Editor’s comment: Councillors’ no show is no good

Cllr Jon Burke at the eco energy conference, only two London councillors turned up. Picture: EMMA BA

Cllr Jon Burke at the eco energy conference, only two London councillors turned up. Picture: EMMA BARTHOLOMEW - Credit: Emma Bartholomew

I admire Jon Burke’s optimism when faced with a near-empty room.

But if he won’t say it, I will: we need more than two people to get involved if we’re going to slow or stop the global emergency of manmade climate change. Maybe the room wouldn’t have accommodated all 1,833 of London’s borough councillors, but surely every town hall should have had at least one seat at the table.

In these days of outsourcing, PPI and subcontracting to the nth degree, accountability is difficult and the flow of public cash into private pockets is swift and relatively unchecked.

But what if the public sector’s mighty spending power could be used to force the private sector to act in the greater good? That’s Jon’s idea, and the reason I think he’s on to something. It’s what I argued for when we launched our Hidden Homeless campaign in 2017, in which we revealed Hackney Council was spending £35million a year on substandard temporary accommodation over whose quality it had, and has, insufficient control. It’s also the principle behind Capital Letters, a collaboration between several of London’s town halls set up last year so they can buy up and share out housing stock instead of competing for it.

And it’s the logic of Divest Hackney, the campaign for this council to strip its pensions portfolio of fossil fuel investments. Hackney has so far committed to reducing its “exposure” to fossil fuel reserves by 50 per cent, and investing more of its pensions fund into low carbon projects – but Divest Hackney wants more done.

It shouldn’t be overstated how much austerity has crippled local government, but town halls still command an enormous amount of money. With our council tax about to go up, now is the time to demand that it be spent securing our futures, not boiling the planet.