The Autumn Statement: my response

I had hopes for the Autumn Statement. The Local Government Association and Surrey County Council had talked up the massive funding gap to local councils and social care, which is making 4% a year council tax rise the new normal. And the UK government had, just a week ago ratified the Paris Climate Change Agreement. I heard the words ‘fiscal reset’ and ‘new chancellor’ and hoped this might indicate a change of direction in response to the concerns raised by Councils.

But the Autumn Statement did not do anything to address the growing gap in care budgets, now sitting at £2.6 billion as highlighted by the Local Government Association. Meanwhile Scope highlighted how there has been no respite for those with disabilities, with for cuts to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) continuing in April. This means the 30% point ‘disability employment gap, is likely to continue, as with growing pressure on the lives of the most vulnerable people in our community. After five years of austerity, it’s set to continue for a further ten. The Chancellor’s promise to help those ‘just about managing’ was not matched by reality.

Surrey County Council says it’s being ‘squeezed dry’ as it has overspent by £15 million pounds on social care, failing to balance its budget this year. Deeper cuts are in the pipeline. But Surrey’s situation is nowhere as severe as that of Liverpool or Lancaster, which calculates it won’t be able to fund its minimum required services. The Government should not spend put more money into transport infrastructure (e.g. roadbuilding) while Councils can’t even afford to deliver the minimum services to vulnerable people.

There was a small improvement, with some new spending allocated for new homes for housing associations. Prior to 2010, Raven Housing Trust received £100,000 for each new socially rented home – the Con-Dem coalition government cut this to £16,000, and instead of providing enough money to build truly-affordable homes created the ‘New Homes Bonus’, rewarding councils for the homes the private sector were building anyway.

This U-turn back to increased funding for what used to be called council housing is welcome, but still nowhere near enough. This will not address the massive affordability-gap in Reigate and Banstead which like London’s wider housing market has house prices of 14 times average earnings.

A better strategy to provide sustainable, affordable homes for all who need them is needed and create sustainable economies across the UK is needed. That would be the reverse of the proposals in the Autumn Statement to prioritise money for road building and other infrastructure and big business. The 33% rise in spending on roads and other infrastructure (£23 billion)[1] and extra £6.7 billion in corporation tax cuts[2] will help London grow (increasing pressure on London’s Green Belt) and not help to revitalise communities that are falling behind across the UK. Together with the proposed Heathrow airport expansion, these proposals will continue to produce more London-centred growth that leaves much of the rest of the UK, and the rural economy, behind.

The Autumn Statement left the environment behind too. It froze fuel duty (costing nearly a £1 billion a year) and gave a similar increase for road building – more than five times that proposed for flood defences. There was no change to subsidies for oil exploration and fracking.

So the Autumn Statement lacked a commitment to adequate funding for Councils, including for social care. And in terms of a better strategy for future development and tackling climate change, it was silent.

 

[1] Alongside billions already committed to renew Trident nuclear submarines (£205 billion), build a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point (£18 billion, creating up to 4,500 jobs in France) and HS2 (phase 1: £56 billion).

[2] As well as continued pledges to tackle only a tiny fraction of the estimated £125+ billion tax evasion and avoidance and uncollected tax in the UK.

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Let’s buy the Belfry: a chance to change Redhill for the better

Redhill’s Belfry Shopping Centre is up for sale. I wrote to the Council Leader, Cllr Vic Broad, proposing that the Council should buy it. I’d be interested to hear residents’ views on this – please get in touch and let me know what you think.

This is what I said:

Dear Vic,

We understand that the Belfry Shopping Centre in Redhill is for sale.

We hope you share our excitement at this tremendous opportunity to add value to Redhill. The benefits that could be gained from the Council buying this key asset, in the heart of Redhill and close to a very important transport hub, through its new Property Company, would help kick start the investment campaign showing long term commitment to the town centre. The asking price of approx. £43 million is relatively small in the overall scheme of the Borough’s asset acquisition campaign and, once in Council ownership, the opportunities to enhance the asset through further investment will really help make Redhill a more attractive town centre, complementing the adjacent scheme proposed at Marketfield Way.

The purchase of this asset offers the potential for better use of parking space, room to provide more leisure, housing and community uses and also to extend the development platform to include linkages to property on the south side of Cromwell Road. Such changes will further increase the vibrancy of the town centre and would increase its social benefits as well as providing returns on investment.

As you know, in our response to the recent DMP consultation we promoted town centre density as a key component in housing development in the borough. While we are disappointed that there is so far no affordable housing included in the developments proposed at Marketfield Way and permitted at Redhill Station car park and Liquid and Envy, we are glad that housing has been included and these developments would result in more people living in these town centre locations.

Creating more homes in and around our existing urban centres is key to keeping our town centres and community facilities alive, reducing needless car journeys, making our town centres truly family friendly (especially at night) and keeping the Green Belt open for our grandchildren.

Buying the Belfry therefore offers the Council’s new Property Investment Company a chance to demonstrate that aside from maximising returns on investment it can provide other opportunities to add value – creating affordable homes, jobs and a more prosperous and inclusive town centre from which the whole community can benefit .

