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Friday, 27 January 2012

Protect front-line policing and give Londoners back a tenner

I noticed this week that the London Assembly considered the Mayor’s draft budget for the next financial year.   The Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group put forward an alternative budget which included targeted fare cuts to help Londoners on the lowest incomes, extra policing and action to make London’s roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

In a detailed amendment to the Mayor’s draft budget the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group proposed to use savings obtained from cutting waste, abolishing  perks to staff, selling properties and tackling fare evasion to ensure frontline services are protected while also delivering a cut of 3.2% in the GLA’s share of Council Tax bills, giving average London households £10 back. Sensible I think.

The specific proposals included:

  • A better and fairer fares package, including a One Hour Bus Ticket, the introduction of part-weekly Travelcards, the reintroduction of a one-day Zone 2 – 6 Travelcard and a lower ‘early bird’ fare for tube, DLR and TfL rail
  • The reinstatement of 150 sergeant posts that have been removed from Safer Neighbourhood Teams across London
  • Action to start switching all of London’s bus fleet to electric buses by 2020
  • Improvement work on London’s most dangerous junctions and all junctions on the existing Cycle Superhighways, combined with more cycle training and the roll-out of safety mirrors
  • Action to tackle rogue landlords and establish minimum standards for private rented housing
  • More details of the alternative budget proposals can be seen at the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group website.

London Liberal Democrat Finance spokesperson, Mike Tuffrey, said: “When most Londoners are struggling with zero pay rises and increased household costs, it is wrong that the Mayor is not helping them in these tough economic times."

Mike added: “By slashing waste, perks and unnecessary expenditure our proposals enable services to be protected whilst giving many Londoners a much needed tenner back in their pockets."

Caroline Pidgeon added: "Our transport proposals would make cycling and walking safer, drive forward a big switch to electric buses and help support the growth of river transport. Most importantly our fare proposals provide a real helping hand to London’s lowest paid workers who struggle so much with the high cost of travel brought in by this Mayor."

Met’s extravagant perks for senior officers must now go

At this week’s debate on the Mayor’s budget Dee Doocey once again raised the issue of senior Met police officers continuing to have chauffeur driven cars. Part of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group amendment was to remove such provision (except where required for security purposes). It was also proposed to end free accommodation that is provided to senior ACPO officers.

In responding to questions from Dee, the Mayor finally admitted that these perks can no longer be justified.

Explaining why these perks need to be removed Dee said: “There is no justification at all for senior police officers enjoying chauffeur driven vehicles simply to get to work every day or to be whisked around London to attend meetings.  The provision of free accommodation is another perk which should have long gone."

Dee added: “At a time when the Met’s budget is under such immense pressure and difficult decisions are being made it is simply offensive that senior police officers hold on to these extravagant perks.  Ending these perks would release over a million pounds a year which could be invested in frontline policing.”

Thursday, 26 January 2012

High Speed 2 will deliver long term success

As an Ealing Liberal Democrat I do not feel the need to support everything the Coalition Government wants. But when it comes to the Government’s responses to High Speed 2 (HS2), Crossrail, and to stopping Heathrow expansion, we are in favour.

In fact nationally all three major parties are in favour of High Speed 2.

I see the Ealing Conservative Leader recently admitted it was “progress”. He is sitting on the fence trying to be in favour of High Speed 2 as well as acknowledging some local difficulties, using only flowery language.

What is clear, is that in the short term of the build of High Speed 2, there will be some residents who will suffer. But the government has listened and gone some way in mitigating these issues. High Speed 2 in many ways is a judgement call – do you want investment in our transport system, or not?

In making a decision it is crucial to look at the transport need now and in the future and the benefits that High Speed 2 offer which will be a much faster and reliable journey.

Other countries in Europe took decisions decades ago to improve their train network so that commuters or tourists can travel across countries quickly, often with choices of how to get to their destination. The UK is often left behind.

Modern railway causes less pollution than travelling by air.

Whether it is sustainable energy generation or transport, the UK has tended to follow and not lead the way. High Speed 2 will complement Crossrail and we should see great improvements in London as well as links to other parts of the UK which will help support jobs – something we all want.

