Cuts are Rubbish

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By Pam, with a contribution from Joe.

Government cuts to local services are reported by the media as having no effect on front-line services.  But anyone can see that government cuts to grants have done just that. It is a fallacy to think that cuts of millions of pounds can be made without having a direct effect on people’s lives. This is just one cut that affects people’s health and well-being, while the government ministers who make the decisions, live very different lives where they don’t have to be affected by the mess, smell or hazard.

Alarm bells start to ring when places of natural beauty are affected …  places such as those featured in the Observer (1) on (May 22 2011). Eyesores (which just cause sore eyes for those living in rural or suburban Surrey and Sussex) have an effect on readers of national broadsheet newspapers. But to some residents living on a housing estate in an urban area, this is nothing new.

What to do with beds and sofas, of the toxic waste of both fridges and old broken tellies? BBC, Panorama (5)

Perhaps it just stays in the back garden, waiting for the council to provide collection services for bulky domestic items.  Maybe that’s if you can afford to phone the council and if you have a phone with credit on it. Or perhaps someone purporting to be collecting on behalf of some national charity will offer to dispose of it. Maybe someone will offer to take it for a small fee, perhaps from the meagre pension of some little old lady who doesn’t want it sitting her back garden between the washing line and the geraniums. She has no transport and no one wants to know. Perhaps there’s an advert in the local shop window for “House Clearance”?

In such circumstances, do the items, which are no longer wanted by their original owners, get to the intended destination? No! They pick the best and dump the rest, or more succinctly: “Hump ‘em ‘n’ dump ‘em!” We all see those lay-bys with an old sofa in. They are tossed in the back of a van, driven at night to some remote place and just left, beauty spot or not.

The Observer article (1), reports on statistics :

Cash-strapped councils have raised the cost of bulky waste disposal and inflated their charges for skip permits. Between 2009 and 2010, skip permit charges in Bradford rose by 100%, in Glasgow by 89% and in Bristol and Bath by 67%. Rotherham now charges £15 for a skip permit, a 650% increase on 2005. Islington charges £63, a 186% increase, while the price of a permit in Solihull in the West Midlands rose by 213% over the same period, to £47.

One resident commented:

I think in Bristol if you were on benefits you could have one load taken away a year, in North Somerset it was £10 per large item. But as the services have been cut I doubt this is a priority.

This is all very concerning, but it should clarified that prior to 2005, there were no national statistics available. However, there is a generally increased public awareness today about social responsibility about the environment, about recycling of waste. This has not always been the case, and does not happen without investment and education.  There were no facilities in the 1970s, when there was wide scale illegal tipping, for example in Birmingham. This led to legislation of Civic Amenities Act etc.  (3)   Legislation which was brought about by the Labour government in 1978.

Improvements were not made without investment. Make cuts now, and the cycle will start again, and cuts are being made to local authority grants by this Coalition government. The council have to decide what their priorities will be. Do they decide to provide for local collection of bulky unwanted items or do they provide old people’s homes? Do they develop free recycling facilities or provide Education Welfare Officers?

How can such decisions be made when the cost is public health or the planet? How can we put a price on our planet?  We know that the Coalition government know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Mark Tami, Labour MP (Alyn and Deeside) calls for a clampdown to curb fly tipping. Mr Tami said: “I am always out and about across the area visiting residents and businesses and all too often I come across large amounts of litter from cigarette packets and cans to very large items of furniture and building waste.

“You do not have to go very far to find rubbish and waste being dumped in the alleyways of our towns to the open countryside and our villages.”

There were 697 recorded incidents of fly-tipping across Flintshire in 2010-11 at a cost of £45,026 for the county council to clear up.

Does it have to be this way? Is there an alternative?  Labour must think so. We must invest in resource recovery. We must conserve our resources and preserve our planet. We need to invest.  We cannot afford not to.

