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Thursday, 26 July 2012

What happened at Ealing Council's cabinet meeting last night?

The agenda for tonight's meeting was huge - not just in paper but the number of items (twenty four). Cabinet meetings are normally held on Tuesdays but with the Olympic flame coming to Ealing it made sense to delay it by a day. My blog post of the "Flame Coming to Ealing" is here

Later in the meeting I had a visit from fellow Liberal Democrat Councillor Andrew Steed who passed on some great news. The Council's Planning committee had deferred discussing a proposal to convert St Albans  Church into ten expensive flats. They needed more information about a number of possible community uses for the site. More background can be seen here

As for the Cabinet meeting a summary of some of the main points was:
  • School Expansion - The expansion of Drayton Green Primary School and invitations for tenders as to who would do the work, was agreed.
  • Ealing Hospital - a proposal was raised for the Council to fund a campaign to stop four local hospitals closing. I stated on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Group that we would support this initiative. We await more information about how large the fund will be and the details of what it might be spent on.
  • Domestic Violence Grant - I supported a Council move to offer two types of grant to help reduce domestic violence and the consequences of it. One in a generalist grant open to all (including men) around the borough. The second is a specific grant for those who are from a Black Minority Ethnic group who suffer more than most from figures show to Ealing Council. The interesting point on this is the Ealing Conservatives have a history of not wanting to focus this grant to those who are most in need or ensuring that the Council can proactively go to groups who know those who suffer from domestic violence. I made a number of points but stated that having two smaller grants (than one larger one) means it will be important to review the use of the grant so that people are getting use of the two grants, rather than one grant being over subscribed and the other not used.
  • Parking Services - I raised points about the need to cap any future voucher or CPZ permits but the portfolio holder again said "No" to the sensible suggestion. So residents are not going to be confident as to whether next year the prices might be hiked again!
  • Housing Allocations policy - This policy relates to a coalition government policy which allows Councils to promote certain groups to more ensure they get a chance of Council housing. Ever since Margaret Thatcher introduced the "Right to Buy" scheme it has meant Council lose about 2 percent of their housing stock each year leading to large waiting lists. The policy agreed tonight means that those who are not going to qualify for Council housing are not added to the list (so they are not given a false sense that they are likely to get housing); suspending applicants who bid three times for a Council home and then keep refusing reasonable offers of homes; Prioritising those who are currently under-occupying (which will free up empty rooms); need to have a local connection to Ealing. During the discussion I asked that the Council reviewed this in a special meeting about this subject as there might be some hidden consequences which may require some of the rules to be altered. My request was agree to.
  • Customer Care (or a lack of) - I said that Ealing was increasingly very poor at responding to residents calls (a very large proportion waiting for more than 30 seconds to speak to the operator). I suggested that the Council had cut call-centre staff before many of the IT improvements were working or optimised. This was denied but the number of staff has been cut and the waiting times have risen. Judge for yourself!
  • Ealing Cinema - At last Ealing Council is now to take tougher steps to ensure that Ealing Cinema will be built. It is to take a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to obtain the land owned by Empire who have promised but never built the cinema they said they would. Fellow Lib Dem councillor Harvey Rose said this action should have been taken. He first mentioned it at a meeting a few years ago. Glad Ealing Council has now cottoned on at last. Better late than never. The interesting point here was that when I was asked by the Leader of the Council whether I supported this approach I said "Yes". However the Conservative Leader was less sure - he made some excuse about a map in the Council report and did not appear to want to see the cinema built in Ealing. I hope he doesn't want flats instead of the cinema?
  • Neighbourhood Planning - Ealing Council approved a set of procedures so that should mean the two interim neighbourhood forums in West Ealing can be set up and make use of the money it has been given by the Government. I also asked whether any other areas had said they were interested in setting up neighbourhood forum - I was told that there was interest in Hanwell and Acton.
The meeting ended at about 9pm.

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