We have been working hard since the May 2019 elections resulted in a no overall control Council with 4 Green Party councillors in the position to influence how the Council would be run. Our choice was between a coalition with the Lib Dems to create a stable majority that can push on with a positive programme to tackle the climate emergency and improve equality in the city or some kind of arrangement with Labour which would still be in a minority and dependent on the votes of a small number of remaining Tory councillors for an overall majority. Options for a ‘grand coalition’ of all three parties were explored at our prompting but didn’t get anywhere.
The agreement with the Lib Dems means that Guildhall Green councillor, Denise Craghill is now Executive Member for Housing and Safer Neighbourhoods and Fishergate Green councillorAndy D’Agorne is Executive Member for Transport and Deputy Leader of the Council. Since May a lot of negotiating, briefing and learning has been going on. We have agreed a joint programme with the Lib Dems which is forming the basis for the new Council Plan, which will underpin Council policies and actions over the next 4 years – and will have the climate emergency and improving equality in York at its heart. This will go out to public consultation in August/September and be finalised in October and will dovetail with public consultation on the next full Council budget for April 2020- Mar 2021, which will start in November.
We also agreed to set up a new Climate Change Scrutiny Committee, which will be chaired by Lib Dem councillor Christian Vassie with Green Micklegate councillor Rosie Alice Baker as vice-chair. This will focus on recommendations to implement the Green’s Climate Emergency motion passed almost unanimously by Full Council in March. The committee’s first meeting will be in September and it will be aiming to be an active, open committee that involves as many people and organisations as possible in tackling the climate emergency. At the same time, Green Fishergate councillor Dave Taylor continues to chair the Children, Young People and Communities Scrutiny Committee.
In the meantime some progress is already being made in other ways. The Green Lib Dem coalition brought an interim or emergency budget to the first Full Council of the new Council term on 17th July. This included £1 million extra investment in walking and cycling, a new Sustainability Officer post to lead our response to the Climate Emergency; £1m extra investment in Decent Homes standard work on Council houses + £1m on improving the energy efficiency of Council houses; £800k additional investment in social services and £130k for helping the transition to a Housing First model + more 24/7 supported housing for homeless people with mental health issues (matched funded by NHS) – amongst quite a lot of other things. An extra £100k will go towards financial inclusion work including support for the food poverty hubs which are being developed around the city. There was also £250k additional funding for wards to spend locally – this was a key element of the Lib Dem parts of the coalition budget but one we also supported. This is money that can be usefully used by active ward councillors to help empower communities and support local actions such as food poverty initiatives, events and activities to tackle loneliness and much more.
The Labour Group naturally put forward their own amendment to the interim budget motion. The main change that they proposed was to delete the extra £250,000 for ward based projects and allocate it in different ways, as well as changing the description of the additional capital funding for Council housing but effectively allocating much the same amount in much the same way – the concern about damp homes is certainly something we share with them and why we allocated more funds to this area of work. Basically Labour knew their budget wouldn’t pass and were using it to put ‘messages’ across – we don’t blame them for that but we would far rather work cooperatively with them – and are actually doing so on a number of issues already. Clearly the Greens couldn’t support the Labour budget amendment as it would have meant the end of our coalition at the first hurdle, leaving the Council with no overall control. No one would have expected us to support it. We were very clear though that we felt there were good ideas in the Labour amendment and we are certainly happy to consider including them in the next full budget in Feb 2020.
Council decisions don’t only happen in Full Council though. We have an Executive System at present which means some things are decided via other meetings. Some very positive work is underway which will mean that future Council house building will reach zero carbon standards and hopefully start to set the standard throughout the city. We are also looking at retrofit for Council and private housing and how we can use the planning system more effectively for sustainability and affordability. We are looking at how we can work across the city to promote local sustainable construction skills and green jobs … and much more. A ‘governance review’ (ie, looking at different options for Council decision-making) is also part of our agreement.
We welcome your thoughts and questions – though if we get loads forgive us if it takes a little while to answer! We are very busy!