Jobs, a Green Recovery and our National Story

‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ seems to have become the 1997-esq Labour Party mantra of the Covid-era. The economic impact of Covid-19 has left over 500,000 young people out of work and nearly 2 million working age people unemployed nationally, so the sentiment behind our message is on point.

That being said, ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs’ can’t mean a new supermarket for every town, or an entirely digital future which I fear would produce an economy built on sand. Our new mantra must create good meaningful work which moves us away from the society theorised by David Graeber in ‘Bullshit Jobs’. It seems obvious to me that we should tread the path of a ‘green recovery’ from the pandemic, investing in job creation across sectors such as manufacturing, construction, energy production and agriculture.

I probably have very few if any of the answers that the Labour Party needs, but it seems to me that we should embark upon a pragmatic retelling of our national story that empowers and fundamentally employs communities in meaningful green work.

Part of the problem at present is that many jobs offer little by way of emotional or motivational reward, there are millions of people working just to live. I would argue that social structures in the UK perpetuate the use of individuals as a means to drive economic growth which, in turn devalues and undermines their Labour – giving many a sense of worthlessness. A good contrast to this would be to look at the world of work during times of war. Though it was hard in the factories and working the land, people felt they were contributing rather than being used in the war effort. Their work had meaning and national importance. They were part of something bigger.

The pandemic provides us with a unique opportunity to change the drivers of our economy and to create jobs which offer individuals well paid work of value that contributes to wider society. Retelling our national story means bringing people back in from the cold across rural areas and those hit hardest by the pandemic, providing the skills training necessary for them to shape our future and a new national identity rooted in green industries.

Whilst Labour have spoken about a retraining programme it doesn’t go far enough. A recent document from Friends of the Earth “An emergency plan on green jobs for young people” suggests a £40 billion green infrastructure programme creating 1 million jobs, and a £10 billion a year scheme to create 250,000 green apprenticeships in England and Wales is necessary. This may seem like a colossal investment, but the same document outlines that 1 year at the current rate of youth unemployment could cost up to £39 billion in wage scarring across local economies.

At present, adaptations for climate change and the ‘green agenda’ feel like an inconvenience, or something unimportant to many. This is especially true in more deprived areas. It is perceived as a middle-class problem and our policies thus far have failed to resonate with the working-classes – unsurprisingly people do not want to hear about trees, solar panels, and electric vehicle infrastructure when they can’t afford to feed their children.

However, as we stare down the barrel of a once-in-a-lifetime simultaneous employment and environmental crisis, now is the time to marry up our green ambitions with the economic needs of the nation. Putting the emphasis on decent work for decent pay with ‘saving our planet in the process’ as a by-line is the way to bring people with us. If we fail to offer ‘real’ work that includes people in the national story, there is a risk of disenfranchising millions of people from our journey as we rebuild Britain and reconfigure society.

World Wildlife Day 2021

This letter was published in The Barking and Dagenham Post on Wednesday 3 March 2021.

Wednesday 3 March is World Wildlife Day. As I sit down to write this letter the sun is shining, and the daffodils are in bloom adding a splash of colour to Barking and Dagenham. Soon we will be greeted by tulips, bluebells and blossom. All signs that whilst our lives have undergone huge change, the world continues to turn.

Last year many of us discovered for the first time, that nature can have a profoundly positive impact on our physical and mental well-being. When inner city families had only concrete jungles for exercise, we in Barking and Dagenham had award-winning parks to explore. Adding to this, the council embarked on an ambitious planting project which delivered the ‘Forest of Thanks’ – 32,000 trees in Parsloes Park for future generations to enjoy.

We share our borough with a diverse range of wildlife, from the newts in our ponds and the kingfishers along our streams, to the pied wagtails in our carparks. As lockdown eases and we slip back into old routines I hope residents will continue to explore the outdoors. Take a moment and you may be surprised to find there are natural marvels in the most unexpected of places.

World Wildlife Day also provides an opportunity to recognise that we are part of something bigger, and that the choices we make locally have a ripple effect across the country and beyond. Faced with a climate and ecological crisis, the decisions we make in Barking and Dagenham this year both as individuals and as a community could not be more important.

Councillor Andrew AchilleosMember Champion for Climate Change

Member Champion for Climate Change Update

The following update was delivered at Full Assembly on 30 September 2020.

Climate change and wider environmental issues such as biodiversity loss and air quality are my passions, and in the short space of four months I have already started to work on some exciting projects across the borough, which I look forward to updating colleagues on throughout the coming year as things take shape.

Often when people think of climate change and the environment, they think of fossil fuels, trees, wildlife, pollinators etc. all crucial things to consider, but actually it goes wider and is more deep rooted into our everyday lives than that.

