This week’s letters to the editor...
“Fossil fuels not the right investment”
Public service employees in Bucks are, without even realising it, funding fossil fuel companies out of their pension savings to drill for oil, thereby contributing to and accelerating climate change.
We in the Lib Dems are calling on the County Council, which administers the Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme on behalf of 218 employers across the county, to divest these holdings in oil and gas firms, worth £107 million, and put the money into renewable energy.
Previously the county had argued that it would be better to keep these investments, and try to persuade fossil fuel companies to change their ways.
We believe this is futile. The Buckinghamshire Pension Fund Committee should take advantage of a coming relaxation in investment rules and withdraw their holdings altogether.
This would bring it in line with major international players, including the city of New York and New York State, which in December both resolved to pull their pension fund investments, worth billions of dollars, from oil and gas companies.
The World Bank has said it would no longer be lending money for oil and gas exploration. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund is looking to divest from fossil fuels. And, also in 2017, President Macron said France would no longer grant licenses for oil and gas exploration in its various territories.
In the UK a string of public bodies, including churches, universities and local authorities, have announced they will be divesting from oil, gas and coal companies.
The Buckinghamshire Local Government Pension Scheme is administered on behalf of a range of public bodies including the County Council, Milton Keynes Council and the district councils. The £107m investment makes up a not insignificant 4% of the available pension pot. Nationally public bodies invest a total of £16.1 billion worth of pension savings in oil and gas firms.
In 2014 Lib Dem county councillors Avril Davies and Steven Lambert asked the county council to divest from fossil fuel companies, as part of the fight against climate change. The county argued that it was governed by legal obligations to get the best return for contributors to the pension fund, irrespective of environmental concerns.
In December 2017 the government announced it was preparing to relax these rules, to allow public sector pension schemes to “mirror members’ ethical concerns” and “address environmental problems”.
So if employees don’t want their pensions invested in oil companies, helping them continue to drill, then pension fund committees will have to listen to them.
We believe that, with the extremes of weather of 2017, and already in 2018 in Australia and the USA, adding further graphic proof that climate change is with us here and now, public sector workers’ money should no longer be invested in the extraction of oil and gas that further warm the planet.
We owe it to our children and grandchildren to stop using fossil fuels as soon as possible, and make a major switch to renewable energy. The county council has the opportunity to take that meaningful action.
Chairman, Buckingham Constituency Liberal Democrats
“Response to last week’s view on council budget”
It was disappointing to read in the letters section last week Councillor Robin Stuchbury making a number of misleading statements around the financial savings from the Council’s new Energy from Waste facility at Greatmoor near Calvert. I would like to take this opportunity to address those statements here.
Firstly Robin states that the “budget for ‘Waste Management’ is set to decrease by less than £200,000 to £8.5million - there is no sign as yet of the promised £5million/year savings due to the Greatmoor”. This is simply because the budget has already been decreased by more than this amount the previous year (2016/17) when the EFW contract actually went live. I would like to remind Robin that the EFW facility has been operating since June 2016, so of course the budget will not change much this year. Council budgets from previous years are publicly available on the Council’s own website and the step change on the overall Environment Services budget line (where the waste budget resides) can be clearly seen from 2015/16 to 2016/17, at over £6.1m, the vast majority of which was as a result of this contract. Just to note the waste budget also includes other services like food waste treatment, garden waste treatment and operating the Household Recycling Centres.
Robin then goes onto ask “should anybody see any sign of the promised savings from the EfW plant (£150 million over 30 years, which Cllr Whyte spent £180 million to achieve), then please let us know”. Again this shows a complete misrepresentation of the facts. Firstly yes, the facility will save at least £150 million over the 30 years and yes the Council spent around £180 million to help deliver this. What Robin fails to mention is the third and critical part of this equation, namely if we hadn’t invested this money the Council would be facing costs over 30 years in the region of £450-£475m.
So to help Robin in calculating the £150 million saving, the Council has estimated the entire cost of the contract to be around £300-315m over 30 years, made up of the approximate £180 million cost of the facility, with the bulk of the rest of the costs due to financing this investment over that period. There are also some other (significantly smaller) costs. Therefore the saving is a straightforward calculation of the costs we would have faced (£450-£475m) less the costs we believe we are now facing (£300-£315m) giving a saving of around £150 million. At the risk of repeating myself, we are seeing these savings right now with the step down change in the Environment services budget mentioned previously and I strongly believe we will continue to see the benefits of this reduced budget for the remainder of the contract.
