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!