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.