Time sure does fly when you’re sitting around eating a lot. But now I’m back at work, back at school and on the campaign trail. Exciting times coming up for TTK as well, more on which later.

In the meantime I’m slowly revving up for the new year from lazy to angry, aided by this story about clothes chain H&M, which allegedly throws away unsold clothing rather than donating it – even going to the trouble of systematically punching small holes in items with machines first to make them unwearable. The article also implicates Wal-Mart, though less surprise there.

H&M’s glossy sustainability pages boast charity collaborations and trendy organic fabrics. But this large-scale waste story shows all this up as a sop to the corporate social responsibility (CSR) trend – along with the alleged claim, which I can’t seem to find on the website for some strange reason, that a new H&M sustainability policy was to use less paper in their shipping labels.

Blue dumpster

The social and environmental implications are obvious and massive – but the democratic implications are huge too. One of the biggest issues that I hear people bring up in consultation meetings and discussions is the lack of input that local people have over business activity – and indeed the lack of a stake that local businesses often have in the areas in which they operate. Business rates are collected by the Council but set by – and passed straight to – central Government, who reallocate it – leaving Councils looking greedy for taking business’s money and having little, beyond the joint ventures in areas like crime and the environment that are beginning to emerge, to show for it. This means little of the mutual understanding needed to cooperate on issues like this – and little leverage when it comes to changing minds on the best ways to go about things.

The Conservatives are proposing some welcome changes to the system to protect smaller shops and allow local councils to keep business rates from new development. But nothing that I’ve seen – apart from possibly the Sustainable Communities Act – is proposing that Councils be allowed the power to do deals with businesses around the leying and spending of rates to incentivise – positively or negatively – dubious and pretty much immoral practices like throwing away clothes. (On the other side of the coin, the lack of a statutory duty for Councils to collect business waste – despite businesses ostensibly paying rates to the Council, the body which notoriously empties everyone else’s bins – means that as things stand, Councils might not even find out about such practices, and would need to make a special effort beyond their usual remits in order to help out with the situation.)

This would not be a substitute for corporate social responsibility or community pressure, but it would give it some focus on both sides of the debate – helping CSR teams do their job by spreading genuine best practice arising in local situations, and giving communities recourse to more than just making a noise when they didn’t like something that was going on.

It’s exactly the turf on which the Conservatives are trying to establish themselves. But in a climate of cuts, they’re going to have to do something spectacularly principled to offer more than the tired old formula, moulded under Thatcher and still an ever-present legacy, of Councils getting more power only when Government is assured that they will also get more of the blame.

What do you think? Please comment – even (or especially) to expose any small machine-punched holes in my logic.

To discuss any issues around Kingston, politics or both, just comment on this post and I’ll get back to you, or feel free to email me at any time at majeed@cantab.net

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