@ExeterPound – a different view of #Exeter

Exeter Pound selfie board
Exeter Pound selfie board

One of the problems we have as a City Council is we are always known for the big projects.

Purpose built student housing rather than delivering social housing.

Just this month Exeter City Councill finished building 14 Council-Own Build 3 bed homes. Built to high energy and environmental standards – the highly respected Passivhaus standard.

And that’s in addition to over 500 other social homes since 2009 – the majority for social rent – rather than the poorly named “affordable” rent. Again, there are more being built at the moment, and ambitious plans for the future.

And the day after I attended the preview night at John Lewis, I was less than 50m away at the launch of the Devon and Cornwall Food Association’s first home in Sidwell Street.

But it was when I was at the launch of the Exeter Trials maps at the Exeter Phoenix that it finally dawned on me – if each of the 100 indpendent businesses on the trial employed on average 3.5 people, the independent section in Exeter is bigger than John Lewis.

We don’t say that enough, so I’ll say it again.

The 101 businesses on the Exeter Trials employ more people than John Lewis.

And we know that Trail doesn’t include all the independents in the city – there are many many more of them trading all around our great city.

I want to help those independents and you  connect and engage with local communities

And I want to connect individuals to a wider variety of local, independent businesses in a colourful and engaging way.

In a way that can strengthening Exeter’s local economic character.

And in a way that can build financial and economic resilience.

A report by the New Economics Foundation highlights £1 spent in a local business creates £1.73 value for the local economy, but only 35p spent in a national supermarket chain

[New Economics Foundation The Money Trial]

Last year I was pleased that Exeter City Council Corporate Plan – Building a stronger sustainable city – promised to
“support the development of Exeter Pound to benefit local businesses”

And just 2 months ago, I and my labour colleagues were elected with a stronger commitment contained within our manifesto pledge to
“Support the development of the Exeter Pound local currency to support local businesses and independent traders.”

I believe it’s the way forward – so much so that I’ve already said that I will take a percentage of my Councillor allowance of £4500 per year in Exeter Pounds.

And that’s why I have agreed to join the board of Exeter Pound from next month

The Exeter Pound will foster stronger community connections, helping to bring together local consumers, businesses and suppliers who share a common interest: putting people and place over profits.

We want to celebrate Exeter’s rich history, culture and diversity, and recognize the need to look after our environment for future generations.

We’re all on a journey…

It’s a journey that I’ve enjoyed so, and I’m aware that one’s destination is never a place but a new way of seeing things.

The Exeter Pound is this city’s new way of seeing things.

Come and look at the city from out point of view

#SaveILF | Some musings on the Independent Living Fund

I’ve long supported the aims of Disabled People Against the Cuts [DPAC] and I am proud that now I been accepted as a Full Member.

Last week, I joined their Day of Action in London when they were protesting against Maximus taking over the contract for the notorious Work Capability Assessment.

And I’ve campaigned with them the save the Independent Living Fund.

I contacted key people within the Labour Party to ensure that in the short term, the 17,000 in the ILF user group continue to be supported.

I believe this means that when funding is transferred to top-tier local authorities at the end of June 2015, they are ring-fenced to continue to support the current user group.

I hope and believe that an incoming Labour Government would deliver guidance on this matter as a matter of urgency asap after 7 May.

In the medium term, there needs to be protection for existing ILF users and care packages need to be monitored to ensure the needs of current ILF users are continued to be met by local authorities.

But I have a long-term goal – that Independent Living is mainstreamed within the plans for broader integration of health and social care.

Independent Living needs to be on the agenda across all Government departments

It is self-evident that in recent years, other areas of  support for Independent Living  have been under consistent attack by the coalition including
– employment (closing Remploy, undermining Access to Work and the Work Programme’s poor success rate at securing disabled people work at just 7%);
– education (planning to abolish Disabled Student Allowances, hiking fees, increasing the number of unqualified education staff when TAs often support disabled pupils);
– welfare (changes to cut DLA budget by 20% and 440,000 hit with bedroom tax);
– health (esp mental health service cuts); and
– local govt (leaving some councils cutting care services)

As a grassroots Labour Party activist, I am optimistic that as we approach the General Election more will be heard on many, if not all, these points.

