Thursday, December 20, 2007

Staff Awards, The Year Ahead ... and Riverside Result

Two weeks ago the Southwark Team Staff awards were held at Vinopolis on the South Bank. Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey was the special guest. The awards were to those teams of workers on the Council who had achieved great results over the past year, and I was privileged to present an award to the team behind the Southwark Community Games.

There has been some negative press coverage about this event but I will not be joining in with those who have complained about it. All I saw on the evening were some brilliantly enthused staff who were excited about the event, and who were clearly motivated by being part of a great evening. It is sometimes the staff at Southwark who get caught in the political "cross-fire", so it is important to recognise the hard work they do in some really challenging circumstances.

In the year ahead I think Southwark Council will face some real difficulties over how we meet our obligation to bring out housing stock up to the Government's 'Decent Homes' standard. Current estimates are that we have a £100 million shortfall in the budget although I have heard rumours that this could rise to over £300 million. The Council simply does not have this sort of capital available - so some hard choices will have to be faced. The aggressive partisan approach taken on every issue by the current Tory/LibDem administration means that we rarely discuss issues on a cross-party basis. This is a shame - especially concerning the future of our housing stock, where I would have thought some collective thinking may be helpful. Labour's door is always open. A new approach to politics is almost the mantra of the current LibDem and Tory national party leaders, but in Southwark it has fallen on deaf ears!

After both Labour and the LibDems campaigning vigorously in the Riverside by-election, the result was virtually a 'no change' from 2006. The Libs vote increased by 34 while ours went up by 39. This has been presented as alternatively a) a swing from Labour to the LibDems and/or b) a greater increase in the Libs vote than ours. I don't understand those propositions as to me it looks like our vote increased fractionally more than theirs - albeit 5! It would have been great to have achieved a greater swing or increase in the vote, but at the end of the day we were in a LibDem stronghold, and the national picture has not been kind to Labour recently. But the parallels with the result of the East Walworth by-election in 2004 are clear, when we went on to pick up two of the Council seats in 2006. The LibDems ran an unremittingly negative campaign but at the end of the day the electorate had a good selection of candidates to choose from. Cormac Hollingsworth for Labour was a superb candidate and will make a great councillor. I do not know Anood Al-Samerai who won for the LibDems, but wish her well as an elected councillor.

And so 2007 draws to a close! May I take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and New Year!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Camberwell Grove - Another Update

Last night I got an e-mail from Paul Noblet, Deputy Executive Member for Transport, which was copied to all councillors in South Camberwell and Brunswick Park. Perhaps rather belatedly Paul seeks our views as to whether we share our constituents concerns with regard to traffic lights as part of the solution to the re-opening of the Camberwell Grove railway bridge.

On the basis that the overwhelming majority of those I surveyed in August/September opposed traffic lights, and given the potential for severe congestion and "clogging" which lights are likely to cause, I have told Paul that I do share my constiuents concerns!

Is it too much to hope that at last these views may be given some attention?!

Riverside Ward By-Election Update

Just over a week to go until the Riverside Ward by-election, and Labour councillors and members have been out working hard on behalf of our strong local candidate, Cormac Hollingsworth. This is an interesting election as it will be the first test of the LibDem/Tory coalition since it took office in May 2006. Riverside ward is also one of those areas where the demographics of the population continue to change significantly, so no party can take its vote for granted - although it should be a safe LibDem seat.

I have not seen as much LibDem activity as I would have expected, although they are specialists in "under the radar" campaigning, and I know that they will be working hard. What has surprised me is the fact that despite being in power for 5 1/2 years in Southwark they have not been able to offer a positive vision for the area. Every leaflet I have seen has contained numerous Labour "scare" stories about our secret plans for everything from our council housing stock to local post offices. The approach seems to be to try and throw everything at Labour and hope that some of it sticks! The problem for the LibDems is that people who meet our candidate Cormac, know that his real ambition is to work hard as a local representative for the residents of Riverside ward. And the second problem for the LibDems is that people know that this election will not change who runs the Council - so the daft scare stories are simply irrelevant!

I do know that if Riverside Ward wants the best local candidate who will serve his community and stand up for their interests they need look no further than Cormac. I hope that they will give him their support next week!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Labour Group Event!

Last Saturday night 230 Labour members and supporters attended a fund-raising event in Camberwell for the Damilola Taylor Trust. We were honoured to be joined by Damilola's parents, Richard and Gloria Taylor. Richard gave a very gracious speech and spoke of his commitment to continue the work of the Trust in Southwark. The event was also attended by Harriet Harman MP and Val Shawcross, GLA member for Lambeth & Southwark.

A great deal of work had been put into organising the event by my colleagues Althea Smith, Dora Dixon-Fyle, Mary Foulkes and Martin Seaton. Many other colleagues worked hard on the day and night to make it a success.

As well as raising funds for the Damilola Taylor Trust we were also marking the bi-centenary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

The excellent news was that we raised £5,000 for the Damilola Taylor Trust.

Another Council Assembly!

Last night saw the final Council Assembly of 2007. As a meeting it has ceased to be of any real significance since the Constitutional changes introduced by the Tory/LibDem Executive last May meant that local people could no longer bring deputations to Council Assembly. But last night was reduced to a near farce as the LibDems sought to prevent Labour councillors asking questions of Executive members. A series of questions from LibDem councillors to Jeff Hook, Executive member for Community Safety, were met with lenghty replies which he read out from his pre-prepared script. At one stage he was falling about laughing as he read yet another answer to a planted question. Personally I don't think it is a laughing matter that 29 Labour Councillors are prevented from questioning the Tory/LibDem Executive. It is certainly not a proper way to be conducting the business we were elected to do.

As to the remainder of the meeting, the Council adopted the first resolution which is necessary to revise our local bye-laws, and debated Government funding to Southwark; transport links in South London and the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle. It was interesting that Cllr Stanton spoke of the need for us to argue on behalf of Southwark as a whole in securing additonal funding from the Government; citing Camberwell & Peckham as the 6th most deprived constituency in the UK; at the same time as the LibDems are distributing leaflets in the Riverside by-election which seek to pit Bermondsey against Peckham. A real inconsistency which needs some explanation! When he tried to give examples of his Executive's support for Camberwell & Peckham he could only mainly point to projects which had received non-Council funding - the Peckham City Academy (DfES funding) and Burgess Park football pitches (Sport England). The Labour Group will always support any argument which is intended to secure fair funding for Southwark, but we do need to see that fairness practiced across Southwark as well.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Remembrance Sunday and the Riverside By-Election

Yesterday I was honoured to lay a wreath at Southwark's War Memorial on the Walworth Road on behalf of the Labour Group. It was a slightly odd service, with wreath-layers called forward in a fairly random order, and far too many people carrying on with their usual business on the Walworth Road during the two minute silence. I know that people have other things to do in their lives, but standing still for two minutes as a mark of respect for all those who have given their lives in order that we can lives ours in the way we wish to today does not seem to be too much to ask.

Harriet Harman attended for what was her 25th Remembrance Day ceremony at Southwark's War Memorial - she had been pressed to attend at the Cenotaph in Whitehall but instead chose to come to the Walworth Road.

I am told that the Leader of the Council attended the West Lane ceremony. West Lane is on one of the boundaries of Riverside Ward where campaigning really got going this weekend. All of the major parties have now selected their candidates. Cormac Hollingsworth is, as predicted, Labour's candidate. He is the only truly local candidate of all those put forward by the main parties. He is a committed community activist and will make a superb councillor. Anood Al-Samerai, rejected by voters in Brunswick Park last year and most recently part of the LibDems action team in East Walworth, has dusted off her carpetbag and been selected for the Libs. Anood is clearly really desperate to be a councillor and, surprise surprise, works in Simon Hughes's office - so presumably has his blessing in the same way as Paul Baichoo did! And look what happened to Paul Baichoo!!

The Libs have already started publishing material full of half-truths. They just don't seem to care about the facts! Their latest leaflet contains pure scare stories about Labour wanting to use Bermondsey's money in Camberwell and Peckham; and our 'secret plans' for all sorts of nonsense! So secret that none of us in Labour know about them!! There is a nasty angle to these stories though - as they are designed to pit one part of our borough against another. As the Libs have been running Southwark for 5 1/2 years I would have hoped they would have got over this nasty approach and appreciate that they SHOULD be serving all of the people of the borough and not just those in the areas where they have their support.

