Categories
notes from JK

Speech: A High Pay Commission

I copy below the speech I presented in support of this motion for a High Pay Commission, which was carried but only with a Labour wrecking motion (supported by the Conservatives) at full council 28th January 2010:

The top allowance for a councillor in this chamber is only 3.4 times more than the lowest councillor allowance. In terms of allowances, we are a fairly equally rewarded bunch, unlike much of society.

According to Compass, the average ratio of chief-executive to employee pay is 128 times, and several sources agree this has at least doubled in the last decade. In some FTSE 100 firms the pay ratio is now over 1,000 times.

Why limit high pay? Because it’s unfair, it doesn’t create better results and the gap between top and bottom pay is getting worse.

This motion really calls for what is fair pay for all. Shareholders and boards of directors have dramatically failed to reign in the widening pay gap. On pay, both private companies and public services have had long enough to get their house in order.

Some have dealt with the pay gap: A fixed ratio of top and bottom rates of pay is used by successful firms including Toyota, Whole Earth Foods and the St Lukes advertising agency. They do this because there is a good business case for limiting the ratio between top and bottom levels of pay.

Think of companies who have let our country down recently… the banks for example.

20 years ago the pay difference between a bank Chief Exec and next level down was only 2-3 times. Now the ratio between chief and deputy is 20-30 times, imagine what it is between Chief Exec and the lowest paid bank employee. Can we say we’re happy with how banks have conducted themselves? They’re now a national disgrace.

Such pay gaps lead to greater unfairness in our society. We know unfair differences in family income are a key factor that contributes to many societal problems.

The idea of a High Pay Commission to limit top pay is backed by the best business research. For example, Jim Collins for his bestselling book “Good to Great” conducted 112 analyses on pay ratios alone. He found that:

“…the idea that the structure of executive compensation is a key driver in corporate performance is simply not supported by the data.”

And he added:

“The right people will do the right things… regardless of the incentive system.”

Andy Law, from the St Lukes ad agency says:

“When you are exhorting people to co-operate with each other and to trust each other [at work], to impose an unequal system (as is most commonly done) is completely contradictory.”

If I haven’t convinced you so far, let’s try an example. Let’s think about this in a setting we can all relate to: the family. We were all children once…. In your family, how would you have felt if a brother, sister or cousin was awarded 128 more sweets than yourself for winning a game or doing a task particularly well?

You would be outraged with the unfairness and would feel dejected.

Such a huge gap in reward would not be motivating. Other than the one person gaining the disproportionately large reward, the rest would carry on demotivated. It isn’t fair.

Fairer pay is the hallmark of effective organisations, it’s good for business and good for society. The High Pay Commission we propose would be a step toward a more just, fair and balanced society – one in which all our families receive their fair reward for their hard work. Please support this motion.

Online Sources:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2009/sep/16/guardian-executive-pay-survey-ratios

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/95d22e10-db89-11de-9424-00144feabdc0.html

http://www.nowandnext.com/?action=sector/view&issueId=25&sectorId=12

Categories
current affairs

My Green view on last night’s council meeting

Another long full council meeting last night. I tried tweeting between the parts I was most involved in and was pleased to see others following the meeting through Twitter. Sadly the webcasting is still quite unwieldy so perhaps Twitter is a good alternative for some.

I shall try to review the key parts of the meeting from my perspective. I won’t cover everything because, well the agenda was immense, and not all was within my remit or expertise.

Questions

As usual, I asked some questions of councillors. Unfortunately Cllr G Theobald refused to rule out shipping some of the city’s waste to landraise sites in East Sussex. I also continued my attempts to see the final city municipal waste strategy document before it gets rubber stamped. Cllr Theobald either doesn’t understand my point or chooses to ignore it by saying I will see it at the meeting which will approve the document – rather too late to be of any use in my view.

