Information about my work as a Labour Councillor for East Finchley in the London Borough of Barnet

Friday, 5 October 2012

Andrew Dismore report back

This reporting period is a bit longer than usual as it covers the summer holidays and the Olympics, when City Hall in large part shut down for the Games and I wanted to report to you on a full City Hall cycle.
Before getting into the "meat" of this report - which will focus on the very worrying cuts in the emergency services- a few words on the Games.
Whilst I didn't get any tickets in the various ballots for Olympics events, it was great following the progress of Team GB on the TV - I was glued to the set as I am sure many of my readers were too. I was able to go to the athletes' parade though and see in the flesh both many of the UK medal winners and others who took part in the Olympics and did the country so proud, too.
Congratulations and thanks also to the "Games Makers", the volunteers who did so well to make the experience so enjoyable for everyone, the emergency services and the armed forces drafted in at such short notice, and to Transport for London for coping so well with the huge extra demand on he capital's transport network.
London Fire Brigade
I am a member of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority ("LFEPA"), which is the body which is in charge of the Fire Brigade. After some key events in August and a series of meetings in September, I am becoming increasingly concerned about the future of the Fire Brigade in London.
Fire Cuts
Over the next two years, Mayor Boris Johnson is imposing cuts of £64.8m on the Fire Brigade, about 25% of its total budget. Although the Commissioner (the uniformed Chief Fire Officer) has worked hard to indentify "back office "cuts of about £14m, it is now clear (if it was ever in doubt!) that the balance cannot be achieved without the closure of fire stations, withdrawal of fire engines, or a combination of both. A fire station with one fire engine (known in the trade as a "pump" or "pump ladder") costs on average £1.45m a year to run; and a station with two pumps costs £2.43m. It is not rocket science to work out that up to 30 fire stations and/ or pumps are at risk, and indeed this was even reported in the Fire Brigade's own internal staff magazine "Shout", which made clear the required cuts could not be achieved in any other way.
My efforts have been directed to two objectives: challenging the scale of the cuts Mayor Johnson is imposing; and trying to find out which stations are threatened.
The key issue for public safety is the attendance time, once a call has been made. On average, in round terms, the first fire engine arrives in about 5.5 minutes. In Barnet, it is 6.5 and in Camden 4.5 minutes, so even in the GLA constituency there is a wide difference, and a minute can mean  the difference between life and death.
Early press speculation in June suggested that Euston fire station was threatened, but I have not been able to get any confirmation one way or the other.
At the first Plenary meeting of the London Assembly after the summer, coincidentally we had a scrutiny session with the chairman of LFEPA (Johnson appointee James Cleverly) and with the Commissioner. I challenged the chairman then, but the details of likely closures were not forthcoming. You can read the transcript of this meeting by clicking here or watch the webcast by clicking here.
At Mayor's Question Time, I questioned Mayor Johnson, but he also would not provide the details of closures. You can read the transcript by clicking here or watch the webcast be clicking here.
I asked the Commissioner at the first Resources Committee meeting of LFEPA in early September again with no result, so at the full meeting of LFEPA on 27th September, on behalf of the Labour members, I tabled an amendment to require the officers to produce at the least their up to date drafts on the possible closures, so we could get an idea of what was under consideration. I regret to say this proposal was voted down, because the Liberal Democrats and Green Party members of LFEPA voted with the Conservatives to block it. as it is a "hung" authority, we could have had the details of possible closures if the Liberal Democrats and Green Party had voted with us and not against transparency, but they decided to allow the secrecy to continue. This will mean that the details will only come to light to o late for any meaningful public consultation or input into the decision making process. We were told we would get the list of threatened stations "in due course"- and I am sure you can see that means after the chance for any meaningful input has passed!
However, I had more success with another part of my amendment with LFEPA agreeing (but not the Conservatives, who abstained) to lobby the Mayor to ask him to reconsider the budget he has laid down requiring these draconian cuts.
Another big concern I have, is over the privatised contract to maintain the fire brigade's vehicle fleet (including all the fire pumps and special vehicles) and other equipment. It is not a secret that the company responsible, AssetCo, was in financial difficulty and was seriously underperforming on the contract's requirements. Whenever I visit fire stations, the firefighters complain of the poor maintenance of their appliances and kit.
In August, without notice to LFEPA, the company was sold for £2 to another company, AB and A Ltd, a private company founded only days before with one sole director, Sir Aubrey Brocklebank. The company has never filed accounts, we have no idea as to its financial backers, and it is registered and run from Sir Aubrey's home, a semi detached house in Northamptonshire. His sole experience of vehicles seems to be the fact that he runs a Citroen 2CV car racing team, which hardly qualifies him, in my view, to run the entire London Fire Brigade fleet and equipment maintenance operation! The contract also provides for the compete replacement of the fleet with new vehicles, starting in a couple of years' time.
Whilst I am not allowed to put all the details in the public domain due to legal constraints, as soon as I heard about this, I wrote to LFEPA chairman Cleverly, with a detailed series of questions: my correspondence with him and his replies are on my website. I have to say the response of Mr  Cleverly and Mayor Johnson has been utterly complacent when faced with this serious situation, both in correspondence and in Assembly meetings, when I questioned them on it. You can read the transcript of this meeting by clicking here or watch the webcast by clicking here.
Most of the discussions in LFEPA about AssetCo are being held behind closed doors for legal reasons, which is unfortunate as I would very much like to share the details with you. My view is we should get out of this arrangement asap!
Other Fire Brigade matters
On a more positive note, I am pleased that the Brigade have agreed to investigate my suggestion, that all the vacant residential property on fire stations should be looked at, with a view to bringing it back into use. When we have such a housing crisis in London, it is clearly wrong that homes are left vacant like this. Whilst understandably the Brigade does not want to be a landlord, there are a quite a number of flats, houses, and single persons' accommodation not in use, and it seems to me the best solution would be for the Brigade to do a deal with a housing association to take over the properties and run them on behalf of the Brigade, with nomination rights for fire service key workers to live in them. The Brigade are now inviting interest in the cottages behind West Hampstead Fire Station.
Also, do you know how many firefighters it takes to change a light bulb?
Answer: none, as they are not allowed to do it! We can send them a hundred feet up on a hydraulic platform, or into a burning building, but they are not allowed to use a step ladder to change a fire station bulb. Instead a big contractor is called in charging hundreds of pounds to do the job! I have proposed, and this is also being looked at now, that we should have devolved budgets, like in schools for head teachers, for at least routine and minor maintenance tasks, which I am sure will deliver savings on property upkeep costs.
Policing cuts
If what was happening to the Fire Brigade wasn't bad enough, Mayor Johnson and the Coalition Government are imposing major cuts in policing, and changes are underway in the methods of policing too, as a result. Answers to written questions I put to the Mayor show that as of May 2010, when the Conservative led Coalition came to power, there were, in Barnet, 607 warranted officers, 110 sergeants and 171 PCSOs. In Camden, the figures were 884 of ficers, 136 sergeants and 120 PCSOs.
As of 31st July 2012, the numbers had dropped to, in Barnet, 530 warranted officers, 88 sergeants and 97 PCSOs. In Camden, the figures were 777 officers, 121 sergeants and 77 PCSOs. The impact on the individual Safer Neighbourhood Teams (SNTs) has been very serious indeed: full details are in my recent press releases for Barnet and Camden.
And as they were allegedly protecting police numbers during the Olympics, worse is yet to come.
The traditional SNTs of ward based officers will no longer be the case, with the "local policing model" requiring bigger teams covering wider areas with more responsibilities. The introduction of this system has been put back , and now looks likely to come in, in April next year.
Police Stations are under threat, too. The Mayor has been very underhand with this, in that the list he published was not complete: for example Hampstead Police Station is likely to go. When I questioned him on this, the Mayor referred to such stations as "Stalags" (that is Nazi prison camps) and refused to agree to a public consultation on the closure or alternatives. I had a joint letter with Cllr Abdul Hai of Camden Council published in both the Ham and High and Camden New Journal on the future of Hampstead Police Station.

