £150 that they are offering every householder will be of proportionally more benefit to people in the south where council tax is lower (e.g. Band A council tax in Labour Controlled Hammersmith and Fulham is £797, whereas in Tory controlled Rushcliffe it is £1416). At the County the Tories were proposing a 1% rise in Council tax plus a 3% Adult Social Care levy, but the County is sitting on reserves, and has underspent during the pandemic. All organizations need significant reserves for a rainy day, but 2022 was looking very bad for the people of Nottinghamshire before the invasion of Ukraine. Labour proposed that Council Tax should be frozen and the County Finance Officer signed off our budget as legal and balanced. In the end our alternative budget was rejected by the Tories- I trust those reserves won’t get spent just before the next election.
What would I have changed in the budget as the transport and environment spokesperson for Labour? Well first of all a large sum has been earmarked to improve the terrible state of our roads and pavements over the next 3 years. People using food banks might feel that tarmac should not be our priority, but poor surfaces trap vulnerable people in their houses, are dangerous to cyclists and damage cars. However from the budget it was not clear to me how the extra money was going to be spent –I think the council needed more details before being asked to approve such large extra expenditure.
In the meantime with the price of fuel likely to impact across the economy, we need as many people as possible to be using public transport, but right people are priced out of using our excellent buses- we need even more integrated and cheaper tickets. And it is now even more urgent that we provide joined up cycling infrastructure to allow people to travel cheaply and efficiently.
Nottinghamshire County Council simply isn’t doing well enough on the climate (look it up here: we are doing worse than Leicestershire or Derbyshire and have an average score of 20% compared to the average of 40%). These score cards are useful: they show where we can do better. We need more ambitious targets and hard data, and we need lead change across the county. We are recycling 40% of our waste compared to 67% in Wales: why don’t we have differentiated recycling bins in every location like you see in Europe or USA? Incidentally, the Notts County Council planning committee confirmed their approval of the Ratcliffe on Soar Incinerator this week. It is generally agreed that we have over-capacity in incineration locally and many other Labour and Tory controlled councils have recently halted development of their own incinerators, so this decision dooms Ruschliffe to be the rubbish bin of England with garbage being brought in on lorries from miles away.
Last week was Rushcliffe’s budget meeting. Again Labour opposed increases in Council Tax. In West Bridgford also we pay additional ‘Special Expenses’ which Rushcliffe has increased by a whopping 8.5%! This ostensibly covers stuff paid for by Parish and Town councils elsewhere, but also pays for things like Proms in the Park which are enjoyed by residents from all over Rushcliffe. Annoyingly the committee that decides how this money is spent is includes from councillors from outside West Bridgford and has a political balance representing the whole or Rushcliffe rather than just West Bridgford. I think we need a Town Council to ensure that West Bridgford gets proper consideration, not just in spending this money but also in terms of planning policy which is currently dominated by the needs of the rural areas. At this meeting I seconded a motion on reducing use of weedkillers that was proposed by the Independents; with some amendments it got cross party support. A second motion on managing the development of solar power and improving energy efficiency was supported by all opposition parties but voted down by the Tories. Residents had been asking me about the loss of the sauna and wet room at Rushcliffe Arena, so I asked about this at the meeting- apparently it has been closed because it was regularly vandalized. I wonder how wise it was to install it – there must be have been experience to learn from other Leisure Centres.
Finally I have used the divisional and ward funds that I was allocated by Nottinghamshire County Council and Rushcliffe Borough Council to support a number of organizations in the area this year. I will post the details on Facebook but if you are not on Facebook let me know and Ill send you the details.
The picture on this post is the map on our kitchen wall. I‘ve travelled around Eastern Europe and the Black Sea since the 1980s: I love the people, I love the culture, I love the architecture. Like everyone else I want the death and destruction to end soon. In the meantime, I hope our government takes action to ensure this crisis doesn’t lead to profiteering by energy companies, to stop the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer.