Derby City Council

Interview – Marten Kats : Derby City Council Green Candidate ; Darley

The 2nd in a series of 6 interviews with a candidate from each Party who has not served, previously, on the Council. The Derby Labour Party were contacted to be involved but chose not to respond.

Rob CooperUKIP – Mackworth
Marten Kats – Green Party – Darley
Alex DannIndependent – Oakwood
Jonathan SmaleConservative – Chaddesden
Chris Fernandez – Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) – Darley
Robert Mason – Liberal Democrat – Alvaston

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What is your background?

I was born in The Netherlands in 1980, but I am now a British citizen.  I was active there in the Socialist Party, mainly just leafletting.  I came to the UK back in 2009, and got a job with a company who were desperate for foreign language speakers ( Marten speaks English, French, Dutch and German).  I was happy here, and decided that I wanted to stay and became a British citizen. Once I made that decision I decided that I wanted to get involved politically again, and I was looking at the different parties and tried to find the one’s that were closest to my roots…and so I found the Green party. I signed up as a member  and then became more active about 18 months ago, just at the start of 2015. I was going to meetings and then was the candidate in the Mackworth ward in the local elections, although there wasn’t much campaigning going on last year. Since then I have become the Chair of the Derbyshire Green Party and I’m now the candidate in the Darley Ward which is where I live. I’m also active in the East Midlands Green Party, and now I’ve got my links with the National Party.

My current job is in Export Finance (Aga Rangemaster in Long Eaton) -I deal with customers in their own language,  and I work a lot with the different aspects of exports.

I’m active in my local community – Derby Stand Up to Racism, and smaller community groups based around the area in which I live.

Why do you want to become a Councillor?

One of the reasons why I became active, was because I was complaining about a number of issues locally, for example,  how long it was  taking to decide what to do with the Assembly rooms,  closure of Moorways etc. And I thought, why just sit in the pub and moan about it – I thought I should get out and do something.  I started going to some of the Full Council meetings and when I was there I got the feeling that it was constantly Labour and Tories fighting each other. If a motion came from the Tories, even though it made perfect sense, and had every chance of becoming a cross-party motion, they would just automatically vote it out – and vice versa.  And I noticed the bickering going on there, and each time it was the same argument, and everything was being blamed on government cuts. And I do sympathise with that to a certain extent because I do think that local Councils are being cut too much, but it’s also taking your own responsibility and that’s what I don’t see with Labour. So, which is why, I thought I should run for Council and try to make a difference.

What qualities do you have?

I’ve got a background in Business and Finance, so the financial aspects of running the Council I can understand, and make proposals on. My activities in the community means that I’m aware of the local issues. I’m very passionate about equality which is why I’m in Derby Stand Up to Racism and also I’ve been supporting LGBT events and I want to make sure that the right services are there for the right people. So it’s in that way that I want to make a positive contribution.

I’m fairly well-known because of the many groups that I’m active in. I get to speak to quite a few people. If I’m in the local pub I get people coming up to me asking me whether I’m aware of certain things going on….so people do recognise me.

Why did you join the Green Party?

I was thinking what was closest to my heart, and one of the things I like about the Green Party is that it doesn’t just focus on economic growth…it focusses on the good of the whole planet. Also, in my view the Green Party is more consistent than Labour in its principles. I like the equality policies in the Green party – it’s very open to groups like LGBT and non-British people.  I didn’t really want to join the Labour Party as you never really know where it’s going. Jeremy Corbyn has now been elected, and I respect him, but there is such a split in Labour between Blairites and Corbynites, and the Council here are not really Corbynites. Finally, the Green Party, I like how democratic it is, more so than any other party – literally anyone can put in a motion at conference, get it voted on, and propose new policies and our leader, Natalie Bennett doesn’t just decide the direction the party is going in. If she wants to change anything she has to do the same as me or anyone else. The role of the Leader is different to other parties.

How will that work for Derby? Why would someone in Derby vote Green, as opposed to any other party?

They would like a different voice on the Council. Judging every proposal by its merits, being able to work with anyone on issues that we agree with and not be tribal. On the local level, the Green Party has done a lot to protect recycling and  public services.

In what way have you protected public services?

In the West Midlands we have, for example, initiatives to save a local library, to get people engaged locally, to take it to Council meetings, and fight the corner for the people, and to get results. That’s been happening in other parts of the country, and I want to do that in Derby as well.

In what way is that Green , as opposed to an independent Good Citizen?

We are seen as an environmental party which is important to me, and something I didn’t mention before was that we stand up for the “green belt” where possible, so we build on brown field sites, and would make use of the City Centre. All of these initiatives are possible in Derby, and have happened by Green councillors elsewhere. This is a real Green perspective. Also, trying to set up grass roots campaigns, to fight for local issues that people care about.

In advance of seeing the manifesto at the weekend, there are a few points I’ve picked up from your website.  You mention about cost savings required in the budget, and that you would keep Moorways and the Citizens Advice Bureau open. How would you do that?

