The European Elections on Thursday are being characterised by many in the media as almost a dry run for an in/out referendum of the EU. But this election really ought to be about a lot more than that.
People are electing 6 MEPs to represent the Yorkshire and Humber region for a five year period. What we really ought to be talking about is how we are going to get more young people into meaningful skilled work in fulfilling careers. And how we can improve our housing stock which is some of the least energy efficient in Europe.
A particular aim I have set myself if elected is to get more resources to insulate the very worst housing in the region. Sheffield City Council has made an important start with its free insulation scheme for simple loft and cavity wall insulation. It is the harder to insulate properties that we need to get serious money to improve.
Often it is the least well insulated properties that house people on the lowest incomes. These have to be a priority if we are to make real progress on reducing fuel bills and carbon emissions. The great thing about these sort of schemes is that they put money back into peoples pockets and less into the hands of energy companies. That helps local economies as most of the money people save will be spent where they live. The other benefit is that large scale free insulation will mean more people in employment, learning new skills that benefit the whole community.
Government cuts to the Energy Company Obligation in April have meant that people on low incomes are now not going to get new energy efficient boilers or solid wall insulation. The challenge now for politicians is to fill the gap left by the government by drawing in funding from the European Union to match local funds. This would be a positive way forward.
The abolition of Yorkshire Forward, the Regional Development Agency, leaves a big gap in capacity to bid for and draw in funding from Europe and other sources. This is a gap which the MEPs elected this week could play a large part in filling by using their staff allowances to focus on helping realise this ambition.
Realising a future with warmer, easier to heat homes and an end to fuel poverty has got to be a more positive reason to vote than a one off protest.