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Monday, 2 March 2015

Liberal Democrats improving Education in Ealing

In Ealing, things are improving as we see that crime is down, there are more people in employment and millions of residents have been taken on apprenticeships across the country.

Those running Ealing Town Hall, like to take the credit for the improvements to our education system, however they forget to mention that the majority of money comes directly from the coalition Government.

So when our primary and secondary schools are maintained, expanded and improved, large chunks of money comes from the government.

Gary Malcolm
Liberal Democrats believe in giving every child a fair start in life. That's why we put an extra £2.5bn into schools each year from our 'Pupil Premium', as promised in the 2010 election manifesto. The money is targeted at those that need the most help, to achieve equality of opportunity.

In just one year seven schools in our borough received the following amounts:

  • Hambrough Primary School, Southall - £126,000
  • West Twyford Primary School, Acton - £81,000
  • Selborne Primary School, Greenford - £107,100
  • Gifford Primary School, Northolt - £325,800
  • Perivale Primary School, Perivale - £83,700
  • North Ealing Primary School, Ealing - £54,900
  • Southfield Primary school, Southfield - £144,000
  • St John's Primary School, West Ealing - £171,000

Some of the great examples of what the Pupil Premium has been spent on included a Maths tutor for a year 10 pupil who had gaps in their learning. Another was curriculum adaptations for pupils going into key stage 4, who were on the spectrum of autism.

The additional learning and communication helped them out massively. This will help those children to better learn and develop, so they can gain employment or an apprenticeship more easily.

Also a hot and healthy meal at lunch time greatly improves the health, behaviour and results of schoolchildren, providing them with their best start in life, enabling every child to fulfil their potential.

Evidence has shown that free school meals make a real difference in our classrooms. They were first piloted in 2009 and my aspiration is that free school meals is expanded to give free school meals to every primary school pupil in England.

We’ve also provided £150m to upgrade school kitchens and dining rooms, on top of a billion pounds of new money to fund the meals.

The government has also increased funding of nursery places for 2 and 3 year olds and agreed for an increase in paternal leave so they parents can spend more time with their new-born children. All of these policies are helping families across Ealing.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Southfield Ward Forum update - including a sad Carlton Road day centre update

Despite the rain and the cold weather, it was a wonderful Southfield Ward Forum meeting in St Albans Church. Since the church was saved from being converted into a number of luxury flats we looked forward to using the venue for public meetings.

The meeting was kicked off by  Rev Mike Tufnell who updated residents of future events to be held in the large church. Although I am not religious, churches like St Albans are amazing places due to the arhitecture and the stained glass windows. The next Ward Panel meeting that will take place in the church we hope to be in the Summer.

St Albans Church before the meeting
There were a number of topics we discussed...

Closure of the Carlton Road Day Centre
I announced that in the Summer it is likely that the centre will close, although the exact timings is not known. This will be a sad end to a great service the Council runs very well. Despite a huge campaign last week the Labour run Ealing Council decided that they did not want to look at the alternatives which Liberal Democrat Councillors put forward.

These would have allowed the day centre to stay open. Labour Councillors who voted to close it should be ashamed of themselves. The users are the most vulnerable as they are severely physically disabled. When the day centre shuts the Council wishes to sell off the site probably to build expensive homes and not affordable units.

I pay tribute to the staff at the Day Centre who will shortly lose their jobs, and thank all those residents who tried in vain to stop Labour closing the day centre. Southfield Councillor Gary Busuttil has been active on this and so I give a special thanks to his hard work and dedication.

Thames Water Sewage problems continue
Don Tanswell, chair of the Southfield Park Triangle Residents' Association, updated the meeting about the ongoing issues due to the lack of effective emptying of the storage tanks near to Hatfield Road, when it rains.

It appears that lots of good evidence has been taken and Ealing Council might be in a position to take legal action to get Thames Water to either fix the issue or install roofs on the six tanks.