#EXallotments – Plant dreams, grow miracles

Out and about earlier today delivering Cowick newsletters, I saw this sign on a garden gate:

Sign on garden gate in Little John's Cross Hill
Sign on garden gate on Little John’s Cross Hill

I hope it’s an omen for tonight’s Exeter City Council Allotments Pre-Forum meeting!

But why a such a meeting?

For many years, the Allotments Service run by Exeter City Council was run in an archaic and dysfunctional way. It was  in need of a root and branch overhaul to modernise the way the service was delivered. I hoped that the end result would be a suitable, sustainable and well-managed service/

A consultation exercise, Securing the future for allotments,  was carried out over the summer of 2014.

As Member Champion for Community Engagement, I had t the desire that it would initiate meaningful conversations on the future of allotments in the city, and lead to engagement between stakeholders in organised conversations.

Oh, if only!

There were problems contacting all allotment tenants  (for some of those archaic and dysfunctional reasons, ECC didn’t hold a database of all allotment holders for one!). As a result, Chinese whispers spread fear and distrust like wild fire.

The Express & Echo published an article, Exeter allotment holders say livelihoods ‘at risk’ under city council proposals to save £43,000 on 16/07/14 which led to several conversations on Twitter.

I and many other councillors attended site meetings (I spent 12/07/14 on 2 sites – Guys & Hilton, and Cowick Lane) where I met with users of allotments. I was keen to point out that the the proposals set out in the consultation document were just that – IDEAS!

But one of the concerns I heard at these meetings was  the fear that ECC were looking to sell off some of the sites for development.

I was able to pont out that the manifesto that Exeter Labour Party had fought the May 2014 on contained the following commitment:
A Green & Healthy City
The need for housing puts growing pressure on our urban green spaces while rising energy prices and the consequences of Climate Change create new challenges for keeping our growing population healthy, happy and prepared for the future. We will:
– protect existing allotments, look for opportunities to provide new allotments and explore the use of public open spaces for community food production.

That seemed to allay many of the fears!

And there were further meetings, with representatives of allotment associations.

It was at one of these meetings with an allotment association that I planted a small seed – why not have an Allotment Forum?  ECC has already set up a Mobile Homes Residents Forum – it’s given a voice to a former hidden community, and has worked for the common good of both the Council and the residents on park home sites.

I  continued to mention this idea at any meeting with anyone connected with allotments…

The consultation concluded with a report that went to Scrutiny Committee: Community on 09/09/14.

Alongside this report came a series of questions to the Portfolio Holder responsible for Allotments (and a lot else besides!), Cllr Keith Owen

“Given the difficulty in conducting a consultation on allotment services, a difficulty acknowledged in the Report to Scrutiny Committee (9.3 refers), and given the diversity of experience of the allotment service across the City’s 26 allotment sites, would the Committee support the creation of a user-based Forum with representatives from all the sites to provide not only a helpful channel of communication between the Council and the allotment gardeners, but to highlight best practice, ensure information reaches all tenants, and establish a representative user-group which would assist in the monitoring of the proposed changes over the 2 year period referred to in 13.2, and engage with a further review at the end of that period?”

Keith agreed: ” Yes : All these suggestions seem entirely positive and reasonable”.

And during the discussions on the report, he stated he welcomed the suggestion of establishing an Allotment Users’ Forum.

My contributions to the discussions can be found HERE.

As a result I proposed the following recommendation to be added to the list outlined in the report:
10) An Allotment Users’ Forum be established in liaison with the Allotment Bodies.

So, with a lot of to-ing and fro-ing (including this open e-mail) about how the Forum would work, we come to tonight’s meeting – a meeting to discuss the creation of a city-wide  Allotment Users Forum, including deciding upon the format of that forum and the general terms of reference that might direct its purpose.

Invitations were extended to Allotment Associations and individuals had expressed an interest in being involved  to represent their site. A a result some 30 councillors, Council officers and allotment users attended the meeting at St David’s Community Centre.

After initial introductions, Cllr Keith Owen gave a presentation detailing the most recent history of the allotment service and the reasons behind the need for change.

He admitted that he recent review was prompted by the current financial situation and the need for the Council to save £4m across all services over the next 3 years – but he confirmed that NONE of these savings will come from the Allotments Service.

