27 Jan 2013

Budget meeting: Tories attempt to stop hydro scheme

It was Budget Thursday night and I have to say I was surprised by the Tories attack - but even more so by their failure to check out how the changes they were hoping for could be administered - or even if they were possible! It is true that all parties have probably been guilty to some extent regarding this but to try and make a major amendment to the budget without notice is a little strange - there have been many opportunities to discuss budgets and it seemed there had been support at Scrutiny from all parties yet they throw in two major attempts to change the budget on the night - plus one to raise Council tenant rents.

The first amendment was to have £500,000 from cutting carbon diverted to reducing the council Tax but their plan had not been costed - major software changes would have been needed in a very few weeks and cuts would have to go across the board so that millionaires would get the most? When it was apparent that their proposals hadn't been thought through the move was thrown out. Their second attempt was to move £300,000 from the same budget to tackle flooding as a one-off payment - again the proposals had not been detailed - who is going to vote for £300,000 without a proper plan and discussion? In opposition we would at least try to get our proposals taken seriously but this was out of the blue (that wasn't meant to be a funny!).......I also have to note that Conservatives in power were on occasions very good at listening to all views - maybe they are going to have to learn more about being in opposition?!

The Tories noted they had talked to the EA about the scheme across the Frome catchment.....yet it has been the Stroud Valleys Water Forum and mainly Green councillor Sarah Lunnon who has been negotiating  as County councillor and from the Slad Brook Action Group, with the EA and the County for a number of years - I wrote a letter on behalf of the Ruscombe Brook Action Group last November supporting their latest moves. The twists and turns and politics involved is quite extraordinary but it again looks hopeful that a scheme could come from this.....the Tories apparent late support for this I am sure will be welcomed but maybe they could have talked more to the action group representing businesses and residents? It is also great that flooding is being taken more seriously - although I'm not sure that will make them rethink flooding on the proposed Oldbury nuclear power station site?!

Anyway I am still not clear why the Conservatives in their only two attacks on the budget chose to target the hydro-electric power project - it was put forward by Green Party Executive Member for Environment, Simon Pickering, and was carried with the support of the majority of the Council - both Labour and Lib Dems clear about their support for it. It is expected to cost some £350,000, which will be repaid within 10 years. It makes economic sense to generate an income for potentially the next 100 years....here's a bit of the press release:

Cllr Pickering commented: “The Ebley Mill hydro project is expected to generate a minimum return of £1.5m over its lifetime and will provide a secure base-load of electricity for the Council offices. There are 14 potential hydro-power sites in the Stroud Valleys and this is an opportunity to kick-start a combination of energy-generation, together with water and flood management, which will benefit the people of the 5 Valleys well into the future."

Molly Scott Cato, Leader of the Green Group, said: “Now we see why the hydro scheme was not developed during the years of Conservative administration. Locally and nationally, Conservatives lack understanding of the ecological crisis and the vision to provide solutions. They also fail to understand that investing in renewable energy capacity locally is sound long-term financial planning, giving us an opportunity to revive our economy, reduce our carbon emissions and provide us with energy security.”

During the debate Cllr Scott Cato spoke of her pride in a budget that was positive in devastating economic times and that was entrepreneurial as well as compassionate. Not content to attack green energy, the Conservatives made a concerted attack on Council tenants, while trying to give Council Tax rebates to their rich friends. The Conservative leadership proposed changes to the Budget which would have increased Council rents by an amount well above inflation, whilst awarding rebates to all Council Tax payers, including the richest. This was despite the fact that Council Tax is already frozen, with no increase for inflation, and the proposal flagrantly ignored warnings from Council officers that the payout would cost an unknown amount of money.

Cllr Martin Whiteside commented: “This turns Robin Hood on his head - the Conservatives were proposing to extract more from the poor, and pay out to the rich. It’s a disgrace. I am delighted the other parties have united to throw out this proposal.”

Meanwhile I just spoke with Sarah Lunnon and she: "welcomed the Conservatives realisation that flooding is an issue that requires funding to find a solution. Just as the need to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels requires action. If the previous Tory administrations had actually installed Hydro-power rather than keep a budget in endless reserve then the District Council would be able to set aside money for sustainable land management today. We have ex-SDC cabinet member to thank as, again communities suffer due to Tory mis-management."

Anyway alot of this has been made possible by £2m that has come back from the Iceland Investments - it makes sense to use that money to build a stronger future - investing in renewable energy that will give us a return for years....could write pages more on all this but will stop now.....

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