One of the most ridiculous stories is about our 'secret plans' to raise councillors allowances as colleagues in Lambeth have done. This is plain nonsense. Firstly, we have a stated manifesto commitment to cut councillor's allowances; secondly, the LibDems are the ones who have consistently raised their own allowances year after year since taking office in 2002 and thirdly, even if we took Southwark allowances to the same level as those in Lambeth they would be far LOWER than those paid in Southwark. In short, there is not a grain of truth in their 'story'.

One issue likely to be of importance in this by-election is the future of the site adjacent to Tower Bridge, where Berkeley Homes have planning permission for a major housing development. The Town Hall is clearly getting worked up over a story which appeared in last week's Southwark News, which discussed the possibility that Southwark residents may have lost up to £50 million as a result of a decision forced through by the LibDems two years ago to transfer ownership of Potters Field Park from the Council to a separate Trust. If the story is true it is an example of shocking incompetence and huge loss to the public purse - and if I was the LibDems I would want to bury it too!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Camberwell Grove Bridge Meeting

Last night 300 residents came to Grove Chapel on Camberwell Grove for a meeting to discuss the future of the Camberwell Grove Railway Bridge. It was a superb public meeting with many thoughtful and relevant contributions - and a fair bit of applause and barracking! The meeting came about after Cllr Sandra Rhule, Chair of Camberwell Community Council, together with myself and Cllr Ian Wingfield proposed it at a recent Community Council meeting.

I had the job of trying to summarise some of the main points of the evening - not an easy task as there were some fairly polarised views! My own views are that Network Rail must bear significant responsibility for the failure to repair the bridge speedily. Readers of this blog will know that we have been promised a number of different dates for the bridge to re-open, but these have constantly slipped. We were told last night that March 2008 is now the likely time to re-open; although I wouldn't bet any money on that! Traffic signals remain an unpopular solution to the problem of how to manage traffic on a re-opened bridge. Despite some hostile views being expressed, the vast majority of residents present at the meeting and directly affected by a traffic signal solution were against them. This accords with my recent survey. I can understand the frustration of people who want to see the bridge re-opened, but I don't understand why they are angry that traffic signals are unpopular - perhaps a reader can enlighten me!?

Issues on which everyone seemed to be in agreement were - 1. the need to properly stop HGVs and lorries using Camberwell Grove; 2. the need for a sympathetic solution to managing the traffic - there is no reason why a solution needs to look like roadworks on the M6; 3. a proper traffic survey across Camberwell and Peckham in order to try and limit the number of rat-runs; 4. the need for a permanent and long-term solution to the problem. Ultimately the railway bridge needs to be replaced, and the sooner this can be done, the better.

Cllr Paul Noblet, the LibDem Executive member for transport put in a fairly woeful performance. Although he has not been in the job long he did not appear to have briefed himself on the issues and received a fairly angry reception from the residents present.

Cllr Mark Glover, my colleague from the Lane Ward, chaired the meeting excellently, and every view was fairly heard. Andrew Downes, the Council's traffic officer coped very well with some tough questions and gave a thorough presentation.

I hope that the meeting served to underline the strength of feeling which exists on this issue, and this helps guide Cllr Noblet and Andrew Downes to make the right decisions for the future of Camberwell Grove.

Riverside Ward By-election

After a very poor attendance record at Council meetings over the past six months (he attended one Community Council meeting for 10 minutes in October) Paul Baichoo has resigned as a LibDem councillor in Riverside Ward. Paul has cited health reasons for his decision to quit, although according to local newspaper Southwark News, this appears to be at odds with other reports of his attending nightclubs and partying in Ibiza. I hope that Paul's current health worries are unfounded. Paul was clearly not comfortable with his council membership, and for some time had appeared to be disillusioned with the LibDem/Tory Executive - he voted against his party at a Council Assembly meeting at the start of the year. However, he has not worked hard for his constituents for some time and he has done the right thing in resigning.

This means a by-election in Riverside Ward on December 13th. Labour's candidate is likely to be Cormac Hollingsworth. Cormac lives in the ward and has been working tirelessly for people living there for a number of years. Issues concerning anti-social behaviour on the Four Squares Estate and the prospect of lap-dancing clubs on Tooley Street have only been brought to public attention through the work which Cormac has put in. If the people of Riverside Ward want a councillor who will actually represent them, they need look no further than Cormac! They certainly deserve some full-time representation.

I have no doubt that Simon Hughes and Nick Stanton will try and parachute in some other acolyte of theirs, but the Paul Baichoo experience will surely leave Riverside Ward residents wondering whether another Hughes/Stanton stooge is the best they can do.

A Labour win on December 13th will seriously undermine the ruling Tory/LibDem coalition and put a question mark over whether the they can continue in office all the way to 2010.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Threat to Denmark Hill Service....again!

Last year a successful campaign by Cllr Veronica Ward, Val Shawcross AM, Harriet Harman MP, myself and numerous local residents led to Network Rail withdrawing plans to cut the direct train service between Denmark Hill and Victoria.

Well now Network Rail are at it again - but this time they want to cut the direct service between Denmark Hill and London Bridge, and significantly reduce services from other local stations. The consulation period is incredibly short but Veronica and I will be handing out leaflets and asking people to sign a petition at Denmark Hill station next Monday and Thursday between 8am and 9am.

My colleague Cllr Fiona Colley gives more detail on her blog. It is really important that local residents express their views - we know from last year's campaign that it does work!

UPDATE - If you want to send your comments to Network Rail on these proposals this is the e-mail address -

Monday, October 08, 2007

Election 2007/ 8 / 9 / 10.....

So there won't be a General Election this year. Although Team Labour in Southwark was ready to go if Gordon Brown had announced a November 1st Election, many members will be relieved that we can concentrate instead on the important elections for the London Mayor and the GLA next May. The choice for the electorate in those elections is plain - more progress on developing London as the World's Capital City under Ken Livingstone; or making us a laughing stock under Boris Johnson. I can't believe that anyone is seriously considering voting for Boris - he treated the whole exercise of becoming the Tory candidate as "a bit of a laugh", and apart from making a few fatuous and inaccurate comments about bendy buses has said nothing of interest about London or Londoners.

So did Gordon Brown make the right decision? Almost certainly, yes. There were numerous reasons why a November 1st poll would have been bad for Labour. Firstly, it would have been incredibly difficult to encourage people to come out to vote after dark; the electoral register is at the end of its useful life for the year and many people would have been disenfranchised; and I am not sure that people would have understood why we were having an election now. Given that we had just passed an amendment to our Party constitution in Bournemouth which provided that any future manifesto had to be agreed by a vote of the entire Party membership, it would also have been a bit odd to throw ourselves into an election without going through that process. It would hardly have been a demonstration of support for our new-look internal party democracy!

The speculation was allowed to run on too long, and I can't help thinking that Gordon Brown has not been well served by his team of advisers. It is incredible and fairly disheartening that he has ended up getting such bad publicity for such an unnecessary reason.

So when will the next General Election be? Although the indications are that it will now be in the Spring of 2009 I have believed for some time that we may have a General Election on the same day as the next borough elections in London in 2010. This will be leaving the General Election until the last possible date, but there are recent precedents in 1992 and 1997. Now that really would make for an interesting election locally and nationally!

One footnote from the weekend of campaigning - both Labour and the Conservatives were out working in Bermondsey and Old Southwark, but there was no sign of the LibDems. I can't help thinking that Simon Hughes and his colleagues are really worn out and are just giving up on Southwark!

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Labour Conference 2007

Last week was spent in Bournemouth at the Labour Party Conference. I took advantage of the opportunity to chat with the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, about the continuing problems of anti-social behaviour in the north of the borough on the Four Squares Estate, and the failure of the LibDem Council in Southwark to respond to the repeated requests of residents on the Estate to take tough action. Jacqui Smith called on the Council to respond to those requests and use all of the powers available to tackle the problems of anti-social behaviour.