References and web links:

Article in Observer:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/may/22/fly-tipping-councils-waste-disposal (1)

http://www.ukela.org/ United Kingdom Environmental Law Association (2)

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1978/3 Civic Amenity Legislation, 1978 (3)

http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/waste/flytipping/default.aspx (4)

The Environment Agency: Fly Tipping

http://news.bbc.co.uk/panorama/hi/front_page/newsid_9483000/9483148.stm

Panorama: BBC, 16th May 2011 (5)

Mark Tami, Mp on Fly Tipping August 3011, The Leader

Re-Nationalise the Railways

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by Julian

Let’s look at the facts;

Britain’s railway system is one of the most expensive in the European Union.

Britain’s railways cost 11 billion a year to run, 5 billion of which is paid for by the taxpayer.

Britain’s privatized railways system now costs the UK taxpayer more than when it was state-owned.

There has been a five-fold rise in government subsidy since privatisation of the railways.

Britain’s rail system is the most inefficient in Europe.

According to the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR), Britain’s rail system is up to 40% less efficient than European rivals including Germany, Ireland and Belgium.

Britain’s railways are less safe than their European counterparts.

According to the International Union of Railways, Britain has 0.36 deaths per billion kilometres compared with Italy’s 0.10, France’s 0.27 and Germany’s 0.31.

Britain’s rail ticket prices are the highest in the European Union.

According to the commuter watchdog, Passenger Focus, Britain’s rail passengers are paying 50% more than rail users on the continent.

And now the coalition government has announced plans to allow rail fares to go up by as much as 8% in England- with some rail companies setting even higher rates.

Now look at this fact;

A survey in 2009 found that as many as 70% of the British public would support re-nationalisation of the railways. A mere 23% supported privatisation.

So what should Labour’s policy on railways be?

This isn’t rocket science. The answer is clear.

Labour should pledge to bring back British Rail and completely re-nationalize the railways.

I’m tempted to finish my argument here. But let’s take a moment to look at the whole disgraceful history of the privatisation of Britain’s railways.

This is from an article in The Economist in 1999 –

The Rail Billionaires

One of the three rolling-stock firms, Porterbrook Leasing, was duly sold to senior BR managers for £528m. But only eight months later, Porterbrook was sold on by the management-buyout team for £826m. Having done little but (briefly) own the company, the directors and staff of Porterbrook, who had invested a mere £300,000 of their own, made nearly £83.7m. Porterbrook’s managing director, who had invested £120,000, scooped £34m. Venture-capital firms, which had put £2.2m into Porterbrook, picked up £315m. Eversholt Leasing and the third rolling-stock company were sold in 1997 for £900m more than the original purchasers paid. As Sir Alastair (Morton) told MPs on June 23rd, it was a ‘fat-cat carve-up’.

 

The directors of the main private train operators have made spectacular profits since privatisation. But despite this, they let the service deteriorate and invested too little in the rail network. This finally resulted in accidents such as the 2002 Potters Bar disaster which claimed seven lives and injured 76. The 3 million pound fine for the disaster imposed on the private firm Railtrack PLC and the private contractor Jarvis PLC was finally paid by the taxpayer as both firms had been wound up, meaning the directors were no longer liable.

When Railtrack PLC was finally wound up in 2002, the company was renamed Network Rail, which is technically a private business. In many ways this is the worst of all worlds, a private company, backed by the taxpayer with not even any shareholders to answer to.

The executives in charge of Network Rail have taken advantage of this comfortable situation, and have been paying themselves bonuses and perks which have shocked even the present government.

When Network Rail decided to award its chief executive Iain Coucher a £1m payoff, the present Tory transport Secretary Philip Hammond said this;

This payoff will stick in the gullet of every farepayer and taxpayer who think they pay too much to use our railway …… most people will feel it doesn’t sit well given the difficult times most families are facing.

 

You’ve got to be doing something wrong if you’ve managed to receive a ticking off on executive pay from a Tory minister.

The truth is that rail privatisation has been a total disaster.

If British Rail had the same amount of government subsidy our railways have now, we would have one of the best rail systems in the world, with a single company owning the trains, the track, the  system maintenance and the ticketing making it cheaper to operate resulting in efficient services and affordable fares

Labour should pledge to take all public transport, rail, trams and buses back into full public ownership.

Labour must oppose the Tory-led Government’s policy of shifting the cost of running the railways on to passengers.

