The Scandal of Councils in Affluent Areas Getting a Better Deal

A copy of my published letter to the Guardian on the unfair funding of local authorities.

“Owen Jones (A quiet crisis? No, we’re just not listening, 13 September) is right that Brexit is overshadowing the issue of crippling government cuts to council funding. This is a national scandal that is having and will continue to have an impact on people’s lives at least as significant as Brexit. Eight years of austerity has seen Nottingham’s main government funding slashed from £127m to £25m, despite the city council serving some of the most disadvantaged communities in the country. Councils serving affluent areas are not only getting a better deal under the government’s unfair funding formula, but have also benefited from extra government handouts over the last few years.

Surrey county council, one of the wealthiest authorities in the country, benefited from £24m of a fund designed to soften the blow of the cuts – the most for any council – while councils like ours received nothing. The government has refused to tell us its criteria for allocation. However, what’s clear is that Conservative-led authorities benefited from 89% of the £300m provided over two years, and are now set to get 86% of the further £153m being allocated under a new scheme. Surrey will get £17m and, again, we get nothing.

It’s high time that this was taken seriously at a national level, given the devastating effect that austerity is having on our communities.”

Happy Birthday to Robin Hood Energy!

Last week was Robin Hood Energy’s third birthday and this feels like an appropriate time to reflect on why Nottingham City Council took the ambitious decision to set it up and recognise what the company has achieved in such a short space of time.

The idea of Robin Hood Energy was born out of the necessity to tackle fuel poverty in Nottingham. In 2010, 21.8% of people in our city were living in fuel poverty meaning that they have required fuel costs that are above average and were they to spend that amount they would be left with a residual income below the official poverty line. As a council we had worked for a number of years trying to tackle this through improving the energy efficiency of homes across the city by installing external wall insulation on 6000 properties, as well as running campaigns that encouraged residents to switch suppliers. This could never change the fact though that the energy market is dominated by six big companies that run a monopoly and put shareholder profits before people.

In 2015 we committed ourselves to tackle fuel poverty by setting up a not-for-profit energy company to sell energy at the lowest possible price to Nottingham people to take on the Big Six. Robin Hood Energy was the first publically owned energy company in the UK for more than 30 years. The company now has 115,000 customers and continues to grow, made £250,000 of surplus faster than most of its closest competitors, is bringing in money to Nottingham City Council by paying back its start-up loan at a commercial rate and now sources all its energy from renewables.

Perhaps most significantly, Robin Hood Energy has changed the market with regards to pre-payment meters. Robin Hood Energy introduced Britain’s first competitively priced gas and electricity prepayment tariff for pay-as-you-go customers – those who are most likely to face fuel poverty. The whole energy market followed our lead and even Ofgem has now introduced a prepayments tariff “price cap”.

As of February 2017, the number of households in fuel poverty in Nottingham was 12%,  Though that is a significant improvement on the figure eight years ago, there is clearly still more to do. As Robin Hood Energy gains more customers, the cheaper it can make prices for Nottingham people and I am the confident that is what will happen going forward. Its success would no doubt have made one of its founders, Councillor Alan Clark, very proud, who was pivotal in its creation. The company continues to go from strength to strength while fulfilling its purpose of tackling fuel poverty in Nottingham.

Day Ten on the Pennine Way – Middle of Nowhere to Bryness

Watch my video account of day ten by clicking here.

After a night in one of the more eccentric accommodations we have stayed in. Bath and shower in the cupboard, TV and basin in the wardrobe and a tuna sandwich and packet of crisps for breakfast. We headed back to the end of Saturday’s epic 28 miler.

The first 5 miles back to Bellingham were pretty straight forward and as the day was lower mileage than the previous few days we took time out for breakfast in the village. Bacon Butty and Beans on toast at the Rocky Road Café.

In and out of Bellingham was the most road walking we had done so far. But we where back on the hills in warm and breezy weather. Overlooking rolling moor land as far as the eye could see.

I experimented with a change of boots at about the half way stage and then set off again across the moors. As Kielder Forest loomed closer, the ground got boggier. It was a desolate landscape of felled trees and stubble and we found ourselves again walking through bog and gravelled road, as we trudged towards the end.

As we headed down, an adder slithered from under my feet and off into the undergrowth, Startled I enquired about Andy’s first aid skills and his willingness to suck out the poison where another encounter to occur. Lack of sympathy and enthusiasm was evident for the necessary first aid.

The track seemed to go on for ever, eventually we crossed the river and headed towards our destination. Past a campsite we ended up in a car park next to a small chapel in Bryness. A long day done but the final and longest still yet to do.