I also noticed that it was reported this week that only 4 ASBO's had been issued against residents in Bermondsey over the past year, compared to 14 in Camberwell. Although there have been some historic issues concerning street drinking in Camberwell, it is surprising that so little seems to have been done in Bermondsey when this seems to have been one of the parts of Southwark which has suffered for so long from the sort of behaviour on estates which was supposed to be tackled by Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

At another meeting at the Conference Yvette Cooper, the Housing Minister, told Southwark to get on with bringing its council housing up to the Decent Homes standard, given recent reports that the council is looking for an extension of up to two years after the 2010 deadline for the works to be completed. Southwark has dragged its feet unacceptably over the whole issue of Decent Homes, and at a time when other London Councils are completing their works it is amazing that Southwark is continuing to dither and delay.

The Conference was a good week for Labour, with excellent speeches from Gordon Brown, Ken Livingstone and Harriet Harman closing the Conference. This picture shows me with Gordon Brown at the Unite Reception on Wednesday evening.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Camberwell Grove Bridge - UPDATE

I received an amazing 187 responses to my survey on views concerning the closure of the railway bridge in Camberwell Grove - representing 215 residents. This is well over 50% of those who received the survey.

Of those 187, 100 (53%) were in favour of keeping Camberwell Grove closed permanently, whilst 87 (47%) want to see the road re-opened.

80 (80%) of those residents who want to see the road stay closed live in Camberwell Grove; whilst 71 residents (81%)of those residents who want the road to re-open live in Grove Park; where much of the displaced traffic from Camberwell Grove has been diverted.

From those respondents who want to see the road re-opened, the overwhelming majority are in favour of it returning to a two-way route, albeit with some width restrictions. There were many other individual proposals concerning priority lanes and one-way traffic from other respondents. However, there was near unanimity from all respondents that they did not wish to see the introduction of traffic lights at the bridge - I also received 28 separate letters on this topic!

As some residents will know, Southwark Council's preferred "safe" option for Camberwell Grove is that it should re-open with traffic light controls.

I presented my survey results at last night's Camberwell Community Council, and secured the agreement of my Council colleagues and the relevant traffic officer that there should be (a) further consultation with affected residents about the proposals for Camberwell Grove by the Council and that (b) as part of that consultation there should be a public meeting for all affected residents of Camberwell and Peckham to explore the various options.

Watch this space for more details of the public meeting!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cllr Blango - Not up to the Job!

Two and a half years after Lord Herman Ouseley reported on Southwark's equalities record and procedures, the Labour Group thought that it was timely to review progress in implementing the 35 recommendations which he had made, and tabled a series of questions and a motion for debate at last night's Council Assembly. We could not have been clearer in giving warning to the Executive member with responsibility for equalities of our intentions, so that he could come to the Council Chamber fully briefed and ready to deal with any queries we raised.

So it was profoundly disappointing that Cllr Columba Blango chose to simply berate the fact that Labour had raised the subject and failed to display any grasp of his portfolio responsibilities last night. And remember that he draws £43,000 of Council Tax payers money for the post he holds!

Lord Ouseley's review came about as a result of specific concerns within the Black and Minority Ethnic ('BME') community in Southwark and amongst the Council's staff and it was this area of equalities with which he was particularly concerned. For example, a disproportionate number of Southwark Council's BME staff had been subject to disciplinary proceedings, and there was no apparent plan to increase the number of BME staff in senior posts. So it was fairly shocking to find in response to written questions which we had submitted that Southwark apprarently no longer monitors the ethnic profile of those subject to disciplinary proceedings and the number of senior BME staff has decreased from 17.2% to 15.7%.

Cllr Blango's response to both of these concerns was that he was confident that there was no problem with BME staff and disciplinary proceedings (although how he knows is a complete mystery) and that we can't expect the number of senior BME staff on the Council to increase overnight. Exactly, but what action plan was he going to put in place to try and increase the percentage of BME staff was our response?

This led to contributions from Council Leader Nick Stanton and his increasingly volatile Tory Deputy Kim Humphreys about very senior staff appointments by members over the past twelve months which; deliberately or not; completely missed the point.

This was a serious attempt by the Labour Group to probe the Ouseley review and the Council's progress in apparently "mainstreaming" the report's recommendations. As it took six weeks for some fairly simple questions to be answered by various departments, and then for all those answers to come from one officer, we are far from convinced that "mainstreaming" has occurred.

The response of Cllrs Stanton and Humphreys to the debate was disappointing - but they have not often felt comfortable on previous occasions when we have debated these issues.

But the performance of Cllr Blango was simply astonishing. He had failed to prepare for the questions which were put to him or the debate that followed. He failed to exhibit any understanding of the importance of the subject or what he might do in his Executive role to promote greater action to deal with the 10 recommendations from Lord Ouseley which still require urgent attention. In short, he was not up to his job. In any other sphere of work Cllr Blango would be considering his position this morning, and others would be giving him advice on what he should do. My advice is simple - he should resign.

Cllr Capstick Resigns

After two months of pressure from Southwark's Labour Group and internal divisions within her own group on the subject, Cllr Denise Capstick, the Executive Member for Health and Adult Social Care, announced her resignation at the start of last night's Council Assembly following her conviction for drink driving in July. It is the right thing for her to have done and it is only disappointing that it has taken her such a long time, and the prospect of losing a vote calling on her to resign, for her to reach this inevitable decision.

Although Cllr Capstick has not been at her best with regard to this whole incident, the real failure lies with Council Leader Nick Stanton. It was he who said that he had "not considered for a minute" that she should resign, and sought to downplay her conviction on the basis that she had not crashed and no one had been injured. As I have spoken to people across Southwark about this incident, it is the words and actions of Cllr Stanton which have attracted the most anger. And I am informed that his Party Leaders at LibDem HQ have been far from impressed with his handling of Cllr Capstick's case - believing that he should have asked her to resign immediately.

It is not often that it is possible to highlight a clear decision made by a Council Leader and judge the merits of that decision. Normally decisions are taken by committees or larger bodies. But in this case we have been able to see Cllr Stanton's decision and consider his judgement. He has clearly failed to demonstrate leadership or judgement, and despite his best efforts Cllr Capstick has been forced from her job. I imagine that there are a number of LibDem councillors today who are wondering whether they are going to survive electorally in Southwark if they have to rely for much longer on the leadership and judgement of Cllr Stanton.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Southwark Labour Conference

Labour Party members from across Southwark gathered on Saturday for our first annual borough conference. It was a terrific day, with speeches from Harriet Harman, Tessa Jowell, Hazel Blears and Val Shawcross. There are not many boroughs which can organise an event like this and attract three Cabinet ministers! Harriet spoke of her work as Deputy Leader and Chair of the Labour Party; Tessa spoke of the need for a new politics to tackle the problems we face - particularly in inner-city areas like Southwark; and Hazel Blears spoke of the challenges and opportunities facing us in local government.

There was a truly positive feeling during the day, which was held at InSpire in Liverpool Grove, and there is certainly a feeling that the Labour Party has a renewed optimism about tackling the problems which we face in national and local government. The day also included six working group sessions which discussed papers which had previously been prepared, and which will begin to form the basis of our manifesto for the 2010 local elections.

Over 100 people attended the conference, which I hope will be the first of many in the years to come. The event really demonstrated that Southwark Labour Party is one of the most dynamic and progressive borough partys in the country!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cllr Capstick - UPDATE

Southwark News reported last week that there were significant divisions within the LibDem Group on Southwark Council with regard to the way in which Cllr Capstick's drink-driving conviction had been handled. This appears to have been borne out by the LibDem Group meeting on Monday where, I am reliably informed, 4 LibDem Group members refused to support Denise.

Whilst many people that I have spoken to are still amazed that Cllr Capstick did not resign her position immediately, there is equal if not greater amazement at Cllr Stanton's comments that he would not sack her as she had not crashed.

This whole episode has a feeling of Cllr Capstick and her colleagues not choosing to do what is right, but choosing to do what they can get away with. To my mind it is so patently obvious that Cllr Capstick should have resigned her position that it hardly needs stating.

