The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is standing over 300 candidates in the elections on 6 May. Protecting the environment will be a key issue in the various election campaigns. Below is an edited version of a statement produced by TUSC on the question of a green manifesto for councils
The question of councils taking decisive action on climate change is closely tied to the question of opposing and reversing years of cuts in council budgets.
However, there are a range of measures open to councils on environmental matters that can help promote the issue of climate change in limited but practical ways, and build local support for campaigns to secure the public investment for the social housing, transport, community-based and climate projects needed to support and revive working-class communities.
Many of the council powers in relation to climate and the environment have been applied in a limited way and the extent of some of these powers are largely untested.
Two-thirds of local councils (district, county, unitary and metropolitan) have declared a climate emergency. But it is vital that climate emergency announcements are not just lip service and lead to real action.
Elected councillors, trade unions, environmental groups and campaigners’ efforts will be fundamental to holding councils accountable through public pressure to translate paper targets into concrete action.
Although the Climate Change Act did not include a statutory duty for local authorities to set carbon reduction targets, again, public pressure will be needed for councils to set targets based on the carbon footprint not just of council-run services but capturing total emissions for their area.
This is the starting point for drawing up local climate emergency plans. But individual councils will need to link up to campaign for the funding needed for climate action.
Councils can ensure they buy green energy for their premises and ensure their pension funds disinvest from fossil fuels.
The chronic underfunding, legal market testing obligations and a deregulated transport system are serious obstacles to extending a green, affordable and integrated system of local public transport.
But councils still have powers over emissions from buses and taxi licensing and road building schemes. They have responsibilities for road maintenance and for creating usable and safe cycle routes.
Councils could use their borrowing powers to fund the development of tram networks, electric charging points and, of equal importance, funding a programme of energy efficiency through the street-by-street insulation of every home in their council area: with the advantage of reducing domestic energy use, reducing fuel bills and creating much needed jobs.
Councils will need to take the lead in monitoring and reducing air pollution and could work with the union Unite and Hazards UK which have produced important practical and campaign advice.
Not all local authority land is registered, but will be by 2025. Despite the sale of council land in recent years, councils retain a high level of land ownership. This opens up the prospect of improving parks, nature reserves, sport facilities, local farmer and food markets, tree planting programmes and accessible public green spaces.
Councils have powers in enforcing environmental standards in public and private housing and buildings. The Green Building Council confirms that local authorities are not restricted in their ability to require energy efficiency standards above building regulations. These powers can be enforced in new builds and the social housing programmes for which TUSC stands.
The fight against the continued privatising of local services and bringing services back under public council control is an important part of the TUSC election platform. Councils have powers in setting conditions for procurement and the regulation of contracts with suppliers which should cover good employment conditions, union recognition, service standards – and environmental and ethical practices.
TUSC councillors would work with trade unions to build support for a public campaign to oppose and reverse cuts in council budgets and draw up local climate emergency plans that create jobs and reduce emissions.
While many of these council powers will need to be tested in practice, they will need to be accompanied by a mobilisation of public support for campaigns, alongside other councils wherever possible, to reverse the endless cuts in the living standards of working-class families and secure the funding for social and climate projects as part of the socialist alternative offered by TUSC.
Why the Greens are not an anti-austerity alternative
Nick Chaffey, Socialist Party national committee
With Keir Starmer swinging Labour sharply to the right, support for the Green Party in the polls has risen in recent months. But what do they do when in power? Recent events in Brighton show they offer no alternative to austerity.
The fact that the Green’s budget was voted for by the Labour and Tory councillors in Brighton tells you enough. Smaller-in-scale cuts are still cuts: another £1 million and 30 more jobs cut this year, with a further round of £10-13 million cuts next year shows that the Green Party has no strategy to confront austerity or capitalist crisis.
Out campaigning for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in the by-election in Holligdean and Stanmer, we have met a lot of anger at cuts, the impossible level of rents, and the impact of Covid austerity on jobs and poverty. Benefit claimants rose from 5,880 in March 2020 to 14,000 by the end of the year. Youth unemployment has risen 180%.
