Westminster keeps power out of local hands. We intend to take power back, and as a first step there are improvements we can already make locally:
We pledge to use the principles of Community Wealth Building (commonly known as the Preston Model) to build a prosperous local economy and foster high-quality jobs. These principles are:
Plural ownership of the economy, by promoting co-operatives, municipal ownership, locally owned small and medium-sized enterprises, and insourcing (where councils bring services in-house instead of outsourcing them).
Making financial power work for local places, by promoting local pension funds, mutual and community banks, and credit unions.
Fair employment and just labour markets, by working with local institutions to implement a real living wage, support local unions, recruit locally, and put a stop to exploitative employment practices such as ‘fire and rehire’.
Progressive procurement of goods and services, by making use of local businesses and suppliers wherever possible, and working with local institutions to help them do the same.
Socially productive use of land and property, by using community land trusts or public-commons partnerships to keep public land available for public use.
- We will pay council workers a real living wage of £12 an hour. Where it can be done without compromising service quality or opening hours, we will trial a four day work week, with the corresponding wage of £15 per hour, and will favour more flexible working hours for council employees. We will favour introducing a limit on the number of hours people can work each week to prevent exploitation. We will also remove any zero-hours contracts from council positions and replace them with stable hours.
- We will offer long-term grants to Community Interest Companies and other social enterprises. These grants will come from council funds currently used to offer short-term grants, to save these organisations from having to apply and reapply for short-term grants. We will provide long-term operational grants to these social enterprises so people can actually earn a wage while doing good. Just because something doesn’t make a profit, doesn’t mean it’s not important.
- We will raise funds by taxing empty properties and second homes, which are more likely to be owned by the wealthiest in our community, and use the proceeds to improve our communities. We will also make use of powers to take on the management of long-term-empty homes, and bring them back into use.
- We will support Universal Basic Income trials to help people now, and build the case for a national UBI. We will expand the trials of UBI currently being undertaken by local authorities in the North. Trials in Scandinavian countries have shown that this improves people’s mental health and wellbeing and boosts the local economy.
- All Northerners should have the chance to put down roots in their community and have safe, comfortable and affordable housing. We will follow the lead of councils such as Norwich City Council in building new high-quality social housing that is energy efficient, suitable for everyone from pensioners to new families and young people just starting out in life, and available at affordable social rents. We will also support programmes to refit existing housing and bring it up to a high standard of comfort and energy efficiency.
- Housing is a human right. Housing First is an evidence-based approach which has been piloted in Newcastle and Greater Manchester, where there are no conditions around ‘readiness’ before providing someone with safe housing. Before anyone can address other issues they may be experiencing, they must be securely housed. Issues such as mental health needs or trauma from domestic violence and abuse are often caused or exacerbated by homelessness. We will implement a Housing First policy for tackling homelessness.
- We aim to follow harm reduction principles when it comes to drug use and sex work, accepting these as a part of our world and attempting to minimise harmful effects rather than ignore or condemn the people affected. This will include following the lead of other local councils in safely monitoring and providing resources to sex workers, and increasing funding to harm reduction programmes such as needle and syringe distribution and peer distribution of anti-overdose medication. Similar schemes have been successfully implemented in Glasgow, and piloted in Burnley, Liverpool, and Blackpool.
- Access to healthy food is a human right. Northerners should not have to rely on food banks and we will work to create a sustainable and just local food economy. We will support organisations working to provide tasty, healthy and sustainable food to their communities by providing grants, working with them to create sustainable supply chains, and helping connect residents with their services. Until such time that we can eradicate the need for food banks, our councillors will not place arbitrary restrictions on access to them and will support food justice policies.
- The benefits system is opaque, and difficult for people who are not tech savvy or who don’t have a home Internet connection to access. We will improve access to benefits for people who struggle with the claims system by supporting mutual aid and charitable organisations to assist people who need help making claims.
- We will not be party to the monstrous legalised pogrom of Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller people planned by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel. We will provide adequate campsites for GRT communities, and instruct local police not to enforce the provisions of the forthcoming Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill that criminalise those communities’ ways of life.
- We will make changes to ensure that council-owned buildings, including council housing, are accessible to everyone – whatever their needs. Disabled people should never find themselves unable to access these facilities and services.
- We will increase the funding available for high-quality special educational needs teaching. We will make devices available to increase engagement with online resources for children from deprived backgrounds or with disabilities that mean they need special interfaces. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the weakness of the current system. We will ensure all pupils have the resources they need to learn.
- We will introduce a resources bank to share best practices among teachers, schools, and home-educating parents, helping them to create structured lessons for learners of all ages and abilities. We believe in giving all pupils a level playing field, and this includes children taught at home. We respect parents' right to educate their children, and will offer support and resources according to their needs, not our wishes.