All councillors will have an opportunity to vote on a Labour motion at next week's Council Assembly about drink-driving. It will be interesting to see if any of the LibDem "rebels" are prepared to vote in public to condemn the sort of behaviour which Cllr Capstick has been convicted of, or whether they will manage to find some mealy-mouthed way of avoiding expressing any view. I do not believe that any politician should send out an ambiguous message about drink-driving, and I hope that the LibDems and their Conservative colleagues will put principle ahead of their allowances - for once.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Today's Daily Mirror!

I was shocked when I turned to page 22 of the Daily Mirror today, as it posed the question "Is this the baddest Council in Britain?". Here is the full article -

"Is this the baddest council in Britain?
EXCLUSIVE Child porn, dodgy websites, drink driving, junketing..

By Rosa Prince Political Correspondent 20/08/2007

A lib Dem-run council hit by a string of scandals has been branded the baddest in Britain.

A candidate was jailed for child porn, one councillor runs an adults-only website, and a former deputy mayor was accused of aiding terrorists - a claim she denies.

Another member of Southwark council is a convicted drink-driver.

And the local authority was also slammed for spending £300,000 a year on food and drink at meetings.

Former candidate Karl Lindon, 26, was jailed for three years in May for having 2,500 indecent images of children on his PC.

He canvassed for the party but pulled out of the 2006 local elections at the last minute.

Councillor Paul Baichoo is a glamour photographer who runs featuring pictures of scantily-clad women.

He said on another site: "I've been a male escort." Baichoo did not comment last night.

Eliza Mann, an ex-Lib Dem mayor, was accused by Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence of having links to a group that raises funds for the Tamil Tigers. She denied the accusation, and said: "I campaign for the independence of the Tamil people in a peaceful way." Police confirmed she was not being investigated.

Denise Capstick, the South London council's head of health services, was recently fined £500 for drink driving and given an 18-month ban. But Lib Dem council leader Nick Stanton said she did not need to resign as "she didn't crash".

One resident said: "This lot are a complete shower."

The national Liberal Democrat Party said: "We have no comment about any of this."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Could it be Kirsty?

Interesting prediction on the electoral calculus predictor today which suggests that if a General Election were held tomorrow Simon Hughes would lose and Bermondsey and Old Southwark would have a new Labour MP in my colleague Cllr Kirsty McNeill.

The figures are LibDem 34.94%; Labour 36.8% and Tories 15.14%. The predictions are based on recent opinion polls up to the 22nd of July and take account of boundary changes which come into effect for the next General Election.

Although opinion polls can be notoriously unreliable, it really does seem that we are in for an interesting battle for Bermondsey whenever the next General Election comes.

LibDems Weasel Words on Drink Driving

The LibDem group on Southwark Council seem to have battened down the hatches in the hope that the criminal drink drive conviction of Executive Member Cllr Denise Capstick will be forgotten. I still think that this is an absolutely unbelieveable response and sets the worst possible example across the borough.

Since suggesting that the Labour Group would report Cllr Capstick to the Standards Board for England I have received and seen comments from the LibDems which suggest that the Standards Board are bound to dismiss any complaint that is made against Denise as a result of the judgment of Mr Justice Collins in the Ken Livingstone v The Evening Standard case, in which the Judge ruled that anything which the Mayor did in his private life could not be regarded as bringing his public office into disrepute.

But this ignores the fact that on the 23rd of May this year Southwark Council Assembly voted to introduce a new Code of Conduct for members specifically as a consequence of Mr Justice Collins' judgment, and which specifically stated that members would bring the council into disrepute if they were guilty of criminal offences committed before the new Code took effect, but for which the member was not convicted until after the Code took effect.

So it seems to me that if all members signed up to the new Code of Conduct; as we all did - including Cllr Capstick; we should all be bound by it! It is nothing more than dishonourable and disreputable for LibDems to now say that the Code of Conduct has got nothing to do with them. This is exactly the sort of behaviour and weasel words which bring politics and politicians into disrepute.

So I repeat my plea from my last posting - Cllr Capstick should resign and resign now!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Drink Driving - Why Denise should Resign

Cllr Denise Capstick is the Health and Adult Social Care Executive member on Southwark Council. She is a former Mayor of Southwark and a Major in the Territorial Army. She has a good record of service to the public.

But last week she was convicted of drink driving, banned from driving for 18 months and ordered to pay a £500 fine. Apparently she was caught by the Police when she was attempting to drive home after getting drunk at this year's Mayor Making party. She had called out the AA because of a gearbox problem, who then called the Police when they realised she was drunk.

The explanation which she has sent to all councillors in an e-mail is barely credible and involves a convoluted tale of losing contact with her friends at the party, being unable to get a taxi, and taking the decision to drive home rather than walk.

This was foolish and criminal behaviour by Denise. For years governments and the Police have worked to rightly stigmatise the act of drinking and driving - not just because it is the law, but because people still get killed and seriously injured by drunk drivers.

I am absolutely stunned that Denise has not yet chosen to act honourably and resign from both her Executive position and the Council. It is right that councillors are only human, and are subject to human frailties, but her conviction shows that she has fallen well below the standard to be expected of a person in elected political office. Politicians often complain about the cynicism with which the public treat us, but is it any wonder if the public see people like Denise just "getting away with it" following a criminal conviction and being allowed to hold on to her £42,000 salary and the perks that go with it.

The reaction of the Council Leader is even more amazing. Cllr Stanton has defended Denise on the basis that "..she didn't crash". Well that's alright then. A drunk driver can motor around Southwark with the Council Leader's approval providing they don't run anyone over or collide with anything. Cllr Stanton has said some foolish things in his time, but this must rank as his most stupid.

Drink driving is a crime; society should rightly condemn those who drive when drunk. Cllr Capstick should resign immediately.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Southwark Youth Summit

Last night Southwark Labour Group launched an extensive consultation exercise with young people across the borough to find out what their priorities are and what they would like the Council and Government to do to meet those priorites.

During the Autumn we will be talking to many youth groups across Southwark in what will be essentially a listening exercise for us. Southwark Council has an extensive budget which should provide support and services for young people, but it sometimes seems that that money does not meet the aspirations of too many young people.

I have to admit that last night's event at the Town Hall was dominated by the "grown-ups", but future meetings will really be targetted at young people and only they will be invited. If you have any thoughts about youth provision in the borough, or if you would like to help organise one of our meetings please get in touch.

I was amazed by a terrific card trick at the end of the evening - as the photo shows!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Camberwell Grove Update

Here is the latest information which I received today in an e-mail from Southwark Council's Transport Department. I have reprinted it in full:

The network rail bridge was closed, under emergency powers by the police following a routine maintenance inspection, which revealed a crack in the beam.
The repairs are being implemented in two parts with the final part being undertaken in July 07. As the repairs are located under the bridge, they can only be implemented during closures of the railway.
These repairs will allow the bridge to be reopened to traffic but with limitations as follows :-
* The bridge will have a weight limit 7.5tonne, which will need to be physically enforced with a width restriction.
* Only one lane of traffic can be permitted to use the bridge due to the location of the repair.
The bridge can only be open to vehicular traffic once the above restrictions are implemented. This restriction will need to remain in place until Network Rail can gain funding for a permanent repair of the bridge, which would allow the removal of the weight limit and any associated traffic management measures.
Not surprisingly during the closure there have been opposing views regarding the closure, with some residents supporting the permanent closure of the bridge and others complaining about the additional travelling time and/or additional traffic travelling on their roads.
To facilitate the above restriction and the opening of the bridge to limited vehicular traffic, Network Rail consultants have submitted for consideration, some options, which would achieve the partial opening of the bridge.
These options centre around two themes:
* Allowing alternative lane working on the bridge (i.e. allowing priority to either north or southbound traffic across the bridge at any one time); or
* Making the traffic flow on the bridge in one direction only.
Both of these would incorporate a width restriction across the bridge of 2.1m (6ft 6inches) and the traffic of cars and light vans would only be allowed to cross the bridge on the western half of the carriageway.
However, all the options require additional traffic management measures at the junction of Camberwell Grove and McNeil Road. This is due to various potential safety constraints/concerns and at this stage officers view are that only one option can be progressed, which will carry minimal risk in terms of safety. That option is for using traffic signals to control vehicles across the bridge and that also incorporates the junction with McNeil Road.
1. Mini roundabout at jn McNeil Rd Only allows north bound traffic to use bridge, southbound traffic would still need to be diverted as present. Unbalanced traffic flow would mean roundabout would not operate efficently.
2. Single flow only Northbound Only allows north bound traffic to use bridge, southbound traffic would still need to be diverted as present. Conflict point where traffic emerges from McNeil Road.
3. Two-way flow Priority north bound Allows traffic to cross bridge in both directions but southbound would have to give way to northbound traffic. Difficult for traffic to exit McNeil Road with sub standard visibility.
4. Two-way flow signal controlled Allows both north and southbound traffic to cross bridge. Allows traffic to enter and leave McNeil Road safely. Better pedestrian safety.
All the above options were considered and the only one in our view that can allow traffic to cross the bridge in both directions safely is option 4. We have been waiting for confirmation from TfL(Signals) that the traffic signals scheme is an option and they can accommodate it within their programme of works. This has now been received and we have passed this information on to Network Rail with an indication that the overall cost is estimated at £121,000 and wait their confirmation that they will cover the costs fully.
As the bridge was closed under emergency powers it is necessary to reopen it when it is safe to do so. As we believe there is only one safe way of doing this (using traffic signals) the next issue is how this is communicated with the public as in reality we will be informing and not consulting.
Currently we have no indication when Network Rail will confirm their approval to fund the works but this maybe before the next round of Community Councils.