Councils face an urgent task to meet the needs of working-class communities hit hardest by the pandemic, including the vulnerable, the young and the elderly.
Rather than fight for a no-cuts budget and demand the government funding needed, the Greens supported the transfer of the local domestic violence service RISE, and its £5 million budget, to a corporate housing organisation with no experience in the field. Surely bringing this service back in-house would have been the better option, alongside other privatised services?
Voted against own budget
The Brighton Green Party ran the council from 2011 to 2015, but has learnt nothing from that experience which led to six Green councillors opposed to cuts voting against their own budget.
As TUSC outlined at the time, and continues to reiterate now, the only way to reverse the cuts is to set a budget based on the needs of Brighton, drawn up by the council trade unions and local communities, and demand that the government fund it. Launching a programme of building affordable council housing, setting rent controls in the city and building mass tenants’ organisations would be hugely popular.
Such a stand would receive massive support and put this weak government under enormous pressure to retreat. It would light a torch for others to follow across the country.
We have found enthusiasm for our programme from many of the people we have discussed with in recent weeks. Our candidate, young worker Rob Somerton-Jones, has won support from many angry young people who are getting politically active.
Brighton has seen huge Black Lives Matter protests and weeks of ‘Kill the Bill’ demos for the right to protest. There has been a huge response in support of RISE, strikes at Brighton University against job cuts, and a determined campaign to stop the academisation of Moulsecoomb primary school.
Brighton has a fighting tradition that is clearly visible. A fight by the council now that united all this anger, focused around a needs budget that set out to tackle these issues, would get a tremendous repose. But only socialist policies point the way forward.
As we have said before: you need to be red to be green.
Don’t go into the water – it’s full of shit!
Dave Carr, East London Socialist Party
In the blockbuster movie ‘Jaws’, where a small coastal community is menaced by a great white shark, the film’s tag-line is: “Don’t go into the water”.
Today, in Britain, that warning should be resurrected. Not because of a lurking marine monster, but because our waterways are being choked by an even bigger threat – raw sewage!
The scale of this pollution is staggering, with thousands of tonnes of it being illegally discharged by privately owned water companies (more than 400,000 discharges last year).
The water quality of Britain’s rivers and lakes has catastrophically slumped in the last five years. According to the government’s Environment Agency (EA), all of our rivers and lakes are polluted beyond legal limits. Yet the EA has only prosecuted 174 cases of illegal discharges in the last decade.
As well as privately owned water companies continuing to dump raw untreated sewage into rivers, this ecological disaster is also due to fertiliser run-off – typically from mega-farms – and illegal chemical discharges from businesses.
According to environmentalist George Monbiot: “The entire river [Wye] stinks of chicken shit, from the ten million birds being reared in the catchment.”
The highly profitable water industry, privatised by the Tory Thatcher government, extracts so much groundwater that feeds our rivers that many chalk streams and rivers face extinction.
Of course, it’s easier for the water companies to extract groundwater than spend money repairing water infrastructure (three billion litres of water is lost through leaking pipes every day), repairing and replacing old sewage systems, and building new reservoirs (dozens have been sold off following privatisation).
Tory government cuts have meant the EA and its parent Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs aren’t sufficiently monitoring or prosecuting illegal discharges of chemicals from companies and agribusiness. In 2016, 97% of rivers were described as being in good chemical health. In 2019, the figure was 0%!
And this river pollution doesn’t only mean dead fish. Toxic chemicals leaking into the environment have been linked to an increase of cases of human diseases.
After 4,000 people signed a petition, Oxford City council applied for a section of the river Thames to have ‘bathing water status’ in order to stop Thames Water discharging raw sewage into it. In 2019, in Oxford, raw sewage was dumped into the Thames on the equivalent of 82 days.
In 2018 the Tory government set out its 25-year plan to clean up the environment, including ‘clean and plentiful water’. However, none of its targets are likely to be achieved. The best that can be hoped for is that this policy paper is recycled!
Private ownership of the water industry has been an unmitigated disaster and threatens public health. It must be renationalised with no compensation to fat-cat shareholders. But given the connivance of capitalist governments with the polluters, it’s also abundantly clear we need a workers’ government to protect the interests of the majority.