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.