Please get in touch with me if you would like your views to be heard on this subject.

Elephant & Castle Development Partner

Southwark's Executive today chose Lend Lease as its major Development Partner for the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle, a project which will have repurcussions right across Southwark. Already there is the potential for more jobs and retail space from the regeneration, together with the prospect of a brand new swimming pool and even a new Town Hall!

It will be at least 12 years before the regeneration of the Elephant & Castle is complete, and in those 12 years there will be real opportunities for Southwark residents to benefit from the work in the building industry which will be generated by the regeneration taking place. But those opportunites will only come if Southwark's residents have the necessary skills for those jobs. For at least 2 years I have been arguing that Southwark desperately needs a Building Skills College to equip residents of all ages for the unprecedented opportunites which lie ahead in the borough. Such a College formed a central plank in Labour's local election manifesto last year. However, we still seem to be no further forward, and there seems to be a lack of political will within the Council to urgently address this issue.

Building trades provide opportunities for good employment and incomes for local people for at least the next decade in Southwark. It is time for the Council to take a lead on equipping reseidents with the skills they will need.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Crossthwaite Avenue

The parade of shops in Crossthwaite Avenue are a vital community resource, but at the moment they are all struggling to survive. Two of the shops are currently shuttered up while the others are facing difficulties in meeting the rent increases which Southwark Council want to impose.

So I hope that a meeting between Veronica and myself together with the Deputy Chief Executive of the Council and the Head of the Property section will result in some real help for the shopkeepers. We visited the shopping parade and spoke with Mr Patelia from the Post Office, Hugh Dawes from St Faiths Church and others who highlighted the problems Crossthwaite Avenue has been facing. With uncertainty over the future of the Post Office it is really important that everything possible is done to help the shops continue trading. Although it may be difficult to do anything directly about rents, money could be spent to regenerate the area around the parade and make it a more welcoming shopping environment. Better signage would alert people to the fact that the shops are there! The shops serve the Denmark Hill and Cleve Hall Estates, together with the residents of Sunray Avenue and surrounding roads, so it would be a disaster if they were lost.

Veronica and I are committed to fighting for the future of Crossthwaite Avenue and will continue to pursue this issue until some greater help is provided by the Council.

That 'Cash for Honours' Investigation

Am I alone in thinking that Assistant Commissioner John Yates of the Yard has been allowed to go on a hugely disruptive and expensive ego trip over the past 16 months? Month after month we have all read and seen sensational stories which have warned that charges were almost certain to be brought against Lord Levy, Ruth Turner and others who have been interviewed by John Yates. The story has led the television news on numerous occasions and Tony Blair was interviewed on three occasions. So today's news that no charges will be brought as a result of the £1 million investigation make me wonder what on earth has been going on, and how Yates has been allowed to preside over this costly investigation for so long.

I still think that the dawn raid arrest of Ruth Turner was an absolute disgrace. Why could the Police have not arranged an interview with Ms Turner at a mutually convenient time? It cannot be suggested that she was a potential fugitive from justice, and lives would certainly not have been at risk if the Police had called a few hours later. My conclusion is that the arrest occurred at 6.30am in order for Mr Yates to grab the headlines yet again, and to demonstrate the macho power of the constabulary.

The whole exercise has damaged politics enormously, but it has also certainly damaged the Metropolitan Police and the reputation of John Yates.

Congratulations to Virendra Sharma!

Congratulations are due to Virendra Sharma and Phil Wilson on winning great by-election victories for Labour. After Tony Lit was shown up as a rather shallow opportunist last weekend it seemed fairly clear that he was not going to win in Ealing Southall. But yesterday as I glanced at some of the LibDem literature proclaiming their impending victory I thought that the yellow party might have known something the rest of Ealing Southall did not! Alas, the Great Ming Cavalcade failed to make any serious impression in either by-election, despite their typical fairly grubby campaigning techniques.

So great results for Labour! David Cameron is clearly not the vote-winner that his colleagues had hoped he would be, and the dynamic Sir Menzies Campbell survives as LibDem Leader.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Campaigning in Ealing Southall

Yesterday I went with council colleagues Fiona Colley, Paul Bates and Robert Smeath over to Ealing Southall to help in Virendra Sharma's by-election campaign. The election takes place on Thursday, but the big news yesterday was the huge embarrassment for the Tory candidate of having been exposed as a Labour donor and supporter until a few days before he was chosen by David Cameron to be the Conservative candidate!

While this is an example of unashamed opportunism by the Tory candidate, it also shows absolutely hopeless judgement by David Cameron and his Old Etonian cronies. The Tory candidate may have many admirable qualities, but a guiding political philosphy is clearly not amongst them. But this type of poor judgment by a Party Leader who aspires to be Prime Minister is pathetic. So desperate are the Tories to be seen as something which they fundamentally are not - champions of diversity and equality with a membership that crosses boundaries of class, background and ethnicity - that they have selected virtually the first person who they find who can possibly pass themself off as a New Tory; for that person only to be uncovered as a Labour supporter.

So good luck to Virendra Sharma for Thursday!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Congratulations Harriet!

It is great news that Harriet Harman has been elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party! Over a year ago I spoke with Harriet and told her that she should stand and could win - so it was brilliant to see that hope come true. She has worked incredibly hard during this campaign, and articulated many of the views of Party members - so I also hope that her views will carry real weight with Gordon Brown as we prepare for the next General Election. My own view is that Gordon Brown should make Harriet Deputy Prime Minister - I think many Party members will be baffled if he promotes those deputy leadership candidates who came well below Harriet in the contest to significant positions above her. The whole deputy leadership debate has been about listening to the party membership - so Gordon can now take the opportunity to reflect the fact that he does value the views of the party membership by placing Harriet into a genuine position of authority.

In any event we know that Harriet will be back in the Cabinet after 9 years - and with her role of Deputy Leader and Labour Party Chair she will be in a superb position to champion the people of Camberwell and Peckham and Southwark.

The atmosphere in Manchester yesterday was electric. It was an election which was too close to call - but the common view seemed to be that Alan Johnson would win through. This seemed to be confirmed when the deputy leadership candidates came into the Hall, with Alan smiling broadly and the only one carrying any papers - surely this was his acceptance speech. Five minutes later mobile phones were buzzing with the news that the BBC and Sky were announcing that Harriet had won. Then the phones buzzed again with the news that the BBC had effectively 'un-announced' Harriet's victory!

So it was truly exciting as the results of the ballot were read out - and the computer graphics eventually pushed Harriet over the 50% mark. It is amazing that the result is almost identical to Denis Healey's winning margin over Tony Benn in 1981.

Harriet made a strong and thoughtful speech which was very well received. I do believe that she speaks for a section of the electorate who are too often taken for granted. Gordon Brown was also impressive as he began to lay out his vision for Britain under his premiership - I am confident that Labour can meet "the challenge of change"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tony Blair Farewell Reception.

