Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Cuts Consensus

Yesterday, I was glad to see this article in The Guardian, which makes the case that the Green Party has been arguing for many months. Namely, that it is insanity to submit to a round of swingeing cuts given our economic situation - that public investment and revenue raising are the way to get out of this recession, and that slashing public spending will only hurt the poor and the vulnerable.

Caroline Lucas MEP has been speaking out against job cuts in Brighton, where she is aiming to become one of the first Green Party MPs, and as she puts it:

"The last thing we need to be doing in the current economic climate is making cuts. What is needed is investment in public services, to make sure we get out - and stay out - of recession."

Quite. It's a pity that the three establishment parties don't seem to be on the same page. For a few weeks, it seemed that Brown might be opening up a bit of clear red water between him and CameronClegg - but alas, he soon fell back into line and started competing with the two opposition parties about precisely how tough he could be. Never mind the fact that you hardly save any money in total by sacking public sector workers, because of the fact that you put them straight onto the dole. Or the fact that we could face a double dip recession if we drastically cut our spending now. No, the important thing is to look tough.

I agree entirely with David Blanchflower, who points out in the article above that "the dire state of our public finances is not due to excessive spending growth but the collapse of revenues. So the most effective way to tackle the deficit is to stimulate revenue. Private sector investment has collapsed, so what's needed are government subsidies on investment and job hires. Instead of cuts, we need to be talking about how to get the economy growing again, and how to create jobs."

Absolutely right. We've been doing our bit in Hackney Green Party, to push for one of the key foundations of the Green New Deal - namely, massive improvement and investment in our housing stock.

Over 4,600 families in Hackney currently live in fuel poverty - and in the Green Party's 2010 budget amendment, Cllr Mischa Borris proposed over £600,000 of investment to kickstart a scheme to provide free insulation for every home that needs it. That key funding from the council would help lever in large amounts of additional money from energy utilities, as part of their obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The programme would be prioritised towards vulnerable and low-income households.

The scheme, similar to the successful progamme introduced by the Green Party on Kirklees council, could reduce fuel bills for the poorest by an average of £150 a year per home and would make a significant impact on fuel poverty in the borough. And, crucially, the scheme would also help to create 'green-collar' jobs in the borough, helping to tackle Hackney's high unemployment levels.

How to fund it? Well, Mischa proposed a £16 a year increase in parking charges, for the most polluting cars. As she put it:

"A slight increase in parking charges for the most gas-guzzling cars is a fair way of funding a scheme that will benefit those without cars and living in fuel poverty. Councils should be creating ways of helping the most vulnerable residents. Using money from energy companies and those with polluting cars will benefit thousands of people who are struggling to keep their homes warm."

Makes sense to me. Of course, Hackney Labour rejected the plan and have just spent a bunch of money changing every lamppost banner in the borough into a party political broadcast about their council tax freeze. Public money, well spent...

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