- We will increase provision of forest schools and land-based education, to increase pupils’ understanding of where their food comes from, the natural world around them, and how they affect it. While provision of these schools is up to councils, they are funded by the central government – so this would not place council budgets under further pressure.
- Every child deserves an education. Schools should not be allowed to artificially inflate their performance statistics by discarding children who are seen as ‘difficult’. We will end the practice of ‘off rolling’ and restrict the use of school exclusion to the most disruptive cases, as well as putting a stop to its disproportionate use against children from ethnic minorities.
- We will ensure schools act promptly and effectively to tackle discrimination issues when they arise, and hold them accountable when they do not do so.
- We will implement staggered school holidays to make holidays cheaper for families and reduce unauthorised absences. Dates will be set on a county-by-county basis to avoid, as much as possible, situations where families with children at more than one school end up having different holiday dates.
- The pandemic has shown us all the drastic difference digital literacy can make to people’s ability to work and communicate. We will increase the provision of digital technology education for adults.
Council Accountability and Participation
- The minutes of council meetings tell us little about the character of our councillors. This was recently made abundantly clear in the infamous Handforth Parish Council video. And even though the meeting took place in December, it did not go viral until the videos became easily accessible online in February. We pledge to make full video records of council proceedings available promptly, to help improve accountability among councillors and ensure that voters can gain a better understanding of their actions and views. To ensure these records are accessible to all, we will aim to provide BSL interpretation and closed captions.
- Before the pandemic, many council meetings and consultations were held in person. This prevented many people from engaging with their council and making their views heard. Improved digital access to events via video calling and online consultation processes has hugely increased engagement with local issues. However, we recognise that not everyone is able to use, or feels comfortable using, digital technologies, and will ensure that in-person events, consultation and other alternatives are made available to ensure everyone’s views are heard.
- We will also commit to consulting communities earlier in the planning process, so that everyone can shape the priorities of local development. We further will commit to using deliberative methods, such as co-production of services, to build long-term conversations about what we want our local areas and communities to be.
- While we would prefer to spend all public money in-house, we recognise that Community Interest Companies and other social enterprises can provide services that local councils cannot feasibly offer through the public sector without increased funding from Westminster. We also appreciate that there are many wonderful community groups in the North all striving to make the world a better place. We will advocate for making CICs more transparent and accountable.
- We will ensure that council pensions and investments are ethically invested, and divest from harmful industries such as fossil fuels, the arms trade, and countries with ongoing human rights crises.
- We support moving councils from a ‘strong leader and cabinet’ system, where decisions are primarily made by a small group of councillors, to the ‘modern committee’ system, where all councillors are actively involved in decision making.
- We will adopt Freedom of Information policies which are more open and informative than statute requires.
- Westminster austerity has decimated funding for our libraries and community venues. Ideally, we would simply increase funding for libraries to adequate levels, but that power is in the Conservative government’s hands. We will do what we can to replace that funding, and increase library coverage by making commercial tenancy in some Council properties conditional on hosting library branches or other community spaces, freely accessible to all. Where possible, we will also bring libraries back into council or community not-for-profit ownership, and move away from the reliance on volunteers.
- We are dedicated to combating social isolation and supporting vulnerable groups in the community. We will promote the use of libraries, leisure centres, outdoor education centres, youth centres, and other community venues to host free activity groups that support the physical and mental wellbeing of our communities. This will include working with other organisations to revive institutions such as youth centres and community halls which have been decimated by over a decade of austerity. We will support grassroots local sports clubs, which are the heartbeat of their local communities.
- We will support local artists of all kinds, and cultural networks, by offering grants for public artwork, providing council-owned spaces for workshops, events and studios, or working with local property owners to make vacant properties available at heavily discounted rates. We will also provide guidance for local artists who want to set up co-operatives, and where possible work with local institutions to fund long-term residencies.
- We will support mutual aid groups by providing access to public spaces, expertise, start-up grants and facilitating connections between people and organisations who want to help. We will also guarantee the independence that is a key tenet of mutual aid.
- We will support local independent journalism by providing transparency in local government through using advertising space for public information campaigns, and providing grants to new local media organisations. This will include independent online journalism that serves local areas, and will not include newspapers or websites owned by national corporations.
- As the North recovers from the impact of the pandemic, support for pubs and music venues is a must. We will ensure that these venues will be protected from private developers and noise complaints.
- Participating in public life should be available to all and we will ensure that any events or activities funded by the council are accessible to disabled people, including neurodiverse people and those with hidden disabilities. This will include working with organisers to provide accessible venues, training for those facilitating events, and where needed, organising disability-specific groups or activities.