Labour should also pledge to oppose the European Union Commission’s proposals to reduce rail subsidies.

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, Maria Eagle recently said this about the plans;

Over the next three years, commuters will see fares rise by as much as a third and many will end up paying a fifth of their salary just to get to work, more than they spend on their mortgage or rent.

‘Now, this barmy EU plan risks pricing people off the railways altogether, adding to the congestion on Britain’s roads.

 

Labour should pledge to make public transport once again a service for the public, not just the few who can afford it.

Labour should pledge to stop the fat-cat carve up of our public transport system.

The country would be better off for it, passengers would be better off for it and taxpayers would be better off for it.

And who knows? A policy like this could even win them the next election.

Libya: into economic tyranny

Libya: into economic tyranny

by Dr Tristan Learoyd

Western Neoliberals have a problem. Libya has dispatched with its tyrant and its new government doesn’t want to play ball. The Libyans are being defiant, they don’t want foreign loans and they have the means to make their nation a success.

The IMF and World Bank have indebted the globe through their loan conditions of privatisation, slashed public spending, fiscal control and free trade. They have decimated economies from Indonesia to Nicaragua with their loans, conditions and dogma. Why would the Libyans want to take on IMF relations of that kind when it has high quality crude in abundant supply, a per capita GDP that resembles Eastern Europe, and minimal national debt? [1,2] Thus, the Libyans have been stating they do not need loans from the West: “we don’t need loans”, defiant former Libyan central bank governor Farhat Bengdara told the World shortly after the Rebels captured central Tripoli. [3]

But write off the Neoliberals at your peril, as post-conflict/post-disaster confusion is the realm of the Neoliberal. How he thrives on it: from hurricanes to tsunamis, peaceful succession to war, if there’s the green glimmer of a dollar note the neoliberal will come to town. [4]

Libya’s frozen assets

There are two huge domestic problems that face Libya: one, it has startling inequality with pre-war employment of 30% in a unvaried economy, history suggests it will need central planning from a social government with a domestic plan to solve such problems; and two, the country’s infrastructure will require significant investment following the civil war. [1] Oil exportation will be required to raise the revenues to build such infrastructure, but the problem is that the oil industry will also require post-war investment.

Unfortunately, for the West, Libya doesn’t have to turn to the World Bank or IMF to find the money to kick-start its oil exports (if there is any money left in either institution), as the country has £168bn of its own stashed in foreign banks. However, the problem Libyan’s have is that those assets were frozen when the civil war started, and assets worth at least £90bn of the £168bn are located in European banks and in US and European government bonds. The Rebels will have to form an interim government which is considered reliable before such funds are released. [3]

Stuart Levey, a former US Treasury undersecretary, describes Libya’s predicament: having the assets remain frozen could be used “as a point of leverage for the US and its allies to ensure that they have a legitimate government they can trust in Libya they can give this money to”. [3]

Of course ‘legitimate government’ to the US and its allies means a government that opens up its markets to foreign investment – in other words to multinationals – eliminates tariffs and enters into a cycle of bargain-bonanza cheap state sell-offs in oligarch wallet-swelling cycles of privatisation. Therein lies Libya’s dilemma, the foreign firms want in and the assets are frozen by their respective governments.

It is no surprise that British businesses are lining themselves up for a slice of the action in post-war Libya with firms such as BP, Weir Construction and G4S private security ready for entry. [5]

Professor Paul Sullivan of the National Defence University in Washington states that “Libya may have the toughest transition of all of them in north Africa… there really seems to be almost no understanding among many there about how to transition to a vibrant economy and democracy. Platitudes and hopes are not policies that can be implemented.” [3]

One can only presume that the other Arab Spring nations will have a ‘smoother transition’ because they don’t have oil reserves, and will just have to take foreign loans with conditions attached and then be dictated to by the West. It is likely that the ‘transition’ referred to above means the kind of “shock therapy” economics of privatisation and austerity unleashed with such devastating results on the Southern Cone in the 1970s and 1980s and on the European Eastern Block and Russia in the 1990s.