I also pressed Cllr Smith who had promised to engage directly with Brighton’s Sailing Club at the last full council meeting. They are very worried about the implications of the proposed Brighton O development. However since the last council meeting there have been no meetings. His responses to my questions were very unsatisfactory – claiming that a question from a sailing club member to Cllr Theobald at a public Cabinet Member Meeting was equivalent to dealing directly with the club. Neither I nor club members at last night’s meeting agreed with that view at all.

The main agenda

The council agenda had a number of very important and worthwhile reports from scrutiny panels. While implementation of their recommendations is mixed, I do think scrutiny panels are one of the highlights of how our current council constitution is working — unlike much of how the cabinet operates.

So it was a great pleasure to be able to speak to the report on Brighton’s privately contracted GP-led health clinic which I contributed to as a panel member and helped to initiate in the first place. I shall post my speech separately, but I chose to highlight ongoing concerns over such private contracts and as usual the other, privatising parties, were quick to moan about ‘politicising’ a panel report. It’s such a silly criticism, of course they’re political, full council is political and we’re all politicians — what do they expect!

Blocking fee increases for farmers markets & street traders

The next item I played an active part on was approving the licensing fees for 2010/11. For whatever reason the Conservative administration had decided to increase the annual fees for street traders and farmers market stalls by 10% – a big jump no matter what the economic situation. But recently the George Street farmers market has closed down and we know markets at Upper Gardner Street and elsewhere have struggled. Greens strongly felt that they should be supported and so submitted an amendment to freeze charges for street traders and farmers markets, removing the increases. They make up a very small part of the overall licensing regime so there were no major budgetary implications.

Then suddenly just before the meeting began the Tories produced an amendment reducing the fees from 10% to 1% claiming it was a drafting error to have put 10% in. I wasn’t convinced – if it was a genuine error it could be corrected in the Mayor’s communications at the start of the meeting, as indeed an error in another report was corrected yesterday. The fee report had 10% in the main body and the appendices. I think this 1% amendment – which was a Conservative group amendment, not an officer amendment – was some quick backtracking when they realised 10% wasn’t a particularly smart idea.

So after speeches, some of which entirely missed the point of the amendments, the meeting accepted our amendment and we had a Green win – farmers markets and street traders won’t see an increase in license fees this year!

12 month review of the constitution

Another item I have a great interest in is the progress on amending the council’s constitution. It was changed almost two years ago, against loud Green protests, and we’re in a continual process of reviewing and revising its workings. The recommendations from the 12 month review were all well and good, but quite timid. One amendment we proposed last night was to split the Environment & Community Safety Scrutiny committee into two. Its agenda and remit is so large, Environment being the largest department in the council by far, that it struggles to cover enough ground. We feel Community Safety deserves its own committee. However the other parties resisted for various reasons. We proposed to fund this by abolishing two of the little used Cabinet Member Meetings – which is where the members sit in a public meeting to declare decisions they have already made.

Cabinet member Cllr Ayas Fallon-Khan then chose to speak in one of his now trademark outbursts attacking all and sundry (well the Greens) for cutting some Cabinet Member Meetings in our amendment. What he failed to mention is that his own Cabinet Member Meetings were already being cut in the main Conservative report!

The Green amendment wasn’t supported but we will keep plugging away at trying to improve the council constitution.

High Pay Commission

The highlight of the evening, for me, was this motion which I was seconding with Cllr Bill Randall as the proposer. Bill very graciously (and without warning me) set me up as knowledgeable in these matters leaving the bulk of the speaking to me. My speech (which I will post separately) was well received, I hope.

Labour councillor Kevin Allen then treated us to one of his very humorous speeches which lacked much substance. However it did reveal that Labour are so worried about Green chances in Brighton Pavilion that they’ve asked campaign group Compass (who launched the campaign on a High Pay Commission) to block our candidate and party leader Caroline Lucas from taking part in any more Compass events before the general election!

Cllr Allen proposed an amendment which basically congratulated the Labour government for all their work on this issue (yet the gap between highest and lowest paid continues to grow) and removed all the substantive points from our motion.

