Thursday, November 30, 2006

LibDems want Hairdressers to Fight Crime!

Seriously - you could not make it up! I laughed out loud today when I read in Southwark News that the current Leader of the Council proposed using hairdressers in the battle against violent crime in the borough. Well it has been another difficult week for him!

So is Cllr Stanton proposing that we have crack patrols of hair stylists ready to shampoo and set at the scene of a serious incident? Can we look forward to a short back and sides from elite barbers when we are next threatened at knife-point?

Sadly not! His proposal for their part in the fight against crime is that they should be used to spread the word about how safe Southwark is!

As my colleague Cllr Paul Bates observes in the Southwark News, "Many residents of the borough will find the leader of the council's statments that hairdressers are the answer to crime a little bizarre". Quite!

One of Southwark's new crime-fighters in action!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Albrighton Centre Chaos

Work to refurbish and expand the Albrighton Centre on East Dulwich Estate should have begun in early 2007 and have been completed by the Summer. The work would have extended the centre with the addition of an extra floor providing much needed additional space. The precise extent of the works has been carefully considered by the members of the East Dulwich Estate Project Team ('EDERPT') at many meetings over recent years.

So it was a truly awful surprise to hear at last night's meeting that a structural survey of the Centre has revealed that an extensive steel frame will now need to be built around the Centre as the current structure cannot bear the weight of the additional floor, and that the works will now take 12 months!

To a layperson like me it does seem that the cart may have been put before the horse in this case - why a structural survey was not carried out earlier is incredible.

The impact of this news is significant. If the Project Team had known originally that adpaptation works were going to take up to 12 months they may well have decided on a new-build project for the Albrighton - which would provide better value for money and have taken only 8 months. However, the Team decided to support the adaptation route as it would mean a quicker delivery - 6 months - and demonstrate some early physical regeneration of this Estate to its many residents who have become so disillusioned with the process since it first began in 1998.

I am personally very disappointed by this development and will be working together with my fellow councillors, EDERPT and excellent officers like Tony Hunter to find a way to get this project back on course as soon as practicable, with a solution which meets the needs of the East Dulwich Estate.

Cllr Danny McCarthy

Labour is now the largest political group on Southwark following the decision of Cllr Danny McCarthy, a councillor in Cathedrals Ward since 2002, to resign from the LibDems. Danny cites as his principal reason for resigning the fact of the alliance between the Tories and LibDems in which the LibDems have given up the crucial portfolios of housing and resources. However, from conversations which I have had I know that Danny has been greatly hurt by the vicious way in which he has been treated in recent weeks by his erstwhile colleagues in the LibDem group. It seems that the vicious personal side of the LibDems which was so evident when Charles Kennedy was forced out as Leader of the LibDems nationally is alive and well amongst Southwark LibDem members.

In a truly amazing outburst the current Leader of the Council has called on Danny McCarthy to resign his seat and stand for re-election in a by-election. This outburst is amazing because as Danny has rightly observed, no one in Southwark voted for the Tory / LibDem coalition in charge at the Town Hall, and if Cllr Stanton is so concerned about the wishes of the voters perhaps he should put that coalition to the test in a public vote. After the chaos in the borough's housing department, the £120 million call-centre in meltdown and the Thatcherite Tories being given a free rein to slash council budgets, I am fairly confident what the public reaction would be!

Danny will sit as an independent councillor for the time being, but I hope that we will be able to meet his ambitions and welcome him back into the Labour Party in the near future.

So the current state of the parties is Labour - 28; LibDems - 27; Tories - 6; Green - 1; Independent - 1

Monday, November 27, 2006

Debate.....what debate?

After the public meeting we held on the changes to housing management in the borough my colleagues and I submitted a request to the Mayor for a Special Council Assembly to discuss the motions we were proposing. Although we regard the issue as urgent the Mayor (no doubt under political orders)has ruled that the Special Assembly will take place AFTER the regular Council meeting on 6th December. This means that our motions will not be debated until around midnight!