Ward Forum Budget
We agreed to...
  • Plant 13 trees around the Beaconsfield Road area which will replace 13 that are to be felled due to problems they have caused residents in the area.
  • Consider funding a couple of small arts events in Chiswick and Acton.
  • Install an additional cycle rack near the 94 bus terminus.
  • Improve the cycling facilities and improve Acton Green by installing a Brompton Cycle Hire unit near where the large bins near Turnham Green Station which had attracted lots of dumped waste. Also new cycle racks will be added near to the taxi rank and a section of the path will be converted into grass to improve the environment. Much of this work has come from the hard work by Councillor Andrew Steed.

The church's drum set!
Neighbourhood Watch
In Southfield we have 51 Neighbourhood Watch reps who help to reduce crime by informing their neighbours of crimes the police have informed them of. Some also check up on vulnerable residents in their area to see that they are fit and well. The reps do as much or as little as they can do - some take on ten houses and others a whole street. Some insurance companies offer discounts to home and contents insurance as a Neighbourhood Watch scheme often reduces crime!

The police want more people to help our and so please email me using gary.malcolm@ealing.gov.uk if you want to know more information or you want me to speak to the local police team so they can arrange for you to become a Neighbourhood Watch rep. At the meeting one person said she was interested!

Next Ward Forum meetings - put them in your diary!
The next four ward forums (venues to be confirmed) will start at 7.30 pm on these dates:

  • Wed 10th June 2015
  • Wed 9th September 2015
  • Wed 9th December 2015
  • Wed 9th March 2016

Monday, 19 January 2015

Mental health in Ealing should not be ignored or stigmatised

Research shows that one in four people will suffer from mental health problems at some point in their lives, however there is still stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health.

The Liberal Democrats believe that mental health should never be ignored or stigmatised. That's why we are committed to improving mental health services in Ealing, London and nationwide.

There are many reasons why people suffer short or long term incidences of mental health problems. These include a loss of their job, when family or social relationships change, developing a physical health condition.

Save Our Solace demo outside Town Hall
Not feeling you can talk about problems with someone, can mean we “bottle up” emotions which often intensifies our perception of a difficult issue.

Many voluntary groups organise and run groups which provide residents a chance to talk and take away people’s “load from their shoulders”. Many of these groups help reduce potential mental health problems without aiming to do so.

Labour’s national campaign about the NHS contrasts with the Labour party locally, who are more than prepared to close important local facilities.

Ealing Council over the past few years has closed a number of day centres, affecting many people’s mental health. Closing more facilities like Ealing’s Solace and the Carton Road Day Centre in the Acton area, will mean more users suffer.

Very recently one user of the Solace centre ended his life at Ealing Broadway station. While it is too early to know what may have led to the tragedy, this underlines the importance of ensuring that the Solace Centre and other similar centres are kept open to provide its 365-day a year support for local residents. One user said Ealing Council had played “Russian roulette with our lives.”
Services like Solace only cost a tiny expenditure in the overall Council budget. Labour cannot absolve responsibility.

Many users now do not believe what Labour say as they have closed so many centres and plan to close many more this year.

In Government the Liberal Democrats are using £400 million to help people with mental health problems get the right support early on, such as talking or psychological therapies.

We are also introducing waiting limits, so people will know for the first time how long they have to wait for mental health treatment.
Our new mental health action plan sets out our priorities for essential change in mental health, including:

  • Investing over £400m to give thousands of people access to evidence-based psychological therapies.
  • Children's mental health: Investing £54m in order to improve access to mental health care for children.
  • Crisis Care Concordat: Making sure no one experiencing mental health crisis is ever turned away from services.
  • Choice in Mental Health: Giving people the same choice for their mental healthcare as they do for their physical health.
  • Liaison and Diversion: Committed £25m for a scheme that identifies health issues offenders when they enter the criminal justice system.
  • Restraint: Investing £1.2m in staff training in order to reduce harmful restrictive practices.
The Liberal Democrats believe mental health should not be ignored or stigmatised. It should be taken as seriously as physical health.

Only the Liberal Democrats are making this issue a top priority.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

My New Year message for Ealing

As the current year comes to an end I have looked forward to the promise that 2015 brings.