I would like very much to discuss the opportunity with you and the Executive colleagues along with my colleague Councillor Essex as it is a once and for all chance to really change Redhill for the better.

Steve McKenna
Councillor, Redhill East

 

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Surrey County Council unanimously supports Green Motion on restoration of mining sites

Surrey County Councillors voted unanimously to support a motion calling for high standards of restoration of mineral sites across the county.

The motion was tabled by Green County Councillor Jonathan Essex, who represents Redhill East.

In introducing the motion, Cllr Essex said,

“Surrey has lots of quarries, active and historic.

“National planning policy requires quarrying to be considered as a temporary activity, and sites to be restored afterwards to what they were before.

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Surrey Greens call for £177m pension investments to be moved from fossil fuels

Green Party Councillor Jonathan Essex has called upon Surrey County Council’s Pension Fund to change the way it does its business.

Cllr Essex, who attended the latest meeting of the Fund this week, highlighted the financial case for considering a more sustainable investment strategy

He made the case that divesting from investments in fossil fuels and re-investing this better elsewhere can improve the performance of the pension fund. Currently, £177m which represents 6.3% of Surrey’s £2.8bn pension fund, is invested in fossil fuels.

Cllr Essex said:

“The pension fund’s duty should be to do the right thing and invest, and not create an artificial choice between the two.

“I was disappointed that the committee was not prepared to listen to evidence from investment experts as to the risks of not switching its £176m investment in fossil fuels and the benefits of more sustainable alternatives.

“The pension fund has a duty to invest wisely but Surrey should and can invest ethically too. Surrey Greens believe that we need to take the lead in a more joined up approach in meeting the needs of pensioners now, and in the long term, in a way that is both financially prudent and ethically sound.”

Waltham Forest Pension Fund shows the way

On 22 September 2016, Waltham Forest Pension Fund (worth £735 million) voted unanimously to “exclude fossil fuels from its strategy over the next five years”.

Chair of the Pension Fund Committee, Councillor Simon Miller, said: “Waltham Forest Pension Fund is proud to commit to divesting from fossil fuels. Not only does this mean that the fund will not be invested in stranded assets, but will be actively investing in cleaner, greener investments to the benefit of our community, borough, and environment.”

 

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Surrey Pension Fund urged to divest from fossil fuels

On Friday 23 September, Green Cllr Jonathan Essex is raising questions at a meeting of the Surrey Pension Fund Committee about their continued investment in climate-wrecking fossil fuels [1]. Surrey pension fund members and Divest Surrey campaigners will be there to show support for calls to divest from fossil fuels.

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Why we’re standing up for the Green Belt

Reigate & Banstead Borough Council is consulting on new development management policies that include potentially allowing up to 1,400 new homes to be built in the Green Belt.

You can view the Council’s proposals and submit your comments online – or visit an exhibition to see the plans and meet planning officers. Details of both are on this page

East Surrey Green Party is holding a public meeting to discuss the proposals. All are welcome.

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Council Motion: Surrey needs to listen to residents and repair divisions

Jonathan Essex, County Councillor for Redhill East, will move a Motion at the Surrey County Council meeting on 12 July, inviting the Council to respond to the challenges posed by the result of the recent EU referendum.

The text of the Motion is as follows:

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Green Councillor joins Opposition Forum at County Hall

Liberal Democrat and Green County Councillors have formed a Combined Group, the Surrey Opposition Forum, on Surrey County Council to provide a more effective opposition to the Conservatives at County Hall.

Jonathan Essex, Green County Councillor for Redhill East, said, “The new Opposition Forum will enable us to more effectively scrutinise and challenge the Council’s Conservative leadership. It doesn’t commit Liberal Democrat and Green councillors to vote the same way but it does mean we can work together to better hold our very one-sided Tory Council to account.”

Liberal Democrat County Councillor Hazel Watson said, “I am delighted that we will be working closely with Jonathan Essex from the Green Party to provide a more effective opposition which can challenge the administration for the benefit of Surrey residents.”

 

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New Green Councillor elected in Redhill

Steve McKenna croppedSteve McKenna was elected as Councillor for Redhill East in last week’s local elections.

Steve joins Jonathan Essex as one of two Greens on Reigate & Banstead Borough Council.

You can read more about Steve here.

Thank you to everyone who supported the Green candidates – and all those who voted Green.

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Introducing Steve McKenna, candidate for Redhill East

Steve McKenna is standing for election as Councillor in Redhill East on 5 May 2016. [Read about our other candidates here]

Steve McKenna croppedSteve is a Chartered Surveyor and Town Planner. He has 30 years’ experience working for public and private sector organisations, and has managed many major urban regeneration programmes. He currently works for a charity that acquires and manages open spaces for public benefit.

As a member of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) World Environment and Resources Board, Steve has worked on RICS’ responses to Government policy initiatives including leading RICS’ work on issues concerning the extraction and use of rare earth metals.

Steve says, “I want to represent Redhill East to help protect and enhance the character of our town and green spaces, and to represent all residents.

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