Fighting for Food Justice from opposition in Devon

8th December, 2020

Councillor Su Aves – Exeter Labour Group

Even before Covid-19 the number of people needing the food bank in Exeter was rising – which as one of the Devon County councillors representing Exeter was of a significant concern. Then Covid-19 hit. With people isolating and others losing income there was a huge need to support them. Locally city and county councillors were doing their best to support the community and charity efforts to provide food to those who needed it. Other councillors and I were doing much to support the community and charities which provided food for those who needed it, but I had a sense that there was not enough strategic planning. What support there was emerged organically, reacting to need – after a bit of asking around I found out that Devon County Council did not have a Food Strategy policy.

At around the same time I became aware of the Co-op Party’s Food Justice campaign. Of course, I knew other councillors that were members, and being someone with co-operative views, I felt it was time I joined them and became a member. I wasn’t at the time expecting my fellow County Councillor Hilary Ackland to ask me at my first Co-op Party meeting what I was planning to do as a councillor to demonstrate my co-operative principles! Thinking quickly on my feet, I explained that I was considering putting the Co-operative Party’s Food Justice Motion to the next Full Council meeting in October.

I researched the topic thoroughly. Hilary kindly guided me to the Co-op Party zoom session on Food justice and encouraged me to contact Cllr Jack Abbott from Suffolk County Council who had taken a motion to council in an authority like ours where the Conservative party are the majority. With advice from Jack and the Co-op Party’s staff I went about tailoring the motion and set about winning over councillors from the ruling Conservative Group. With statistics from council officers to back my case, I persuaded the Leader of the Conservative Council of my good intentions and that the proposal for a lead member and a food partnership was a genuine one and that I did not seek to score political points on this issue – and that I would be happy to accept reasonable amendments or for Cabinet to consider the issue.

Although pleased that the motion was referred to Cabinet in October, I was also a little sceptical that we would see a positive outcome. When the word came back that it would be possible to find common ground at the December Council meeting and agree an amended motion which retained much of what we wanted I was delighted. With over 40 Conservative Councillors and just 7 Labour ones on Devon County Council it is a challenging and at times extremely frustrating political environment. I’m thrilled that we’ve managed to get political agreement and that Devon Council has made a significant step forwards to tackling food insecurity with commitments to a lead member for food insecurity and support a working group to consider a Devon Food Partnership and a food resilience strategy for the County. It was a genuinely co-operative endeavour which I could have only done with support from my fellow co-operators in my own council, Cllr Jack Abbott from Suffolk Labour Group, and from Co-op Party itself.

Pre-budget report on local government

John McDonnell has highlighted how local government funding has been ravaged over a decade, with particularly brutal cuts in youth and children’s services, as well as a crisis in social care.

Ahead of next week’s Budget, the Shadow Chancellor has released the latest in a series of reports highlighting a sharp decline in public services after a decade of Tory rule.

Labour’s Shadow Treasury Team has published ‘The Road to the Budget – A Decade of Decline in Local Government’.

The report shows that spending on youth services has been decimated by 70% since 2010, with a real-terms cut of £880 million. 

Government funding to councils to run children’s services has been cut by almost a third since 2010.

Successive Tory governments have failed to tackle the social care crisis, with cuts to local government exacerbating that crisis, the report finds.

John McDonnell, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor,  commenting on the findings, said:

“Local governments provide basic services that are key to our social fabric and our people’s lives.

“Successive Conservative administrations have torn the heart out of local government, weakening the bonds that tie us together, and damaging services that are important from the cradle to the grave.

“Only a massive injection of funding at the upcoming Budget will begin to repair the damage that the Tories have done – and this Budget looks set to showcase a chaotic government that risks five years of disappointment.”

An Evening With Clive Lewis – TOTNES 5TH JUNE 2020

Totnes CLP have invited Clive Lewis MP to the town for an evening in conversation. Clive has served in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow cabinet as defence and business secretary.