Day Nine on the Pennine Way – Slaggyford to Somewhere in the Middle of Nowhere

We started early at Slaggyford down the road before realising we where going the wrong way. Turning back we headed up the hills and onto the moors. Andy’s brother Chris had joined us. Both he and Andy knew the area well having lived here.

Scattered about the hills where signs of the areas industrial past. Mine workings, workshops and rail way cuttings. Derelict in what where now fields occupied by cattle and sheep. Decades ago one of these sheds unopened for decades had surprisingly been home to one of Stephesons steam engine, Rocket. Used in a shunting yard, it had been left locked up in th shed and forgotten about.

The first part of the walk came to an end as we crossed the A69 and walked on towards Hadrian’s Wall. The wall hugged the ridge of the Whinsill the point at which Scotland collide with England in prehistoric times.

The views form this part of the Pennine Way were stunning, but the ups and downs more than tiring. We passed a lad doing the Pennine Way in the opposite way, loaded up with a full pack and camping gear we where again thankful for our light loads and vehicle support.

At Steel Ring and 18 miles in we said goodbye to Chris and climbed along the final stretch of Hadrian’s Wall. Cutting left we returned to moor land or better described bog land and then into Forest and more bog.One can only imagine how bad it would have been in winter.

We knew today was going to be a long day. Planned as 26.5 lies, however as we trudged on and it became clear the measurement was out somewhat we should have been all but finished by the time we met the camper, but the map showed another couple of miles to go. More fields, more trees, a climb down and then up from a valley and we where done, almost 12 hrs after starting. 28.5 miles in a day had been our longest day by far.

WE were really looking forward to a pint and something to eat.

Day Eight on the Pennine Way – Dufton to Slaggyford

We started from Dufton, leaving the hostel a bit before 7am. It was blue skies, a gentle breeze and the longest and highest days walk so far. We walked starting gently but the route soon stepped with a sharp pull on Green Fell before climbing Great Dun Fell noted more than anything for the golf ball shaped antennas situated at the top.

Next was Little Dun Fell, for a final pull up to the highest point on the Pennine Way, Cross Fell. We sat on the summit, uninhabited moorland to the east as far as you could see and the peaks of the Lake District to the west. This was our harvest pale height spot. Not just for today but for all 11 days.

The descent was a gentle one, past Greg’s Hut (one of the few bothies on the route) and then onto what seemed like a never ending crushed rock estate road. One of the more uncomfortable surfaces to walk on. 3/4 quarters of the way down, it became obvious why the roads where there. We came across a procession 4x4s, farming quads and trucks transporting and accompanied by beaters, game keepers, gun dogs and shooters. the fashion seemed right out of Downtown Abbey.

After 16 miles we made it into Garigill, were we met up with the camper. Food, new socks and coffee only 10 miles to go.

Then we set of following the river down to Alston and from Alston we meandered up and down dale, alongside the steam railway line the river and eventually the road until exhausted we walked into Slaggyford at 6pm.

Eleven hours of walking was our longest day so far.

Day Seven on the Pennine Way – Middelton on Teesdale to Dufton

We started a few miles outside Middleton on Teesdale with a gentle walk over the hills down towards the Teesdale River. For the next seven or eight mile on good paths, past a series on increasingly impressive waterfalls until we got to High Force.

Swollen by the recent rain, High Force was amazing. Although the scenery was great, Andy’s ankles were suffering and we showed whilst we negotiated rocky paths, undulating around both sides of the river.

Following the Tees for mile after mile, through rolling countryside with barely a person in sight, whilst the sun beat down, must be about as good as it gets.

We passed falcon Cliffs, we then scrambled up Cauldron Snout to the damn on the south of Cow Green Reservoir. Where we’d arranged to meet the camper. No camper though even though there was a road, turns out you can’t use it.

We’d done 14 miles and we still had 10 more to do. Andy needed water and I needed new socks, having got a boot full of water earlier on. And I even had high hopes of a stolen sandwich. No chance. So we ploughed on. The paths were good, we passed a farm where sheep dogs and their masters busied themselves herding sheep into pens. We continued on into the wilderness. We where heading for a ridge walk down into Dufton and suddenly the ground fell away before revealing an amazing glacial valley. who knew High Cup Nick existed. Sheer Cliffs off basaltic columns, framing an extensive view across the lower land of Cumbria, out towards the Lake District.

We skirted around the northern edge of the valley onto the ridge and then the long gentle route down to Dufton. To the north we could see tomorrows rout. Over 850m of climbing across Cross Fell to Alston. Only 4 more days to go but they are not going to be easy.