Sadly I fear that life for many people in Ealing will not fulfill that promise and indeed could be worse than it has been. The reason for this, are the range of cuts that Labour run Ealing Council have recently announced including the closure of many day centres and the introduction of fortnightly collections of waste.

By announcing fortnightly refuse and recycling collection when they were adamant during the May local election campaign that there would not be such a change, Labour have shown what little respect they have for the residents of this Borough. Liberal Democrat Sutton Council guaranteed the funding for weekly waste collections until 2018!

Liberal Democrats against day centre cuts 
Additional cuts include day centres such as the Carlton Road Day Centre and the Solace Day Centre.

Both face closure, which will leave many vulnerable people and their carers facing an uncertain 2015.

Day centres are a safe and welcoming place for physically disabled people to go to. They offer family carers a way to get a break from their caring duties, to get a haircut, visit the doctor, or just to have a coffee. The day centres are often the only way that the users can socialise.

These centres save the NHS so much money by reducing the incidence of depression for all those concerned. So, by choosing to cut services in this way, Labour has shown us how truly callous they can be towards the most vulnerable in our society.

The Liberal Democrats acknowledge the time people spend caring for relatives and participating in community activities across the Borough. We support those who help others make Ealing a better place for everyone. This is why the Liberal Democrats will continue to fight for the residents of Ealing in the coming year.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Lynne Featherstone: one of the most successsful ministers since 2010

We were lucky to have a special visitor at the Ealing Liberal Democrat AGM meeting this week. That of Lynne Featherstone who is now a minister at the Home Office.

She told us about the work she had done when first in the Home Office, back in 2010. All of us are so proud of the work that Lynne had done to bring in equal marriage.

Lynne Featherstone speaking
Lynne was also instrumental in ensuring that DNA is not indefinitely retained. This arrangement was brought in by the Labour party who encouraged the storage of bio data, despite the enhanced risks (can be used within the insurance sector inappropriately) that can occur if data was stolen or misused.

Lynne then spoke at length about the work in government, after a move to DFID (Department for International Development).

She talked about the kidnapping of many girls in Nigeria, problems in Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo.

One campaign which she set up and has gained much international credit was in relation to Female Genital Mutilation which occurs both abroad and in this country. Money has been set aside and actions are taking place so that this horrible crime can be stopped. Often victims are afraid to speak up about it and so people's pain can go unheard. Lynne certainly has given some hope in this area so that more people can be stopped from taking part in this cultural act of bodily mutilation.

Lynne finished with a Question and Answer session which was very lively. An upbeat meeting with a great update of the work that a Lib Dem minister gets up to.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

101 (nearly) reasons why Ealing Council needs to totally revamp its planning service

Over many years residents and residents' associations have been outraged by the planning decisions made by Ealing Council.

People have been annoyed about the process people have had to follow and how they have been treated when trying to make their voices heard. It was agreed to set up a committee which would look at this and last night I vice-chaired the meeting which listened to the views of residents from Ealing.

We intentionally did not invite any planning officers so that people could raise their views in the most candid way possible.

Only two comments were made that were positive (relating to the fact that Ealing holds site visits so that the planning committee Councillors can better see the result of a planning proposal)!

Clearly with about hundred comments Ealing Council will need to look at these comments at the Scrutiny meeting that takes place at 7.00 pm on Thursday 11 December 2014 in Committee Room 3, Ealing Town Hall. This will be a great chance for us to grill the officers and get them to commit to making changes that put residents first.
One side of my notes during the meeting!

Please post comments and experiences you might have about this matter on this blog and I will be able to raise these at the meeting in December.

The main areas which residents in the meeting had concerns were:
  • Poor or a lack of communication
  • Problems with the Planning website
  • Planning Committee meetings
  • Issues regarding Planning officers
  • Issues regarding Councillors
Detailed comments made by residents in the meeting are listed below (some comments were made by more than one person)...