My group, the Ealing Liberal Democrats, want to see journey times reduced, want to see congestion on transport modes reduced and we want to see an improved reliability. High Speed 2 does this. Locally, we should welcome the fact that improving the rail infrastructure will reduce the need for short haul flights and the pressure for a third runway at Heathrow. Furthermore, High Speed 2 will bring much needed regeneration around Old Oak Common.

Only the Liberal Democrats have assessed the benefits and costs of large transport initiatives. Clearly High Speed 2 will bring us many benefits that this country need. This huge investment will yield lots of jobs in the decades to come.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Cabinet Update - Libraries, Arcadia and Street Lighting....‏

Below is a commentary of last night's cabinet meeting that took place in Ealing Town Hall. I was joined by fellow Liberal Democrat Councillor Andrew Steed. Cabinet is a strange type of meeting which involves all the important decisions that Ealing Council has to make but there is no discussion allowed!

The three main topics raised were:

1. Council Budget for the next three years -
The council is to upgrade street lighting to an LED system which is apparently 40% cheaper to run. This means the Council will spend money on the upgrade and then in future years will save money. It looks like it will take about ten years break even. But after this (expected) ten years the Council will make money and so we support this initiatives. Other Councils such as Westminster are dimming their lights which will save half the money Ealing will - but they are making the place less safe.

After a meeting earlier in the week with some of the senior Finance officers it appears that the Council is taking a new look at what activities occur in Ealing Town Hall. In recent times the Council has only done the bare minimum of repainting or repairing some of the rooms. Liberal Democrats believe that there are many rooms not used that could be used by community groups for a range of purposed including possibly an art centre. The review that will take place will be conducted within the scrutiny process and we hope involves councillors and relevant community bodies. We also need to be assured that the review will not have any projects it wants to agree from the start or else that will bias any outcome. We wait and see.

2. Libraries -
It was proposed that Ealing Council shares some of the services with Brent and Harrow Councils. This should reduce the cost. After a comment from me stating that sharing services is good but only if standards of the service do not drop, the Council Leader agreed with me. It turned out that since the report was published that Brent do not wish to be a part of any shared service arrangement.

I then asked some questions relating to the volunteering that is scheduled to start this May. It appears there are about 60 residents who are will to volunteer their time working in a number of libraries. It will be crucial to ensure that they use best practice (lots of best practice has been understood in the past 6 months from other local Councils). Ealing council is sadly only looking to discover best practice, now, when other London Councils have learned what to do and what not to do over the past year.

Lastly I asked a question about the investment of WiFi in libraries from May. The last figure I saw was very high for what is a relatively simple investment. It appears the Council has put this on the back burner for a while. Libraries need WiFi but it should not cost the earth.

3. Arcadia redevelopment -
With the developer Glenkerrin (who proposed a development including a 27 storey building) going into administration the Council have been approached by the Administrator to seek some assurances from Ealing Council. The Council has put together a report that details some of the actions the Council may or may not take if any future developer buys the land
and proposes an application. It is sadly silent though on a number of points which are crucial to enabling Ealing Town Centre being successful such as ensuring that there is a good circulation of transport in the centre.

Although the document was put together quickly there was sadly little consultation apart from one Residents' Body.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

You need standards to be on Ealing Council's Standards Committee!

Tonight I attended the Council's standards meeting. The meeting's remit is not to discuss the standard of Ealing Council! It is to create, amend and enforce the rules that try to ensure that Councillors do not break the rules.

This could be not declaring a gift from a planning company who have submitted a planning application or lying about facts in a Council meeting etc. Many of the complaints raised are from political parties claiming a Councillor from another party has broken the rules. Rarely are any of the complaints upheld.

Given that a new law is coming into force (the Localism Act) it means that a Councillor found breaking certain rules can be reported to the police and suffer punishment. However the real Councillor crimes are ones where they offend residents in a meeting or other more soft offences. My suggestion that these are best solved by being warned or take part in some type of training scheme was agreed. The Council is finalising the plans but a punishment of a censure from the Council is likely to be the worst offence. This censure would probably end a politician's career.

We then discussed the details of what are the general principles of being a Councillor. It took about 30 minutes to agree that councillors should be selfless, have integrity, objectivity, be accountable, open, honest and be leaders. But that doesn't get to the discussion of how we define what honesty is.....................