This event will be ticketed and info on how to book will be sent out to Newton Abbot CLP members as soon as available, although tickets will initially be limited to members of Totnes, Newton Abbot and Torbay CLP’s any remaining will be made available to the public.

Devon children face worse and more unequal life expectancy

A blistering ten years after the Coalition government accepted his last report, new findings from Health expert Sir Michael Marmot show that overall life expectancy in the UK has slowed down to an extent not seen for over a century. The 2020 Marmot Review argues that damage to health in the last ten years has been ‘unprecedented’ and points to rises in child poverty, the closure of hundreds of Sure Start centres, unequal council cuts and a growing wage gap, all of which are believed to help determine people’s health. 

Whilst cuts have hit the North hardest, Devon has also been hit with the closure of all but two Sure Start centres and suffers from areas of low income.

Devon County Council has recently reported that child poverty rates in the most deprived areas of Devon, such as Torridge, are four times those in the least deprived. Child poverty rates are also higher in younger families, due to higher benefit claimant rates and lower incomes in persons in their 20s and 30s. Single parent households, particularly where headed by a female, are also likely to experience economic poverty; as are children of disable parents. Marmot and Devon County Council alike acknowledge that people with lower income tend to have poorer health, and that child poverty is intergenerational and bi-directional; where parents’ income can influence their child’s health, and a child’s health can influence their learning and earning capacity later in life.

Yvonne Atkinson, Labour’s Shadow Portfolio Holder for Economic Development at Devon County Council comments, “We ask Devon County Council to urgently review its strategy in the light of Marmot’s further report, and to urge Devon’s Tory MPs, and the government, to increase our local government funding back to 2010 levels. This government must urgently support economic development in Devon’s most deprived areas, otherwise our county’s children will not only be facing worse rates of life expectancy across the board, but also rates that are increasingly unequal through no fault of their own.”

Left Hand View – On the Buses

By Malcolm Tipper (Newton Abbot CLP – Political Education Officer)

A headline in my paper this month was ‘Johnson pledges £5bn overhaul of bus services to fend off HS2 revolt’.

Today buses seem to be the prerogative of the teenager going to College or the elderly equipped with a bus pass, or so it seems in the Teignmouth area. In the large cities London, Manchester or Birmingham buses are an essential part of commuting to work. Buses in London were never deregulated when services were privatised across the country. Margaret Thatcher’s Government deregulated bus services outside London in the mid-1980’s arguing that competition would lead to increased passenger numbers by reducing fares and improving services. The House of Commons Cross party select Committee found last year that “bus use has declined year after year, and successive governments have made no concerted or coordinated effort to reverse or even stem the decline. So much for privatisation.

 If Transport for London is able to direct provision to make sure it meets the needs of the whole community, and private operators can’t just cherry pick the most profitable routes surely now deregulation should apply country wide. Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor for Greater Manchester has announced that he will be seeking de-regulation in order to provide a better service.

Before widespread car ownership my family like the majority were reliant, especially post-Beeching, on buses for business and pleasure trips, in those days it was Devon General, now StageCoach SW (does that mean they keep getting held up!) But now according to the Urban Transport Group over the last decade bus use fell 15% from 1.1 billion journeys in 2009/10 to 908 million in 2017/18 (the latest year we have figures for). In Devon for the year 2017/18 2million fewer journeys were made. This situation will only get worse as Local Government subsidise many routes and they are subject to severe financial cuts. Buses provide a vital service for the passengers who rely on them. They are disproportionately used by people on lower incomes, who may not be able to afford a private car. Whatever your income a cheap and reliable bus service would reduce the need to use private vehicles and consequently reduce air pollution.

