Monday, 7 September 2015

How Beestonians can support municipal enterprise

Today I began the process of switching my gas and electricity supplier from Scottish Power to Robin Hood Energy, the new Nottingham City Council energy company, which started trading today. The only difference between now and the old pre-nationalisation days is that the City Council does not own the power stations, so they have to buy gas and electricity on 'the market', but by any measure it is a welcome, and enterprising, step in the right direction.

My projected annual saving is modest — £176 — but I know that my money is not going to pay directors and shareholders. The City Council's directors will not be paid and RHE is described as 'a not-for-profit' business. There are different tariffs for city council area residents, so I suspect they will get a better deal than me, but I am happy to be supporting a municipal enterprise.

I would like to see a return to municipalism across a whole range of services: public transport, primary health care, all utilities and housing, especially the latter. There is a limited role for specialist housing associations, but they have no role to play in the provision of general housing, and private landlords would disappear overnight if they had to 'compete' with municipal housing on the same terms and lost all their tax advantages.

From 1985 until 2006 I was a supported housing manager, both regionally and nationally, and saw how Thatcher and the Conservatives set about crippling local authority housing and effectively brought about the commercialisation of voluntary housing associations. I saw them 'professionalised' (like the voluntary sector in general) and watched as large pay increases for senior officers were justified on the grounds that to get the best staff the sector had to 'compete'. It was a spurious argument then and still is.

The money wasted by housing associations having to compete for proposed local  'social housing' developments over the years could have been better spent building homes. I have no idea how many housing associations operate in Broxtowe Borough or Nottingham City, but the duplication of services in this way cannot be justified by any measure.

I have already blogged about how Broxtowe Borough Council appears to have no interest in controlling private landlords, as witnessed by its irresponsible attitude towards houses in multi-occupation (HMOs). Perhaps now Labour is in opposition in Broxtowe, it might take more of interest in this issue. I hope so.

My favourite blog, which you can find in the right-hand column and its masthead at the top of this post, is Municipal Dreams. To use the site's own words:

Municipal Dreams celebrates the efforts and achievements of our early municipal reformers.
These men and women dreamed of a better world.  But this was a dream built in bricks and mortar; an idealism rooted in the practical power of the local state to transform lives and raise the condition of the people.
I believe that the legacy of our early municipal reformers is unjustly neglected and often unfairly maligned.  This is a modest attempt to record their story and set that record straight.
But I’m not naive.  There were failures and missteps as well as successes. Mistakes are made, real-world limitations intervene, times change – the road to a better future is never easy.  But at least that road was taken – however falteringly – and a better, fairer future striven for.
This isn’t a crudely party political blog but, at a time when the local state and directly provided public services  are under unprecedented attack, the lessons of the past seem relevant.  In other words, this is not an exercise in nostalgia but a reminder that it doesn’t have to be this way.
For the second time in my active political life, which began in 1959 when I was fifteen, I sense change is about (the first was 1964 and you have only to look at Labour's achievements under Wilson to realise he was second only to Attlee). There are those among us who are determined to destroy what hopes and ambitions we have. We must not let this happen. The best way to win is to be open, to be reasonable and to promote models of ownership and control based on local communities and not state capitalism, for that is what the old model of nationalisation was and remains.
We will know soon enough and Nottingham's Labour controlled city council, for all its shortcomings, is there, once again, showing a better way. 
Some have greatness thrust upon them. If the person I voted for in the Labour Party leadership ballot wins, we will have to stand shoulder to shoulder with him as he faces a media and establishment determined to bring about his downfall at the first opportunity.
Right now, give yourself a lift and get a quote for your gas and electricity from Robin Hood Energy. As someone said 'Every journey begins with one small step'. Let this be yours! a

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