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I've just returned from the Lib Dem Party Conference
where I witnessed a strange mix of emotions. Excitement and delight
at the developments which have placed them in Government and,
thanks to their leader, punched well above their weight in terms of
policy and influence. Yet many councillors seemed deeply
uneasy at the reality of savage public service cuts and the effect
they will have on poorer people.
As one outspoken councillor put it at a policy
roundtable about young people I attended - ''We're cutting the
deficit now so that future generations won't have to suffer our
mess, but future generations are already suffering because cutting
the deficit means cutting support services.'' In the refreshing
conspiracy light Lib Dem style, these fears were all freely voiced
to the DPM and seem to be taken in good part - Nick Clegg even
turned up to a fringe where one of the main speakers had been
asking him awkward questions during his opening speech. These are
however, very real fears and let's hope they are taken note of
On a lighter note, the latest deficit reduction analogy - a
cabbie in Liverpool to Nick Clegg's mate: ''If someone is sick in
the back of my cab, I don't blame it on the woman with the mop and
bucket who clears it up.''
I was speaking at a Fabians breakfast fringe meeting at the
Labour party conference this morning. It was on green investment
and also speaking were Emily Thornberry, shadow for climate change
and Michael Jacobs, former no.10 adviser on climate change.
There's a consensus over the importance of inward investment but
also anxiety that massive cuts to departmental budgets bring
instability and insecurity to the sector. As Emily pointed out, for
a small department like the Department for Energy and Climate
Change (DECC), 40 per cent cuts will reduce it to nuclear clean ups
and that's about it.
There was a lot of support for retrofitting and skilling up people
to deliver energy improvements to homes - giving us the tools to
tackle our own energy consumption. I'd like to see energy reduction
embedded into government policy at all levels. An example - the
Winter Fuel Allowance needs to focus at least as much on saving
energy, not just meeting the cost of using more. The funds should
be reorientated, so the payment can be used to insulate homes
(perhaps with two for one vouchers?) rather then simply helping
people, however needy, as they consume more fuel. We need to
start joining up policy on green issues if we are to get the most
from the pared-down budgets that are still available.