All this information is freely available on the Council’s website, including an infographic explaining the contract savings (see https://www.buckscc.gov.uk/media/4509136/greatmoor-efw-inforgraphic.pdf), which makes it all the more disappointing to read such a complete distortion of the facts in the letter last week. Nevertheless I am pleased to be able to put the record straight by presenting the information above. I would like to finish by mentioning that community and school groups can visit Greatmoor to learn how it works and see it in operation. Further information on this - and much else besides - can be found on the Greatmoor website http://www.greatmoor.co.uk).
Bill Chapple OBE - Cabinet Member for Planning and Environment
“Queen concert programme request”
On Friday, January 5 I, and a packed Waterside Theatre had a thrilling evening with One Night of Queen (tribute band). It was absolutely wonderful and enjoyed by everyone. However, I am writing to ask if any of your readers still had one of the glossy brochures that were on sale at the event. I am partially sighted, and for all sorts of reasons I did not obtain one. I will obviously pay for it, and would love to have it as a momento of a very special evening out for me. My mobile number is 07913360576. Hope there is a Queen fan who can help.
Name and address supplied
“Green fields of Aston Clinton butchered again”
With disbelief I see that having butchered the green fields of Aston Clinton with 627 new houses, the developers are now spreading their net further with an assault on the village amenities.
The very pubs and restaurants that were lauded in the developer applications for the 627 houses and used by them to justify the avalanche of new housing in Aston Clinton. Application 17/04672/APP has been made to close the Rothschild Arms public house and turn it and its car park into 5 houses.
The Rothschild Arms has been a pub since 1847. It is well supported and hosts 9 darts and 3 pool teams, the local football team and the British Legion. It is named as a community asset in Aston Clinton’s Neighbourhood Plan, and I can only assume that the applicant is trying to get in quick as the plan moves forward.
Bear in mind too we are also waiting to hear if 17/03706/APP to close the China Water restaurant and turn that into 16 flats will proceed.
Both sites support flourishing local businesses which will be lost if these applications are permitted.
It is very clear that developers and their ilk are determined to wring every penny of profit out of the village of Aston Clinton, with compete disregard or care for the negative impact their plans will have on this beleaguered community.
Helen Sharp via email
“Southern route - untold misery”
Govia Thameslink is responsible for the Southern route that has caused untold misery for commuters across the South East.
A damning National Audit Office (NAO) report released this week highlights so much of the Southern Rail misery passengers and staff know only too well. Ultimately, it finds that the privatisation of the route has been an avoidable nightmare and delivered poor value for money.
In response, the Government has tried to deflect the report’s criticism of its handling of the franchise by trying to blame workers for the failings. In deploying this line of defence, however, Ministers have overlooked just one fact: the NAO found the Government and Govia Thameslink at fault for failing passengers and staff.
Govia Thameslink made huge profits in 2017 despite taking a massive multi-million-pound taxpayer handout.
Yet the firm has tried to cut costs by consistently understaffing its trains. And the Government should have seen the resultant issues coming a mile off, the report finds.
Southern is just the latest example of a failed Tory privatisation programme. Only a few weeks ago Virgin and Stagecoach were rewarded for their failures on the, formerly publicly-owned, East Coast Mainline route with an eye-watering £2bn bailout.
Ministers must finally take a sober and ideology-free look at the case for putting our railways back in public hands - starting with Southern. A weak Government can’t afford to ignore the overwhelming support for the public ownership our railways - a longstanding Green Party policy.
Keith Taylor - Green Party MEP for the South East
“Thanks for all who took part in drive”
I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of our community for their kind generosity. Over 100 gifts were kindly donated to our ‘Be a Santa to a Senior’ campaign, all of which were then distributed to older people throughout the area who were spending Christmas alone. We were humbled by the support, which enabled us to provide Christmas treats and visits to many local people.
Celia Costa and the rest of the team at Tesco Bicester were fantastic. We set up in store in December and they helped us to encourage their shoppers to buy and donate gifts to the campaign such as toiletries, warm socks and lots of lovely biscuits and chocolate.
Special mention must also go to Cllr Les Sibley, Mayor of Bicester, who attended the official launch at Tesco.
Thank you to the Rock of Ages café in Bicester and the Bicester Giving a Bit Back group, who gave up their time on Christmas Day to cook lunch for older people and helped us to distribute some of the gifts.
I must also mention Elizabeth Taylor, the wonderful lady who hosts an after-Christmas party for older people held on 28th December at the Methodist Church Hall in Bicester where again, we gave gifts to all the grateful attendees.
Graham Holtom - via email
Owner, Home Instead Senior Care