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Decentralisation is a question of ‘why?’ not ‘how?’

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We need to decide on the future shape of our democracy at a national and local level.

This article originally appeared in Blue & Green Tomorrow’s Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014.  

Citizens in the United Kingdom live in one of the most centralised democracies in Europe. Our history, lack of established federal structures, the relative stability of our external border and transport infrastructure has hard-wired power into the ‘national’ capital of Westminster.

This centralisation creates a vicious circle for devolved government, with disempowered local governments breeding citizen disengagement, in turn causing a headache for national politicians blamed for local failures. Our London-based ‘national’ media exacerbates this issue, demanding national political action often for hyper-local concerns, usually without understanding local context and sensibilities.

The devolution for the constituent countries of the UK in 1997 and coming referendum in Scotland may have irretrievably weakened the bonds that tie the UK together, but it’s an incoherent solution with varying powers in different countries.

The regions of England, all but two of which have greater populations than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, have fewer (if any) powers than the devolved parliament and two assemblies. England also has MPs of devolved countries participating in making laws and setting polices for England’s citizens, which won’t affect their own constituents. If it is wrong for English MPs to impose their will on Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the opposite is equally true. Three hundred years of English MPs effectively doing this to citizens of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland does not make it right for this now to happen in reverse.

In a recent paper by the Institute of Government, three broad sources of resistance to greater decentralisation were spelt out: national government that is greedy for power, regional government that has not proven itself to be effective and the general public who are disengaged with the political system. To be a success, these sources of resistance need to be addressed.

The same paper then spells out how this resistance could be overcome. There needs to a comprehensive transfer of powers for there to be meaningful reform; the scale of the geographical area devolved needs to be large enough to have a strategic role; there needs to be rigorous governance and accountability and the local electors need to be given a real choice.

The paper then explores examples of successful devolution in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Greater London Authority. Less successful have been regional assemblies in England and the recent introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners, which the majority of British people now wish to abolish.

Other reforms such as City Deals (granting powers over revenue raising, pooling and retention, transport and infrastructure investment, and skills), City-Region Combined Authorities (pooling economic development powers of constituent authorities) such as Manchester and the occasional directly elected city mayor (a city’s ‘CEO’, of which there are 16 in England) have delivered mixed results.

England overwhelmingly rejected more layers of local politicians. The devolved parliament and assemblies would now like to remove the Westminster layer of oversight and interference. This dysfunctional and patchy democratic settlement is unsatisfactory in one of the world’s oldest and most successful democracies. Voter apathy is only exacerbated by dysfunctional institutions, not the other way around.

Clearly, where powers are devolved, only those politicians whose constituents will be affected by a change in law or policy should vote. UK politicians would vote on matters of national importance and so on, down to local politicians on local issues.

We need to decide on the future shape of our democracy at a national and local level. There needs to be a clear and consistent division of power between different levels of decision-making, or with the same directly elected politician sitting at local, regional and national levels. During the debates over coalition reforms of the NHS, Nigel Edwards, acting chief executive of the NHS Confederation, made a comment that is relevant here: “There are very few questions to which the answer is ‘more politicians’.

Ever more layers of politicians aren’t going to make our democracy more effective, unless we have a clear idea of what they are all for, and what value they add.

Photo: Simon Carlsson via freeimages.com

Further reading:

Voting with your voice: why elections should be shaped by policies, not parties

‘Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?’

One size doesn’t fit all: democracy is not always the best form of government

Russell Brand’s revolution: should we vote at all?

The Guide to Sustainable Democracy 2014

Simon Leadbetter is the founder and publisher of Blue & Green Tomorrow. He has held senior roles at Northcliffe, The Daily Telegraph, Santander, Barclaycard, AXA, Prudential and Fidelity. In 2004, he founded a marketing agency that worked amongst others with The Guardian, Vodafone, E.On and Liverpool Victoria. He sold this agency in 2006 and as Chief Marketing Officer for two VC-backed start-ups launched the online platform Cleantech Intelligence (which underpinned the The Guardian’s Cleantech 100) and StrategyEye Cleantech. Most recently, he was Marketing Director of Emap, the UK’s largest B2B publisher, and the founder of Blue & Green Communications Limited.

Environment

How to Build An Eco-Friendly Home Pool

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eco-friendly pool for home owners
Licensed Image from Shutterstock - By alexandre zveiger

Swimming pools are undoubtedly one of the most luxurious features that any home can have. But environmentally-conscious homeowners who are interested in having a pool installed may feel that the potential issues surrounding wasted water, chemical use and energy utilized in heating the water makes having a home swimming pool difficult to justify.

But there is good news, because modern technologies are helping to make pools far less environmentally harmful than ever before. If you are interested in having a pool built but you want to make sure that it is as eco-friendly as possible, you can follow the advice below. From natural pools to solar panel heating systems, there are many steps that you can take.

Choose a natural pool to go chemical free

For those homeowners interested in an eco-friendly pool, the first thing to consider is a natural pool. Natural swimming pools utilise reed bed technology or moss-filtration to naturally filter out dirt from the water. These can be combined with eco-pumps to allow you to have a pool that is completely free from chemicals.

Not only are traditional pool chemicals potentially harmful to the skin, they also mean that you can contaminate the area around the pool if chemical-filled water leaks or is splashed around. This can be bad for your garden and the environment general.