Ok, well the Labour group do that to us quite often. However the Conservative group voted to support the Labour amendment. Which just goes to show how similar Tories and Labour are – both not that interested in narrowing the pay gap it would seem. This left the motion far from our initial intention so Greens abstained but it was still carried overall.

Other motions

There was good debate on other motions including Cllr Rufus commenting on Labour’s foreign policies in relation to a fairtrade motion, Cllrs Wakefield-Jarrett and Fryer responding to the bizarre and inconsiderate Tory motion on van dwellers and more from Cllr Rachel Fryer and Cllr Pete West on licensing.

I opened my council email today to find an outpouring of support for the Green motion on Sussex University job cuts. So that went down well with unanimous support in the chamber if I recall rightly.

My final memorable moment was on a Green motion about neighbourhood policing. Green Cllr Ben Duncan, the council’s only elected representative to Sussex Police Authority, is a bit of a target for the other parties at the moment. They can’t stand that he’s the only representative nor that Ben doesn’t universally praise the police or criticise protests. Throughout the meeting there had been digs at Ben. The Tories proposed an amendment to his motion to:

ask the Council’s solerepresentative on the Sussex Police Authority to relay to his fellow members the Council’s view that the proactive use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and a tough stance against benefit fraud has had a significant positive effect on reducing both “crime and, crucially, the fear of crime” in Brighton & Hove.

This was a direct attack on our view that ASBOs don’t work and criminalise people who need help. We’ve also been concerned about the public statements Conservative members have made around benefit fraud, though of course we don’t condone fraud in any way. Bizarrely Labour supported this amendment too. Leaving us once again unable to tell Tories and Labour apart.

It was a long night but with some good results for the city and a clutch of excellent scrutiny reports which offer plenty of recommendations for us all to be working on.

Categories
current affairs

What about the policies?

The last few months have been instructive as we’ve seen both local Tory and Labour activists engage in negative, personal attacks on the Green candidate for Brighton Pavilion, Caroline Lucas.

Sadly this is nothing new, I was subject to personal attacks when campaigning to win the Regency by-election in 2007. In both cases the salient fact is that the other parties don’t seem able or willing to engage with Greens on issues of policy – which is what I suspect voters would rather see us debating.

The personal attacks seem to come out when they recognise the Greens as a serious threat to their electoral cartel. Back in 2007 we were best placed to win, and we did — hence it will be my honour and duty to attend this afternoon’s full council meeting.

Again in 2010 Greens are tipped to be in a position to win Brighton Pavilion at the General Election. I know Caroline Lucas will serve my constituents with energy and passion, as she has done for 10 years as our MEP.

To win voters over we’ll stay focussed on issues, policies and good old fashioned hard work. We’ll ignore the attacks – they’re a sign of policy weakness in my view – but we’ll rebut any falsehoods with vigour.

Categories
notes from JK

Organic flour has more minerals

Continuing tonight’s health theme, I wanted to post about some interesting data I’ve come upon. I followed up some letters published in the Soil Association’s Living Earth magazine.

The letters continued the debate over the FSA’s controversial report claiming no significant health benefits from eating organic. I’m not a food scientist but the terms and methods of the FSA report seemed destined for a narrow result which could be easily misinterpreted by the media. Though the pretty categorical wording of the FSA’s release helped the media along:

“there are no important differences in the nutrition content, or any additional health benefits, of organic food when compared with conventionally produced food”

What’s odd is that we’ve known for a long time that the mineral content in conventionally farmed produce has been declining. We also know that minerals are vital for maintaining our health. For example this 1997 paper shows how only Phosphorous has escaped significant decline over the fifty years between 1930s and 1980s whilst water content in fruit has increased significantly.

With financial support from some Soil Association members Peter Symonds, a chemist, analysed a variety of flours for their mineral content. Wholemeal, organic UK-grown flours were found to have by far the highest mineral levels for Selenium and Zinc. I’ve copied below the full data and comments from the chemist.

