Monday, 9 November 2009

Government slipping on carbon capture

Energy Secretary Ed Milliband refused to back the critical 2014 carbon capture pilot deadline today in the House of Commons. This could have signficant consequences for Longannet Power Station and the battle with climate change.

To explain, 2014 is the date which the government set for the establishment of the carbon capture demonstration project. That date was set so that the technology could be rolled out across all coal fired power stations by 2020 which is a crucial date for meeting the government's objectives on cutting carbon emissions and for the battle against climate change.

So if the pilots are not set up by 2014 we won't meet the 2020 deadline - it's that tight according to experts. That's why today's refusal to back the 2014 deadline is so concerning. It wasn't as if Ed Milliband did not understand what he was being asked as he was asked twice - once by the Tory front bench and once by me.

Why did he refuse to back the date, I hear you say. Well it's because E.on, who owns Kingsnorth in Kent, have said they don't plan to build their new coal fired power station there until 2016 - well after the carbon capture deadline. The Government have been bizarrely wedded to Kingsnorth for some time and they seem determined to push it through at any cost, even if it means missing their climate change targets.

As the MP for Longannet Power Station, Kingsnorth's only rival in the competition, you'd expect me to back Longannet but it's more than pork barrel politics that interests me here. My fear is that the Government may allow Kingsnorth to derail the whole project and set back the UK's efforts on climate change.

I’m also worried that any further delays to the competition, which has already been delayed several times, could delay investment at Longannet. Carbon capture and storage has huge potential locally, particularly as the Forth Valley is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions in the UK, with Grangemouth, Mossmorran, Cockenzie, and in particular Longannet.

I've written to the Energy Secretary to appeal to him to stick to the deadlines his Government set itself.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

A retreat for miscarriage of justice victims

I had a very productive meeting to explore the establishment of an all party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice.

Paddy Hill, Gerry Conlon, Vincent McGuire and John McManus joined MPs to discuss the setting up of the group and the creation of a retreat to provide medical, social and financial support and advice for miscarriage of justice victims on release from prison.

I have been working with MOJO (Miscarriage of Justice Organisation) on this issue for some time and am in discussion with the Justice Department on the development of a business plan for the retreat.

Reisgnation on nuclear submarine disposal programme

A government adviser has resigned in protest at the sacking of a colleague from the MOD advisory group which is deciding how to dispose of the UK's decommissioned nuclear submarines. Peter Lanyon says his position is no longer tenable as his views and those of his sacked colleague were not being considered. Dr Jane Hunt, a specialist in Environmental Projects at Lancaster University was sacked from the advisory group of the Submarine Dismantling Project and has now resigned from its steering group. In a letter to the project Dr Hunt said that the MoD is adopting a "decide, announce, defend" approach and feels she must resign as a member of the Steering Group as her membership implicity condones the actions of the MoD.

The UK has 27 nuclear submarines, of which 8 decommissioned subs are being stored at Devonport in the South West and 7 at Rosyth in Scotland waiting to be dismantled. The project has to decide how to deal with the radioactive and non-radioactive hazardous wastes in the short and long term.

Below is the text of her resignation letter.

3rd November, 2009

To: All Members of the SDP Steering Group

I have been saddened and disappointed by the path that is being trodden by the SDP. During the ISOLUS consultations there appeared to be a genuine attempt by the MoD to engage with public concerns and to manage the project with a degree of openness and transparency. Since that period, the MoD has increasingly abandoned this approach, has failed to implement its commitments both in relation to its responses to earlier consultation and to the Advisory Group, and has exhibited a growing reversion to ‘decide, announce, defend’.

Some examples of this are:

· The Advisory Group has been repeatedly presented with MoD decisions with little or any opportunity for comment. When the Advisory Group has given advice, this has often been ignored, or when apparently accepted, not implemented. Information on the MoD progress and project developments has not been provided to the Advisory Group in a timely fashion which would enable scrutiny, comment and advice.

· Most recently, the MoD announced at the July Advisory Group meeting that they were starting the process of selecting potential sites. I reminded the MoD they had previously agreed to involve the Advisory Group in the process of site selection, most particularly in determining the criteria to be used. This, I believe, would have led to a more robust and defensible list of potential sites, as well as being good practice. The MoD said they would take account of this agreement. At the next meeting, without any further communication with the Advisory Group, the MoD announced two possible dismantling sites and made clear there was a list of potential storage sites. They did not provide a rationale or explanation for their decision.