In the same discussion the sad fact that the new law will not allow any non-councillor to be on the standard's committee (which is used to try to get non-party political discussion of issues) who have served Ealing's committee in the last 5 years. Bizarre.

The Localism Act has some useful clauses and functions but it also will make some things worse for residents.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Key failings highlighted about the way the London bike hire scheme is performing

The failings, uncovered by Caroline Pidgeon, who is the Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, include:

  •  A widespread failure in the allocation of the bikes across the docking stations, making it difficult for people to either hire a bike, or return a bike at the end of a ride. Figures obtained by the Liberal Democrats show that in November 2011 there was on average 27 docking stations in London that had no bikes available for hire for between 6 to 8 hours each day. At the same time  there were 31 docking stations that had no spare spaces for people to dock their bikes for between 3 to 6 hours each day.
  • Members’ satisfaction with the availability of bikes at docking stations falling since the initial  few months of the scheme
  • Less than half of members of the bike hire scheme stated they were 'satisfied' with the ease of using their membership key to unlock bikes in July 2011
  • One in five members who were surveyed in December 2011 stated they were 'dissatisfied' with the bike hire scheme
  • Casual users facing problems with using the terminals at docking stations, and also finding the print outs produced when taking out bikes not to be clear

As the original advocates of the bike hire scheme, way back in 2001, Liberal Democrats think the cycle hire scheme is a great idea, however it has a long way to go before it becomes a genuine transport option that serves all Londoners. There needs to be a far better distribution of bikes across the existing docking stations. Where are the docking stations in Ealing, in Acton, in Chiswick!

It is shameful that there are docking stations which frequently don't have a single bike available for as much as 7 or 8 hours a day. Being able to find a bike should not involve having to chase around from one docking station to another.

If TfL could incentivise the scheme and increase the number of casual users it would ensure a far better natural redistribution of bikes across the docking stations.
Quite simply the bike hire scheme is now 18 months old and excuses about teething problems have long passed. The Mayor should be working hard to ensure the bike hire scheme is an accessible and reliable form of transport for all Londoners.

Boris get on your bike!

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Ealing Cabinet Meeting Update (January 10th) - Advice Services

Tonight's cabinet meeting was quicker than usual. I understand one of the administration wanted to watch a football game on TV!

As usual there were lots of interesting topics but one I thought was very important...

Advice Services:
The Council spends lot of money in many forms to provide advice to residents. On a related matter there has not been a CAB (Citizen Advice Bureau) in Ealing sadly. The Council tonight agreed to spend £200,000 on providing advice services (financial, housing etc) and reviewing a lot of the current advice services that they and other bodies offer in the borough.

Liberal Democrat Councillor Harvey Rose has been active for a number of years in trying to get a CAB based in Ealing. This is a partial move to something like this. I spoke on this item and raised the matter that it crucial that Ealing Council ensures that it is clear as to what advice is needs to provide and then refers people to other bodies if they cannot be helped via the Council.

Also I said that most people know what the CAB does, as it has a great brand, even if they have never used their services. So it is crucial that Ealing Council still tries to have an CAB in Ealing, whether it be a shared operation, as it will be so clear as to what services they offer.

In reply to a question from me the Council officer said that three neighbouring CAB branches might wish to bid to run the services for Ealing. Time will tell.

Bogus Builders in the Southfield Area of Chiswick

I have just spoken to my local police team in Southfield and they report and issue of "Bogus Builders".

There have been several incidents on the ward where residents have reported men posing as builders and offering building work. These men are described as white and have south London accents. They claim to work for a company called Howden's Building Services. This company is not registered and is not legitimate.

They are using another company's address which is called Howden's Joinery as their apparent office however the company Howden's Joinery deny all knowledge of these men and the services they offer.

Please could you let any neighbours know to be extra vigilant of persons approaching their homes and offering building services.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Let's stop fare dodgers now - a thousand pound fine!

I think we are all annoyed at the high rises in bus, tube and rail fares. Other countries have it so much better. The £9 or so million that Boris Johnson has spent on six new Routemaster buses is such a waste of money.