How we grow our food is important not just for the environment around us (e.g. fertilisers polluting our rivers) but for our longterm health. Mineral deficiencies can have long term debilitating health consequences. Sadly the government agency supposed to be championing healthy food is not just ignoring this issue but actively creating the impression the problem isn’t there!

[Full Data]

SELENIUM AND ZINC IN ORGANIC AND CONVENTIONALLY GROWN FLOUR.
January 2010

Hans Lobstein of Brighton and Ian Bowyer of Chelwood Gate, East Sussex,  members of the Soil Association,  have funded an initial consumer survey of white and wholemeal flour for bread making which is sold in England. The  brands Stoneground organic and Marriages organic which were grown in the UK have the highest amount of selenium than conventionally grown.

BRAND AND TYPE                     ORGANIC                   SELENIUM                 ZINC

ug/100 grams        mg/100 grams

Marriages       strong  white               yes                         20.0                         —

Stoneground   strong  wholemeal       yes                         18.0                         —

Marriages       strong  wholemeal        yes                        17.6                         3.4

Marriges         strong  white                no                         15.6                         3.3

Allinsons         strong  wholemeal        no                         11.6                         2.8

Carr                strong  wholemeal        no                         10.2                         —

Dove               strong  wholemeal        yes                         4.2                          —

Hovis               strong  white               no                           3.6                          —

Hovis               strong  wholemeal        no                           3.2                          —

Tesco              soft      white                no                           2.2                         0.8

Morrisons        soft      wholemeal         no                           2.0                         2.6

Dove               soft      wholemeal        yes                          1.0                         2.7

Carr                strong  white                no                           1.0                          —

I have a sneaking suspicion that supermarket own brand Organic will be found to be like the Dove organic rather than the Marriages and Stoneground organic.  The Marriages wholemeal is £ 1.35 per 1.5 kilogram while the supermarket own brand is about £ 1.  I fear that people who think they can get organic at lower price in the supermarket are being short changed overall.

Peter Symonds  B.Sc. C.CHEM. M.R.S.C.

pmsymonds@yahoo.co.uk

http://sites.google.com/site/apexanalytical

[Earlier notes accompanying initial results]

1st December 2009

FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY REPORT COMPARING ORGANIC AND CONVENTIONALLY GROWN FOOD.

The Food Standards Agency has published a report that reviewed some published literature. The report concluded that organic food was not more nutritious than conventionally grown.  Hans Lobstein, a member of the Soil Association,  has funded an initial survey of wholemeal and white flour for breadmaking sold in England. The  brands Stoneground organic and Marriages organic which were grown in the UK have and higher amounts selenium and zinc than conventionally grown, see table.  The Dove flour is derived from wheat grown in Kazakhstan.

The full consumer survey would involve testing other premium brands such as Hovis and McDougal and supermarket own brand Organic flour.

The survey could be further extended to testing for all trace elements.  These can be measured reasonably cheaply using a modern analytical instrument, X Ray Fluorescence,  which measures all trace elements in one go.

A final effort would involve choosing 10 conventional farms and 10 organic farms (matched for wheat variety, soil and climate) and testing the wheat for selenium and trace elements.

300 grams of Stoneground flour per day provides about 56 ug of Selenium while other foods provide about 30 ug per day. Brazil nuts have approx 1560 ug per 100 grams so a few grams of nuts would bring the daily intake to the lower end of the recommended, 100 to 200 ug per day,  all without taking a supplement.  The figure for Brazil nuts has not been found from analysing nuts in health food shops but taken from The Composition of Food by McCance and Widdowson.  Of course,  Brazil is a big place and the composition of nuts may vary across the country.

Peter Symonds     pmsymonds@yahoo.co.uk

http://sites.google.com/site/apexanalytical

Categories
current affairs

Is the apparent failure at Copenhagen really so bad?