Boris Johnson revealed recently that he has a hobby of painting London double-decker buses full of happy smiling people. How long before those happy faces will change to grumpy frowning people? I wonder when the last time an Old Etonian actually travelled by bus, ah yes the one which had on its side “we send the EU £350m a week – let’s fund our NHS instead” which apparently a lot of people still believe! Or was it the ones encouraging Immigrants to go home. Either way I shouldn’t think Boris or our own M.P. Anne Marie-Morris have experienced the delights of the No.2 through Kingsteignton.

Teenagers in Teignmouth would probably like a better late night bus service to Exeter so they can enjoy a night out without having to use expensive Taxis to return, the last bus returns at 2340 (which isn’t too bad actually) but under a Labour government the under 25’s would also have free bus travel. 

Boris Johnson is hoping that the new £5bn investment will allow bus passengers to “turn up and go” and perhaps he is thinking of the system in use in Switzerland.

The Swiss public transport system is called taktfahrplan, literally the clock timetable. In the Zurich city region the local authority closely defines three levels of bus service.

A village of 300 people or more receives a level one service, a bus every hour.

Level two is every half-hour, and is guaranteed to routes where the flow of passengers from multiple settlements combine to boost demand, this would be like Newton Abbot, Teignmouth and Dawlish

Level three provides one or more buses every 15 minutes and is for large, densely populated areas.

Bus timetables are linked up to train timetables, so buses are scheduled to arrive at major stations a few minutes before specific trains depart, and leave a few minutes after. 

At present this sort of system is impossible in Britain because of the privatised and fragmented nature of our public transport system. Labour wants to make public transport an essential service, as the Swiss consider it to be, and would municipalise bus services giving local authorities back total control, as well as taking back Railways into Public ownership. This would provide the kind of transport service that would shift millions out of their private cars and into sustainable, low carbon options.

We could take public transport seriously and have a service which served everyone, and which everyone could be proud of. 

This is what a Labour Government would do.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn unveils the Labour battle bus while on the General Election campaign trail in Liverpool. PA Photo. Picture date: Thursday November 7, 2019. See PA story POLITICS Election Labour. Photo credit should read: Jacob King/PA Wire

Devon MPs voting against climate action in this week’s Transport bill amendment

Liz Pole, Media Officer for Devon Labour, commenting on the defeat in the House of Commons of Labour’s amendment for climate action in the Transport bill this week, said: “All eight of Devon’s Conservative MPs have this week voted against climate action in Labour’s amendment to the Transport bill. It is now clearthat the promises these Conservative MPs made on climate action to voters in village halls across Devon during the General Election campaign were empty. I urge voters to judge them by their actions in Parliament, not by their words.”

Only Labour’s Ben Bradshaw voted in favour of the amendment, which simply called for a “plan to eliminate the substantial majority of transport emissions by 2030, to decarbonise the UK’s entire bus network, to invest in an electric vehicle charging network that can support the majority of vehicles on the UK’s roads by 2030, to cut bus and rail fares, to increase public transport patronage, to provide funding for cycling and walking, including investment in cycleways and grants for ebikes, to introduce a network of clean air zones to tackle illegal levels of air pollution, and to bring aviation emissions within the UK’s climate targets.”

The UK’s transport emissions have increased since 2010. Former Conservative rail and environment Minster, Claire O’Neill, has said that the government have failed to provide leadership on climate change. She also said that the government are “miles off track” in the setting of a positive agenda for the COP26 United Nations summit in Glasgow, and that “promises” of action were “not close to being met.”

Note to Editors

All eight of Devon’s Conservative MPs voted against Labour’s amendment to the Transport bill on 5th February 2020

https://www.publicwhip.org.uk/division.php?date=2020-02-05&number=32&display=allvotes

Left Hand View – By Malcolm Tipper

LABOURS GREEN INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

When Rebecca Long-Bailey introduced Labour’s 30 point plan green pledge it rather caught got up in a lot of other radical ideas in Labour’s 2019 manifesto. Fortunately Rebecca has an opportunity during the Leadership campaign to devote more time to perhaps the single most important issue facing all of us.

The climate crisis messages have been with us for some time and are still occurring “Record heat in world’s oceans is ‘dire’ warning on climate crisis” Guardian 14th January 2020. The causes of oceans warming is obviously not the responsibility of just one country but each country must clearly show it is taking climate change very seriously and that is why we mustn’t lose sight of Labour’s radical policy when the leadership changes.

Rebecca Long-Bailey when shadow Business Secretary said that a future Labour Government would oversee an economic revolution, using the full power of the state to decarbonize the economy and create hundreds of thousands of green jobs in towns and cities across the UK. We can be pretty sure that the new Tory Government is unlikely to use the full power of the state in anything bar supporting the United States in any wars it might start or clamping down on terrorist organisations such as Extinction Rebellion!  As Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell promised legislation to force UK listed firms to take adequate steps to fight the climate emergency, this is not going to happen now.

A lot of analysis has gone into why traditional Labour voters in areas in the north and midlands have switched their allegiance to the Conservatives who are unlikely to act in their best interests on wages, benefits or local services. I have a fairly simplistic view that in the Thatcher years Conservative Governments closed down swathes of traditional industries employing thousands of people and did nothing to replace those jobs. The Labour Governments that followed did nothing to support those communities and in some ways encouraged the low skill, low wage, insecure job market that now exists across the country.

Labours Green pledge had at its heart the creation of 850,000 skilled jobs in the green industry. The figures were not just plucked out of thin air but were prepared by a team of economists at the Sustainability Research Institute backed by the University of Leeds. These jobs would arise out of:

  • Insulation upgrades for every home in the country such as double glazing focusing first on damp homes and areas with fuel poverty.
  • Installing 8m electric heat pumps to start getting away from gas heating.
  • Building another 7000 offshore wind turbines and 2000 onshore wind turbines
  • A national network of electric vehicle charging points
  • Enough new solar panels to cover 22,000 football pitches

The Green pledge would necessitate nationalization of the energy network as Rebecca Long-Bailey has said “energy customers have been ripped off by the privatisation of the UK’s energy grid, with shareholders paid £13 billion pounds in dividends over the past 5 years”. She went on to say “only by taking the grid into public ownership can we decarbonize the economy at the pace needed to secure the planet for our children and grandchildren while ending the rip-off, creating good jobs in local communities and making heating and electricity a human right”.

Allied to the policies for climate change is the tricky subject of meat and dairy production particularly in a county like Devon. For me as a vegetarian and subscriber to Veganuary giving up meat and dairy is not a hardship. The magazine Science published a paper showing that a plant-based diet would release 76% of the land currently used for farming. This land could then be used for the mass restoration of ecosystems and wildlife. If our grazing land was allowed to revert to natural ecosystems, and the land currently used to grow feed for livestock was used for grains, beans, fruits, nuts and vegetables for humans, this switch would allow the UK to absorb an astonishing quantity of Carbon. Now would a Conservative Government encourage farmers to make the change and without EC subsidies to offset the cost, answers on a postcard!

For Labour voters and supporters it was tragedy that we didn’t win the election, however, it is important not to dilute the green pledge that appeared in the manifesto as I think increasingly this will be the issue that will attract voters and I would encourage members to use their vote in the leadership election to support the candidate you think is most likely to honour that commitment.

Left Hand View By Malcolm Tipper

More Poverty, More Corporate Greed, Less Compassion

Remember, Remember the 12th of December a date Labour activists will never forget. “For the many not the few” lost out to “Get Brexit Done” and has condemned many to 5 more years of austerity, more reductions in workers’ rights more unbridledcapitalism with more obscene salaries for the few.

