Tuesday, November 11, 2008

East Dulwich Estate and Ruskin Park House

On Sunday I spent time on the East Dulwich Estate carrying out a mobile surgery. Although the regeneration is having a visible impact on the Estate and improving many homes, there are still a number of residents who are bing left to live in appalling conditions until the regeneration reaches them. I spoke to a resident who has had no light in her bathroom for two months because of water leaks from above, and who has not got an effective heating system in her flat. Add on top of this a boiler which barely works and you can understand her real misery at the Council's failure to sort her repairs issues out. With so many void flats on the Estate I wonder whether it would not be simpler to move her and her son to a renovated flat. At the moment I am not sure that her home is fit for human habitation.

Last night Veronica and I met with a number of residents from Ruskin Park House who remain concerned about the works which are due to take place on their Estate over the next few years. Two real issues emerged which I hope will be explored further. Firstly, I am not sure that the company which manages RPH have fully explored all of the funding options for the works, which may be of real assistance to some of the residents of the Estate. If those options have been explored residents need to be given full details. Secondly, the issue of residents views concerning sub-letting on the Estate also needs to be explored. During the present economic difficulties everyone needs to be mindful of the financial problems many of their neighbours may be facing and strictly controlled sub-letting may provide a short-term workable answer.

I have no strong views on the issues facing RPH, but with Veronica I am anxious that residents know that every option is being explored on their behalf. It was a very constructive meeting and I was pleased to play a small part in it. In the longer term RPH residents may have to recognise that the problems arising from the management of a fairly large Estate may benefit from greater professional assistance.

Friday, November 07, 2008

LibDems are Mayor's Biggest Fans!

An extraordinary vote on Wednesday night at Council Assembly saw the LibDems standing up for Mayor Johnson with a simpering amendment supporting all that he has done over the past 6 months, whilst the Tories voted against! It really is laughable to see the LibDems on every side of every issue - trying to be to the left of Labour yet out-Torying the Tories in support of Boris. I simply don't understand where they are coming from and it seems that they don't either!

Given that Boris has done Southwark no favours, particularly with his devastating decision to cancel the Cross-River Tram, the LibDems are demonstrating that they really have lost touch with the residents of our borough.

This was evident again in a debate on the Heyagte Estate at the Elephant and Castle. The Heygate is currently being emptied of residents prior to its demolition. Some 1100 families are being forced out of their homes. Nobody denies that the Heygate needs regeneration. The only problem is that there are currently no plans to rebuild on the site, so there is a real risk that we will have a flattened pile of rubble in the centre of the borough for many years to come. I am afraid that there has been a real failure of political leadership on the Elephant and Castle regeneration over the past 6 1/2 years, and this was summed up by the LibDem Leader of the Council's attempts to blame the Government for the problems at the Heyagte. He seems to have forgotten that the regeneration of the Elephant and Castle is a Southwark Council policy being delivered (supposedly) by Southwark Council. Cllr Stanton's default mode is to blame the Government whenever anything looks like it might be going wrong in Southwark. It really is time he started taking responsibility for the choices and decisions he and his colleagues have been making since 2002.

Boris Cancels Cross-River Tram

Disastrous news for Southwark yesterday with the announcement by Mayor Johnson that he has cancelled the Cross-River Tram. The tram would have linked Peckham and other parts of Southwark with central London and would have represented a major improvement in public transport in our area.

This really does demonstrate two points. Firstly, Boris Johnson does not care about South London. If he did he would have given his full support to the tram, which was going to be a major element in the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate. Secondly, he does not care about public transport. Our part of London is badly served by public transport, and the tram would have provided a step change in improving links into the centre of the city.

Following his pathetic proposals on tackling youth crime and public transport generally Mayor Johnson is showing himself to be incapable of doing the job to which he was elected. It's not good enough to have a Mayor of London who is "a bit of a laugh", bumbling about and saying "cripes". It needs a serious politician who will make decisions in the interest of all Londoners. He should be condemned in the strongest terms for failing to deliver the tram.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ruskin Park House Update

A three hour meeting took place on Tuesday night to discuss the proposed works at Ruskin Park House on Champion Hill. Veronica and I were not able to attend as we are not shareholders, and the Committee did not choose to invite us. But as we were aware that many residents had concerns about how they are going to be able to meet the costs of the works we turned up at the start of the meeting to hand out our contact cards.

I cannot pretend to understand the politics of this situation - many residents appreciate and support the Committee in the hard work they are doing, but that old problem of communication seems to be contributing to the unease which some residents have expressed to us. So I hope that the meeting was at least successful in allaying some of the fears about how the works have been approached. Although I have not met the Chair or the influential Estate Manager, I know several Committee members and can vouch for their real commitment to Ruskin Park House.

Southwark Council is the freeholder for Ruskin Park House, but that is subject to a lease to RPH Limited until 2071. So there is nothing the Council can really do to influence what happens at Ruskin Park House at the present time. But both officers and councillors can offer advice about financial support which residents on fixed incomes can receive to meet the costs of the proposed works - and Veronica and I are committed to ensuring that this happens.

Gordon Brown in Bermondsey

One of the hats I wear is as a Director of the Beormund Community Centre in the north of the borough. Yesterday the Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Ed Balls visited the nursery at the centre to see some of the work that is going on there and to speak to some of the parents.

The centre was only notified of the visit the night before, so it was understandable that some of the parents were a bit taken aback to see the PM and the Schools Secretary in the nursery as they dropped their children off! I know we talk about highly qualified nursery staff but...!

Gordon Brown really seems to have turned his fortunes around in the last few weeks, and has shown a deft touch in dealing with the global financial crisis. The UK model unveiled on Wednesday to save the banks seems to be recognised as one that should be followed in other countries.

The visit went well. This is the link to the Number 10 video. I'm the one shuffling around and trying to be a distraction as the PM speaks to camera!! http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=GdkcT3bGie8

Rotherhithe Ward Result

Congratulations to Wilma Nelson on her election last night as the new LibDem Councillor for Rotherhithe. A really positive and energetic campaign from Labour's Kath Whittam saw her increase the Labour share of the vote by 5.5% - a great result in the difficult economic circumstances.

I was disappointed that Wilma Nelson fought her campaign on the basis of promising to oppose Labour's secret plans to privatise council housing. It really does show again that after six years in power at the Town Hall the LibDems have got nothing positive to offer the people of Southwark. I should make it clear that Labour in Southwark has no plans, either secret or overt, to privatise council housing - and it was a silly bit of scaremongering by the Libs. 'Secret plans' stories are easy to stick on leaflets - if the opposition deny them you can say "well of course you would deny them, because the plans are secret"! But they represent immature politics when they are not based in a single element of fact.

In contrast Kath talked about the issues facing Rotherhithe and demonstrated what a strong grasp she has of the area. I have no doubt that she will be back!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Southwark Labour Conference 2008

Another really successful day on Saturday at the Southwark Borough Labour Conference. This is the second year we have run the event, and we were really fortunate to be joined by two Cabinet members and a rising star of the Party. Harriet Harman, James Purnell and Chuka Umunna spoke during the day, and we had two Working Group sessions to discuss policy as we move towards the next local elections in 2010.

Harriet obviously had to deal with some fairly difficult questions about the state of the national party, but as ever she really connected with her audience of about 90 members. James Purnell, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has been spoken of as a possible future Party Leader, and after listening to his speech on Saturday I can certainly see why. He set out a 'narrative' and vision for Labour over the next ten years which, if we heard more like it, would surely see our position in the opinion polls improve! My own view is that the press has its own narrative of 'Labour in crisis' at the moment, and we do need to do something urgently to overcome that. We do look like a Government which is purely reactive and the victim of events, so we do need to start taking the initiative and demonstrating that Labour does have a positive agenda which it still needs to deliver on.

Chuka Umunna is the PPC in Streatham, and a leading member of the Compass Group within the Party. He spoke eloquently about what he hopes that a Fourth Term Labour Government should deliver - and how we might get to the stage of having a Fourth Term Labour Government!

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Rotherhithe By-election

I have really been hopeless at posting over the past couple of months! But the prospect of a by-election in Rotherhithe deserves a mention. Firstly, I should note that it has only been caused as a result of the untimely death of Cllr Anne Yates, a former Mayor of Southwark between 2004-2005. I liked Anne very much. She approached politics on the basis of what she thought was best for the community and the people she represented, and did not mind upsetting party political colleagues if it meant she was not towing the line! Sitting on the other side of the Chamber it could be fascinating speculating about how Anne might react to a particular vote. But it was this independence of spirit which brought her so much respect. A true community champion who will be missed. A great line from Gary Magold, her friend and fellow community campaigner who described her as "a flower of Scotland who bloomed in Bermondsey."

Labour has selected Kath Whittam to fight the by-election. Kath is the manager of the Surrey Docks Farm and has been involved in numerous campaigns up on the Rotherhithe peninsula over the years. She is a great candidate and will make a superb councillor if elected. Rotherhithe should be a safe LibDem seat, and the national picture does not help Labour at the moment, but I think it will be difficult for anyone to find a better candidate than Kath. I hope that the by-election will be fought on the issues facing Rotherhithe, which is at the centre of some of the biggest regeneration in Southwark with the development of Canada Water. The by-election will take place on October 9th.

Camberwell Leisure Centre

Last night we held a meeting at St Giles Hall to hear presentations from the three shortlisted bidders to run the Camberwell Leisure Centre in the future. The meeting was extremely well attended, which is hardly surprising given the genuine community support that exists for a secure future for the Centre.

It was great that all three bidders attended the meeting, but if I am honest I was not that impressed with any of the presentations. Fusion/PETA's solution involves building 64 flats on the site and the loss of the sports hall at the rear of the centre. Although they are able to point to a recent success with the redevelopment of the Brockwell Lido, Camberwell seems to be a very different proposition. It was also a pity that their presentation boards were so small, which meant that many of those attending the meeting simply couldn't see!

Ash Sakula sounded sympathetic and portrayed themselves as the only partners for the Council who would preserve the heritage and facilities at the Centre. However, their proposal also involved the loss of the sports hall, and I am always slightly sceptical when a property developer is also involved in any supposed community scheme.

The English National Ballet's proposal is perhaps the most unlikely, as it involves the loss of the swimming baths at the Centre. Craig Hassall and his team from the ENB gave by far the most enthusiastic presentation of the evening, and but for the loss of the swimming pool, I can see that their proposal would probably bring greater community regeneration to the centre of Camberwell than either of the other proposals.

Of course, the ideal solution would be for the Council to find the capital which is needed to renovate the Centre - or even a solution which involved some capital from the Council and the ENB but maintained the swimming baths.

The Executive is due to take an "in principle" decision in October. It will not be easy, as it strikes me that the community loses out to some greater or lesser extent under all of the current proposals. If I were taking the decision it would probably be "back to the drawing board" time.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Date for Your Diary!

On Wednesday September 17th at 7pm Camberwell Community Council will be meeting in South Camberwell at the Albrighton Centre in Albrighton Road. One of the main discussions of the evening will concern the future of Greendale, the area of green space in our Ward which has been left to fall into a state of real disrepair. At several Tenants and Residents Association meetings over the last few months people have complained that young people in our area have nowhere to go to kick a ball and play. Greendale could be the solution to their problems, but needs investment and some co-operation from the current owners, Dulwich Hamlet Football Club. I hope that the meeting will really give momentum to the debate about the future of Greendale, so please come along and let your views be heard!

