The Green Party are hoping to win the majority of seats on a city council for the first time as they gear up for local elections in Norwich. The Greens are already the second biggest party on Norwich City Council, which will hold elections on 9 September.
The Green Party gained their first Member of Parliament in this year's general election, when their leader Caroline Lucas was elected in Brighton Pavilion. The Party's second best showing was in Norwich South.
Although local elections are generally held in May, both Norwich and Exeter will go to the polls in September after a legal battle over council status.
A number of councillors were allowed to stay in office without facing elections this May, as the councils prepared to become unitary authorities that would take over certain county council services. But the decision on unitary status has now been reversed, leading the High Court to rule that sitting councillors must face by-elections.
The unusually timed election is an opportunity for the Green Party, as Norwich is high on the list of cities with strong Green support. Their Deputy Leader, Adrian Ramsay, is a councillor there.
Norwich Green Party candidates and councillors will take to the streets on Monday (9 August), a month before the city goes to the polls, to find out from local people how Norwich City Council could be more open and responsive. They say that they will put themselves “at the frontline of public opinion” by setting up an interview point in the city centre.
At a time when the Council faces difficult decisions, because of budget cuts imposed by the new coalition government, the Greens argue that maximum transparency is essential in everything the Council does. They say that councillors need to listen more closely than ever before to what local people say about how the money should be spent.
The Norwich Green Party is pledging to “do all they can to protect front-line services”. They accused the government of a “blunderbuss approach to public spending cuts”.
They will sound out local people on ideas for more openness. Suggestions include taking out Council meetings to local communities, asking for examples of Council wastefulness and allowing the public to choose priorities for spending cuts.
The Greens are keen to discuss participatory budgeting, a system which allows citizens to have a direct say in the allocation of part of the Council’s financial resources.
For those who may not have time to stop and talk in the street on Monday, there will also be a suggestion box for written ideas which people would like the Greens to consider.
“A few weeks ago I persuaded the Council to make the first move towards more openness,” said Claire Stephenson, seeking re-election as a Green councillor, “Councillors from all parties agreed to improve the system for scrutinising decisions that the ruling Executive councillors take”.
She added, “Now, with the election coming, we want to show we’re serious about moving further towards the Green vision of a City Council fully open to community participation. Part of that is to find out exactly how the people of Norwich want us to handle the difficult choices ahead, so we’re going out to ask them.”
The "Open Council" initiative is one of three main themes of the Green Party local election manifesto to be launched on Monday.
The Greens also want to take advantage of new arrangements which make it affordable for more households to opt for renewable energy and high-grade insulation to save money on their fuel bills, which can be done either by investing in partnership with energy companies, or by setting up their own Energy Services Company (or "ESCO").
The third strand of the Green manifesto will be a call to support the local economy partly through the "Buy Local" network. They say that this would not only encourage Norwich people to seek out locally produced goods and services but would also encourage local businesses to sign up others as suppliers.