Poor or a lack of communication >>>
  • Distribution of letters to inform residents of a local planning application goes to the wrong people, especially when a planning application relates to the corner building, and misses out people, is this intentional? x2.
  • There needs to be better information from Ealing Council about the planning committee.
  • Needs to be an enhanced communication from Ealing Council about site visits.
  • The Council should be more proactive with advanced notification of planning applications.
  • Council needs to ensure that when a group who monitors the effect of a large area like the surrounds of the Brent river that it consults groups properly rather than the odd planning application. The council has a database do why does it not use it?
  • Why did the Council not consult users when they are going through the process of changing the new planning website software?
  • Why has there not been a meeting of the Planning Services User Group which could help discuss issues that residents have?
  • Almost impossible to ring planning officers.
  • When you leave messages to planning staff they hardly every call you back.
  • Statutory consultees should be listened to. Often they are not.

Problems with the Planning website >>>
  • Additional docs uploaded, should have the upload date so new documents can be easily determined. Other Councils do that x3
  • If you search for applications on a large street then you get lots of planning applications but you cannot see where you are (need to know you are on page 3 of 20).
  • When you give views you do not always get an aknowledgement so you do not know if your view have gone into the system.
  • Why has the Council removed from the website all the documents from 2014 to 2010? This is a useful set of documents for officers and residents in research about proposed developments.
  • Lots of documents missing from the website.
  • Website documents are named in a very unfriendly way so it is not easy to know what the document is.
  • Lots of files are duplicated on the website.
  • Not easy to search for planning applications.
Councillor Andrew Steed cutting down notices the
Council should have taken down
Planning Committee meetings >>>
  • The planning committee appears too commonly not to have the correct facts to make a proper decision.
  • Documents for the Councillors are too big for them to properly read and make an informed decision at the planning meetings.
  • The planing briefing notes often arrive late in the day (once 5.34pm) and so the planning committee cannot be expected to make an informed judgement.
  • 3 minutes is too short to make comments on an application especially if it is a large application
  • Need more speakers from each borough if an application is on the border of Ealing and either Hounslow or Hammersmith.
  • Meant to be 21 days to make representation in the consultation process - but not for revised plans. Why? Biased against residents.
  • Should be 21 days less two days post for comments. Often it is less than this especially if it is a Summer period or over Christmas.
  • There is not enough time for councillors to read the background to an application.
  • The planning report does not often give much weight to the arguments put forward by objectors.
  • Petitions are treated as a single objection when this makes no sense, as 1000 signatures clearly is 1000 people against an application, not 1 person.

Issues regarding Planning officers >>>
  • Pre-application advice was wrong and when appeared in the planning papers it gives the planning committee the wrong impression and leads to wrong decisions.
  • High turnover of planning officers x3.
  • Are there exit interviews for planning officers to get their views on the problems with the planning process in Ealing?
  • What happens to the data on planning officers' PCs when they leave?
  • Officers only give "half responses" when they reply.
  • Sometimes there are last minute negotiations by the top planning officers with developers that mean things appears on the same day as the planning meeting - which does not allow proper scrutiny of the proposals.
  • Supplementary questions are not either answered or published.
  • It appears that the officers agreed to proceed with a planning application and it is then rubber stamped by the planning committee.
  • Planning officers gave the wrong advice (example sited about sunlight blocked by a proposal).
  • Views from residents and amenity groups are nearly always ignored x3
  • No planning leadership from the top.
  • Once the planning report was written after only 5 days so most views were not taken into account. Biased against residents and pro developer.
  • There is a lack of quality control in the documents that the Council produce for the planning process x4
  • Where is the revised SPD to stop our back gardens being developed? Was meant to appear in July.
  • The quality of the planning appeal reports are usually very very poor x3
  • Are officers told to write the planning report to fit a particular decision? x2
  • Lots of planning reports have factual errors in them. Even when spotted and highlighted they are not corrected for the planning meeting so wrong decisions are made x2.
  • It appears that the pre planning committee meeting consultation with developers is like the Stockholm syndrome leading to more planning applications being granted than there should be x2.
  • Sometimes the same officers are involved in the pre planning committee meeting consultation process who then write the planning report. A conflict of interest. x4
  • The planning enforcement team does not work. The take almost no action when developers have broken the rules.
  • It was stated by one resident that some officers were felt to have taken bribes
  • The officers do not appear to know the details of conservation areas.
  • The officers at the planning committee do not appear to know the details of the plan x2
  • Almost impossible to have meetings with planning officers

