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Lindsay Mackie is a consultant at nef. She is leading nef’s post office campaign and works on Clone Town and Ghost Town Britain.
The Prime Minister’s commitment to bringing Post Office banking into the heart of communities, and to giving the Post Office a much greater role in the economy, is a brilliant and simple declaration that this government will protect the public realm, that community matters, that localism matters and that it wants to offer diversity within our astonishingly monolithic retail banking system.
It was also the commitment that got one of the biggest cheers of the Prime Minister’s speech.
If we can now, fast, build up the people’s bank at the Post Office, now that it has effectively been given the wholehearted stamp of approval by the government, it will safeguard the Post Office network – no more dreadful and unnecessary closures – and will offer a real banking alternative to people who think banks should be about more than slicing consumers and then gambling with their money.
So Gordon Brown has done the right thing with his one-line announcement. It’s great. nef has been campaigning all year, with the Post Bank Coalition, for a Post Bank).
The idea is that the Post Office can also have a Post Bank, such as those that have been set up so successfully in other countries (France, Italy, New Zealand). It is a simple and practical way into a future where community, key information points and financial diversity will be needed more than ever.
A Post Bank will revive and protect the Post Office network, support local economies and small and medium-sized businesses, combat social exclusion and financial inequalities and introduce banking diversity.
Really there is hardly anyone who doesn’t warm to the idea of a great increase in Post Office banking services. (Apart from the British Banking Association, which thinks banks are doing a fine job without the need for another model. Where to start on this peculiar view?) The key now is to make it work.
Sources close to the prime minister are apparently saying we could see increased and improved Post Office services by the end of the year – we need to keep Whitehall to that.
But we also need, in comradely fashion, to ensure that what we get is a true, independent, proper Post Bank and that it keeps its radical roots. The UK has an amazing history of non-shareholder driven banking models – mutuals, trustee savings banks, co-operatives – and Post Banks must be set up using these.
There are all sorts of nifty technical innovations a Post Bank could use to bring in younger clients such as versions of mobile phone banking. And the Post Bank provides the reach to give practical financial advice and help to the poor and the debt-laden. There are very interesting systems available now that can offer planned financial systems to individuals at either no or low cost. Antony Elliott’s Fair Banking scheme is one.
And we don’t need to start from scratch in making the Post Bank a full banking alternative. As an initial step, building a Post Bank around an existing 100% publicly owned bank, Northern Rock, is a logical and brave step. Don’t sell it off to Tesco or whoever – will they provide a true People’s Bank? – keep it working for the public who own it .
In the worst of the crisis last year people flocked to put their money into the Post Office. It’s trusted, even loved. Today’s news is just what we need to keep it like that.
Andy Wimbush is nef‘s Communications Assistant and blogmaster. He also draws cartoons for nef‘s newspaper.
When he was Prime Minister, Tony Blair liked to pretend that Britain was ‘leading the world’ in the fight against climate change. Of course, the UK was never really leading in any meaningful sense: yes, we had a Climate Change Bill making a slow and convoluted journey through Parliament, but our efforts paled next to the renewables boom in Germany and Sweden. But Blair’s soundbite survived because, at the time, it was hard to quantify what ‘leading the world’ might mean.
These days it’s pretty obvious that Britain is not at the cutting-edge of climate change policy. We have a government which is doggedly pursuing the construction of coal-fired power stations and the expansion of airports, damning the consequences for our planet, our economy and our civilisation.
Writing on Comment is Free, GND group member Jeremy Leggett wonders how we got stuck in a ‘grey old deal’ which bails out the car manufacturers rather than investing in a sustainable economy. Leggett explains how retrofitting old houses with insulation and energy efficient technologies in Germany has created 140,000 jobs and lowered emissions and energy use to boot. He also cites a new report from the Washington think-tank World Resources Institute which says that $1 billion of government investment in green recovery programmes would create 30,000 jobs. Let’s imagine that this same equation held true for the UK: if we take the £37 billion which the British government has invested directly in bailing out the banks – a figure which leaves out the bigger picture of extra, hard-to-quantify support which propped up the banks – that money could have created well over 1.5 million green sector jobs.
The rest of the globe is moving rather faster, with the Guardian reporting that ‘calls for “green new deals” are coming from every part of the world‘. The Financial Times has a neat little graphic which lets you compare the ‘greeness’ of the stimulus packages for different nations, both by volume of expenditure and by percentage of overall stimulus spending. As reported previously, South Korea has been enthusiastic about the Green New Deal, so it’s not surprising that the UK’s stimulus plan looks pretty paltry by comparison. What’s more striking is that the UK is now being eclipsed in its environmental ambitions by those countries normally thought of as big polluters – the ‘climate criminals’ of the USA and China:
Today, Gordon Brown is holding a ‘low-carbon summit‘ with business leaders, unionists and select members of the environmental movement, in which he will discuss how the UK might boost the economy via a ‘Green New Deal’. The target for job creation is rather modest, however: Ed Miliband suggested 400,000. Which is better than the 100,000 previously mentioned by Brown, but still much lower than needed. And those green activists who’ve been left outside the conference have reminded us that this Government doesn’t exactly have a good track record on helping low-carbon business: Peter Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, was ‘slimed’ on his way to the summit by Plane Stupid‘s Leila Deen who was protesting his closed-door meetings with BAA corporate lobbyists.