- We will also ensure that our town and village centres are accessible, with accessibility considered as part of any planning process, and a ban on hostile architecture such as anti-homelessness spikes.
- We will work with local libraries, museums, galleries, universities and archives to review their collections’ connections to the historic injustices of colonialism and the slave trade. We acknowledge our part in that history, and will aim to follow the lead of the University of Aberdeen in repatriating artefacts, and reviewing what we celebrate in our public monuments.
- Providing essential utilities such as energy and water through a publicly owned or community not-for-profit group helps to ensure that they provide the most beneficial service to the people in the local area, not just profit to shareholders. Bringing these providers into councils could also help to increase long-term and holistic planning.
- The National Bus Strategy essentially requires all local authorities to form ‘enhanced partnerships’ with operators. These give councils extra rights to regulate services. These include the right to create multi-operator zonal passes, valid on a choice of modes of transport. We will exercise all rights currently held at the local authority level to improve the bus network, and utilise the extra money promised by the National Bus Strategy to improve the coverage of the bus network. We recognise the needs of people living near county borders, and will ensure services or tickets do not arbitrarily stop or start at these lines and instead reflect where people wish to travel.
- The pandemic has shown that many people would like to cycle and walk, but currently feel unable to do so due to road traffic. We will ensure that sustainable travel is at the forefront of every development and road changing scheme as well as ensure there is a continual rolling improvement to existing roads through proper isolation of pedestrians, cyclists, and traffic. We will also introduce more 20 mph zones and increase the number of school streets.
- We know that many people, particularly those in flats and houses of multiple occupancy, are in a position that means they are unable to securely store a bike. We will therefore commit to providing on-street bike hangers to ensure that everyone who wants to cycle, can cycle.
- Everyone has a right to privacy and should not be at risk of being tracked electronically through facial recognition technology while out and about in public. The prevalence of this technology is increasing significantly and it can be easily used in areas without people having any idea that they are being tracked. Therefore we will ban its use in our public spaces.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for good quality internet access – access many, especially in rural areas, do not have. As more jobs move to working from home, people without broadband access are finding themselves faced with reduced options for employment. We will work with service providers to improve broadband coverage, and will provide free internet access at all council properties.
- Many disabled people find themselves unable to undertake day to day activities as the result of poorly designed buildings and processes. We will ensure that new buildings are designed to be accessible for all from the start – refusing planning permission to those that are not, and providing a rolling programme of grants to update existing buildings.
- Councils have significantly reduced the number of public toilets available. Use of a toilet is a basic right, and something which everyone needs when out and about. The alternatives that people are sometimes forced into are undignified, unsanitary, and unpleasant for everyone. We will commit to adding more public facilities, and ensuring that they are open all hours, gender neutral, and accessible to those with disabilities.
Agriculture and Environment
- We will plant more trees in urban centres, create more accessible urban green spaces, and increase the number of and access to community allotments. By increasing the number of – and access to – community allotments, planting utility fruit trees, and supporting local producers, we will increase food security for the people of the North and increase local biodiversity.
- We will implement food waste recycling. We will reduce the amount of food that goes to waste and recycle that which does in community-owned anaerobic digesters, which will produce biogas to reduce fuel poverty in the North.
- We will meet existing recycling commitments (50% of waste) and ensure all waste sent for recycling is actually recycled and not sent abroad. Furthermore we will make sure that all areas of the North have the same access to recycling facilities, ending the postcode lottery of what you can recycle where.
- We will bring more public space into Commons ownership. Local authorities own vast tracts of land and have the powers to purchase more, and far too much land has been shut off from public use. We will increase the amount of land that Northerners have access to by opening up government-owned land.
- Our councillors will work to expand and join up existing public rights of way to develop a nationwide system of safe, fenced, accessible, walking routes so people can enjoy the beauty of the North no matter where they live. This will provide safe rights of way for the general public and protect livestock.
- We will improve air quality by providing incentives to get diesel vehicles off the roads and reduce the amount of car travel by improving public transport systems and increasing cycling infrastructure.
- We will only grant planning permission to buildings which are environmentally sustainable in the long term.
- Our councillors will push for more recycling bins to be placed in and around urban green spaces and in local tourist beauty spots and ensure that they are regularly emptied so our beautiful natural heritage is not ruined every sunny day.
- We support campaigns such as “No Mow May” to allow wildflowers to bloom and so help pollinator species. Our councillors will push for roadside verges to be left un-mown and seeded with wildflowers as well as planting more native hedges to provide food sources and nesting sites for our endangered birds.