£6.8 Million Extra for Southwark

Two weeks ago I wrote an open letter to the local papers asking the LibDem Leader of the Council to set out his plans for spending £6.8 million of extra money which the Labour Government had given to Southwark. The money came through the 'LABGI' funding scheme, and is a reward to councils for business development. After making savage and unnecessary budget cuts at the start of the year (in order to fulfil some wildly inaccurate claim about Government cuts) I urged Cllr Stanton to use this money to re-open the popular Livesey Childrens Museum; reverse the 50% increase in Meals on Wheels Charges, and ease the proposed changes to Social care in Southwark. Even with this extra spending there would still be a healthy surplus from the near £7million.

Last week Cllr Tim McNally responded to my letter, again on the pages of Southwark News. Cllr McNally accused me of incompetence or deliberately misleading the people of Southwark, as he claimed that the £6.8 million "was not new money. It was already in the budget."

As a result of this put-down I checked my facts. Southwark Council agreed its budget on the 20th of February 2008. Anything that was or should have been in the budget was set at that time. There was no mention of LABGI money in that budget. That was not a surprise, as the Department for Communities and Local Government ('DCLG') did not inform Southwark and all other local councils that there may be any LABGI money until the 2nd of April 2008, and did not make its final announcement with final figures until the 28th of June 2008.

I also spoke to a senior Finance Officer at the Council. He told me that the £6.8 million was NOT in the budget and it came as a complete surprise when it was announced. It has been put into the Council's reserves and not spent.

So, it is safe to conclude that (a)the £6.8 million I queried is NEW money and (b) it was NOT in the budget.

Far from me being incompetent and misleading the public I think I can safely reverse the charge and make it against Cllr McNally. He is the Executive Member for Resources and has a duty to take care of the Council's budget. I think the residents of Southwark can expect him to give truthful and accurate information when asked. He has completely failed to do this and preferred political point-scoring against me rather than giving an honest answer.

Whatever his explanation for his extraordinary and misleading letter to Southwark News, I do not think he is fit for the post he holds.

Cuts and More Cuts from Mayor Johnson

The reality of life under a Tory Mayor of London is beginning to emerge. Firstly, he has issued budget guidance requiring an across-the-board reduction of 15% in City Hall's spending for next year - which even the GLA's chief Executive says will mean cuts.

Secondly, he has proposed only a 1.75% increase in the budget for the Met Police next year. Readers familiar with the politics of Southwark will know that the past six months has seen the Tory/LibDem executive in charge of our Council claiming that the Government has "cut" its budget, when the fact is that the Government's share of revenue into Southwark has been pegged at the level of inflation. So this must mean that Mayor Johnson's proposal to increase expenditure for the Police at a point way below inflation must mean real cuts.

How will the Tory/LibDem Council in Southwark react to this? Earlier this month we were subjected to a rant from Cllr Mitchell of East Dulwich opposing plans to close the East Dulwich Police Station. Tories in Southwark have also been aboard the "Save the Police Stations Express" in recent months. But to my mind there is no way that this or any other police station will be saved with Mayor Johnson's budget cuts for the Met Police. Contrast these cuts with Ken Livingstone's year-on-year real terms increases in the Police budget for London.

It just shows that the Tories are the same as they ever were - unable to help themselves making cuts when in power; and the LibDems as simply adrift in the big political world without influence over any real decisions.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The End of the Grand Pier

A sad morning for me as fire burned down the Grand Pier in my hometown of Weston-super-Mare. Although I can't claim to have been a very frequent visitor to the pier over the years, it was always a visual representation of the town for me and, no doubt, for many other residents and visitors.

The last time I was in Weston it was really evident that the town centre needed some major investment and regeneration, so I was pleased to hear that the pier had been bought by Kerry Michaels, a local businessman, earlier this year. He clearly had plans for major investment on the pier.

I hope that it will soon be rebuilt and not be left to suffer the fate of some other piers which have stood empty or ruined and derelict for many years.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mobile Surgeries on Ruskin Park House

Next week Veronica and I will be taking our mobile surgeries to Ruskin Park House on Champion Hill. Historically during our visits RPH residents have raised standard issues about recycling, traffic on Champion Hill and local schools, but we have already heard from a number of residents who want to talk to us about threatened increases in leaseholder service charges. Although the block was once GLC and subsequently Southwark Council housing stock, these days the vast majority of residents are leaseholders and the block has its own ownership and management body. It is now in need of some much-needed major repairs and leaseholders look likely to suffer from some hefty bills.

Veronica and I will be looking into what role the Council can play in helping leaseholders with these increased costs - but with huge competition amongst other Southwark housing stock for investment I am not sure what reassurance we will be able to give.

If you are a resident of RPH and want to discuss any concerns please do get in touch.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Decision on the Aylesbury and a Warning to Boris!

Last night's Council Assembly saw us take an important decision about the future of the Aylesbury Estate, and issue a cross-party warning to Boris Johnson that he had better not mess with the Cross-River Tram!

It's difficult to know what I can say about the Aylesbury decision, as the debate was conducted in private and related to commercially sensitive issues. Suffice to say that a small but significant step was taken along the path of regenerating this Estate which is home to over 8000 residents. I criticised the LibDem/Tory administration for "dither and delay" over the Aylesbury regeneration - a point which seemed to excite Cllrs Stanton and Thomas who reflected on their ceaseless action since 2005. I am not quite sure what happened between 2002 - 2005 when they were also in charge of the Council?!

There is a general fear that Boris Johnson will shelve the proposals for the Cross River Tram; which will run between Peckham and Kings Cross via the Elephant & Castle. So last night's debate re-affirming the commitment of every councillor in Southwark to the proposal was welcome, and should hopefully have some impact on the Mayor when he comes to prioritise his transport policies for his administration. Having slashed more than £50 million off his budget already (by abandonning the £25 congestion charge proposal) there are significant holes which he will need to meet, or make cuts. Although the capital costs for the CRT will be large and are not presently available, it would be bad news for Southwark if the Mayor decided to shelve the proposal at the moment. Once a major capital project loses its place in the queue it can be years before that project finds its way back onto any agenda.

As I predicted, a Labour motion calling for an independent review of the fiasco surrounding disabled residents freedom passes was defeated by the ruling Administration. In their Soviet-style approach to issues which involve potential criticism of their regime, the LibDems and Tories chose to air-brush out of history the queues of disabled residents waiting for their passes on the Walworth Road because of a major mistake by the Administration, and silenced all dissenters. The Leader of the Council passed so many bucks there can't have been any bucks left for anyone else to pass! It's a shame that the opportunity to learn valuable lessons from this exclusively Southwark problem was not taken.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

It's Over 2 Months!

Since I last posted on the blog! Don't worry, it's not because I have been inconsolable at Ken's removal from office (although obviously I have been). So what's been going on in Southwark and South Camberwell.

Amazingly Camberwell Grove has re-opened after the installation of traffic lights, metal barriers, concrete barriers, crossings and signs. It's not a very elegant solution, and certainly does nothing to enhance the conservation area, but as far as I am aware it has not caused the traffic queues which I feared. Although it will take some time for word to spread that the road has re-opened, I hope that Camberwell Grove will be able to avoid a return to the busy rat-run which it had become. With petrol costs increasing, I am sure that many people will be thinking twice before they use their cars instead of public transport in any event!

For the past few weeks I have been pursuing a particularly worrying piece of casework involving a lift on the Denmark Hill Estate. Today is the deadline for completion of works, so I hope that it will be back in action. But it is unacceptable that elderly residents in the block have been forced to remain in their flats because a lift could not be properly repaired. Whenever I am told that a job is being done as speedily as possible in a council-owned block, I try and contrast that with how things would be done if the block was privately owned. There is absolutely no reason why residents in social housing should have to wait any longer for repairs than if they were paying privately. Yet within our housing management system in Southwark there does sometimes appear to be a lack of urgency in getting repairs done, and getting them done properly. On numerous occasions workmen make three or four visits to get a single job done. I am not sure whether this has anything to do with the fact that they get paid per visit or whether the work genuinely needs so many repeat visits. But it is certainly an aspect of our borough's housing management which requires urgent attention.

Council Assembly takes place tomorrow. I will report more fully after it has taken place. But I can safely predict that any motion which is vaguely critical of the Council's performance will be amended or defeated by the LibDem/Tory administration. Never mind that people want their services from the Council to be improved - so long as the LibDems and Tories don't have to hear about it!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Mayoral and GLA Results

I am really disappointed that Ken Livingstone did not secure a third term as Mayor of London. I believe that he has really changed London, from the massive investment and increased use of buses, to affordable housing, to neighbourhood policing which is having a truly significant impact on crime across the capital. Sadly I do think that there is an element of truth in the view that Ken had become arrogant in office, and I'm not sure that he ever believed that he would face a serious challenge for the job. But it is notable that in central London the vote held up well for Ken and even increased. Boris Johnson is something of an unknown quantity - he can't run London simply on a pledge to get rid of bendy buses - so it will be interesting to see how his mayoralty develops over the coming weeks and months.

In Lambeth and Southwark Val Shawcross was returned as the GLA member with a massively increased majority, rising from approximately 5,600 to 23,500. Her share of the vote also increased hugely, with the second placed LibDem candidate Caroline Pidgeon suffering at the hands of a resurgent and positive campaign from the Tories. Caroline has just managed to creep onto the GLA through the list system, but the story of the GLA results is perhaps the collapse of the LibDem vote. The LibDems have lost two members from the GLA, with their share of the vote collapsing across London.

Val Shawcross has been an excellent GLA member, so it is no surprise that she did so well in these elections. I hope that she will use her position to hold the new Mayor to account over the coming four years.

What do these results mean for Labour in Southwark? Well in a few weeks we will have a ward-by-ward breakdown of how the parties performed in these elections, but the headline figures from the results indicate that we performed well. There are clearly issues for the party to address at a national level, but the evidence at this stage does seem to suggest that there remains a solid level of support for Labour in our part of London when it is standing up for residents against the closure of popular childrens museums and huge increases in fees for Meals on Wheels.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Gloria Taylor's Funeral

I have just attended the funeral of Gloria Taylor. It was a poignant and moving service, especially seeing the faces of her husband Richard and her two surviving children. In every tribute that was paid to her the word "dignity" stood out.

There is no doubt that a part of Gloria died when Damilola was murdered, but her reaction to that terrible event did inspire many people and was a lesson in how we should find strength through adversity. How else to explain the presence of so many people today, from Harriet Harman to the Archbishop of York; Sir Trevor McDonald to Baroness Scotland; present and former Assistant Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, and the many many friends and family members whose lives Gloria had touched.

Harriet spoke and paid an eloquent tribute to Gloria during the service, concluding by saying how proud she and so many people were of Gloria and Richard.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sainsbury's and Abbotswood Road

Last night the Planning Committee met to consider an application by Sainsbury's for retrospective planning permission for changes it has made to its store on Dog Kennel Hill. There is no doubt that Sainsburys have acted very badly in respect of this matter - they were given planning permission in 2004 for a mainly glass extension to the store and built something completely different with timber cladding.

At the same time they changed the road layout into the store, which has caused huge problems for the residents of the St Francis Estate, who have found it nearly impossible to drive out of Abbotswood Road at times when the store has been particularly busy.

The proposals before the Planning Committee last night involved changing the current road layout to provide a mini roundabout; the installation of some glazing in place of the timber at the store front; and landscaping the car park to include a greater number of trees.

After two hours of presentations and debate; including submissions from local residents and my colleague Veronica Ward; concluding at 10.30pm the Committee voted to approve the plans, with a condition that the mini-roundabout should be trialled for a year to see if there is a genuine improvement for the residents of the St Francis Estate.

I still have some concerns about whether the mini-roundabout will be an effective solution for the traffic management problems, but I hope that it is some improvement. If the Committee had rejected the proposals last night local residents would have had to wait at least another year for alternative proposals to be implemented. So it was a case of the 'least worst' option going ahead. I hope that the works to install the mini-roundabout will begin soon.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nick Clegg was a Conservative!

I was intrigued to read this story from Greg Hands MP, particularly as Nick Clegg has denied having a Conservative past! But it seems that he did belong to the Cambridge University Conservative Association.

The more I see and hear about Nick Clegg the more I think that the LibDems have made a massive mistake in making him their Party Leader. After just two years in Parliament he simply does not have the experience and has not been tested. Being caught out lying on the issue of his political past must make his colleagues despair - but I suppose for the Southwark LibDems who are all too eager to be in coalition with the Tories it might be considered good news!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Camberwell Grove - Latest

I preface this entry by saying, "Don't blame me, I'm only the messenger". Or to be more precise, only the observer and correspondent with various council departments and local residents!

As residents of South Camberwell may have observed the works to limit traffic over the temporarily repaired railway bridge on Camberwell Grove are nearing completion. Two points of concern are the awful green railings installed in the middle of the road and the narrowness of the traffic lane.

On the first point I am hoping that the railings will be painted so that some attempt is made to blend them into the surroundings of the conservation area where they are located. I have been in touch with council officers and await a response! The whole installation of traffic lights, concrete blocks and railings looks like an exhibit for a road furtniture company rather than a sensible traffic 'solution'.

And despite the fact that we were told that traffic had to be able to turn from McNeill Road south into Camberwell Grove, I am not sure how many cars will be able to make that turn and pass safely through the incredibly narrow lane now permitted for cars and vans. The lane looks incredibly narrow now that it has been installed and I am sure that there will be many bumps and scrapes when the road reopens as unwitting drivers try to squeeze through! All of which is no bad thing for those residents who wanted to keep the road closed or who hoped for a more inventive use of the road when it was re-opened. But I anticipate that residents of nearby roads will not see the huge reductions of traffic that they were hoping for.

Boris Johnson on East Dulwich Estate - "Who would want to live here?"

Apparently the Tory Mayoral candidate visited the East Dulwich Estate on Dog Kennel Hill on Saturday morning. After looking around the Estate at some of the brilliant work being undertaken by residents at the Albrighton Centre, and visiting some of the blocks which are being regenerated the bemused Boris was heard to comment "Who would want to live here?".

Well Boris, a lot of people have chosen to live and remain on the East Dulwich Estate because of its sense of community, and because of the possibilities which the physical regeneration work offers for improved living conditions.

His comment was an insult to the residents of the Estate, and demonstrates how this Henley Tory is not fit to be Mayor of London.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Gloria Taylor

I was very sorry to learn this morning that Gloria Taylor, the mother of Damilola, had died suddenly last night.

Gloria and her husband Richard were guests of Southwark Labour Group at a fund-raising event for the Damilola Taylor Trust last November, where we raised £5,000 for the on-going work of the Trust.

She truly personified dignity and courage in the face of adversity and her work with the Damilola Taylor Trust means that she will leave a truly positive legacy for the people of Southwark.

Her death is a terrible blow for Richard and her family, and also for the many friends she had across the borough. The thoughts of myself and my colleagues are with Richard at this time.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Why does LibDem Caroline Pidgeon defend Boris Johnson?

Members of the public attending Wednesday's Council Assembly may have wondered who the front-bench Tory spokesperson was sitting next to Council Leader Nick Stanton. By her votes and interventions this councillor signalled her support for the Tory Mayoral candidate Boris Johnson and all things Conservative - even to the extent of defending his indefensible position in opposing the Kyoto Treaty on Climate change.

Who was this Tory Councillor? None other than a LibDem candidate for the GLA, and any other elected forum that will have her, Caroline Pidgeon.

It is admittedly confusing being a LibDem - as their Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick is finding out. How can he possibly remember what their policy is in Richmond when it is different in Camden or Lambeth? And why on earth should be know who Nick Stanton is when Nick is one of only three LibDem Council leaders in central London!

But such confusion doesn't seem to afflict Caroline Pidgeon. On Wednesday she made it absolutely clear that she supported Boris Johnson and all his barmy ideas. In fact I cannot think of an occasion since 2006 when Caroline hasn't voted at Council Assembly to support the Tory party.

Maybe Caroline has realised that the LibDem Party under yet another hapless new leader is going nowhere and is lining up to defect to the Conservatives. In any event, she clearly demonstrates that if you vote LibDem you get Tory!

Southwark Housing in Crisis

Southwark's Housing Department is in crisis. Only this week one of the most senior managers in the Department has resigned, leaving the dangerous wreckage from the latest 're-structuring' in an even more perilous position.

So it was appropriate that Labour brought a motion to Council Assembly on Wednesday calling on Cllr Kim Humphreys; the Dulwich Tory in charge of Southwark's housing; to resign. A superb speech from Labour's Paul Bates left the Administration reeling as he catalogued Cllr Humphrey's failures - from the latest disastrous restructuring, which has seen the Council sack experienced staff only to rehire them as agency workers at twice the cost to the Council Tax payer; via the £300 million 'black hole' in housing repairs; to the recent judgement from the Audit Commission that our Housing Management system is failing and worthy of only one star out of four.

Only Council Leader Stanton and Tory Chief Whip Lewis Robinson were prepared to speak in defence of Cllr Humphreys, and in the case of Cllr Robinson it was clear that he was 'only obeying orders' as he put up a rather perfunctory defence of his boss.

In typical weak fashion not a single Liberal Democrat councillor got up to raise a single concern about the state of the housing department. It really is pathetic when a political group sells out so completely and utterly that they are unable to speak against their political opponents; in this case the Tories; for fear that they might lose one of their Special Responsibility Allowances. It really is the case that the LibDems no longer represent the interests of their constituents, but only represent the interests of themselves and their Tory mates.

But I suppose that so long as they can keep pocketing their cash why should they care if half of the borough's residents are left with a housing service which is in chaos? Who cares anyway? Well, myself and my Labour Group colleagues certainly do, and we will keep doing so until Southwark's tenants and leaseholders have the efficient and reliable service which they deserve.

Who needs democratic debate?

The Tory/LibDem administration pressed ahead with plans at Wednesday's Council Assembly to combine the Mayor-Making Ceremony with the annual Constitutional Council, and in doing so severely restricted the opportunity which opposition councillors will have to challenge proposed changes to the borough's Constitution. Until this year these two meetings of the Council have been separate, and for good reason. The Mayor-Making meeting; although controversial last year; is usually a meeting to celebrate the borough's first citizen and an opportunity for the new Mayor and their family and friends to enjoy the prestigious appointment.

In contrast, Constitutional Council concerns itself with the election of the Leader and the Executive, the appointment of numerous committees, elections for Community Council Chairs, and any proposed changes to the Council's constitution. I have never known a Constitutional Council take less than three hours - and often it has taken far longer. In recent years we have had to try and resist the Tory/LibDem plans to remove the rights of the public to bring deputations to meetings; the limiting of our oppotunity to ask the Executive questions, and a restriction on the length of council meetings. All of these changes have eroded the opportunity which we have had to hold the Executive to account.

It is now proposed that Mayor-Making and Constitutional Council combined should take no longer than three hours. This will have a damaging effect on both meetings. A Labour amendment to provide that Constitutional Council should have a clear three hour 'slot' was defeated by an Administration which appears increasingly frightened of facing its growing number of critics. More and more they are beginning to resemble a Soviet Politburo from the 1980's - waxen faced; fawning to the leadership and increasingly desperate to hold onto their positions whilst their Empire crumbles around them!

So another blow to democracy in Southwark, from unreconstructed Thatcherites and a party which laughably calls itself 'democratic'!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Fears become Reality.

The South London Press today covers the story of 97 year old Eliza Mercer who has been hit by the 50% increase in Meals on Wheels fees imposed by the LibDem/Tory Council. Mrs Mercer contacted my colleague Cllr Lorraine Lauder because she has decided that she just cannot afford to continue having Meals on Wheels, and despite her age and obvious vulnerability will try to go out and get food at the supermarket instead. She told the newspaper "I can get some ready meals from supermarkets and I'll have to get by making sandwiches."

So, truly grotesque political decisions by the ruling coalition have condemned Eliza Mercer to the sort of incomplete diet which Meals on Wheels is designed to avoid.

The response of Cllr David Noakes, the LibDem Executive Memebr for Health and Social Care is simply jaw-dropping: "Ms Mercer does have the option of switching to the cheaper frozen meals and heating them up."

Wasn't it Marie Antoniette when faced with the mob hungry and in need of bread who said "Let them eat cake"? Doesn't Cllr Noakes' response have an echo of that remark? And doesn't it demonstrate that he is dangerously out of touch with the problems he has created?

What I still cannot believe is that not a single member of the LibDem and Tory groups on the Council spoke up about this decision to increase Meals on Wheels by 50%. So anxious are they to hold onto their own Special Responsibility Allowances that they no longer can be bothered to speak up on behalf of their constituents. Shame on them! And if I sound angry about this issue, it is because I am. And I would hope that anyone with a social conscience in Southwark would share that anger.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Budget Attacks Children and Elderly

There is no getting away from the fact that the people who suffered as a result of the LibDem and Tory decision to stand by their budget proposals last night were children and older people. What does that say about the current administration?

Despite fierce opposition and press coverage in The Times and on the BBC the coalition administration decided to press on with their decision to close the Livesey Childrens Museum. The closure will save £140,000. Let's put that into context. Next year the Council will "spend" £900,000 on consultants to advise it on how to move offices. It is simply crazy and indefensible to argue that £140,000 could not be found to save the museum.

And the Libs and Tories have continued with their plans to increase the cost of Meals on Wheels by 50%. What rate of inflation was being looked at when that decision was taken? This is a real attack on some of our most vulnerable residents and will push some of them into genuine food poverty.

These cuts are apparently justified on the basis that the Government has been unduly mean to Southwark this year. Rubbish! The Council will be getting 2% more this year from Central Government than it did last year to provide the same services. And Labour's alternative budget proposed last night avoided these cuts and proposed a below inflation council tax increase of 2.1%. And I should add our budget proposals were seen and approved by the Council's finance chiefs.

Last night's decisions were about the choices and priorities of the Tories and LibDems on Southwark Council. And they chose to attack the young and the old. Doesn't it just remind you of the worst days of Mrs Thatcher?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Post Office Closures in Southwark

The Post Office has announced the list of 169 post offices it is considering closing in London. 8 of those are in Southwark:
46 Peckham Road
654 Old Kent Road
6 Gibbon Road, Nunhead
Melbourne Grove
1 Maddock Way, Walworth
Ilderton Road
221 East Street

It is a huge relief that the sub-post office in Crossthwaite Avenue has not made its way onto the list - it may be that the past two years campaigning to save that particular Post Office and parade of shops have paid dividends.

