While at the helm of an e-bike capable of carrying around 200 kilos of washing from a client’s house to the environmentally friendly Oxwash depot just a few miles away, it is impossible to deny Oxford’s commitment to combating climate change.
The pioneering spirit of the city is embodied by its Labour-run council who have been taking unchartered strides into climate change territory. Guided by Cllr Tom Hayes – Oxford City Council’s cabinet member for zero carbon – I visited the city to see first-hand the successes and challenges that arise when a local authority shows demonstrable devotion to the world’s most pressing matter.
Labour-led leaps with regard to going greener in Oxford are as numerous as they are pioneering. From introducing the world’s first “Zero Emission Zone” from 2020 to launching a Charter for Cleaner Air – which I have gladly added my name to alongside Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth – the city council is robustly consolidating a blueprint for change that will be integral to proliferating innovation and environmental change.
While walking on what was clearly a well-trodden path with Cllr Hayes around his patch in St Clement’s ward, the abundance of the council’s green initiatives was made clear. The authority has ambitious plans to ensure that all licenced black cabs are 100% zero-emitting by 2025 and to banish all polluting cars, vans and lorries from parking or unloading in the inner zone during the day from next year.
These initiatives, combined with the council forged collaboration called Low Carbon Oxford – which includes over 40 organisations from the public, private and not-for-profit sectors responsible for over 50% of the city’s carbon emissions – are a testament to the intrinsic role local authorities play when it comes to tackling climate change.
It is evident that when councils lead the charge from the front it fosters a city-wide atmosphere of proactivity and a can-do spirit. This ethos was illustrated by a visit to Oxwash, an environmentally friendly laundry service set up by a local university student. From the company’s electric cargo delivery bikes to the fully biodegradable packaging and detergents they use to reduce their environmental impact – they are a shining example of how sustainable business can be both environmentally and economically invaluable to the local community.
This is particularly prevalent as local authorities are facing unprecedented cuts to their funding, seeing 60 pence out of every £1 slashed from their centrally funded budgets by successive Tory governments. This means that now more than ever, our councils are having to rely on ingenuity and innovation to make the changes needed in our communities.
Labour-led Oxford are clearly doing this, and it is up to ministers and shadow ministers to leave the confines of Westminster to visit the coal face and learn best practice from those local authorities that are going above and beyond.
Having spent over 15 years working for various local authorities as an officer, I have seen the often-unsung work that goes on behind the scenes. I believe that if we are to win the battle against climate change, it will be through our local authorities.
In my first month as shadow minister I have visited councils in Oxford and Bristol and spent time on the frontline in council services in my own authority in a bid to fact-find and interact with people so that these ideas can be taken back to Westminster. This is a practice that I intend to maintain and I consider it a true privilege that in this new position as shadow communities minister, I have the opportunity to develop policy for such a vital segment of this nation’s administration.
Visits like the one to Oxford will tie into and shape conversations with colleagues from across a range of departments and I am committed to ensuring that local authorities have a voice in parliament.
James Kelly is editing LabourList while Sienna Rodgers is away.