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Money talks – Good news for Cameron, bad news for democracy? August 26, 2009

Posted by levensclaire in Politics.
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Interesting data from the Electoral Commission today provides an insight into political funding.  In the last quarter the Tories banked 49% of all political donations, with Labour enjoying only 33%.  Bad news for Gordon – especially as one political insider was recently suggesting a March election.

Whenever the election – money  – it be donations or expenses will be a key issue.  Time to grow up, I think, and accept that we need to pay parliamentarians an appropriate salary and that perhaps state funding of political parties is the least bad option.

Whitehall and Twitter July 29, 2009

Posted by letitiahughes in social media.
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So the government have written a guide on Twitter. As a number of news outlets have suggested, it is really quite ironic that while the point of Twitter is brevity, the government official twitter document is 30,000 characters or 259 tweets – I havent reached that number of tweets in total yet.

I suppose in fairness, although Tweets are short, the whole Twitter phenomenon is a lot bigger, especially if you include the plethora of Twitter tools, so a detailed report could be required. What is more, the report talks about how the Government is going to manage its corporate presence on Twitter  – I know lots of other orgnanisations are requiring similar lengthy ”guideline’ conversations at the current time.

The report also says that all departments need to become regular Twitterers, not just Downing Street and the Foreign Office. The report suggests departmental digital teams discuss potential tweets at the morning press cutting meeting. This leaves me hoping that they have not still missed the point, after all it is not just about regurgitating news, but about engaging in relevant conversations.

Another slight mistake may be the stipulations about tweet frequency – some days there may be a requirement for more tweets than the maximum of 10, especially if responding to some tweet questions for example.

More interestingly, the report says that there should be exclusive content online  – such as insights from Ministers on key meetings, and answers to questions from the public. Although I am not sure that we need  to know updates on ministers whereabouts through out the day.

A final point is that uninvited following is discouraged, in fear of being branded Big Brother, but it is apparently acceptable to follow back people once they follow you. I am not so sure about that – I would like to think that if I was saying something that was of interest or important to a Government department, be it DECC or Treasury, that they would just follow me no matter what.

Ok, so what do I think? Well I would say that the report has probably not covered everything, and like all of us, there is always more that can be learnt, but the fact that the effort is being made to engage usefully with Twitter can only be a good thing.

G8 Summit – Good News or Hot Air? July 10, 2009

Posted by letitiahughes in Uncategorized.
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So the G8 summit is here again, and we are back to the same old chestnut of global warming. Has any progress been made this time round? What good news have we had?

Well, the G8 agreed for the first time that it should collectively cut emissions by 80% by 2050, and that the world should be able to cut its emissions by 50% by the same date – The developed economies need to cut their emissions more, to allow developing economies to pollute more as they grow faster. These targets are the minimum necessary to ensure that the rise in global temperatures should not exceed 2 degrees Celsius, the danger level agreed by scientists. But they chickened out of the full deal – they set a fuzzy baseline for the 80% cut ‘of 1990 or more later years’ and acknowledged that baselines must vary but ‘efforts must be comparable’.

What is more, there had been hopes in the run up to the summit that the developing countries would join this agreement but they held out. These countries, led by China, India and Brazil, said they wanted to see more specific targets from the developed nations before they would make any commitments. Delhi will not move on a complete package until there is more money on the table, with developed countries paying the less developed countries to mitigate the effects of global warming, and adapt to them.

And you can see their point. We had hundreds of years, and the industrial revolution to get to this point. But in the end unfortunately is not just about the past, but it is about the future too and a global effort – The poor will suffer most if we can’t agree a global plan.

 British officials argue there is still time to pin out a complete deal before Copenhagen. Brown insisted: “Today we have laid the foundations for a Copenhagen deal that is ambitious, fair and effective. The world has now agreed that the scientific evidence is compelling and the G8 countries have agreed that developed countries will reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050.”

 Come on then Copenhagen!

Digital Britain rumbles on June 30, 2009

Posted by letitiahughes in Technology.
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Well the Digital Britain report has been out for a while now. People have had a chance to digest it and give their thoughts, so here are some of mine.

The Digital Britain report aims to be a guide for how Britain can sustain its position as a leading digital economy and society. There is a big focus on people and pipes within the report – for a more detailed management summary please see here .

The ‘people’ part is all about digital inclusion and digital skills central to Government plans for the UK of the future. People are a big part of this report, and the implication is that it is use of technology which will help drive the economy out of the recession. Martha Lane Fox, co-founder of LastMinute.com, has been appointed as the new Champion for digital inclusion.