What constitutes a ‘vibrant economy and democracy’ in the eyes of the West is likely to mean ‘laissez faire’ economics combined with a heavily subdued political democracy; such as in Western Europe and the US, where we vote for a personality who will have little control over the economics of the country – if elected – in a largely futile and meaningless process known as a general election.

Into economic tyranny

This is the faceless economic tyranny of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism pretends to be “laissez faire” but in fact there is more “do” than “leave” in neoliberalism. The legal constructs of contract and property rights required to enable “laissez faire” are immense, and coercion by corporates in and outside of the complex legal framework makes neoliberalism the mirror of its results, a barbaric undemocratic economic doctrine often on a par with those employed by tyrannical leaders – such as Moammar Gaddafi. [6,7]

Since the overthrow of Allende’s Chilean Government in 1973, new regimes have to have their economics nailed-on to defeat the neoliberal agenda and its Western cheerleaders, and thus deal effectively with their own domestic economy and inequities. If the Rebels don’t want to go the way of the many emerging nations before them, and want the nation they have fought – and are still dying – for, they need to work out an economic plan, and fast. At least there is hope for the Libyan people in reports that the damage to their oil fields has been less than expected. [8]

[1] http://www.albawaba.com/business/many-challenges-ahead-libya-post-gaddafi-economy-390087 Accessed 28/08/11

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/24/business/energy-environment/24oil.html?pagewanted=all Accessed 28/08/11

[3] http://www.iol.co.za/business/international/oil-rich-libya-not-looking-for-a-loan-1.1126333 Accessed 28/08/11

[4] Examples of neoliberalism involvement in the aftermath of disaster/confusion, for example: Hurricane Katrina, the 2005 Tsunami, Chile’s 1973 Coup and Poland’s 1990 failed succession from communism to social democracy.

[5] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/28/as-gaddafi-topples-big-british-companies-queue-to-get-back-into-libya Accessed 28/08/11

[6] The immense legal constructs that enable “laissez faire’ dogma was examined in depth in the aftermath of the last Great crash by, amongst others, John Hale.

[7] The inequality of neoliberal nations can be seen in both Injustice by Dorling (2009) and The Spirit Level, by Wilkinson and Pickett (2010).

[8] http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/25/libya-imf-idUSN1E77O1T820110825 Accessed 28/08/11

Soaking up the Sun

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Ed Miliband, the Coalition and Climate Change

By:  Sue Davies  and  Pam Field

Soaking up the Sun, (and Wind and Wave and Tides)  

While politicians, businessmen, stock brokers and bankers spent their summer soaking up the sun, there have been riots and looting,  financial crises and crashes, rising unemployment figures, yet more bloodshed over oil, and, for some us at home a fair bit of rain to depress us all further.

But how many, wisely, while sitting on their deckchairs – or yachts – soaking up the warmth from the energy in the sun or sipping the cocktails, realised, or even cared, how much of the former could have been avoided if it were not for the short-termism of politicians, who seek re-election and no doubt seek to please those companies contributing to their re-election?

Use of clean, green energy sources both on a micro and macro scale has to be the political focus for the future. There is a very real danger of global warming. The world’s oil resources will be depleted within fifty years, and our dependence on it for energy and as a raw material  must inevitably come to an end.

Ed Miliband was the first Labour Minister to really begin to understand the crucial importance of acting immediately to avert the worst impacts of climate warming.  In October 2008, he announced that the British government would legislate to oblige itself to cut 80% of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Two policies introduced by Ed Miliband are particularly noteworthy. The feed-in tariffs for solar produced electricity…  no mean task given the Thatcher government’s legislation to block energy production other than by the privatised providers…  legislation not repealed by previous Labour ministers;  and the legislation to prevent new coal fired power stations unless they could capture and bury 25% of its emissions immediately, and 100% by 2025.  This decision came after talking to and being persuaded by the Kingsnorth power station demonstrators.  The power station plans were shelved.   In contrast, John Hutton had been content to wave an unmodified power station through planning consent, without conditions of any sort. 