Following news of the Copenhagen summit has been a roller coaster filled with false alarms, misinformation, consternation and uncertainty. Like many people, I was hoping for a binding agreement to dramatically reduce emissions, keep temperature rises below 2 degrees and support for developing nations. But now I’m not sure that was ever truly a realistic outcome.

Yes, it sounds like arrangements for this massive summit could have been better. Perhaps more could have been done in the preparatory meetings. But how likely was it that we were going to get nearly 200 countries of enormous diversity, development and political direction to agree on strong binding action to cut greenhouse gas emissions? It’s certainly unfair to compare COP15 with the Montreal Protocol process which successfully dealt with ozone hole causing gases such as CFCs.

The production and use of CFCs were nowhere as central to mainstream ‘developed’ lifestyles as greenhouse gases now are. And the key narrative behind the need for global binding action is that reducing emissions will hurt economies. As a result nobody wants to make the first move for risk of crippling their economic competitiveness.

I think this view needs challenging. If a recession is the time for public spending (and it is) then ambitious projects for improved rail, renewable energy sources, energy efficiency upgrades and more are what we need. They keep people in jobs, improve quality of life whilst addressing our need to reduce emissions.

What they also do is put nations in a much better place to cope with ever increasing fuel costs as well as supply uncertainty. Because if the threat of violent climate change isn’t enough to galvanise action, certainly fuel shortages and spiraling prices will be — these are proven political hot buttons for rapid action. Oil is running out, it’s just a matter of when.

So while a decent agreement at Copenhagen would have been welcome, on reflection I don’t think it was ever that likely. We’re instead going to have to rely on self-interest to get the job done. Countries are going to run out of things to burn soon and the last ones ready with renewable energy sources are going to be the ones to experience the most cost and pain. Politicians take note — voters don’t like not being able to heat their homes, cook their dinner or travel around their countries.

UPDATE: Let’s not forget that despite the Kyoto protocol being ‘legally binding’ most countries are way off meeting their Kyoto obligations.

Categories
notes from JK

Energy ratings for electric heaters?

There’s a room at the top of our house that gets really cold when the winds get blowing. It’s in a loft conversion, done by previous owners in around 2000. The good folks at Earthwise Construction checked it over and found minimal insulation in the dormer’s walls and roof. There is double glazing but not of a particularly high quality. Making all this good was going to be very expensive and the landlord wasn’t keen.

So I went shopping for an electric heater to help on those particularly cold days. What struck me was the absolute lack of clear labelling or information about the energy efficiency of these products. Looking online and in the usual DIY stores I found very different levels of information on each product. Many used Watts to refer to heat output, some also used Watts to refer to the electrical power usage of the device. Some did one or the other but didn’t specify if these were maximums or averages or something else. Others referred only to BTUs of heat output (that’s British Thermal Units) but not power usage.

Based on my A-level physics level of knowledge I wasn’t able to make easy energy efficiency comparisons between many of the choices. If there is a standard out there which I haven’t unearthed with my Googling, it’s certainly not apparent to the consumer.

Our older housing stock is going to be with us for a long time to come, regardless of whether any Green New Deal of sorts gets implemented. So people are going to need ‘top up’ heating in some rooms at least on colder days. Why not help them make the most efficient choices so they get the most heat per pound spent on electricity? We need a simple clear energy rating system for electric heaters – just like we see for other electrical goods these days.

A similar point is being made about car emissions and fuel efficiency by We Are FutureProof in this video:

Categories
notes from JK

Green response to Waste & Minerals Core Strategy

Today I submitted the Green Group of Councillor’s response to East Sussex and Brighton & Hove’s Waste & Minerals Core Strategy – Preferred Options consultation. In essence this consultation is a request for input on what the officers’ preferred strategies for handling waste and minerals in the area should be.

This strategy is highly dependent on Brighton & Hove’s own Municipal Waste Strategy which was also recently consulted on. It’s still in draft form, we don’t know what the City’s final strategy will look like. This summer we submitted our views on that strategy too.

