Remember David Cameron’s greening of the Conservative Party with that lovely logo of a tree. It is beginning to look as though it has got leaf rot or some other nasty disease. Perhaps the symbol should be replaced with an exhaust pipe.
The rot set in when Eric Pickles decided on a crafty trick in the Localism Bill to ” devolve” the payment of European Union fines from Whitehall to town hall. The two likely areas where councils will start having to pay hundreds of millions of pounds are waste disposal and air pollution. Both are affected by EU directives and Britain has little time left to comply with them.
This has caused considerable anger among Labour councils and even at the Conservative dominated Local Government Association. Authorities now not only face swingeing cuts but also fines unless they spend money to meet tough EU standards aimed at reducing pollution and waste. And if they have to pay the fines they will have to introduce even more cuts or get into expensive law suits with ministers over what proportion of the fine they should pay.
As Baroness Margaret Eaton, Conservative leader of the LGA said: “ Changing the goalposts now to make councils liable for fines is unfair to them and unfair to the local residents who may have to foot the bill. The Government must amend this unfair, unworkable, dangerous and unconstitutional legislation.” See full press release at http://bit.ly/g2W7EP
But there has been another extraordinary response from Boris Johnson which seems to suggest the solution is NOT to implement the new EU anti-pollution measures so we don’t have to pay the fines anyway. Flushed out by Murad Qureshi, Labour’s environment spokesman at City Hall, he disclosed that David Cameron and Eric Pickles want the EU to defer new tough air pollution measures for four years until 2015 so major conurbations including traffic ridden London don’t have to do anything yet.
Murad Queriashi is not impressed: “: “London’s air is literally killing thousands of people prematurely every year but it just doesn’t seem like Boris Johnson appreciates this. Improving air quality standards is one area where the mayor of London can, with a bit of will, make a real difference to people’s lives and especially to the lives of children. The statistics obviously haven’t had much effect on Boris – hopefully the threat of a big fine will.”
All this calls into question whether the Tories are really committed to the environment.
Basically Pickles has devised a very cunning plan. Make councils pay EU fines which will make the EU unpopular. See if you can delay anti-pollution measures which are affecting health – try walking across the Euston Road in London or near Birmingham’s inner ring road - so we don’t have to bother anyway. If that fails, it doesn’t matter, because it will be the councils who pick up the tab.
Robert Neill, the local government minister, gave it away earlier this year by blaming Labour for signing up to the Lisbon Treaty for councils having to pay fines. But as far as I know there was no provision in the treaty saying councils must pay.
Perhaps Pickles, Neill and Johnson aren’t really bothered by pollution – so an exhaust pipe rather than a tree would suit them.