It will be necessary to work with an expert pool builder to ensure that you have the expertise to get your natural pool installed properly. But the results with definitely be worth the effort and planning that you have to put in.

Avoid concrete if possible

The vast majority of home pools are built using concrete but this is far from ideal in terms of an eco-friendly pool for a large number of reasons. Concrete pools are typically built and then lined to stop keep out any bacteria. This is theoretically fine, except that concrete is porous and the lining can be liable to erode or break which can allow bacteria to enter the pool.

It is much better to use a non-porous material such as fibreglass or carbon ceramic composite for your pool. Typically, these swimming pools are supplied in a one-piece shell rather than having to be built from scratch, ensuring a bacteria-free environment. These non-porous materials make it impossible for the water to become contaminated through bacteria seeping into the pool by osmosis.

The further problem that can arise from having a concrete pool is that once this bacteria begins to get into the pool it can be more difficult for a natural filtration system to be effective. This can lead to you having to resort to using chemicals to get the pool clean.

Add solar panels

It is surprising how many will go to extreme lengths to ensure that their pool is as eco-friendly as possible in terms of building and maintaining it but then fall down on something extremely obvious. No matter what steps you take with the rest of your pool, it won’t really be worth the hassle if you are going to be conventionally heating your pool up, using serious amounts of energy to do so.

Thankfully there are plenty of steps you can take to ensure that your pool is heated to a pleasant temperature while causing minimal damage to the environment. Firstly, gathering energy using solar panels has become a very popular way to reduce consumption of electricity as well as decreasing utility bills. Many businesses offer solar panels specifically for swimming pools.

Additionally, installing an energy efficient heat pump or boiler to work in conjunction with your solar panels can be hugely beneficial.

Cover it!

Finally, it is worth remembering that there are many benefits to investing in a pool cover. When you cover your pool you increase its heat retention which stops you from having to power a pump or boiler to keep it warm. This works in conjunction with the solar panels and eco-friendly heating system that you have already had installed.

Additionally, you cover helps to keep out dirt and other detritus that can enter the pool, bringing in bacteria. Anything that you can do to keep bacteria out will be helpful in terms of keeping it clean.

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Features

4 Ways To Get a Green House in 2018

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green house and homes
Featured Image From Shutterstock - By Photographee.eu

Demand for green houses is surging. In 2020, almost 20% of all homes on the market will be green.

If you would like to buy a green home, this is a great time to look into it. Prices are still pretty low and there are a lot more financing options available than there were right after the recession.

If you’re thinking about buying a house, now could be a very good time to make the move! A number of factors in the housing market right now mean that you might be able to afford your dream home. Although in many parts of the country house prices are still rising, if you do your research and plan wisely, there are lots of good schemes to help you get your foot on the property ladder, or trade up to the house you’ve always wanted.

Interest Rates and Stamp Duty

Although the Bank of England raised interest rates by 0.25% recently, they remain very low, which is good news if you’re thinking of taking out a mortgage. However, rates may not stay low and it’s predicted that there’ll be a further rate rise during 2018, so don’t wait too long. Another factor that’s going to help first time buyers in particular is the Chancellor’s decision to abolish stamp duty for first timers purchasing properties for under £300,000.

Different options

For many people looking to buy a green home, raising a deposit of between 5% and 20% may not be a realistic option, in which case there are a growing number of schemes to help. Increasingly popular are shared ownership schemes, through which the buyer pays a percentage of the full value of the property (typically between 25% and 75%) and the local council or a housing association pays the rest, and takes part ownership. This is suitable for buyers who may struggle to meet the up-front costs of buying outright. There will often be a service charge or management fees to pay in addition to the mortgage. The Government’s Help To Buy scheme is a good place to start looking if you’re interested in this option. This scheme is now available to people looking to buy green homes too.

ISA Options

If you’re still saving for a deposit, another scheme is the Help to Buy ISA. You can get a 25% boost to your savings on amounts up to £200 per month with this scheme. It’s only open to first time buyers and you can claim a maximum of £3000.

Other costs

Green home buyers are going to run into a number of other ancillary costs, most of which are common to other homebuyers.

When calculating how much you can afford, it’s vitally important to remember that buying a house comes with a whole host of other costs. Depending on the cost of the property that you’re buying, you may have to pay stamp duty of anywhere between 1% and 5%. There’ll be estate agents fee if you’re also selling a property, although there are a wide range of online estate agents operating such as Purple Bricks or Right Move that have lower fees than traditional high street companies. Conveyancing costs to a solicitor can add another £1000-£3000 and you may need to take out life insurance and hire a moving firm.

There are other initial costs such as, fixing parts of the home that aren’t upto your taste. Getting new furniture to fill up all the new-found space in your new home. If you are moving away from the city, you need to consider the cost of transportation as well, as it can take up quite a lot over time. Take your time, do your homework and shop around and soon you could be getting the keys to your perfect home.

I hope this article was useful for you to learn more about the basics that you need to be aware of before you start the process of buying your first home. If you have any doubts with regards to this, let us know through the comments and we will be glad to help you out. If you have any suggestions regarding how we can improve the article, let us know them through the comments as well for us to improve.

Do you have any other reservations against buying your first home? Do you see your house as an asset or a liability? Do you think it is important for everyone to get themselves a new home? Let us know through the comments.

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