The Financial Times also reports on how the world will quickly lose the opportunity to re-engineer the economy along low-carbon lines unless more nations follow South Korea’s ambitious example. If the UK really wants to be a pioneer, to be remembered in the history books as a nation which helped rather than hindered the creation of a sustainable future, our Government has a lot of work to do.
UPDATE: Gordon Brown’s call for a Green New Deal is now the top story at Number10.gov.uk. Watch Brown, Mandelson and Miliband talk about it in this video:
I can’t help but ask why a Prime Minister needs to ‘call for a Green New Deal’. Surely that’s our job, as citizens. His job is to make the thing happen.
I mentioned a while back that Lord Chris Smith, chairman of the Environment Agency, has emerged as a enthusiastic advocate for the Green New Deal. Now, in an interview with the Observer, Lord Smith has criticised Gordon Brown’s environmental agenda for being incoherent, empty and inadequate. Brown talks about a Green New Deal, but hasn’t matched his words with effective action. Smith says:
Why on earth don’t we take a leaf out of Barack Obama’s book and put green technology right at the heart of the economic stimulus package that we believe the government is wanting to put together for the budget?
Why indeed. The case for a Green New Deal is stronger than ever. New research from the Environmental Industries Commission says that a Green New Deal in the UK could create 300,000 jobs. Meanwhile, over at Comment is Free, Brendan Barber describes how a global Green New Deal could be financed using a form of reserve currency known as ‘special drawing rights’ (SDR):
In terms of job creation, economic stimulus and support for long-term growth – not to mention warding off climate disaster – nothing is likely to provide bigger benefits than investment in climate protection.
Fortunately, some local governments are not paralysed by the inertia which has suffocated Downing Street. In Sheffield, preparation is underway for a Green New Deal conference on 28th February, supported by the city council. Speakers include GND authors Larry Elliott and Colin Hines. For more information and details about how to register, visit: http://www.sheffieldgreennewdeal.org.uk/
At nef, we’re continuing to develop ideas about ways in which the economic crisis and climate change can be tackled together, with social justice as crucial stepping stone between the two. Last month, our report Tackling Climate Change, Reducing Poverty – co-produced with our colleagues from the Roundtable on Climate Change and Poverty in the UK – addressed this issue. This week, we have a new pamphlet from our social policy team, exploring how we might restructure the welfare state to help us tackle the joint challenges of climate change and economic meltdown. Green Well Fair calls for a new social settlement which moves beyond dependence on the market economy, towards valuing the other, forgotten economies of people and planet. Download it for free or order a printed copy here.
We’ve had some very encouraging endorsements of the Green New Deal – from the UN, from the Environment Agency and from the IEA – but aside from some lofty promises from Barack Obama, there has been little in the way of national programmes along GND lines.
Until now, that is. A couple of days ago the government of South Korea announced that it would invest 50 trillion Won – £25.2 billion – over the next four years on environmental projects which will create nearly a million jobs. According to the Associated Press, the money will be directed to “energy conservation, recycling, carbon reduction, flood prevention, development around the country’s four main rivers and maintaining forest resources”.
Our government should take note. Gordon Brown will meet with business and union leaders at a summit on Monday to discuss the jobs crisis. He’ll no doubt remind them of his promise to create 100,000 jobs by investing in public services, infrastructure and green technology. Mr Brown has, however, given no indication of when these jobs will be available. Compare this South Korea’s plan. Despite having a lower GDP than the UK, and a smaller population, their government is aiming at 140,000 new green jobs in 2009 alone. Surely we can match this?
London City Hall is also getting in on the green jobs action. After announcing that he was in favour of some Green New Deal policies at the end of last year, Boris Johnson is launching a scheme to “retrain Londoners left unemployed by the economic downturn as energy efficiency advisers in a drive to make the capital greener”, reports the Guardian. It’d be fantastic news if he actually pulls it off, but as the Guardian’s leader observed on Tuesday, “Green new jobs are fast becoming the political equivalent of a new year’s diet – a commitment nearly everyone yearns to make but finds damnably difficult to put into practice.”
Finally, Australian think-tank, the Centre for Policy Development, has a good round-up of the some of the best ideas for tackling the financial crisis with green solutions. A Green New Deal is one of the publications mentioned.