Following the introduction of the Mayor’s fare rises for 2012, Lib Dem Leader Caroline Pidgeon of the Greater London Assembly said:
"Once again we start the year with another painful fare package from Boris Johnson.

She then added: "It is now time for a new approach to fares. We need to end the scandal of Oyster overcharging, and introduce targeted measures to specifically help Londoners on the lowest incomes. A one-hour bus ticket and cheaper early bird fares would make a huge difference to the pockets and purses of London's lowest paid workers who have been hit so hard by Boris Johnson’s excessive fare rises."

Incredibly, despite the painful rise in fares, TfL have delayed the introduction of increased fines for fare dodgers. Personally I think that the fines for fare dodging should be a thousand pounds! Simple and easy to remember. The current paltry fines mean you would need to travel often hundreds of bus journeys before getting caught.

Read a full report on the delay in sorting out this issue in the Evening Standard

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Brent Lodge Bunny Park - and the Husky

With having the extra day of work I went to the Bunny Park on Monday afternoon.

Despite the paths being muddy after the rain on Sunday we got there without slipping and falling over. Touch wood!

Was good to see a few animals and birds that you don't see in many parks. The kids who were there certainly liked the rabbits and the ice cream in the cafe. It was funny at one point where the peacock came over to see us, and what ever we did the nearby goat would not turn its head. It seemed totally shy from looking at people. If you see it from the front - well done!

While in the cafe we saw a teenager with what looked like a cute dog (in a basket though!) and it moved. My friend asked what is was. The father said it was a husky. It did look a bit small I thought. However when the girl lifted up the husky and turned it over it was obvious it was a toy that breathed. A funny joke. My mate was a bit embarrassed. 

If you are free then why not drop by (it is free). Here is a useful link for you:

Monday, 2 January 2012

New Year Message...

So another year has gone by. The one abiding memory I have, concerns the riots in Ealing. The rioters’ behaviour was shameful. We must not forget the loss of life caused in the Ealing riots. The council acted efficiently during the riots and the police acted bravely, but we also need to reflect and individually, and as part of the Council, to ensure everything we do helps as many people as possible and reduce the suffering of others.

The other crucial issue relates to the Council cuts that are occurring. The test of whether the Council is doing a good job is whether vulnerable residents are omitted from suffering. So far this has not been true but it has to be a real priority – in reality and not just in words.

Liberal Democrats believe that the Council needs to continually look, at what spending gives little benefit to residents and businesses – then target money to those most in need.

My personal New Year’s Resolution, is to continue to shop and eat local, in Ealing.

I was watching the news recently about the need to get more blood donors. These are needed very much and it is painless - you even get a free biscuit. I am diabetic and so am not allowed to give blood sadly. The website to know more and find out where you can give blood is here:

I wish everyone a happy new year.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A Long New Year's Day Cycle

After a long and fun new year's day evening, bringing in the new year, I remembered I had to get up for a cycle ride starting from outside Ealing Town Hall.

The weather was okay and about 35 people turned up. Cyclists are hardy people and a few hours of celebrating wouldn't stop most from starting the year off on the right foot (or pedal!)

We went from Ealing to Hanwell, then to Greenford and we got to the top of Northala Fields. Cycling round and round until we reached the top. Some great views and the weather was clear enough to see a long way away. Certainly an achievement for Ealing Council a few years ago when they used the waste rubble and materials from Wembley to build the hills. Here is a link to one photo I took:

We then, after a number of  the cyclists had punctures (one experienced biker had three punctures!), got into Harrow. I managed to get up one large(ish) hill but the second was too tough for me. I have been recovering from a neck injury and haven't cycled that much so I need to practice more in the coming weeks. The hill I declined to attempt is pictured here. It is steeper than it looks but well done to the 20 or so riders who did it:
After we got to Harrow (on the hill) we started the decent back to Ealing. The whole journey took about two hours and was about 15 or so miles long. We then relaxed in a pub and had a Sunday lunch. Yum!

The first Sunday of each month the group will be going out, meeting outside Ealing Town Hall at 10am. It is free and the route is different each month so just turn up and get ready for some fun. Lots of good conversations along the way. It isn't a race - the idea is to ride as fast as the slowest members of the group.