But the proposed closures will mean real problems for many people in the borough. Many residents of South Camberwell use the post office in Melbourne Grove and Veronica and I will be working with local people to argue the case to stop that proposed closure.

It is disappointing that the Council as a whole will not be submitting a response to the consultation process, as evidence suggests that councils which present detailed responses supported by sounds business cases and statisitics are more likely to persuade the Post Office to withdraw closure plans.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Southwark's Budget 2008/09

Next week Council Assembly will meet to set Southwark's Council Tax for the coming year. Proposals to be considered by the Tory/LibDem Executive this evening suggest that their proposal will be for a 4% Council Tax increase, together with a 50% increase in Meals on Wheels charges; the closure of the Livesey Childrens Museum on the Old Kent Road, and huge cuts to the Community Warden programme.

For the last month the Leader of the Council has used every opportunity to scare residents about cuts to local services, from the continued regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate to the closure of Camberwell Leisure Centre. In fact, and not surprisingly, none of those threatened cuts have made it through to the final budget proposals.

But the cuts and increased charges which are proposed hit young people and older people in the borough the hardest. The LibDems talk about tackling poverty, but their budget proposals hit those in most need the hardest. And this is not a budget about prudence and tough choices - it is about cynical election planning. The reason why the Livesey Museum must close in order to save £140,000 is because the LibDems and Tories want to bank that money in reserve funds for future years - so that they can produce a lower Council Tax increase "out of the hat" in time for the 2010 local elections.

To my mind a museum staying open NOW so that it can continue to serve the 17,000 children who visit it each year is of much greater service to the people of Southwark than £140,000 sitting in a reserve fund for election purposes. And a 50% increase in Meals on Wheels, imposed upon some of our most vulnerable residents regardless of their ability to pay, is appalling and mean spirited. What inflation index are the LibDems and Tories looking at when they think that a 50% increase is reasonable?

Labour will propose an alternative budget which will mean that for the sixth year in a row, a Labour Council in Southwark would have delivered a lower Council Tax increase. And we will use the recognised Bank of England inflation index - the consumer price index, as the guide for judging what is affordable for Council Tax payers in Southwark.

And by freeing up money which would otherwise sit in reserves or go to pay consultants and agency staff our budget amendment will mean that we can keep the Livesey Childrens Museum open; that those reliant on Meals on Wheels will not have to find ANY increase this year, and which will invest more money in community safety and the services which people look to the Council to provide.

I am proud to be part of a party which is serious about tackling poverty, and whose deeds match its words. I just hope that not too many vulnerable people have to suffer food poverty and not too many children lose the opportunity to visit their local museum before we have the opportunity to deliver on our promises for the people of Southwark.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Southwark's CPA Assessment

Yesterday the Audit Commission published its latest verdict on Southwark and all other local councils in England and Wales. The verdict is contained within the Comprehensive Performance Assessment or CPA and shows Southwark as a 3 star (out of 4) authority which is improving well. This is good news but there is one striking feature about this year's scorecard - the fact that housing services have dropped from 3 stars to 2 stars and the only area of the Council where the score has fallen.

Southwark scored just 1 out of 4 on its performance indicators for managing council housing - and was judged as being below the lower threshold for rent collection and arrears; average re-let times; average weekly management costs; satisfaction of all tenants with Southwark's overall service and satisfaction with participation for all tenants.

It is clearly worrying that our housing services score has been marked down, but should not really come as a surprise to anyone who has any knowledge of the huge difficulties faced by tenants in Southwark. And it does suggest that the LibDems decision to put a Tory in charge of housing since May 2006 has been a huge mistake.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Camberwell Grove Update and Online Petition

Last Thursday Cllr Paul Noblet announced that Camberwell Grove rail bridge would re-open after works had been completed to install traffic lights and traffic barriers to regulate the flow of traffic over the weakened bridge. The announcement came after a two hour meeting where competing views were fully aired, and Andrew Downes, the Council's Traffic Officer, ruled out a scheme based on one-way traffic over the bridge due to safety fears. Andrew is in a difficult position, as he cannot sanction any scheme if he is aware of any potential safety problems - he would be opening himself and the Council up to a massive negligence claim.

I have always been opposed to a solution involving traffic lights, as it is bound to detract from the obvious merits of Camberwell Grove as an integral part of the conservation area. If we were not facing real time limits in this case I am sure that a wider review of road use in the area would enable us to come up with a solution which avoided traffic lights.

A couple of points should be made. Traffic lights will only be present until the rail bridge is replaced completely. To achieve that we have to lobby Transport for London and Network Rail. Secondly, Cllr Noblet did agree to urgently prioritise a transport review of Camberwell and neighbouring areas in order to develop a strategic answer to the current and anticipated problems of traffic congestion. Finally, there was agreement that we will have a meeting to assess the impact of the traffic light solution after about three months.

This whole episode has been incredibly difficult, and for the residents of Camberwell Grove some new problems are about to arise. Traffic lights in the middle of a beautiful street, queing polluting vehicles and a barrier which sounds like it belongs on a Formula 1 track will all be present in a few months time. These are all problems which are unacceptable for anything other than the short term. So the campaign for a new rail bridge has a new urgency. I have created an online petition - please sign it at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/CamberwellGroveBridge/

Scaring People is Bad Politics!

I am now convinced that the LibDems and Tories on Southwark Council have spent the past month deliberately scaring people about the state of the borough's finances. From conversations I have had with colleagues and Council officers it looks as if there will be no need for really major front-line service cuts this year, despite LibDem Leader Nick Stanton telling us since the start of the year that three leisure centres would have to close; there would be a halt to work regenerating the Aylesbury Estate and rumours of our museums having to shut.