That is a good question, and I do understand that the Council is in a difficult financial situation and I agree with the Labour administration to a certain extent that Derby is being harshly cut. I think the cuts are going too far but there are ways to save money. In Derby there are 51 Councillors, they all get paid at least £10,000 in allowances per year plus various other money, so is that really needed if you compare it to similar sized cities. The bill for the Council is quite high. So we would look into reducing the number of Councillors and allowances which are also higher than in some places around Derby.

That’s also a UKIP policy as well, ….?

That’s also our policy, and is also related to our national policy.

Are you saying that we should reduce by 17 Councillors or 34?

I would reduce by 17 but we would need to look into what is realistic to make sure that the wards are not too big and people don’t feel too remote from the Council House.

If you reduced by 17 Councillors it would save around £200,000 which is a drop in the ocean. So it wouldn’t make a noticeable difference?

Yes. There are other issues as well. The Council is budgeting to underspend by just over £2m, can that be a bit lower and still be responsible? I’ve seen many projects which have cost quite a bit of money like some of the artwork in Alvaston which people are not impressed with.

Those are in the past. What would you do to save the money in the future?

All of the water features have been turned off and they  say that it will save £65k per year, and from my knowledge it is quite a lot of money to spend on that, so rather than cutting it all together, is there anyway that it could be done cheaper by someone else? In Nottingham they have moved the energy to a local supplier which has meant they’ve saved a lot of money. Although it seems like a drop in the ocean all of these little bits add up. Another example is the housing policy – there are a couple of empty council buildings which cost a lot in maintenance –one policy, which is happening in Stoke is to sell them for a nominal fee on the condition that it is being maintained and being restored to a good state and turned into housing. It has reinvograted parts of the City Centre and is Green Party policy, although it was a Labour Council in Stoke. And we would like to examine the possibility of doing that in Derby.

Moorways – we would want to look into working with partners. Also flood defences – there is a scheme with government money, is all about hard engineering, and putting just structures in places. But a better option should include planting trees which greatly reduces the risk of the water flowing into residential areas. We could suggest a few alternatives on some aspects of the plan.

That’s great, but that will not affect the annual revenue budget. How would you balance that budget?

We’re not a fan of putting up Council Tax. Business Rates are a bit lower than in other areas, so we could look at options for raising that providing it’s not too damaging.

You mentioned about partnering with Moorways, are there any others you have in mind?

Moorways is the best example, but libraries is another example. There have been community initiatives ( so not always business partnerships) in Derbyshire where they worked with the help of volunteers.  At certain times there are no staff in the library, so people scan themselves – this is not ideal but if that’s what’s necessary to keep them open then we would review it. It has proven to be successful in some parts of the country….so we should investigate in Derby.

Would you consider borrowing money to balance the budget?

It can only be a short term solution. In some cases it can be used, to bridge the gap, and keep things open while trying to find a solution. Moorways is the perfect example of that.

The energy company in Nottingham you mentioned, how does that work?

It’s called Robin Hood energy it’s working with the local community – they don’t have any high paid executives and it provides a cheap energy solution for a lot of households in Nottingham. I would like to see this in Derby which I know the Council is now working on, so we would fully support that.

Where does the energy come from?

Both re-directed existing , and new green energy – this is limited. If you worked with Derbyshire County Council there will be more opportunities. I would definitely support the initiative, and there are things to be discussed .

You mentioned about supporting other parties, are you aware that Chris Williamson is exploiting your offer of support to UKIP on Twitter?

Yes I am aware, and it has been taken out of context. I agreed  with Gaurav ( Pandey – Chair of UKIP) on something on Twitter. It is our national policy that we would consider working with everyone and there are local issues that we agree on and I don’t rule anything out. As a small party, to get things done, you have to work with others. So, if there is an initiative driven by UKIP that we can support, then fine,  but this was just one issue, but the vast majority of areas we differ completely. It’s not that we will be working together, a lot.

What would your policy be on housing, especially in prioritisation?

It would go to those who need it the most – which is easy to say. I don’t have too many issues with the way it works now. I disagree with UKIP who say that certain groups of immigrants get it too easily – I don’t think that’s the case, as they go to the back of the queue like everyone else, unless there is really an emergency. But we mustn’t lose sight of those people living on the streets.

In the private rented sector there are loads of empty properties and that would be an area where we would like to try and work with the landlords. That’s one area that could work by borrowing money as buying houses is an investment.

Any other points you would like to make?

The Sinfin Incinerator – we are against that, although we are realistic that we can’t stop that.  The thing I do worry about is the pollution right around the area. We need to work with the community to find a safe solution because the children are being taught that everything’s fine, and it’s safe to go there for a school trip. Actually, other examples in other parts of the country have shown that it is not a safe place for children to be. It is still very polluting. We need to communicate with the community about the risks but not just the children, also the elderly.

I would just like to be a different voice on the Council and be pragmatic. Co-operation doesn’t need to be at party political level it’s also about talking to the local pressure groups. People want to be listened to, and we can start by talking to people. See where there is any common ground in working with them and supporting them and if I become a Councillor I will continue to do that….and hopefully make a contribution to the City.

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