Had the Kingsnorth power station gone ahead , this would  likely to have been the result:  

UK emissions are unlikely to have been reduced by an amount greater than 40% by 2020 as needed to prevent catastrophic climate impact. Mirrored around the world such action would increase the temperature globally by 4°C by the end of 21st Century,  resulting in:

  • Over 1 billion people losing access to their dry season water supply due to glaciers melting.
  • Between 350 and 600 million people suffering from the droughts in Africa.
  • Around 200 million people being forced out of their homes and becoming climate refugees, due to increased disasters, sea level rise and drought.
  • Up to 550 million more people at risk of hunger due to drought and lower crop yields
  • One to three million people dying each year to malnutrition
  • Around 300 million more people each year suffering from coastal flooding, with tens of millions losing their homes permanently due to sea level rise
  • Between 40 and 80 million more people could be exposed to malaria in Africa alone.

Ed Miliband  realised that people were not going to embrace green energy and micro-generation without a nudge in that direction. In April 2010, the Feed-in-Tariff (FITs scheme) was introduced by Labour under powers in the Energy Act 2008.  The intention is to encourage small scale generation of low carbon electricity by paying people a  fixed sum for the energy they generate and export.

The primary source of current micro generation energy which is renewable is solar energy. Some vertical heat pumps may access planetary heat, as well as surface solar heat, stored in the ground.

Micro- electricity generation technologies are:

  • Solar PV
  • Micro-wind turbines
  • Micro hydro
  • Micro-CHP

Micro heat are:

  • Heat pumps ( air, water and ground source),
  • Biomass
  • Solar thermal.    

There is evidence that individuals are responding to the FIT scheme, and frankly without this policy most would not have given the idea serious consideration.

In contrast David Cameron, dithered about whether he should reject the lesser target of 60% by 2030 (as recommended by the CCC) because it was opposed by Vince Cable’s Department of Innovation and Skills and Hammond at the Department of Transport.  In the words of Meg Hillier, the Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change:

It is scarcely credible that ministers are considering rejecting the advice.  To fail to act now on climate change will secure their place in history as the least green government of our times.

And frankly given the fine words but lack of action by the Blair government, the charge of being less green is a serious one … but essentially confirmed by Jonathan Porritt of Friends of the Earth.  He described the likelihood of the Coalition living up their green promises as “vanishingly remote”.  Of  77 green promises, there has been little or no progress in more than 75%.  8: Cameron’s  Green Credentials, Guardian, May 2011

When elected Leader of the Labour Party,  Ed Miliband stressed that tackling climate change, as reported in the Guardian  was a central task for Britain and the World.  The Labour Party should adopt  a programme of investment in reducing energy consumption and increasing a mix of renewable energy sources … a programme which would create jobs, reduce fuel poverty, protect the environment and reduce climate warming.

Rather than nuclear power, or further fossil fuelled derived power, in addition to microgeneration, Labour should be considering tidal power such as that which could be generated at the Severn Estuary, develop wind and PV generation, consider wave power.  The Desertec Foundation, which is not profitmaking, has demonstrated how “ within 6 hours deserts receive more energy than humankind can consumed in a year (Dr Gerhard Kines). Use of HVDC grids can bring this clean energy to Europe and beyond.

Given that 72% of Tory MPs are against the greater use of renewables and clean energies, Ed Miliband is the leader more likely to put the future of global populations at the Centre of policies.

‘Only 27 per cent of Tory MPs said they supported greater use of renewable and clean energies even if they added costs to businesses and households, while 72 per cent said they were opposed.’

 

REFERENCES AND READING:

1. HVDC Grids, Think Left

2.Nuclear or Tidal: Think Left

3.The Energy Act 2008.

4. FITs scheme Feed in Tariff Scheme

5. Kingsnorth power station

6. Coal your questions answered Pdf Document re Kingsnorth Power station

7. The Guardian: Ed Miliband,  Election as Labour Leader,

“Red’ Ed Miliband can turn Labour Green

8. Guardian, May 2011 ,Test of Cameron’s green credentials

9. Tory Members on planning reforms (inc environment) August 2011

10: New Statesman, August 2011 : Miliband’s new green policies could be vote winner