Monday, January 25, 2010

Response to "Steps to a Green Economy for Ceredigion"

So an aspirant MP produces a "Green Economy Report", it is going to be for reasons of getting elected. I have meet Penri a couple of times, nice chap, heart in the right place and certainly switched on the local, agricultural issues. He is playing the "I want to be elected game" which is fair enough, so lets suspend our normal cynical filters for a while and see what is good and what can be improved. It much easier to write a blog no one reads than to produce a document which random people and your opponents will want to pick over. The co-author Peter Midmore who is a Professor of Economics and Director of Research at Aberystwyth University’s School of Management & Business is a serious academic by reputation.

If you want the report at the time of writing, you either need to email Penri or go to the Plaid office to get a copy. I assume it will be available for download. I especially encourage you to do this if you live outside Ceredigion:-)

Lets take the steps that are set out in turn

  1. Improve home energy efficiency : A couple of should's here, but no specific's on how to facilitate the desired behavior. It has long puzzled me why there is VAT on insulation, be it loft, cavity wall or draught proofing or the work to install it. I am not convinced about the local authority unit, at least not at the stage we at. Low level best practice along the lines of if you have less than X units of insulation in your loft, add insulation until you get the the required thickness would only be complicated by a local authority unit. Funding a Citizens Advice Bureau post to advise on such things split between Cardigan and Aberystywth would be far better value if it was really felt advise was needed rather than easy access to information.
  2. Enhancing construction sector skills : I like this, but it would need to be a national policy to have the scale effects discussed. I fear that skills tend to follow demand and knowing some local tradesmen, if the demand was there, they would aquire the skills. Another case for being zero VAT rated with an significant energy saving effort and possible local job creation could be from fitting Voltage Optimisation Devices.
  3. Create growing spaces : safe one here. No one is going to disagree unless you propose to purchase their land to do it. A move back to the green crop field that my late farmer friend Dan told me horror stories about harvesting Mangles from frozen ground in Feburary. He was a farm worker in the 1940's to 1970's and then got his own place, but a garden was very important to him, indeed his last words were about the need to plant potatoes. We are never going to satisfy the need for allotment land within a town area and maybe a suitable body (council??) renting a field in agricultural use near the various towns and then sub-letting it for allotments over 5 years. After 5 years, move fields, reducing disease exposure. However, I would not be applying for the job of managing it and the various disputes between growers! Good specific suggestion pointing at the root of the problems are in or or around planning.
  4. Enhance farm incomes by exploiting bio-energy : I was out running on Sunday near Nant-Y-Moch, taking a short cut over some clear felled woodland it struck me how much biomass gets wasted, left for me to trip over and could be used as fuel. If you were next to the Drax power station, then the case for large scale bio-energy would be more clear cut, with only Hydro power stations in or near Ceredigion, would need some careful analysis. Small scale bio-fuel is a different matter, but beyond a domestic log burner and a few places (Nant-Y-Arian Forestry Centre for example) which burn wood chip, I have yet to see it put into practice. Open question because I don't know the answer is provoked by the last sentence, is it research or commercialization which is really needed?
  5. Integrate public transport provision : Where I live which is very rural used to have a bus service which stopped 3 years or so ago. Now the nearest bus service is 3 miles away. School also closed about the same time so similar distance to nearest school. This is a hard one and probably quite high hanging fruit in the carbon reduction scheme of things.
  6. Additional cycle routes : I fear an other lack of specifics. Ceredigion has a history of proposed cycle ways hitting serious opposition from landowners in their path such as the Ystwyth Trail which was delayed for a number of years. So here is a proposed route, take the spirit of getting from A to B rather than the exact line to join the existing cycle path. The opposition to such a scheme would be interesting from the land owners, but unless there is political will to fight that type of battle, then there is no point talking about this subject.
    View Rural Cycle way in a larger map
  7. Education for sustainable lifestyles : a little light on specifics maybe?

The last section of the document does highlight some of the root causes which are barriers to progress with accurate observations which are worth quoting 3 sections
  • Part of the answer is that the responsibilities for bringing about change are dispersed widely, and at different levels.
  • This abundance of decision-makers have competing and sometimes higher priority issues to confront, on different spatial scales, and it is one of the major failings of current governance that coordination and focus at the local level is rarely achieved.
  • Powers for initial action already exist, local authorities have under the Local
    Government Act 2000 the duty to promote the economic, social or
    environmental well being.
However, here is where we disagree on the fix(es).
Better local leadership on this issue would start with having a clear and ambitious vision, and be accompanied by the commitment to achieving that vision in a specific time period. It is a future role for elected representatives, particularly the MP and AM but also for elected local councillors.
I offer the view that the performance system is broken at too many levels. The balance of consequences(short term and long terms, positive and negative) and feedback do not encourage the desired behavior. I have only meet one elected representative who I would class as both evil and seriously incompetent and one other I would class as far out of his depth, but a nice chap. All the others, elected or aspirtant, that I have meet including, but not limited to, Penri, Mark, Elen, Mark, Rhodri, Paul, Dai, Peter, Hag, etc, etc are all good people doing their best in the system they operate within and they want to keep operating in.

Changing the people is tinkering at the edges, the debate really needs to be how the performance system changes (balance of consequences) to encourage the behavior from our elected representatives and public servants that we need to tackle the challenges set out in Penri's document. It would be a painful change to the status quo, so it would happen without a serious fight.

Lets be fair to Penri here, not only does it have a nice photo on the front, but it all makes sense. What is damming of the electoral eco-system he operates in (the one in which we as voters will interview him in later this year) is that he feels unable to take more risks, to be more creative and specific about the actions which will remove the road blocks he articulates very well. To quote Simon Friend far out of context It's what your votes condone.

1 comment:

  1. I doubt we'll see anything done, and I think that will be the downfall of this. Just another piece of paper!
    After alls said and done, I agree with more cycle routes, it would be good to see something pused up to Y Borth.

    After reading the Penrhi blog, I think that some of the comments about Hospitals etc. being built Green would be fantastic and also allowing people to work at home by providing higher net bandwidth for home workers that live in the area.

    But as you've mentioned, there are certainly a lot of obstacles in the way of these proposed schemes.