The ‘pipes’ part is all about the move to universal 2MB broadband speed and Next Generation Access. This will also be a trigger for a programme of Digital Switchover of Public Services before 2012.

The Government believes that the fairest and most efficient means of ensuring that the overwhelming majority of the country has access to Next Generation Broadband is to create an independent Next Generation Fund, based on a supplement of 50 pence per month on all fixed copper lines. This initiative is not popular and led the media coverage on the Digital Britain report.Nevertheless, I think that the important thing about Next Generation is bridging the rural urban divide – where First Generation is unlikely to be sufficient.

Unsurprisingly, the political response to the report overall was not that positive. Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative Party’s shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport, called Digital Britain a “colossal disappointment” , particularly the proposal for a monthly 50p tax on fixed copper lines. Hunt said a better tactic would be to stimulate investment by changing regulations to encourage providers to spend on fibre development.

Don Foster, the Liberal Democrat shadow culture, media and sport secretary said that the plans for rolling out Next Generation Broadband are a step in the right direction but rural areas may face a wait of nearly a decade to see the benefits. They broadly welcomed paying for Next Generation Broadband, however suggested the Government must consider exemptions for pensioners and other less well off people.

So now the majority of people have had their say and the report moves to the implementation stage, where there are going to be some key changes in legislation such as the Broadband Universal Service Commitment. It will be interesting to see how much these issues become part of the electoral hot topics as the General Election approaches…

Comeback Central June 24, 2009

Posted by letitiahughes in environment.
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We always hear about celebs making a much-awaited comeback – Take That, Spice Girls – you name it – but isn’t it better when we hear of environmental comebacks? It is great to actually see good news environmental stories rather than the normal doom and gloom.

For example, we heard recently that great bustard chicks have hatched for the first time in Britain in almost two centuries, since 1832. At least three chicks from two nests are being watched over by their mothers at a secret location on Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire. The great bustard, Otis tarda, was hunted to extinction in Britain, although it used to be commonly found in the Yorkshire Wolds, Lincolnshire, East Anglia and Salisbury Plain.

But it is not just about the birds, it is also about the bees. We all know about the importance of the bee for the fine working of ecoystems, but there is one bee of special importance.

The short-haired bumblebee was exported from the UK to New Zealand on the first refrigerated lamb boats in the late 19th Century to pollinate clover crops. Although it thrived in New Zealand, it was last seen in the UK in 1988. Now Natural England and several other conservation groups have launched a scheme to bring the species home. As many as 100 of the bees will initially be collected in New Zealand and a captive breeding plan established, with the aim of eventually releasing them at Dungeness, Kent, where they were last seen. They will be flown back on planes in cool boxes, and will not be disturbed as they will be in hibernation during transit.

This return of the bees is really important as the bee is a “keystone species” for pollinating around 80% of important crops.

It would be great to hear what other good news sustainability stories people may have?

Sustainability Live 09 May 21, 2009

Posted by letitiahughes in Uncategorized.
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Well, has been a hectic few days at the Sustainability Live Show in Birmingham. The show was busy, but interestingly there were still a lot of empty spaces where additional stands could be. In fact, some of the people I spoke to said that the show seemed more empty this year (although this is a common observation at shows given the pessimistic British attitude!) Still, if it is the case that is quite unexpected – given the big sustainability push in Government this year, with the focus on carbon budgets.

Nevertheless, there were a lot of really cool organisations there  – from wind energy and solar companies to cool new biotechnologies for waste and water treatment, so all in all a good show. And some really interesting seminars too.

One thing I would say though – it was a little disappointing that for a sustainability show the number of cars that drove there. I am not judging because we were one of those offenders. I suppose it just shows how much further there is to go….

The Green Budget April 22, 2009

Posted by letitiahughes in environment.
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Well the much anticipated budget has finally arrived. It was all hyped up to be about all things environmental, but although there were some good points, I don’t think it quite lived up to the billing. Key green ideas were CCS technology and combined heat and power. There was a lot of support for renewable energy, especially for off shore wind.

Overall, I do have to agree with John Sauven from Greenpeace who said that there was some positive announcements in the budget but a lack of ambition. He said that: “Ministers tell us climate change is the great challenge of our time, but the money found for renewables and energy efficiency is only marginally more than Mr Darling found earlier this year for RBS bonuses”.