Issues regarding Councillors >>>
  • New Councillors are not trained and so do not know about the process.
  • Local ward councillors once a planning decision has been made should then help residents but don't (Oaks decision sited as an example)!
  • It was said that lots of the planning committee councillors do not seem to speak in clear English so it is difficult to understand what is being said.
  • Despite what they law says the planning committees always tend to vote on party lines.
  • Members of the planning committee should know the local area x2

Other comments >>>
  • Council ignores its own policies.
  • Planning process does not see residents as customers.
  • We (residents) need an outside lawyer to review and vet previous decisions.
  • Section 106 monies are often not heard of until it is too late to make an influence.
  • There needs to be a signposting document so people can have a greater understanding of the process. One has been written but the Council appears to have refused to have a meeting to disucss and approve the document.
  • Needs to be a planning manual so everyone has a common reference for what is required and who does what.
  • We need to reduce the hostility between the planning officers and residents. Council often sees it as them vs. us.
  • Treat residents' groups as an asset, not a hindrance.
  • We have weak local planning policies and so we only can use the Neighborhood Forums to generate a stronger local policy.
  • There needs to be a standing (permanent) panel to review and discuss Council planning matters.
  • Because the planning enforcement team has been moved to the anti social behavior section of Council I am concerned that the Council will move activity to stop noise issues and not on enforcing planning breaches.
  • For some complex developments we need A3 documents and not all A4.
  • Sometimes we need hard copies of documents, instead of all of them on line.
  • There are plenty of developments that are left 'open' for developers so that those who have a contract have the status as being 'pending' to aid them, potentially at the expense of residents.
  • The Council approves a development with a much worse housing density than ones that have turned down.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Ealing needs democracy not a one party state

With the local elections behind us in Ealing and the Scottish Referendum now decided, it has shown us that to get people can be interested in politics they need to feel their vote will mean something.

In Ealing the percentage who turned out to vote was about half that of Scotland. The approach from the Liberal Democrats is always to engage and involve residents and interested groups, in both the formation of policies and the feedback process about how Council services are being managed.

Gary Malcolm speaking up for our health service
At my local ward forum meeting, covering part of Chiswick and Acton, three Liberal Democrat councillors are involved, and the attendance is very often higher than the average for the borough.

We tailor the meeting agenda and structure so that residents can be informed of local matters as well as asking for their views. Engaging and consulting residents is a great way to generate ideas that the Council did not think of. This in my area has led to many open spaces being improved so more people use their parks and are proud to live where they do.

Labour in Ealing have 53 of the 69 Councillors, which is 77% of the total seats. This Labour one party state in Ealing is planning to ensure that opposition parties like the Liberal Democrats will not be allowed to properly question and scrutinise them about their decisions, their failures and future plans.

A recent proposal was for just the Labour and the Conservative parties to select what topics will be discussed at Council meetings rather than allow all political parties to decide on topics.

Initially I was surprised that the Conservatives in Ealing have agreed to this but the attendance of Conservatives at many Cabinet meetings this year has shown they show little regard to democracy in Ealing. Another plan from Labour is to scrap a Council meeting which will further dilute the chance for residents and opposition Councillors to scrutinise the administration.

The function of opposition parties is to scrutinise the administration. The Liberal Democrats are against any proposals which seek to stop residents, interest groups and opposition parties from giving their views on how Ealing should be run.

Only the Liberal Democrats trust residents and at ward forum meetings we would love the responsibility to manage the currently central powers, of which streets get repaired, where trees should be planted and where lighting should be improved. Residents and ward Councillors know their area better than others and so should be allowed to make decisions on their behalf.