Free bus trips or trash strikes? – Greens run local government
How does the Green Party manage the management of local councils?
Greens and power are two things that traditionally don’t go hand in hand. But as Green Party members from England and Wales gather for their conference in Birmingham this weekend, power has been the order of the day.
In his first speech to the conference, the co-leader of the newly elected party, Adrian Ramsay, referred to the growing number of countries ruled by the Greens, with the Green parties of Finland, Ireland and New Zealand now in the to be able to. North of the border, the Scottish Greens are now in government together with the SNP. And in more than a dozen local councils in England, the Greens are also in single or joint administration.
It was the latter that was discussed the most on the first day of the party conference. During a panel in the main room, titled “Greens in Power – Making a Difference,” members heard from a number of advisers who lead local authorities across the country. From Brighton to Lancaster, York to Herefordshire, they all had a similar message – having a Green around the decision-making table enables councils to fight climate change and fight social injustice.
Three of those advisers – Siriol Hugh-Jones from Brighton & Hove, Ellie Chowns from Herefordshire and Zoe Nicholson from Lewes – spoke to Left foot forward on their time in administration. They discussed what they see as their greatest achievements and the challenges they have faced in the context of a global pandemic, combined with the increasingly constrained financial and regulatory environment in which local councils exist. .
All three were able to come up with an impressive list of things they delivered during their tenure. Unsurprisingly, many of them were linked to tackling the climate crisis. Zoe Nicholson – who shares power in Lewes with Labor, Liberal Democrats and some independents – spoke of the Council having a “really clear carbon reduction plan and – I think – Council leader” with the Greens in power. She says this has reduced emissions by 15 percent, and also highlighted efforts to “decarbonize [the] housing stock ”as proof that the Greens are acting locally on the climate.
Brighton & Hove’s story was similar. Siriol Hugh-Jones, who is part of the only administration where the Greens hold power as the only ruling party, also spoke about his climate council’s record. She bragged about a £ 27million investment in ‘carbon reduction measures’ and spoke of a range of initiatives from new cycle lanes to e-bike programs being implemented. implemented to fight against the climate impact of the city. Like her fellow Green Councilors, she also spoke about the action the Brighton & Hove Council was taking to renovate houses, saying that a “small army” was needed to implement this and speaking of “giving young people the skills which they need to enter this sector ”.
Perhaps the most interesting climate change initiative, however, is that of Ellie Chowns. In Herefordshire, the Green-Independent Joint Administration has implemented a policy of free bus transport throughout the county on weekends, using the money earmarked for Covid recovery to deliver it. According to Chowns, this is a direct result of the Greens’ involvement in administration – Council officials initially offering free parking as a way to boost local economic growth in the wake of the pandemic. Chowns said she saw this as “a subsidy of something that is counterproductive, socially and environmentally,” and said the money should instead be “spent on buses and bikes, not parking”.
But, in accordance with the commitment of the Greens to fight for people and the planet, the three advisers also referred to work that was not only, or even mainly, focused on the fight against climate change. Housing was a key topic of discussion. Chowns – whose tenure followed 12 years of majority Tory rule – says one of the accomplishments she’s most proud of since taking office in 2019 has been “to start building social housing for the first time since. a generation ”. Likewise, Hugh-Jones – co-chair of the Brighton & Hove housing committee – claimed that the ruling Greens had ‘built more social housing in the last year than has been the case for many years. “.
Beyond housing, Nicholson pointed to a program where the lowest income households in Lewes received a 100% reduction on their housing tax, after revising a previous initiative that gave these residents a 80% reduction. Hugh-Jones highlighted the Brighton & Hove Council’s “anti-racist school strategy” and “a toolkit for trans-inclusion schools”. These initiatives echoed things discussed in the main room panel – with a Green Party representative Stroud highlighting their Council group’s attempts to deal with the city’s legacy of colonialism, in part by seeking to suppress racist statues.
All is not rosy, however. The context of the pandemic has not made life easy for local councils. Nicholson described the context of Covid as “deeply difficult”, saying the impact of the pandemic was “really big” on the local community dependent on tourism. For Chowns, this – combined with the constraints on local government – means being in government is “really hard” and requires change to be made “step by step, inch by inch”.
Beyond Covid, the difficulties facing the Green Party in local government are perhaps felt more severely in Brighton & Hove. After taking over from Labor in 2020, the Greens were recently rocked by a garbage strike called by GMB. The strike was called off last week, workers received a pay rise and shift disputes resolved.
This was not the first time the Greens at Brighton & Hove have faced industrial action from garbage workers. When the party last led the Council – from 2011 to 2015 – a painful trash strike was sparked by attempts to offer equal pay which the GMB says would cost some workers £ 4,000 a year . This caused bitter divisions within the party and called into question the left-wing credentials of the Greens far beyond city limits.
For Hugh-Jones, the party’s previous experience in running the Council, combined with a concerted effort to engage constructively with the unions, was essential in reaching a solution to this year’s dispute. She says the strike was resolved through “a lot of long and difficult negotiations and a willingness to listen,” with “their approach this time around” being more effective in responding to the union’s grievances, adding that “we appreciate the importance of developing these union relations ”.
She also struggled to argue that the Greens were in favor of improving workers’ rights. “Basically, as Greens we want people to be paid properly. We want workers to have decent wages and conditions, and the consequence is that we are getting rid of the lowest level of pay in the Council, which means that through the Council there will be a salary increase for the lowest wages, ”she said.
The GMB statement confirming that the strike had been called off, however, did not suggest that the Greens had a pro-worker stance. Rather, he said that “the GMB union has been at the service of the workers” and that “we are very proud of the GMB members who have stood up for themselves to earn their own respect and fair treatment.”
It remains to be seen whether the Greens continue their past trajectory and gain a foothold in local government. But with councils across the country facing increasingly acute financial pressures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, issues like these will continue to face the Greens on the doorstep of administration.
How they handle this will be a big challenge for the party. The first green administration in Brighton & Hove has cast a long shadow, with the trash strike and accusations of easing austerity in the aftermath of the Greens for years.
As the Green Party continues to present itself nationally as a left-wing alternative to Starmer’s work, people will expect this agenda to be followed when the Greens are in power locally. The party’s effectiveness in implementing its platform in the most difficult context that local government has faced in years may well be the key to the Greens’ future prospects at the polls.
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