The issue of housing management is of concern to very many tenants and leaseholders across the borough. This is confirmed by the fact that 2 Area Housing Forums have rejected the changes and very many individuals have been in touch with myself and my colleagues to express their anger over the way in which this process has been handled by the Executive.

As a Group we have never said there should be NO changes to the way housing is managed in Southwark. What we do say is that any changes should only have been introduced after a period of consultation with tenants, leaseholders, officers and councillors. I still think that it is amazing that we will have no dedicated Director of Housing in Southwark, despite the fact that we are the country's biggest landlord.

So the decision to delay the debate on our motions until midnight is another example of this Tory/LibDem Executive trying to stifle discussion of an important issue and exclude the wider public from the decision-making process. If the changes which Cllr Humphreys and his LibDem colleagues are proposing are so robust and cannot be properly criticised why will they not debate them at a proper hour - or better still on another day at a time when the public can attend.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Southwark's Housing Crisis

Last night I spoke at a packed public meeting which was called to discuss the recent changes to housing management in the borough. Although the council is the landlord of nearly 60,000 properties we no longer have a dedicated housing department, which has effectively been abolished and its responsibilities scattered amongst various other departments of the Council such as Environment, rubbish collection and Social Services.

What is perhaps more astonishing about the changes is that they were introduced without any warning, discussion or consultation - even by the Executive who are supposed to make these sorts of decisions!

Only two Executive members seem to have known anything about the changes before they happened - the current Leader Cllr Stanton and his 'A-list' Tory Deputy, Cllr Humphreys. Neither of these seems remotely concerned or apologetic for the outcry which their changes have incurred, with Cllr Humphreys arrogantly determined to press on with "Phase 2" of his Thatcherite plans for Southwark's housing.

Last night's meeting was absolutely united in its oppostion to the changes and the manner in which they had been introduced. At the conclusion of the meeting I indicated that the Labour Group would be calling a Special Council Assembly meeting to discuss the changes. I hope that this will take place within the next 10 days - it certainly cannot wait until the next Council Assembly on the 5th of December.

With tenants and leaseholders experiencing serious ongoing problems with the £100 million Call Centre; with one of the borough's major repairs contractors going bust without warning or explanation leaving jobs unfinished, and with the latest changes to the ex-Housing Department, it really does seem that the shaky Tory/LibDem coalition in charge at the Town Hall has lost its grip.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Newington Reference Library

Last night I attended a public meeting to discuss proposed changes to Southwark's only reference library, which is based in the Newington Library on the Walworth Road. In a well-intentioned attempt to make the library accessible to all and compliant with the Disability Discrimination Act the Council have proposed that the library situated on the first floor of the building should be closed and partially re-sited to the ground floor.

The public can currently have access to 8,500 books in a remarkably light and airy library on the first floor. Under the proposed changes the number of available books would be reduced by approximately 80% and access to the available remainder would be in comparatively cramped conditions on the ground floor.

Cllr Stanton, the currrent Leader of the Council, argued that the alternative to these proposals would invovle the installation of a lift from the ground to the first floor at a cost of £400,000 which the Council could not afford. Although users would not be able to browse through all of the books they would be able to ask library staff to retrieve a particular book if they wished.

Those who attended the meeting and use the library were uniformly opposed to the proposals. Part of the joy of browsing through books in a library is finding a book which you did not know existed. This would be lost under the current proposals and I have no doubt that people would be deterred from using the library as they presently do.

I do not think these proposals have been thought through, and the users of the library should not be placed in the position of having to effectively argue against DDA compliance in order to retain their current reference facilities.

Also I am not sure that the options are as limited as presented by the Council. There are many government and public buildings which are DDA compliant but which have not installed major passenger lifts. It really is time to look again at these proposals and find a solution which suits all users and potential users of the library.

The current proposals can be found here