Yesterday evening I was lucky enough to see Tony Blair give his final speech as Labour Leader to a Labour Party meeting at West Ham Town Hall. It was fitting that the event organised by the London Labour Party was in Newham which has benefitted so much from the regeneration opportunities provided by the Labour Government, and which will be the principal host borough of the 2012 Olympic Games.

Electorally, Tony Blair has been Labour's most successful leader, and is the second longest serving Prime Minister of the last 100 years after Mrs Thatcher. Although it seems to be a popular pastime for those supposedly on the left of British politics to denegrate the achievements of Tony Blair and his Government, I have no doubt that the past ten years have shown that we can have economic stability and social justice at the same time, and banished forever the idea that Labour cannot be trusted to run the economy.

Throughout the 1970's, 1980's and early 1990's General Elections were determined laregly by economic considerations. Over the past ten years we have taken that economic prosperity for granted.

On any set of figures we do have record investment in our schools and health service. There may still be some work to do in ensuring that investment achieves real improvements, but let's not forget that we no longer talk about people waiting years for routine operations, and our schools are not in the state of physical disrepair which they were in 10 years ago. Looking around Southwark, every secondary school will have been completely renovated within the next 5 years.

Perhaps the biggest change over the past 10 years has been in our social attitudes - we are a more liberal and tolerant society. For this Tony Blair and the Labour Government must take real credit.

Faced with a Tory Party in disarray over its Grammar Schools policy, and which wants to re-introduce admission charges for our museums and galleries, I have no doubt that Tony Blair's legacy will continue to be built on for many years to come by Gordon Brown and future Labour Governments!

Friday, June 15, 2007


With only days to go until the deadline for voting in the Labour Deputy Leadership election, can I urge Labour Party members to vote for Harriet Harman as 1st choice. Harriet is a terrific MP for Camberwell and Peckham, and has shown throughout her political career that she is not afraid to speak up for issues which sometimes get overlooked in the mainstream of political activity - reminding us all of the importance of families and childrens rights.

I believe that Harriet would be a brilliant Deputy Leader of our party, and a perfect balance to Gordon Brown as Leader and Prime Minister.

Latest News in Brief

It's been a while since I have posted so I thought I should update on a few of the political stories in Southwark.

Despite our best efforts Cllr Bob Skelly won the vote at Southwark's Mayor-Making meeing on the 16th of May. Much has been made since then of the apologies he made for his insensitive and crass comments when he was forced to resign in disgrace as Executive member for Education in December 2004, and that he has chosen the Damilola Taylor Trust as his Charity for the year. All worthy sentiments and actions I am sure - any sensible person would applaud additional fundraising and publicity for the work of the Trust. However, I still do not understand why the LibDems and the Tories had to choose such a controversial figure as Cllr Skelly in the first place. He is the only one of Southwark's 63 councillors who has had to resign from an Executive, or any post, for making perceived racist comments. Was there really no-one else suitable to be First Citizen of our borough? Could the Lib Dems and Tories not recognise the attributes of Labour's Cllr Situ? I think this whole sorry episode says a great deal about the poor political judgment of the Lib Dem and Tory groups on the Council.

Caroline Pidgeon, the sometime Executive member for Education and Childrens Services, just keeps adding to her sparkling CV and list of positions! Not content with being a local councillor, and Executive member, and Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Vauxhall; she has now been placed in 3rd position on the Liberals list for next year's GLA elections. Barring political earthquakes Caroline should be elected to the GLA, which I am sure will provide her with another terrific stepping-stone to yet higher office. But two things concern me. With such a portfolio of positions has Caroline really got the time to devote to Southwark's schools? And in any of her new positions, will she be prepared to actually take decisions - in contrast to her real timidity as Executive member?

At the last Council Assembly meeting the Lib Dems and Tories voted through a change to the Constitution which effectively meant that nobody would be entitled to bring a Deputation to full meetings of the Council if they could take their Deputation somewhere else first - such as the Executive or a Community Council. One of the major supporters of this proposal was Cllr Humphreys, who seems astonished that we are not all clamouring to listen to him give Fidel Castro-length speeches and presentations on his wondrous handling of housing affairs! Labour opposed the proposal on the grounds that we argued that it would simply be used by the ruling groups to keep deputations away from Council Assembly meetings. There can sometimes be real advantages to bringing deputations to the full Council, as solutions to previously intractable problems can often be found, and a wider group of councillors made aware of the Deputation's grievances. Sadly our arguments did not win through. So I was not surprised that of the three groups who had applied to bring Deputations to Council Assembly on the 27th of June, all three had been refused! Democracy Southwark-style - you can say whatever you like, but only so long as it isn't going to embarrass the Libs and Tories!

And finally, political credibility is at last mine! In a recent and rather odd interview in Southwark News, Tory Leader Cllr Humphreys condemned me as "not fit to lead" Southwark Council! Just putting to one side the fact that he was prepared to talk to me last May after the elections about a possible coalition, and had previously invited offers from me on a Labour / Tory pact in the last Council between 2004 and 2006, I take it as truly positive that a Thatcherite Tory no longer wants to do business with me! Just in case anyone was in any doubt there are real and genuine political differences between the Labour and Conservative parties; our political philosophies are different; our core constituents are different. I make no apologies for standing up for those in our borough who are the worst off and most in need of support from the Council and other authorities; and for those who look to the Council for leadership, setting an example on how we can best live and work together in our diverse borough.

Dog Walking Chaos!

At the start of the week I couldn't understand why I was suddenly getting calls and e-mails about Southwark's dog-walking policy - until I was told that signs had gone up all over the borough instructing people to keep their dogs on leads.

A little investigation revealed that the Council, in fact, had no powers to erect the signs or require owners to keep their dogs on leads at all times! An embarrassed statement from Cllr Lisa Rajan, who is responsible for the Council's policy in this area, seems to suggest that the signs were erected in advance of a public consultation on the subject. Erm - so I wonder what the Council's views may be given that the signs have already gone up?!

In short, the episode has caused a lot of anger amongst responsible dog owners, and left the Council and Executive looking far from competent. The Executive are to consider the issue at its meeting on Tuesday 19th June - it might be one that dog owners may want to attend!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Camberwell Grove Update

The saga of Camberwell Grove's bridge closure continues. The latest news is that Phase 1 of the works has been completed by Network Rail, although the necessary second phase of the works will not be completed until July.

I am informed that a decision will then need to be taken on how traffic restrictions on the repaired bridge are implemented as the weight limit on the bridge will mean that only single lane traffic will be permitted at this point. Consultation is promised, although I know that there has been previous consultation on the issue of traffic at this point of Camberwell Grove in the past.

So no early resolution to the road closure. I will post any further information as and when I have it!

Let's have sense over Southwark's Mayor

The LibDems have nominated Cllr Bob Skelly as their Mayoral candidate for the forthcoming year. This is what the Evening Standard said about Cllr Skelly in December 2004:

Schools chief quits over 'racist' remark
By Mira Bar-hillel And Oliver Finegold, Evening Standard 06.12.04

One of London's biggest local authorities was at the centre of a race row today after a senior councillor was forced to resign as its education chief.
Bob Skelly had said that Caribbean schoolboys needed "booster lessons in English" and attacked them for a "lack of commitment to education".
Mr Kelly, who was executive member for education at Southwark, claimed his words had been taken out of context.
But race campaigners said the remarks were "outrageous" and called for him to apologise. The council is already facing allegations of institutional racism from black businesses in the borough.
Mr Skelly had been asked by opposition councillors what he was doing to address the performance of Caribbean schoolboys. He replied: "Every evening I go out in a big van and kidnap some Caribbean boys. I berate them about their lack of commitment to education and give them a booster lesson in English."
A spokesman for the National Assembly Against Racism said: "Someone in his position should know better."
Mr Skelly said his remarks were "obviously tongue in cheek and said as a joke". Asked about his resignation, he added: "I'm going into territory that I don't want to talk about."
Council leader Nick Stanton said: "Mr Skelly's comments were crass and stupid. He has been suspended from the local Liberal Democrat group."
It comes after black business owners claimed they were being "ethnically cleansed" to allow the gentrification of parts of the borough. An independent inquiry is investigating.