· Commitments given to the Advisory Group – such as the adoption of peer preview – have not been implemented.

· Commitments in response to previous consultation recommendations are similarly not being implemented; it is also clear that strong public preferences are also being ignored. For example, the influence of industry on the selection of sites is apparent: there are other viable sites for dismantling, despite strong public rejection of industry influence on decision making. There are numerous commitments contained in the MoD’s responses to consultation which the MoD have not implemented.

· A Ministerial statement confirmed that the Advisory Group’s remit included scrutiny of the project. It has been impossible for the Advisory Group to properly fulfil this role, as we have not been provided with sufficient information or involvement.

The apparent lack of respect that the MoD has for the Advisory Group and its advice seems to be manifested in the poor management and servicing of the Group, which range from lack of consideration of facilities for the disabled to late and inadequate paperwork to poor and inaccurate note-taking.

The role of the Advisory Group, despite its Terms of Reference, appears to be to add credibility to the Project rather than being any genuine attempt to seek and consider advice. The Project can make no claim to good governance, and the legitimacy of its decision making is seriously undermined , when its Advisory Group is continuously sidelined in the way that it has been.

It seems my own advice is uncomfortable for the MoD and therefore ignored and seen as trouble making rather that what it is: a genuine attempt to improve the governance of the project through fair and honest consultation and open and transparent decision making. The MoD seems to have no proper understanding of what these terms mean in practice and it appears they are unwilling to learn. The current trajectory of the SDP is, in my opinion, leading it towards increasing problems in this domain.

The MoD have made it impossible for me to advise the Steering Group appropriately as I have been excluded from membership of the Advisory Group and its consultation sub group.

Given that the MoD is reneging on previous commitments taken in response to consultation, is failing to properly elicit and consider expert advice, and is adopting a ‘decide, announce, defend’ approach , I do not feel I can continue as a member of the Advisory Group, as my membership implicitly condones the actions of the MoD. I therefore submit my resignation to the Steering Group.

Yours sincerely

Jane Hunt (Dr)

Friday, 6 November 2009

North Queensferry Primary School visit the Commons

I had a great time with the pupils from North Queensferry Primary School who visited London this week.

They were bright, enthusiastic and thoroughly enjoying their visit to Parliament.

Carnegie and Duloch Primary Schools Catchment Review

This is the text of a letter from Donna Manson to parents, carers and other interested parties regarding the catchment review for Duloch and Carnegie Primary Schools:

"Public Consultation on the rezoning of the catchment area for Carnegie Primary School and Duloch Primary School

The result of the public consultation regarding the three options for rezoning the catchment area for Carnegie Primary School and Duloch Primary School will be discussed by the Education & Children’s Services Committee on Thursday 12th November at 10.00am.

A copy of the full committee paper and appendices can be found at

Once you have accessed this site, you should scroll down the calendar to the 12th November and click on Education & Children’s Services Committee. At the bottom of this page you will find the committee report and appendices.

The recommendations, to be discussed by the committee, are as follows:

1. In the light of the results of the public consultation, to approve Catchment Option A (catchment split at Trondheim Parkway)

2. To agree to dual catchment arrangements continuing at Duloch Primary School

I will write to you again on Friday 13th November informing you of the outcome of the committee’s discussion and provide you with further information regarding P1 enrolment procedures for August 2010 intake.

Yours sincerely

Donna Manson

Area Education Officer"

Monday, 2 November 2009

Housing debate at the Scottish Lib Dem Conference

On Saturday I made a plea for more funds to be provided for the construction of more rented homes in Fife. At the Scottish Federation of Housing Association's Meeting at the Lib Dem Conference I cited my regular advice surgeries and office calls as evidence that there is a great need.

The housing waiting list in Fife is long and it's not getting shorter. Big families in small overcrowded homes combined is a common feature.

In particular there is considerable demand for suitable accommodation for elderly people with special needs. The council are unable to keep up with the demand for adaptations to homes and elderly people resent the declining warden service for sheltered accommodation.

Another common problem is the rented accommodation trap. Working people on low incomes who are desperate to avoid homelessness often accept private lets that they cannot afford. As a result they run down their savings to keep up with the payments but when they have run out they face eviction and homelessness - but this time without any savings.

The SNP recently cut £4.6m from Fife's housing capital budget because they reckon we have sufficient homes already. I have been pressing them to reverse this cut. Just how can they say we have enough!