Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Kept in the dark - then stuffed!

Our area learned what it’s like to be a chicken this week. We’ve been kept in the dark, then stuffed. Let me explain.

Last year, the Conservative-led government announced that it was cancelling the loan to Forgemasters in Sheffield. The investment would have made Forgemasters a global leader in very big castings, especially for the non-renewable energy sector. It would have created jobs, not just at Forgemasters but also at a large number of other local companies which are part of its supply chain. As it was a loan, repayable at a good interest rate, it would also have made a good profit for the government.

Government ministers – both Conservative and Liberal Democrat – gave all sorts of reasons for scrapping the loan. However, the all-party Select Committee, which thoroughly investigated what had happened, concluded that not a single one of those reasons stood up to scrutiny. Even worse, it discovered that the government had instead given the go-ahead to projects, which were both riskier and provided less value-for-money, like one located in a Liberal Democrat Minister’s constituency in the south of England.

Then, totally against the wishes of the local business sector, the Government announced it was scrapping the Regional Development Agencies, including Yorkshire Forward, as well as cutting the resources for local economic regeneration projects by 60%. Nick Clegg – clearly embarrassed by his shameful part in the Forgemasters’ decision – told us that our area would do well out of the new Regional Growth Fund.

Well, this week, we learned that Clegg’s promise on this had the same value as his promise on student fees.

First, we have been kept in the dark. With Yorkshire Forward, the criteria for choosing investments were transparent and the bids were public. Not only has the Government now refused to publish the criteria, it has even refused to publish the names of the bidders or the nature of the projects.

Secondly, our area has been stuffed. When the Government announced the successful bidders this week, from the massively reduced investment fund, there was not a single project from Derbyshire, Sheffield, Rotherham or Barnsley included.

Although the Government won’t tell us, I know that there were some excellent investment projects submitted from our area. Local people and local businesses will be totally justified in feeling that they’ve been mislead and treated with contempt.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Government Snubs Sheffield

Clive Betts MP today accused the Conservative-led government of snubbing Sheffield after Liberal Democrat Secretary of State for Business, Vince Cable, announced the successful bids for the Regional Growth Fund.

“It is amazing that not a single bid from a Sheffield company has been successful in securing support from the Regional Growth Fund.

I’m amazed, but not surprised, as the Government’s disgraceful treatment of the earlier Forgemaster’s bid demonstrated that Sheffield wasn’t going to get a fair deal.

All [Sheffield CC Leader] Councillor Scriven’s boasting about his hotline to Government Ministers on economic development resources has come to nought. It’s another kick in the teeth for Sheffield businesses and entrepreneurs.”

David Blunkett MP [Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough] said:

“This £1.4bn is a massive reduction on the amount that the former Labour government was giving to support economic development and regeneration in the area.

West Yorkshire seems to have done amazingly well out of a significantly smaller pot. But, it’s a massive disappointment for Sheffield and South Yorkshire.

I hope the outcome of the additional investment in Doncaster Airport will enable it to play a more significant part in the renewal of the regional economy as, to date, it has signally failed in that regard.

In his Local Enterprise Partnership Summit speech on 7 March 2011, the Chairman of the Sheffield City Region LEP, James Newman, said

‘Our City Region has been through a lot in the past and has not always been Government’s favourite. I am delighted to report that the tide has very much turned’

I hope his remarks do not turn out to be a triumph for hope over reality.”

Monday, 11 April 2011

Pickles talks rubbish

Rarely a weekend passes without Eric Pickles – the Conservative Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government – making a pronouncement about refuse collection. Pickles has even gone so far as to say that it is a ‘basic right’ for people to have their rubbish collected every week.

When I was young, most councils operated a ‘gold service’. Each week, the bin-man would come and find your dustbin from wherever you’d hidden it in the garden, take and empty it into the bin-lorry, and return the empty bin to its original location. Mind you, that didn’t stop lots of complaints that the bin hadn’t been returned to the precise location or that the lid was missing.

In the 1980s, three things happened to change all this.

First there was the concern about the environmental impact of landfill; there had been a dramatic growth in the amount of refuse and bigger and bigger holes were required to put it in – and some tips were leaking contaminants into land and water-courses.

Second, people became concerned about re-cycling. For the benefit of the environment and the economy, we needed to cut the amount of refuse. Some of this cut was to be achieved by recycling. A landfill tax has provided a big incentive to recycle and minimise waste.

Thirdly, as councils experienced the force of the Thatcher government’s cuts, they focused on the actual cost of collection. Neither the council nor the local ratepayer could afford the cost of the ‘gold service’. It was significantly cheaper to operate kerbside collections and that lead to the introduction of the wheelie-bin.

Those three pressures have continued to this day. Councils have found different ways of dealing with the issues, dependent upon their local circumstances. Most of Sheffield’s rubbish has been incinerated to provide heat and power for local homes, shops, offices and leisure centres. Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster are now busily exploring a similar scheme.

More than half the councils in the UK now operate either a two-weekly collection or an alternate week collection – recycling materials one week, general refuse the next – and some operate separate collections for garden materials. Given the cuts in council resources, it is inevitable that all councils will be considering further ways to cuts costs I refuse collection and disposal.

I like my weekly collection, but I have little time for Eric Pickles’ bluster on this issue. As the Daily Mail said this week “If Mr Pickles is unwilling to force councils to reinstate weekly collections — and he is not— he should not falsely raise people’s hopes."