Just over 2 years on those comments remain "crass and stupid" and I firmly believe that Cllr Skelly is simply not a suitable person to be the First Citizen of a borough as diverse as Southwark. In this year when we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in this country, it is monstrous that the Lib Dems have chosen as their candidate for mayor a councillor who has made such insensitive remarks. The Labour Group will be nominating Cllr Tayo Situ, and I hope that the LibDems realise their gross error and support his candidacy on Wednesday.

Gordon Brown's Campaign Launch

On Friday I attended the launch of Gordon Brown's campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party. With his experience over the past 10 years and clear vision for this country in the future, I am sure that he will not only make a great Leader of the Labour Party but also a fine Prime Minister. I think that the public are looking for a different style of leadership at the present time, and Gordon Brown will provide a truly distinct choice for the electorate at the next election when compared to the "policy-lite" David Cameron.

Emphasising his commitment to listening, restoring power to Parliament, the creation of 5 Eco-Towns, and continued investment in and improvement of our public services, I believe that Gordon Brown's agenda will provide a real boost to the Government after 10 years in power.

Monday, April 02, 2007

It's been ages....

Since I last posted a blog here. Apologies to my many readers (Cllr K Humphries of College Ward!).

So what has been going on? Well we had another Council Assembly last week which was interesting for two reasons. Firstly, despite protests from Cllr Richard "Never Surrender" Thomas that East Dulwich would never be designated as 'Urban' for the purposes of Southwark's Unitary Development Plan, every member of Council Assembly (including Cllr Thomas) voted on Wednesday to designate East Dulwich and other areas including Rotherhithe and parts of Nunhead as erm, 'Urban'! It's not as bad as it sounds - Southwark has decided to adopt the Mayor of London's 'London Plan' densities for these areas which means in technical terms that whereas Southwark had been arguing with central government of densities in these "suburban" areas of 200 - 350 habitable rooms per hectare, we will now operate on an "urban" range of 200 to 450. In fact, this compromise will mean lower densities for certain areas.

This is a perfectly sensible way forward, and could have been adopted since last May. My colleague Cllr Gordon Nardell proposed such a solution a month ago, only to be told by Cllr Thomas that it was impossible. I just think that for the sake of trying to rubbish the Government and create an atmosphere of fear amongst his constituents, Cllr Thomas has ended up looking rather foolish.

Secondly, clear cracks began to appear in the LibDem group, with one member abstaining on a vote concerning additional changing facilities on Peckham Rye for the Carrib Football Club. Carrib have up to 12 teams of young people from right across Southwark playing football on Peckham Rye each weekend. But the changing facilties the Council currently provides are lamentable, and additonal temporary facilities are required. Local councillors had worked hard with officers to reach a compromise, only to have the carpet pulled out from under their feet by the Executive member for Culture and Sport, Cllr Lorraine Zuleta. At the meeting, following a brilliant deputation from several young Carrib FC players, Cllr Zuleta proposed a motion which required Nunhead and Peckham Rye to find the funding for the changing facilities. This completely misses the point that the club is serving the whole of Southwark, and that giving young people such valuable out-of-school activity meets so many of the targets which the Council should have for tackling crime and anti-social behaviour! And whereas Southwark has an overall budget of over £1 billion, Nunhead & Peckham Rye councillors administer just over £250,000 per year in their over-subscribed Cleaner, Greener and Safer budget.

Cllr Zuleta completely misjudged this issue, and it is no surprise to hear that she may be banished to the backbenches in May.

In any event, Nunhead and Peckham Rye councillors have risen to the challenge and agreed to meet the costs of the changing facilities from their very limited Cleaner, Greener and Safer budget. Together with my colleagues, Cllrs Smith and Friary, I have written to the Chairs of all the other Community Councils asking for them to make a contribution. So far we have received positive responses from five Community Council Chairs, including one Liberal Democrat. This just proves that when it is so glaringly obvious that a problem should be solved, backbench councillors will find a way, even if the highly paid Executive will not.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tories and LibDems Vote for Inflation-Busting Council Tax Increase!

Last night's Council Assembly setting the budget for the coming financial year resulted in an inflation-busting 3.9% increase in council tax for Southwark residents. The Tories and Liberals both voted for the rise, which breaks the Tories pre-election promise to keep any increase in council tax below inflation. The Tory Leader and gimmick-master in chief, Kim Humphreys, justified his broken promise on the basis that 3.9% was the current rate of inflation for something somewhere! The rate which is used by the Bank of England when considering interest rates and even Southwark Council itself when setting wage increases is the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which is currently running at 2.7%. But who needs to worry about details like that when you are in power?!

In line with our election pledge last year the Labour Group proposed a budget amendment which would have resulted in an increase of....2.7%. We were also able to pledge free swimming for under-16s in Southwark; funding for 50 new Police Community Support Officers; an extra £150,000 for our community nurseries and an extra £100,000 for youth services. All worthwhile programmes we believe, but rejected by the Tory/LibDem coalition.

Council Assemblies are truly becoming lessons in arrogance by the chaotic coalition of Tories and LibDems. On at least 2 occasions last night they seemed to get bored and irritated that Labour wanted to debate important issues facing the borough and moved procedural motions to bring all debate to an end. Perhaps the most amazing and self-defeating move by Cllrs Humphreys and Stanton came as we moved to appoint a Chair and Vice-Chair of the newly established Audit Committee. This Committee will have an important scrutiny-type function, and the Labour Group thought that it would be sensible for it to be chaired by an opposition councillor. This view was rejected by the Tories and LibDems who appointed Cllr James Gurling to the post.

However, in a move which can only be described as an arrogant stunt, Cllr Humphreys proceeded to nominate his colleague Cllr Lewis Robinson as Vice Chair. The ever obedient Cllr Stanton seconded the nomination. Both had failed to consult the hapless Cllr Robinson who, having been elected, felt obliged to withdraw from the post in order to allow Labour's Richard Livingstone to be elected.

The behaviour of Cllrs Humphreys and Stanton led one of my colleagues to describe them as acting like "arrogant public schoolboys". As a Comprehensive schoolboy myself I cannot comment - but for the time being their near silent backbenchers let them get away with it.

Finally it is worth noting that as part of our budget proposals we sought to cut councillors special responsibility allowances by 10%. Unsurprisingly this was rejected - but even if the cut had taken effect Cllr Stanton would have still been receiving nearly £3,000 more than the Labour Leader of Lambeth Council. As it is, he retains a healthy £8,000 cushion over our neighbouring borough's leader. I wonder what his Lambeth LibDem colleagues think about that?!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Peckham Public Meeting

Last night I attended the Public Meeting which had been called to discuss the 3 recent murders in Peckham including that of 21 year old Javorie Crighton and 15 year old Michael Dosunmu. The meeting room was full to capacity with many people standing outside the building trying to get in. Apart from the many community leaders who attended, including Harriet Harman MP and Malcolm Tillyer the Borough Police Commander, many local residents came to the meeting in order to express their shock, anger and unity in the face of these awful crimes.

Although I had to leave before the meeting had ended, there were several thoughtful contributions from residents who expressed the view that young people needed real support at home from their families - the alternative was getting support within the culture of a gang.

I suppose that in an ideal world every child would find all the support and comfort which they need within a loving family. But we know that for too many young people that support does not exist. So that is why outside bodies - such as schools, or the council, or community groups, must try and step in to provide that support. It is a difficult job, but not impossible.

Others spoke of the need for positive role models for young men in Peckham. Looking around the room last night I could see many positive role models - not just those who have achieved sporting success such as Anton Ferdinand and Lloyd Honeghan, but those other members of our community who work hard in difficult jobs to make their homes and our area a better place.

It was right last night to remember the three recent victims of those horrific crimes and their families - but it is also always right to remember the unreported good news that is going on day in and day out in Peckham and right across Southwark.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Champion Hill Estate

Over the weekend Veronica and I visited Champion Hill Estate as part of our Mobile Surgery programme. Some of the problems which have arisen on previous visits seem to have subsided, although some residents of Leconfield House still complained about gangs of youths congregating outside the entrance to their block. Although the youtha may not mean to cause any distress, they can appear to be intimidating to people who walk by. I hope that some intervention by our Safer Neighbourhood Team will sort this problem out.