In my view both of the drafts are deeply lacking in ambition. We could be making serious financial savings as well as reaping major environmental benefits, by a far more aggressive approach to waste. Simple things like garden green waste collections would shift up to 10% of municipal waste into the recycling column.

The Government are slowly beginning to get tougher on waste too… better late than never. They will be offering funds for ‘Zero Waste Areas’ as well as planning to ban certain materials from landfill altogether. We should be jumping onto that – we should have done years ago – again, better late than never!

The Green Group Waste & Minerals response [PDF]

Aiming for Zero Waste: Green Group response to the Municipal Waste Strategy [PDF]

You can view the Waste & Minerals Core Strategy either on the East Sussex Consultation Portal or in there Brighton & Hove Cabinet meeting papers [PDF]. The City’s draft Municipal Waste Strategy can be viewed here.

UPDATE: We didn’t address the issue of land raise specifically in the response, but I want to make clear that we do oppose the proposed introduction of land raise sites for waste disposal — especially in sensitive parts of our countryside as implied by the report.

Categories
current affairs

Brighton Primark Protest

This morning I had an early start to get out to Crown Street in Regency ward. I was joining residents who live around the large Brighton Primark on Western Road. For nearly two years their life has been blighted by deliveries through their small residential cul-de-sacs. Whilst most other businesses on Western Road take deliveries through loading bays at the front of their stores, Primark insist on using these side roads causing noise, vibrations and congestion.

Primark’s management have refused to enter into dialogue with residents or councillors. We’d had enough so decided to blockade their 8am Saturday morning product delivery. We hope to raise the profile of these issues ahead of a planning application from Primark being decided by the council’s planning committee this Wednesday 25th November, which includes delivery issues. We’re asking for a condition forcing Primark to take deliveries from the front like everyone else. Please lobby your councillors using WriteToThem.

See how our protest went:

A short report from BBC South East:

Update:
Some pictures of the protest by local resident Jane Dallaway are now on Flickr.

Categories
notes from JK

Dealing with green waste: Brighton & Hove vs the world

bulldozer_in_landfillI’m asking you to support a council-run green waste collection in Brighton & Hove with a pledge.

As some have noticed from my blogs and press work, I’m passionate about waste and recycling. I want to see Brighton & Hove at the forefront of best practice, aiming for zero waste. Unfortunately at the moment this is not the case, the city’s draft waste strategy has us planning to come in under the national targets for recycling and composting.

The first small step in trying to turn that around is arguing for a green waste collection in our city. This is something many people have called for, including the Older People’s Council, who rightly argue that many don’t have space to home compost, don’t have a car to drive waste to a collection point and can’t afford private pick-ups on a regular basis.

Based on what other councils provide, I expect we can provide a collection for a fee of around £50 a year. This would mean only those needing the service pay, it wouldn’t be supported by council tax, thus ensuring those without gardens aren’t paying for a service they can’t use.

To help convince the powers that be that this can be done I’m calling on everyone who’d like to use this service to pledge that they will sign up if we get the collections launched. Please signup at pledgebank.com/greenwaste and spread the word. Pledgebank wouldn’t let me specify the full area covered by the city, but if you live in Portslade, Hove, Brighton, Kemptown or Rottingdean then you can sign up.

To provide some context on what’s happening elsewhere and add to the pressure on the Council administration, here are some links:

Categories
notes from JK

Climate Change: It’s happening…

Share photos on twitter with Twitpic

Today is Blog Action Day 2009 and the theme is Climate Change. An easy one for me to support!

If you’re still in doubt then take a look at Google Earth’s climate change page (with intro narrated by the one and only Al Gore). Zac Goldsmith made an excellent point on Newsnight last night… that people are desperate for political leadership on this issue. I agree, but don’t think Cameron is the man to do it! Greenpeace made a similar point with their marvellous “Change the Politics, Save the Climate” action on Parliament.

Ways to take action: