24 Feb 2012

Real progress for Greens at Budget

After weeks of hard work and negotiating, I got my amendment to the budget passed at last night's Council meeting (pictured above). The amendment included nine measures, including boosting St Peters Street by extending the Sunday market in to the ‘forgotten’ northern end of the street.

There is plenty of scope to expand the market, and this would have many benefits, including bringing more visitors and activity further up to the north end of St Peters Street, more opportunities for local traders to sell and to keep money circulating within the local economy, and of course the extra income to the Council.

The ruling Conservative group accepted all my proposals, which included developing a local food programme to promote local growers, insulating Council properties, and switching some Council communications from paper to email. The measures have been costed by Council officers and promise to generate thousands of pounds of savings.

I also won a commitment from the Council to install solar panels or other renewable energy on any of its larger buildings that would pay back the investment within ten years.

I've used this budget process to directly inject some imaginative ideas into the Council, ideas that not only improve our district, but that also save money for our Council Taxpayers.

The budget was also amended by a Labour proposal to reduce the rise in council house rents that the Conservatives had planned. I was happy to vote in favour of that proposal.

Full list of items in Green amendment:

Additional priorities in the Corporate Plan: (only cost here is council officer time)

1. A feasibility study into establishing a local food partnership. This follows the example of cities like Nottingham, Plymouth and Brighton. Local groups, businesses and individuals with an interest in food and health can come together to support each other, promote each other’s activities, and promote the wider benefits of producing and consuming locally grown food.

2. Explore ways to report the carbon that would be produced by major capital projects. Our district produces more carbon emissions per head than almost any other in the UK. We need to take responsibility for tackling this problem and this is one way to help us do that. If we monitor what’s happening with our big capital projects, we will find it easier to identify areas where we can reduce our carbon footprint.

3. Explore moving to a ‘green’ tariff within our electricity contract. We have the opportunity through our electricity contract to support renewable energy generation in this country, which the government has again said this week is a key part of Britain’s energy strategy. Ideally we’d sign up with a company at the forefront of this technology, but we are at the beginning of a five-year contract with our current supplier and it would be impractical to change that. Moving to their green tariff, however, would be a step in the right direction.

Capital and revenue items:

1. Change some of our flower beds from bedding to shrub bed. Bedding is the type of flower bed where you see small flowers planted and replaced twice a year. Shrub bedding is the type that typically has herbaceous plants or low shrubs. Shrub bedding has lower maintenance costs and, to my mind, often a more natural and appealing look. In any case, we could save £10,000 by replacing a minority of existing bedding areas with shrub beds. Saving: £10,000

2. Make available 30% more stalls at the St Albans Sunday market. The monthly Sunday market in St Albans is currently limited to 62 stalls, compared to the 161 stalls that are put up every Saturday. The Sunday market is very popular with residents and traders, and is a great attraction. There is plenty of scope to expand it, and this would have many benefits, including bringing more visitors and activity further up to the north end of St Peters Street, more opportunities for local traders to sell and to keep money circulating within the local economy, and of course the extra income to the Council. New income: £6,600

3. Issue committee papers electronically by default. All I am proposing here is moving from the current practice of opting out of receiving hard copies to one where you opt-in. At the moment, councillors, officers or members of outside bodies who are happy to receive Council paperwork purely electronically have to volunteer that information. If people instead had to opt in to receiving some or all of their paperwork as hard copies it would encourage them to think about whether they actually need each document in that format.

Some councillors in this district and in many others are already using laptops and tablet computers to view some documents, and there are developments, including with Modern Gov software, that are making this increasingly simple to do. For some people, using a screen instead of pieces of paper will feel like a natural and convenient development, but of course for others it will not, and I want to emphasise that those who want to continue to get their paperwork as paper must be completely free to do so. Estimated saving: £10,000

4. Invest in renewable energy on our corporate buildings. Over the last few months, the government rules on installing renewable energy have been changing, so it’s been very difficult to work out a detailed proposal. But it remains true that government support for renewable energy makes it a good investment, especially on larger buildings. I am proposing a budget of up to £250,000 subject to any investment being able to pay back the capital inside ten years. The funding would come firstly from my revenue saving proposals and then from borrowing. Conventional electricity prices are only going to rise further, so we have an opportunity to save on those costs, and to demonstrate that we in this Council are serious about renewable energy. Budget: up to £250,000 with revenue income up to £25,000 pa

5. Provide signs at the Peahen junction asking drivers to switch off their engines while they wait. After many years of talking about the unacceptable pollution in our city centre, it is surely time to try and do something about it. This is a quick, easy way to help. For most vehicles on the roads today, ten seconds of idling uses more fuel than switching off and on again. As vehicles approach the Peahen they are routinely stationary for at least a minute and a half. Drivers who switch off their engines will be reducing pollution and even saving a bit of fuel. Cost: up to £1800

6. Install energy-saving measures at three Council buildings. A list of simple energy-saving measures that together would create revenue savings that would repay the capital in just over a year. Budget: £3680 with revenue saving of £2747 pa

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