Wednesday, I was part of a group of Transitioners from Ipswich, Debenham in Suffolk (England) and Diss (Norfolk) who were invited to a meeting by Suffolk County Council in the Council Chambers in Ispswich to discuss their ‘New Strategic Directions’ (NSD).
Suffolk’s NSD is a radical plan to turn the County Council into an ‘enabling organisation’ rather than a service provider. New community groups and social enterprises would be created to take over the present services, such as education, personal support services, libraries, roads, etc. but some wcould be given to private companies. Most(!) of the present Council staff would be let go, but many would be re-employed by the new organisations. The Council would still provide the funding, but reduced by about 30%. While this plan is very consistent with the present UK coalition government’s ‘Big Society’ plans, it pre-dates them, and was approved before last year’s election.
We Transitioners were very nervous in advance, well aware of the discussions around this issue that have been taking place around the Network. Our fear is that we could be used as ‘greenwash’, to cover privatisation and cuts in public services. Suffolk could create a modest number of high profile new social enterprises, while the bulk of the ‘divestment’ could go to the private sector. For this reason, one of us stressed that he was merely there ‘in his private capacity’ as a resident involved in Transition, and was definitely not representing his Transition initiative.
The meeting itself was very constructive. I was very proud of the clear and articulate way our group presented the Transition view, in terms the Councillors could understand. We talked about resilience, climate change, peak oil and how communities could respond to that. We distinguished between the ‘localism’ (making government more local) they were working towards and ‘localisation’ (a local economy, especially based around social enterprises). They listened carefully and seemed very sympathetic. They were planning visits to various local social enterprises to learn from them, and will include some of our projects.
Our big “win” was an agreement that the principles applied to pilot divestment projects will include the requirement for an assessment of whether community resilience has been increased or reduced. The Suffolk based Transitioners who attended will now be keen to ensure that this actually happens.
As for us being used as ‘greenwash’, we don’t know. But we certainly did raise the profile of the Transition network in Suffolk, and are hopeful of some useful results.
STOP PRESS: We heard today that, following a presentation by Debenham Area Transition to Mid Suffolk DC Environment Policy panel in November, the council have requested Transition Training! Wow!