It’s the developments we build, it’s the products we buy, the way we travel and the things we eat.

Historically when people think of Barking and Dagenham they think of Ford and industry, but in the future, I want to see the Leader’s vision realised where our borough is seen as ‘the green capital of the capital’.

This isn’t without it’s challenges.

Something which is often missing from the climate change debate is how its impacts will disproportionately affect traditional working class communities such as those in Barking and Dagenham,

Yet our communities are often hard pushed to adapt, especially after a decade of Tory cuts to local government budgets, public spending, and support for those that need it most.

It’s hard to shop ethically when you’re trying to provide for your family on a shoestring, and it’s hard to justify and find the time to visit Britain’s national parks with so many other pressures.

That is why as a local authority we have to look at an ethos from the past to improve our future – before the 1840’s there were no public parks in Britain. The Victorians introduced the idea of bringing the countryside to the city – encouraging communities to enjoy and feel a sense of ownership over the outdoors.

In the coming months I will be working on a number of comms projects that seek to engage and empower our residents to explore and enjoy our parks and open spaces. I have also been in touch with some of our neighbours to look at best practice on how we establish active ‘friends groups’ which will seek to educate and instil in our residents a greater sense of ownership over their local parks and nature reserves.

In addition to this I am liaising with colleagues in BeFirst about increased cycle infrastructure. Making the most of new funding streams available due to the pandemic. Trying to pull something positive out of these difficult times.

I’ve been building relationships with our Ranger Service, horticultural teams and external partners to help increase canopy cover which will deliver a wide range of benefits to our residents.

Next month I’ll be on site with the cosy homes team, safety guidelines permitting, to see the invaluable work they are doing to retrofit and insulate homes across the borough – as around 30-40% of carbon emissions come from the built environment nationally.

Lots of this work has already been set in motion by Cllrs Ashraf and Geddes – for example the Gascoigne regeneration project is now seen as a benchmark for sustainable development, and the Wild and Free in LBBD project has already seen local families venturing into our parks in greater numbers.

With that – I’m really excited to see what achievements we can make together in the coming year.

Thank you.

Halt Airport Expansion and Invest in a Green Transformation

Firstly, it is important to recognise that supporting the environment doesn’t mean neglecting the economy. However, after declaring an environmental and climate emergency it would be hypocritical to support airport expansion and the increased emissions that come with it. That is why I recently announced my opposition to the London City Airport master plan.

As a key stakeholder in the local air quality action plan, and having organised a campaign against waste incineration which would increase emissions across the south of Havering, I know all too well about the damaging impact poor air has on human health and biodiversity.

A report from the British Lung Foundation earlier this year highlighted that Havering has the fourth highest rate of lung disease related deaths per annum in London, and that Redbridge has the fourteenth highest. The British Heart Foundation recently reported that our area broke World Health Organisation limits for particulate matter and emissions. It is easy to link these two reports.

The flight path of City Airport runs directly over the south of the constituency and across areas like Newham, Tower Hamlets and Barking and Dagenham – I’ve seen the emission dispersal maps and with a prevailing easterly wind, Havering and Redbridge are set to take an environmental hit if these plans are agreed.

Opposing airport expansion doesn’t mean I want to see the country ground to a halt. There are proactive measures we can take that support the environment and contribute to a green and prosperous economy. Here are just a couple;

Renewable energy

At present Havering and Redbridge produces 47 megawatts of renewable energy. I want to see this hit 95 megawatts via local energy providers investing in solar, wind and sea that can collectively break the hold of large fossil fuel providers.

This year in Barking and Dagenham, we launched our own energy provider; Beam Energy which uses 100% renewables – I am led to believe that Redbridge are going to sign up to the company, increasing bargaining power and bringing down costs for residents. Investing in green energy also supports the creation of more skilled jobs in the power industry.

Housing and construction

Across Havering and Redbridge only 32.5% of the housing stock is insulated to a high standard. For best practice on energy efficiency we need look no further than the award-winning work of Norwich Council and the Goldsmith Street Estate. Built to Passivhaus energy efficiency standards it promises a 70% reduction in fuel bills. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/oct/13/observer-view-on-stirling-prize-winning-goldsmith-street

I want to see councils delivering similar schemes to Norwich, but I want us to go further; per tonne cement and steel release an average 1000kg and 1800kg of carbon into the atmosphere. It’s time to move away from environmentally damaging forms of construction.

After listening to Southwark Councillor Leo Pollack at Labour Conference this year I am convinced that we can take a bolder approach. I would like to see council owned construction companies and a switch to Cross Laminated Timber as an alternative to cement and steel – call me a dreamer but I’d also like to see the green belt reforested and effectively managed, creating a sustainable source of CLT building materials and thousands of jobs across all of the outer boroughs.