A mere 9 years ago the Conservatives supported by the Liberal Democrats started the process where the cloak of Brexit covered the destructive force of austerity. The Social Metrics Commission set up in 2016 to develop a new way of measuring poverty found that 14.3million people now lived in poverty and 7million people including 2.3million children were affected by what they described as persistent poverty. A separate piece of research has also indicated 1.5million people suffer extreme poverty or destitution as a result of benefit cuts and high rents. The State of Hunger Report 2019 was compiled by academics from Heriot-Watt University.According to the research “there is clear and robust evidence that people struggling on the lowest rungs of the income ladder are pushed rapidly into destitution when their already tight budgets are broken by benefit payment delays, cuts, deductions or sanctions”. It found five welfare policies- the rollout of universal credit, increases in benefit sanctions, the bedroom tax, the benefits freeze and the withdrawal of disability benefits-had sizeable and significant effects in pushing up demand for food parcels. In 2018/19 one in 50 UK Households used a foodbank. 

Shelter says that for many people on housing benefit who on average are now having to find £113 a month to meet the shortfall between their housing benefit payments and their rent demands for many these can be catastrophic amounts, forcing many to choose between paying rent and buying food. If they cannot meet the difference, they are at risk of eviction. Also, in the last six years Council Tax debts have risen by 40% making it the most common form of debt. The most visible form of homelessness is of course rough sleeping although the charity Crisis estimates there are 71,400 people “sofa-surfing” and have been for more than 6 months making it the largest form of homelessness. In 2018 the number of homeless people dying rose by 22% the highest since records were first collected in 2013. Charities, M.P.’s and experts say austerity and cuts to services are driving a homelessness crisis. Work is obviously the answer to Poverty or is it? A study by the institute of Fiscal Studies shows that between 1994 and 2017 the share of poverty accounted for by working households had jumped from 37% to 58% caused by more expensive housing and weak earnings.

Those fortunate enough to be in work can still expect to be poor, but not so the bosses who are rubbing their hands with glee as the new Conservative government will make further relaxations in employment laws. For a more detailed view of the excesses of corporate pay see Left hand View on Pay (June 2019). Since that blogthe boss of Persimmon the house builder received an £85m bonus, the founder of Bet 365 paid herself £323m last year the equivalent of 10,152 teacher’s salaries, whilst the boss of Virgin Money saw his salary doubled to £3.4m per annum despite a second consecutive annual loss. Whilst Deliveroo who employ 60,000 delivery riders, all self-employed contractors with no guaranteed minimum wage, holiday pay or sick pay sees a Director receive a 57% pay increase with £8.3m of share options. Overall between 2014 and 2018 shareholder payments to FTSE 100 companies have risen by 56% whilst during the same period wages edged up by just 8.8%. Only strong Trades Unions can fight against corporate greed and worsening pay and conditions.

We might have expected a modicum of compassion from the Liberal Democrats but ex M.P. soon to be ex Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson in a Channel 4 interview said she had “no regrets about the coalition” despite its role in bringing about austerity. We can expect no compassion from a Tory government given the green light to introduce further public spending cuts, reduce workers rights, continue to force elderly people to sell their homes in exchange for inadequate social care, continue to let graduates run up thousands of pounds of debt, do nothing about homelessness and probably pay lip service to climate change. Be careful what you wish, vote for.

Secure Housing For All

Britain has a housing crisis. House prices are way out of line with earnings. In our area the average house costs 10 times the typical salary. Building new homes doesn’t help. Local people can’t afford them. Many people must rent, typically paying a third or more of household income to their landlord. Benefit payments do not cover the rent. Social and council housing is hard to access.

Labour Will:

Build 100’000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale.

Build thousands of low cost homes reserved for first-time buyers.

Give local people buying their first home “first dibs” on new homes built in their area.

Protect greenbelt by building on brownfield sites whenever possible.

Build zero-carbon homes and insulate existing homes.

Give councils the power to build the homes communities need.

Transform the planning system with a new duty to deliver affordable homes.

End security for private renters by making three-year tenancies the norm and putting an inflation cap on rents.

Introduce new legal minimum standards to ensure properties are fit for human habitation.

Bring back long-term council house tenancies.

Suspend the Right to Buy and end the bedroom tax.