This foolish scaremongering by Cllr Stanton has caused real upset to many local residents. Special meetings have had to be called with residents of the Aylesbury Estate in order to give them some reassurance, and myself and my colleagues have been bombarded with e-mails and telephone calls from many people pleading for our help in saving their local services.

It may be that the Libs and the Tories go ahead and implement some really severe cuts. But my understanding of the current proposed budget figures suggest that the services and projects highlighted by Cllr Stanton are not even on the list for cutbacks at present. So if those cuts do come, we will be arguing that they are certainly not necessary.

Only last week Cllr Stanton refused to give me any reassurance about the future of the Camberwell Leisure Centre after I had heard further rumours of its closure as a result of budget cuts.

It is all very well to create justified attention about the state of the Council's finances as a consequence of the Government's funding settlement; 70% of the Council's funding comes from Central Government; but it is another thing to frighten and panic people about basic service provision as part of a silly political game. Doesn't that sort of posturing and behaviour call to mind the antics of Derek Hatton and Liverpool Council in the 1980's? So shame on Cllr Stanton for unnecessarily frightening people about the future of their jobs and their services.

Our neighbouring borough of Lambeth have faced a similar increase in funding from the Government as Southwark, but they will be opening three new leisure centres this year; whilst Nick Stanton has made himself and his Executive colleagues look foolish with their talk of closing three leisure centres in our borough. As the title of this entry says - scaring people is bad politics!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Council Assembly Tonight

We have the first Council Assembly of 2008 tonight. Amongst the issues up for consideration are "Setting the Council Tax base" and a Labour motion on Decent Homes works in Southwark.

The Council Tax base is a decision about the percentage of Council Tax which we expect to collect in the next financial year. This informs the level of Council Tax which will be set next month. In an ideal world the Council would collect 100% of the Council Tax due from residents, but this never happens as people move away or simply will not pay. Despite orders against them, there is little that can be done in some cases. The report before us proposes a council tax collection rate of 96% - effectively writing off 4% of potential council tax revenue for next year. We think that Liberata, the company which is paid handsomely to collect our Council Tax can do better, and that we should set a target of 97%. I'll keep you posted on the result.

There have been reports in the local press in recent weeks that the Council faces a shortfall of £60 million plus in paying for works to bring our council housing up to the Government's 'Decent Homes' standard. I have even heard rumours that this figure is a gross underestimate and that the real shortfall is in excess of £300 million. This presents the Council with a huge problem, which will affect not only this administration, but the next one after the 2010 local elections.

With this in mind Labour have proposed a motion this evening to establish a cross-party working group to look at the financial problems facing Decent Homes in Southwark and to try and come up with a solution which is in the interests of all of the residents of the borough. I think that there are some issues where the public expect to see politicians working together to sort the problem out - and housing improvements in Southwark is just such an issue!

I honestly cannot see a problem with our proposal. But it will be opposed by the LibDems and Tories who have accused Labour of "playing politics" when the opposite is the truth! If our motion is being opposed because there is no funding shortfall, then I will be delighted and relieved. But I suspect that is not the case and the coalition running Southwark is simply too afraid to let us know the truth.

Anyway I hope they change their minds before this evening. Working together has to be in everyone's interests on this isssue and I am not sure that the public will understand a "yah boo" political approach from the Libs and Tories.

Death of Lambeth Cllr Liz Atkinson

I was sorry to hear last night from Lambeth Chief Whip Cllr Alex McKenna, that his Vassall Ward colleague Cllr Liz Atkinson had died last week. I met Liz on an number of occasions and she was always conscious of the need for a "whole Camberwell" approach to issues despite the fact that it is an area which is divided between Southwark and Lambeth. Liz was Mayor of Lambeth last year.

I know that Liz will be missed by her many colleagues in Lambeth, and by those residents of Camberwell who valued her good sense and friendship.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Stories of 2008 so far!

A belated start to blogging in 2008, but no shortage of things to write about! Last Tuesday I went to a meeting with John Healy, the Local Government Minister, to make the case for even greater funding for Southwark over the coming three years. The meeting was a cross-party event and I was happy to put the interests of the borough as a whole above purely partisan politics.

Central Government funds about 70% of spending in the borough, and the increase which we will be receiving in 2008/09 is 2% more than the current year. This is just on the Government's inflation target, so it does not provide any real scope for growth in spending, and could mean that the Council will have to review its expenditure in certain areas. The Leader of the Council has spoken of the need to close 3 leisure centres, or putting key regeneration projects on hold as a result of the limited increase, but I think this amounts to a degree of scare-mongering. At the end of the day the decisions about how money is spent in our borough will reflect the political choices and priorities of the ruling LibDem/Tory coalition.

I was keen to stress to John Healy that people will not understand if the Council does not deliver on our major regeneration projects, so I hope that a future meeting which we agreed to have will find some additional funding to secure the regeneration of the Aylesbury Estate and Elephant and Castle.

The LibDem's Executive member for Regeneration announced his resignation last week. Richard Thomas has served on the Executive since 2002 and been in charge of Regeneration since 2006. I am truly surprised at his decision to quit, although the local newspapers say he will be the first of many this year. With limited talent on the LibDem benches it is not obvious where his replacement is likely to come from.

Finally, the Camberwell Grove Working Party met last week to discuss plans for the re-opening of the road. There are still huge problems with any traffic light "solution" on Camberwell Grove, as it has the potential of creating real gridlock in the area. So the latest proposal involves the re-opening being limited to the south to north carriageway (the only carriageway which will be open after the repairs in any event) with north to south traffic continuing to be diverted. This is not a perfect solution, but with the severe limits resulting from the bridge repairs no solution is 100% acceptable. This proposal at least has the advantage of keeping traffic moving on Camberwell Grove, especially during the morning rush-hour. Officers have gone away to consider the proposals in greater detail, and I will update this page with any further information I get.