Sian goes whaling

Exciting times as Sian goes head-to-head with a whale plus the glamour of a rickshaw ride in Leicest

We’re in the final week of the Welsh, Scottish and local election campaigns and, quite frankly, I’m on tenterhooks.

I was helping out Leicester Green Party this weekend. No pedalling myself around this time – oh no. I was transported up from the station in a swanky rickshaw eco-cab, to visit shops and knock on doors in Castle ward, which is officially the most marginal ward in the country for the Greens.

Four years ago, our candidate failed to be elected after reaching a tie with the Labour candidate for third place in a three-councillor ward, enduring four recounts, and then watching as the other candidate’s name was drawn from a hat. After all that, Green lead candidate Matt Follett and his team have been working hard to make sure they win with votes to spare on Thursday.

This time next week, the political map of the UK could be very different. Last year Labour lost control of several councils they had run for decades, including Camden where I live, and now a virtual meltdown in Scotland doesn’t seem out of the question. The Scottish Greens are being talked about as a potential partner in a new government.

Unusually for an election campaign, there’s lots of talk about green issues in the media. I have never been busier, and top of the list is of course bins. The rush for councils to make their recycling targets in the face of a steep increase in landfill tax next year, has meant nearly a third are going for the ‘panic button’ option of cutting mixed waste collections to alternate weeks, in the hope this will force people to recycle more.

This has left many households hanging onto their food waste (rarely collected by councils for recycling) for a fortnight, with some unpleasant results. I was called onto Newsnight to argue with ‘shock jock’ James Whale, which was fun. Although he wasn’t exactly engaging in sensible debate, (“Green - isn’t that something that comes out of your nose?”) I do have some sympathy for the campaigners – and not a lot of sympathy for councils that are playing catch-up after failing to invest in full recycling before now.

It seems it’s not just the media who have got the environment high on their agenda. Polling organisation MORI ask the public every month what they think ‘the most important issues facing Britain’ are. It’s an open question – people don’t choose from a list – and the results are classified into groups such as prices, education, defence, etc. afterwards.

You can look at MORI’s results going back to 1974 on their website. Anything relating to pollution and the environment has only been given its own category since 1988, but the results since then make fascinating reading. After reaching the heady heights of 35 percent (ahead of everything else) in July 1989 and staying mainly above 20 percent for another year, the growing recession of the early 1990s sent green issues back to the bottom of the pile for a while.

But, since 2003, there has been a sure and steady rise. A couple of big jumps in the past few months has seen nearly 20 percent of people bring up environmental concerns for the first time in ages, and it’s now figuring almost as high as education.

What this means for Thursday’s polls I don’t know. We’re expecting a record result above 10% as I mentioned last week, but that’s just based on election results a year ago and our canvassing. Thursday might prove even more exciting than we imagine.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
Photo: Getty Images
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There are risks as well as opportunities ahead for George Osborne

The Chancellor is in a tight spot, but expect his political wiles to be on full display, says Spencer Thompson.

The most significant fiscal event of this parliament will take place in late November, when the Chancellor presents the spending review setting out his plans for funding government departments over the next four years. This week, across Whitehall and up and down the country, ministers, lobbyists, advocacy groups and town halls are busily finalising their pitches ahead of Friday’s deadline for submissions to the review

It is difficult to overstate the challenge faced by the Chancellor. Under his current spending forecast and planned protections for the NHS, schools, defence and international aid spending, other areas of government will need to be cut by 16.4 per cent in real terms between 2015/16 and 2019/20. Focusing on services spending outside of protected areas, the cumulative cut will reach 26.5 per cent. Despite this, the Chancellor nonetheless has significant room for manoeuvre.

Firstly, under plans unveiled at the budget, the government intends to expand capital investment significantly in both 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the last parliament capital spending was cut by around a quarter, but between now and 2019-20 it will grow by almost 20 per cent. How this growth in spending should be distributed across departments and between investment projects should be at the heart of the spending review.

In a paper published on Monday, we highlighted three urgent priorities for any additional capital spending: re-balancing transport investment away from London and the greater South East towards the North of England, a £2bn per year boost in public spending on housebuilding, and £1bn of extra investment per year in energy efficiency improvements for fuel-poor households.

Secondly, despite the tough fiscal environment, the Chancellor has the scope to fund a range of areas of policy in dire need of extra resources. These include social care, where rising costs at a time of falling resources are set to generate a severe funding squeeze for local government, 16-19 education, where many 6th-form and FE colleges are at risk of great financial difficulty, and funding a guaranteed paid job for young people in long-term unemployment. Our paper suggests a range of options for how to put these and other areas of policy on a sustainable funding footing.

There is a political angle to this as well. The Conservatives are keen to be seen as a party representing all working people, as shown by the "blue-collar Conservatism" agenda. In addition, the spending review offers the Conservative party the opportunity to return to ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ as a going concern.  If they are truly serious about being seen in this light, this should be reflected in a social investment agenda pursued through the spending review that promotes employment and secures a future for public services outside the NHS and schools.

This will come at a cost, however. In our paper, we show how the Chancellor could fund our package of proposed policies without increasing the pain on other areas of government, while remaining consistent with the government’s fiscal rules that require him to reach a surplus on overall government borrowing by 2019-20. We do not agree that the Government needs to reach a surplus in that year. But given this target wont be scrapped ahead of the spending review, we suggest that he should target a slightly lower surplus in 2019/20 of £7bn, with the deficit the year before being £2bn higher. In addition, we propose several revenue-raising measures in line with recent government tax policy that together would unlock an additional £5bn of resource for government departments.

Make no mistake, this will be a tough settlement for government departments and for public services. But the Chancellor does have a range of options open as he plans the upcoming spending review. Expect his reputation as a highly political Chancellor to be on full display.

Spencer Thompson is economic analyst at IPPR