Keith re-affirmed the council’s continued commitment to allotment and the desire to better manage and expand the current allotment stock.

Indeed, allotments formed part of the process of planning applications in an effort to make allotment available in those areas under development. There was also a positive move to identify areas that could be converted to allotment use and current ‘park and open space land’ was being actively considered.

The meeting went on to discuss the terms of reference and composition of the Forum.

A small group of representatives was asked to draw up a DRAFT terms of reference ahead of the first meeting of the Forum – Cllr Keith Owen (as Portfolio Holder), Cllr Heather Morris (with here experience as Chair of Mobile Homes Residents Forum), Roger Crane (ECC officer) and Beck Wells (Secretary of St Thomas Allotments Association).

It was by common agreement that the Forum would consist of DELEGATES (as opposed to representatives) of each allotment site (26 of them across the city), all councillors, Keith as Portfolio Holder and ECC officers responsible for allotments.

allotments_map_1

As someone that helped plant that initial seed, I’m now beginning to see the first sightings of green shoots. I can’t wait to see this flourish.

Solar PV panels on Exeter’s city council car parks

It’s always risky claiming to be the first…with 14 men and 13 women as part of the ruling Exeter Labour Group on the 40 member Exeter City,  Council, I believe that we are one of the first to come close to 50:50 parity. Each and every time, I take care to qualify this claim.

So when I read on the website of Association of Green Councillors:
05 December 2014
Green councillor wins £200k for Britain’s first solar car park
alarm bells start ringing.

I started to read the article and notice Green councillor Simon Grover on St Albans Council is a little more cautious in describing his victory at the annual budget setting meeting on 03 December 2014 , where he as 1 of 29 who voted through an amendment that approved £200,000 investment in solar PV units for council-owned open air car parks (with a majority of one).

Simon said: “I am not aware of any other UK council car parks that use these, though there will be privately-run ones.”

And he went on to say  that this would be “subject to all the usual planning and costing checks, but work should start..next year.”

But I KNOW that St Alban isn’t the first local authority to place solar PV panels on the top decks of their car parks.

Exeter City Council started to install solar PV panels on the roofs of Council building in March 2013, and by April 2013 Exeter Labour Party were already considering schemes for placing solar panels on other buildings including building canopies above the top deck of car parks.

I sit on Exeter City Council’s Scrutiny Committee: Resources which considered at it’s meeting on 19 March 2014 a reported entitled “An Energy Neutral Council – A Renewables and Energy Efficient Programme

The purpose of the report was “To support a programme of renewable and energy saving initiatives that will assist in the delivery of corporate priorities around improving the environment and maintaining the assets of the city as well as providing essential income and long term savings to the Council.”

The Resources Committee agreed to the recommendations and the report moved on to be considered at the Executive meeting of 01 April 2014.

They RESOLVED that:
(1) progress made to date in delivering renewable and energy efficient initiatives be noted;
(2) proposed new initiatives, included in Phase I and II as set out in the report be endorsed;
(3) the Corporate Manager Property, in consultation with the Portfolio Holder Enabling Services, Deputy Chief Executive and Assistant Director Finance be authorised to approve delivery of further energy saving projects within the Capital Programme funding allocation; and
(4) progress and outcomes of the programme be reported to Scrutiny Committee – Resources on a regular basis.

One of the first ideas to be explored was to  progress the earlier plans to install solar PV panels on the City Council’s car parks.

The plans were reported in the E&E – City Council plans to fit solar panels to Exeter car parks (27 March 2014)

The plans were outlined in an article in E&E in Council plans more than 1000 solar panels over Exeter’s car parks in ‘ground breaking project’ (04 November 2014).

The Planning Committee held on 08 December 2014 considered 2 applications:

14/4623/16:  Installation of photovoltaic solar panels on the top deck of John Lewis multi-storey car park.

14/4624/16:  Installation of photovoltaic solar panels on the top deck of Mary Arches multi-storey car park. 

and both were approved.

So I’m not going to claim that Exeter City Council will be the first local authority to install solar PV panels in our owns car parks – but we are certainly in their with the vanguard with our ground breaking plans.