Sunday, April 15, 2007

Catch up - conference, pensions, Barcelona

Been rather silent on the blogging front lately; had a busy couple of weeks before Easter with meetings most evenings, then Green Party Conference in Swansea, then loads more meetings, including council AGM, then a quick trip to visit my newborn niece (Jessica Rose) in Suffolk and to help out Norwich Greens with their election campaign for a day, then Barcelona for a week over Easter to visit Nigel. Been catching up on things since then and normal blogging service will resume shortly!

Green Party Conference

Green Party Conference was interesting, with debate on the Severn Barrage/Swansea Lagoon (what with it being in Swansea), the leadership debate (should we have one or not and if so, what powers, if any, should they have), we updated our international policy (which had some embarrassingly out-of-date bits about the handover of Hong Kong etc in it), I went to a fringe about voting systems and PR (proportional representation) led by Malcolm Clark from Make Votes Count, helped lead a 'green bloggers' fringe with Jim and Natalie (was nice to meet a few fellow green bloggers I hadn't met before such as Philip and Jim too). Was very inspired by a panel discussion about environmental education and sustainability in schools - Wales, in particular Swansea, seems to be streets ahead of England in some ways with this (every school in Swansea gets their recycling collected for free, unlike in Lewisham). Also found out a bit more about Transition Towns. Anyway conference was weeks ago and it was amply covered at the time here and here.

Pensions Investment Committee
Couple of interesting meetings before Easter. Lewisham Council's Pensions Investment Committee meeting (of which I'm a member) had presentations from Fair Pensions and the Local Authority Pensions Fund Forum (LAPFF) at my request. The committee agreed to join the LAPFF and to survey members of the pension fund (of which there are lots, as the council is the largest employer in Lewisham) about their views on socially responsible investment. As trustees of the pension fund we have a primary fiduciary duty, which means we must place the financial interests of the fund and its members above all else. However, Alex van der Velden from Fair Pensions argued that we would be failing to do this if we didn't scrutinise companies' behaviour on social and environmental issues, as companies risk losing money through reputation damage if they don't take account of 'ethical' issues (eg an oil company with poor safety standards being responsible for an environmentally-catastrophic leak, a sportswear company found to be sourcing its clothes from sweatshops or an arms company revealed to be bribing corrupt officials in dodgy regimes to buy its goods).

We also have a duty to take into consideration the moral views of our members, so if, for example, 90% of respondants to our survey said they didn't want us to invest their pension money in tobacco, there would be grounds for us to disinvest. Anyway, I was pleased with the outcome of the meeting - while the pension fund continues to invest in sectors I'd rather my pension didn't invest in, I think joining the LAPFF and surveying members' views are both steps in the right direction.

Mayor's Commission on Empowering Communities and Neighbourhoods
Another meeting before Easter worth mentioning was the Mayor's Commission on Empowering Communities and Neighbourhoods (catchy title, huh?). After a few meetings hearing evidence and discussing communities and neighbourhoods in general, we are now looking at the nitty gritty of how we would like to change the way the council and elected representatives engage with residents, and in particular whether to change the existing area forums. General consensus at the meeting seemed to be to move towards regular ward based forums, with larger spending powers, rather than the existing 3-ward forums. I think this is a good idea and look forward to seeing what is proposed.

Did the journey by train again, which was fine, but cost me an arm and a leg as all the cheaper tickets had sold out weeks in advance. Once again I was very impressed by how cyclist-friendly the city is. They have just launched a new bike hire scheme, Bicing, to encourage people to cycle around the city. Basically, you pay €24 subscription for the year, then you can borrow a bike for only 30 cents for half an hour, rising to €3 an hour after 2 hours (the scheme is designed for short journeys of less than an hour around the city, you use one of the other bike hire shops for longer periods). They are still rolling the service out, but there will soon be 100 bike stations around the city with 1,500 bikes to hire. I think how it works is that when you register and get your card, which unlocks the bikes, you give your credit card details and are charged according to your use. Sounds like an excellent idea - we should have a similar scheme in London! (Darren, Jenny - Green group budget proposal for next year?!)


max said...

Changes to the Area Forum, why not make them work to their full extent as they have an incredible power that has never been publicized before thinking of changing them?

It is unforgivable that since the Area Forum have existed (and that is a few years now) nobody ever thought of publicizing the fact that they can place items in the Mayor's Agenda.

This is a massive feature of our constitution and I don't know of any initiative ever taken to make people aware of it.

We have been kept in ingnorance.

I hope that you'll fight to keep this feature alive and to make people aware of this right.

I also hope that you'll sign my petition asking the Mayor to respect the Constitution.

The item that was approved at the Area Forum for Lewisham Central, Lee Green and Blackheath on 20th March is not in the Agenda and nobody can explain why.

Anonymous said...

Hi Max
Have to say I wasn't aware of this either until you brought it to my attention. What page of the (357 paged) constitution are you looking at?

Best wishes


max said...

page 120:
"Who can put items on the agenda for a meeting of the Executive"

(a) The Mayor
(b) Any member of the Executive
(f) Area forums


I was shocked when I read it, it was the day of my Area Forum so I wrote an item, went there, spoke with Chair and Officers, had a vote, won it and now he item should be on the Agenda.
Only that it's not.
If you think of it it makes sense, all this speaking of empowering communities and all that and with this reform of the Executive Mayor Councils lost a lot of power. It has been balanced out by this article but it has never been made to work.
And check this test-case how they react.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Max, will bear this in mind for next meeting of Mayoral Commission.

max said...

It would be good if Lewisham Life would inform the residents of this right.

Why is this commission called the Mayor's commission rather than Council's? Is he paying out of his own pocket?

Adrian Windisch said...

It was an enjoyable conference, always so much happening its difficult to follow it all. It was nice to meet some fellow bloggers,
my local party has one at
and I have my own at
Also nice to meet a friend from myspace