Greens in Swansea II

Sian Berry's account of this year's Green Spring conference continues

This morning’s Green Party conference vote went against the Severn barrage, and I voted against it as well in the end. It was pretty clear cut: along with the rest of the hall, I just wasn’t able to be convinced that such a huge, irrevocable change to the estuary should be made when tidal lagoons and turbines can provide alternatives that would generate just as much electricity with much less impact.

It was an interesting debate though, with several Greens arguing passionately in favour of the barrage plan, and we’re all pleased we took the time to consider the options properly before committing to one side or the other.

We also passed ‘emergency motions’ (these state our position on issues that have arisen since the full conference agenda was published) congratulating the Council tenants of Swansea for voting to keep their council housing under the control of the local authority – a campaign Swansea Greens were fully behind; opposing the downgrading of local hospital services in mid and west Wales; saying no to oil exploration in Cardigan Bay; and criticising the 2.5 percent pay increase (effectively a pay cut) given to NHS nurses and other key health workers - just the latest betrayal of the NHS and is founding principles.

Today’s big panel discussion was on localisation – the Green antidote to centralised incompetence, multinational monopolies and all the other failings of a globalised capitalist economy. Molly Scott-Cato, our Economics spokesperson, set out the opportunities pursuing a localised agenda gives us in challenging the organisation of the economy. She is a leading academic on the subject, and is developing the concept of ‘bioregionalism’, where your economy is based in an eco-system, within which you have responsibility for where resources come from and where waste ends up. Within this system, local is a principle that trumps others such as price and choice.

She has a positive vision of a convivial, shared economy that is shared by Carl Schlyter, a Green MEP from Sweden who is co-chair of the parliament’s committee on economic development and trade. In Brussels he sees first hand how everyone loses through globalisation as large, centralised contracts increase the power of transnational companies, and how even countries like China that were winning under this system a few years ago have now seen 15 million jobs disappear abroad in search of workers who will do even more for even less.

Carl told us that some of the brightest beacons of localisation he has identified are in the UK and US, with the Community Development Corporation movement in America growing fast, and Community Interest Companies taking off here. He also praised the work of the New Economics Foundation – home of the third speaker, David Boyle.

David pointed out that it is now 24 years since the Green Party ‘gave birth’ to NEF, and styled his speech a ‘belated mother’s day card’ – arrr.

He told us how, despite the work of NEF highlighting the problem of Clone Town Britain and the crisis faced by local shops, they are still coming up against old myths every day like, ‘supermarkets create jobs’ and ‘big contracts are more efficient’. He even heard recently of a council that has banned ‘untidy’ non-chain shops from its latest big shopping centre.

The NEF has done a lot to quantify the problem, and has devised the LM3 ‘local multiplier’ tool to measure local money flows. This has shown how locally owned shops and services recirculate money within the local economy, multiplying the wealth that investment can create. Their findings using the tool have included the shocking fact that the loss of a post office can cost the local area (roughly the size of a council ward) £300,000 a year, but have also demonstrated how best to spend regeneration funding – creating small contracts and encouraging local firms to apply can make the money go 400% further.

I am a great fan of NEF, and Peter put their mission very well when he said, “We can frustrate the monster with the right policies, but we need to do the right research to prove it.”

Tomorrow I’ll give my keynote speech and we’ll have a very controversial debate that could lead to my position being abolished altogether – watch this space.