Row over progress with tackling climate emergency in Northumberland

A motion to recognise progress on tackling the climate emergency sparked a political row at the latest meeting of Northumberland County Council.

Friday, 8th November 2019, 4:45 pm
Climate change. Picture c/o Pixabay
Climate change. Picture c/o Pixabay

During the debate, Labour took issue with the Conservatives trying to take the credit, while Lib Dem leader, Coun Jeff Reid, said: “Let’s see some bloody action.”

At the authority’s full meeting, Coun David Bawn wanted to ‘applaud the progress made by this Conservative administration since the summer when it declared a climate emergency’.

The motion added that the council should now set up a formal Climate Change Commission, something which had already been announced and which would see the authority teaming up with world-leading experts and industry leaders ‘to make a real difference in our collective responsibility’.

Coun Brian Gallacher, Labour’s shadow cabinet member for the environment, moved an amendment, so that the motion would reflect the ‘work of successive administrations in dealing with and leading the green agenda for Northumberland’.

The party’s deputy leader, Coun Scott Dickinson, added: “True to form, Coun Bawn’s motion is very narrow, designed to cause upset and a little bit of fluff in here, for him to use his usual words and shake everyone up a bit, but in actual fact the amendment is a more accurate motion.

“That is applauding the work of the current administration, applauding the work of the previous administration and the administration before that.

“Climate change didn’t start in the summer. For goodness sake, what a load of twaddle.”

Labour leader, Coun Susan Dungworth, said: “This is about making politics out of something that I thought we’d agreed was above politics and was cross-party. It’s about point-scoring on the eve of a General Election campaign and I’m really disappointed.”

But Conservative Coun Gordon Castle said he was ‘a bit surprised’, because he thought the motion was straightforward, suggesting the appearance of the word ‘Conservative’ was what was causing difficulty.

“What we are talking about is actually a factual statement,” he continued. “What has happened since then is actually quite remarkable and incredible.

“We’re not saying nowt was ever done by previous administrations, we’re not saying that, we’re saying that this has actually happened since the climate emergency was declared.”

Council leader Peter Jackson added: “There is a point to the motion and that is that the amount of action and activity to deal with this climate change issue has increased exponentially in this county council in the last two years.

“There’s been some sort of accusation about politics creeping in, but if we had a Labour group which was really serious about the climate change agenda, the Labour group which had been calling to be on the working group yet they can’t even be bothered to turn up to the working group.

“In the North of Tyne Combined Authority, fair enough we’ve got a Labour Mayor who makes a big thing about climate change on his agenda, but what’s he done about it? He makes a big noise about it, but actually no real action.”

Coun Gallacher’s amendment was voted down by 31 to 29, with Coun Reid, who doesn’t vote on motions as he believes they are pointless, initially saying that he would have supported the amendment.

However, he went onto criticise the motion as ‘creating a talking shop, which will go nowhere and do nothing’.

“What you need is action, not an action plan, strike out the word plan and put action,” he went on. “What have the Conservative administration, the leading councillors actually done to attack climate change?

“Are any of you going to give up your BMWs and your 4×4 Range Rovers and buy an electric Leaf, because I haven’t seen any of that yet.

“What you’re doing is setting something up and you’re going to expect other people to pay for it and expect other people to have to do the things that the action plan is going to say the council has to do and none of you appear to be able to do anything. Where is your commitment to get the bus here?”

The chairman, Coun Richard Dodd, pointed out there’s no bus he can get to County Hall, leading Coun Reid to reply: “Then why isn’t there a bus service? Why are we spending money not providing the public services and the public bus service that people in Northumberland need?

“This is why I never vote for motions, it’s just absolute tosh from start to finish.”

In the end, the Labour group voted with the Tories to support the original motion as they agreed with the action being taken on climate change, but Coun Dungworth claimed the administration had been ‘shown up to be pretty petty’.

After the meeting, she said: “Since the Tories came into administration, they have excelled at taking credit for countless Labour and cross-party achievements, including climate change action.

“The Tories’ failure to recognise the work done by councillors of all colours, members of the public and pressure groups to address climate change locally shows how out of control their self-promotion agenda has become.

“An issue like tackling climate change will not be resolved by petty point-scoring, it requires bringing everyone together to work towards something far more important than party politics.”