So what about some of the detail? I think that Carbon Capture and storage should really be explored, but again agree with Sauven that there needs to be strong regulations preventing the energy companies building regular coal plants with CCS experiments on the side.

Electric cars are another key part of the budget. It is really important that these cars are charged from renewable energy, like off shore wind, rather than coal power if we want to maximise the energy savings.

Combined heat and power plants’ (CHP) exemption from the Climate Change Levy was another good idea in the budget, that has the potential to provide huge benefits. Sauven said that: “Half of our energy needs and nearly half of our emissions come from heat use, so this extension of an exemption for CHP is sound policy. Normal power stations waste two-thirds of the energy put into them in the form of wasted heat, so anything that kick-starts heat capture at power plants would dramatically decrease emissions and improve energy security.”

Friends of the Earth have been  more negative in their response to the budget. They said that Alistair Darling has squandered a huge opportunity to create a low-carbon economy and create thousands of green jobs by investing in renewable energy and cutting energy waste on the scale required.

 I think there is no need to be negative. We just need to aim now to really take hold of these good green initiatives and run with them. We need to show what can be done, and maximise the opportunities. The carbon budget is all very well and good, but we need to make sure that we actually hit the target.   This will ensure that we remain a world leader on climate change.

Gordon’s Green Plans April 9, 2009

Posted by letitiahughes in environment, Uncategorized.
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I was interested to hear this week about Gordon Brown’s green plans for the budget.

He has said that  green innovations would be a major part of the government’s plans for recovery being unveiled in the budget later this month. An interesting if not unexpected development, echoed from Obama’s pledges in America.

It is true that green technology offers huge opportunities for job creation – Nicholas Stern mentioned this in a New Scientist article a while ago – as well as improving quality of life and providing environmental benefit. I agree with this, but think that this green revolution should be have happening no matter what, not as a rescue solution in the economic downturn.

In particular, Brown wants Britain to become a market leader across the world for electric and hybrid cars, with the option to recharge vehicles at the roadside. I would be interested here to see what their plans are in more detail, but I think it is a good idea in principle.

It’s not easy being green March 25, 2009

Posted by letitiahughes in environment.
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I belong to a green office, by that I mean we are committed to reducing our environmental footprint through focusing on our resource efficiency, waste management and environmental purchasing.  It works well in the office as we are all about the little things that we can do, creating simple opportunities for people to change their behaviour in a way that is beneficial for the environment.

For example, we are committed to multi material recycling – recycling all paper, cardboard, cans, plastic bottles, batteries and glass, and we are always exploring new reprocessing avenues for anything that we cannot currently recycle. We are also committed to developing ‘best practice’ in all green printing, and encouraging all employees to save electricity wherever they can.

 

As part of the Green Team within our office, I participated in an interesting event recently at Richmond Council, looking at how local companies can ‘green’ their activities, both in terms of their own offices and their products and services. I shared stories of what we are already doing, and got some good ideas of what more we could be doing.

 

Good tips included the freebie green posters to decorate the office, which are available on Carbon Trust  – our office are now using these. The usefulness of real time metering, allowing staff to interact with their own energy use in the office, was also highlighted. Longer term, it was suggested that green responsibility should be included in job descriptions.

We are always looking to ensure that we are a sustainable office and I will keep you updated on any further green activities.

Waste – It’s a resource March 13, 2009

Posted by gbcpublicaffairs in waste.
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There was an interesting report in the Economist at the end of February, focusing on waste. It was pretty unusual to see such a detailed report about rubbish.

This is because, as the report highlighted, rubbish may be universal, but it is little studied and poorly understood. Nobody knows how much of it the world generates or what it does with it. The report suggests this  is because waste is something its owner no longer wants or takes much interest in. I believe this is the fundamental problem – the words around waste need to change – it is a resource that needs to be renewed and valued. A number of organisations talk about this mindset change, but I don’t think that it has really happened.

For example, how much information is given out about energy from waste, or how waste can be converted to fertiliser or chemicals? And how much is known about the methane gas released from landfill, a greenhouse gas which is 25% more potent than carbon dioxide.

In fact, the only recent press coverage about recycling has been negative – about stockpiling, and the drop in market value of recycled goods.

I think it is important that we talk more about the positives of recycling and waste reduction. For example, there is an interesting new initiative called Jug It, which is sold at Sainsbury. They claim their jugs produce 75% less waste than a standard 2 pint plastic milk bottle. You buy milk bags and then put into the jug.

New innovations are happening all the time around waste – people need to know about them.

By Letitia Hughes

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