We took time to visit the playground on the Estate which has been awarded £50,000 from Camberwell's Cleaner Greener Safer budget. It is in real need of an overhaul so I hope that work will start here soon.

And the problems caused by the "too big block" (See June 14th 2006) continue to frustrate residents. The Council complaints system is currently dealing with the various applications by residents - so we await with interest to see what compensation those residents who have been affected by the block receive.

Camberwell Leisure Centre

Last year during the local elections campaign I made a pledge on behalf of the Labour Party in Southwark that we would invest the necessary £6 million in Camberwell Leisure Centre. The LibDems attempted to trump this promise by pledging that they would make every leisure centre in the borough fit for the 21st Century and brought their Leader, Menzies Campbell, to Camberwell Leisure Centre to underline their commitment.

On present evidence it looks as if they are certain to break their promise tomorrow and condemn Camberwell Leisure Centre to more years of decay and uncertainty. Out of a capital pot of £12.5 million, just £1 million may go to Camberwell, with £5 million going to Dulwich Baths. £1 million may ensure that Camberwell Leisure Centre meets some basic health and safety requirements, but it will not make the Leisure Centre fit for the 21st Century.

And the reason why Camberwell gets £1 million and uncertainty, and Dulwich gets £5 million? Pure politics. The decision may be dressed up in some argument about the respective "business cases", but at the end of the day Dulwich Baths is in LibDem East Dulwich whilst Camberwell Leisure Centre is in Labour Camberwell Green. As one prominent LibDem backbencher has put it, "There are no votes in Camberwell for us."

Camberwell Leisure Centre serves the 24,000 residents of Camberwell as well as numerous schools in the area, and the argument for better leisure facilities is unarguable. Improved leisure facilities are essential for all sections of the community - particularly the young people of Camberwell who have brought deputations to our Community Council asking for the Lesiure Centre to be brought up-to-date.

It's not too late for the Council's Tory/LibDem Executive to change its mind - they make their final decision tomorrow (13th February) at 7pm at the Town Hall. If you are interested in the future of the Leisure Centre please come along to lobby the Executive.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Harriet's New Website Launched

Last week Harriet Harman, the MP for Camberwell and Peckham, launched her new website at the House of Commons. You can find Harriet's updated site at

Harriet is still the only woman who has officially declared that she is seeking to become Labour's next Deputy Leader, although others remain in the wings.

Harriet is a great representative for Camberwell and Peckham and has taken the lead on so many issues which affect the lives of working people. South Camberwell will become part of her constituency at the next General Election.

I hope that Harriet's bid to become Deputy Leader is successful. She has shown time and again what a great campaigner she is and has been a great support to Southwark's Labour Group.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Another Council Assembly

Last Wednesday saw the first Council Assembly of 2007 - and as I have not posted for over a month it seems appropriate to catch up with events from that evening.

Three deputations raised important issues about services in our community from violent crime to post office closures. Residents from Camberwell came to address Council Assembly about their fears for the increase of violent crime in the area. Camberwell Community Council Chair Ian Wingfield proposed an excellent motion following the deputation which called on the Council to publish its Violent Crime Strategy. Although there appear to be a number of action plans in place there is currently no strategy - and whilst the objects of any strategy may be fairly apparent it is important that residents of Camberwell and the borough generally should be reassured that the Police and Council are working together for a common goal.

Teresa Priest led a deputation of users and supporters from the Maudsley Emergency Clinic. The South London and Maudsley NHS Trust have taken the decision to close the clinic which provides a 24 hour emergency service for those suffering from mental health crises and has proposed that they receive treatment at the Kings College Hospital A & E department. The decision has been endorsed by the Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt. It was quite apparent from the deputation that the service provided by the Clinic is unique and provides a real life-line to its users. There has been widespread cross-party support for the campaign to keep the Clinic with all local MPs and Councillors backing Teresa and her team. Cllr David Noakes worked hard to preserve this cross-party support and his motion received unanimous support.

As I said during the course of the debate, it makes me angry that at a time when there is record investment going into the health service the only headlines which we seem to read about concern department closures and staff redundancies. I hope that the Government has got its priorities right, because when a Clinic such as the the the Maudsley's emergency department is forced to close alarm bells must start ringing.

The meeting gave rise to two examples of absolute hypocrisy from the Conservatives, and particularly veteran councillor Toby Eckersley, who has been put in charge of the Council's finances under the unpopular Tory/LibDem coalition. For years Toby has argued that the Council should work harder to improve its council tax collection rate, and in 2004 proposed that it should rise to 97.5% - a level it has remained at since. The anticipated collection rate determines the amount of money the council budgets for in the forthcoming financial year. So what an amazing turnaround that on Wednesday Toby should be proposing a cut in that collection rate to 96% - effectively condoning the failures of Southwark to collect its council tax. A Labour amendment to maintain the rate at 97.5% was defeated.

But perhaps the biggest hypocrisy of the evening, and perhaps the most shameful vote, concerned changes to the Council's constitution to vary the management structure. Last October announcements were made which effectively deleted the role of Strategic Director of Housing Management. The announcements were poorly handled and the whole restructuring had the impression of being drawn up on a post-it note. Permanent measures became interim, and consultation which had originally been deemed unnecessary was suddenly found to be required good practice! In fact, the changes required amendments to the Constitution, with the Constitution providing that all changes having to be considered first by the Council's Standards Committee. Amazingly although the Standards Committee had not met to consider these changes the proposals were brought to Council Assembly. Shame-faced officers and Executive members sat silently as their unconstitutional proposals were introduced, but proceeded to vote them through nevertheless. Cllr Eckersley has always been a supporter of the rights of backbench councillors and the importance of the constitution, but he was amazingly silent on this subject. Isn't it curious how hypocritical politicians become when they hold Executive office!

Cllr Richard Thomas made the telling comment after the vote that now the Council could get on with delivering services for its residents. Well said Richard, but it is equally important that the democratic process is followed - otherwise why should we bother with elections at all?! It is no good for council officers simply to do whatever they want with no regard to the political impact of their actions - or for politicians to let those officers get away with it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Council Assembly

The Council Assembly on 6th December truly was a marathon event - finishing after 1 am. It is probably not the best way in which to conduct democratic debate, but we were left with no choice after the Mayor ruled that our emergency motions on the recent changes to housing management should only be considered after the end of the usual business.

There were no great shocks in the outcome of any of the votes: Cllr Humphreys survived our censure motion and the LibDems quickly fell into line behind their Tory bosses. We received really superb deputations from SETAA which provides adult education learning and skills advice in Peckham, and the Southwark Pensioners Forum. I was particularly pleased that we adopted the Southwark Pensioners Manifesto, the result of a great deal of work and commitment by Charlie Cherrill and his colleagues. It is worth noting that 3 of the 5 members of the deputation are South Camberwell residents - our Ward helping to lead the way again!

Perhaps the most emotive debate came after the deputation from the Newington Reference Library Campaign. I have set out the concerns of the campaigners in an earlier entry, but it was truly startling to see again last night the way in which the LibDems have lost touch with the concerns of people who should be their core constituents in Walworth and Newington. For standing up for the residents of the borough who want to see improved access for ALL to the reference library, the Labour Group was condemned for "pandering to local campaigners" by the current Leader of the Council! He went on to describe his many happy hours studying in "The Bod" when he was at University - that's the Bodleian Library for those of us without an Oxford degree! - completely missing the fact that his plans for the Newington Reference library will deny many people in Southwark the opportunity to experience some of the joys of learning by browsing through the shelves of books currently available.This really is a case where the need to comply with the Disability Discrimination Act must be balanced with needs of the current library users. It really does seem that the DDA is being used as an excuse to close a large section of the library to members of the public.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the debate on Newington Library and the other issues which we discussed last night was the complete lack of humility exhibited by the Tories and LibDems. Despite the fact that no party won an outright mandate to run the borough in last May's elections the Tory/LibDem coalition who run the Executive seem to demonstrate no appreciation of this fact and appear to take pride in their confrontational style of politics - turning their anger and posturing against members of the public who are only doing their best to have their voice heard. Perhaps the attitude of the Tory/LibDem coalition was summed up best by my colleague Cllr John Friary - "ill-informed; hypocritical; conceited and condescending"