The only police station commitment is to one station open 24/7 per Borough, and so we will see other stations going too, before long. The only alternative that has been tried so far, (not in Barnet and Camden) is a weekly enquiry point for a couple of hours at a supermarket, which  did not find much favour with the public!
We will also see the mergers of Borough policing: for example, I have seen proposals which suggest that Barnet and Harrow police will be merged. I shall be opposing this!

Economy Committee
This City Hall committee, which I chair, is well into our inquiry into the problems of the high street. We have visited 6 high streets round London so far, to meet with traders, local councils, experts and shoppers, including visits to North Finchley and Camden Town in the GLA constituency. We have held a formal evidence session at City Hall where the public came to give us their views (including a number from Barne t!) and to hear from experts, too. It is clear so far that whilst every high street has different problems,  themes are emerging, such as the problem of high parking costs, difficulties with landlords, unsympathetic local authorities, and planning law issues. Suggestions for solutions are also coming forward, and whilst we still have a way to go in taking evidence, I expect our report will be out in the New Year.

Andrew Dismore & Joanne McCartney with Barnet Labour Councillors
North Finchley visit: Left to right - Cllr Jim Tierney (West Finchley), Cllr Arjun Mittra (East Finchley), Cllr Pauline Coakley-Webb (Coppetts), Joanne McCartney AM (Enfield & Haringey), Andrew Dismore AM (Barnet & Camden) and Cllr Anne Hutton (Woodhouse)
Transport Committee
I sit on the Transport Committee at City Hall. At the last meeting, we heard from the head of Transport for London (TfL), Peter Hendy, on TfL's performance during the Olympics, and then held the concluding evidence session on our inquiry into cycling in the capital. We will be publishing a report on this.
I am now in a position to consult constituents more formally on matters within the Assembly/GLA's terms of reference, on local issues. The first I have just launched concerns Stirling Corner roundabout, and pedestrian safety - if you use the junction and want to feedback to me you can download the consultation by clicking here. If you have any ideas for issues you think I should consult on, please let me know.
Press releases and public letters
I have published a number of press releases and letters, links as follows:
Press Release: Flooding at Filton Blood Testing Centre proves my point about Colindale closure
Press Release: Cuts to Policing in Camden
Press Release: Barnet Police Numbers in Free Fall
Dismore launches Stirling Corner road safety consultation
Press Release: Future of Hampstead Police Station "not clear"
PRESS RELEASE: Firesale of AssetCo raises serious questions
Press Release: Boris Johnson's post Olympic threat to Peel Centre playing fields
180% Rise in long-term youth unemployment in Camden
775% Rise in long-term youth unemployment in Barnet
"If there was a gold medal for dropping the ball, Boris would be an Olympic Champion"
Joint Letter in Ham & High: Hampstead Police Station
Letter to Barnet Newspapers: Hendon Museum Sell Off
Broadcast media appearances include BBC and ITV London TV news and BBC London radio on the Economy Committee high street inquiry and the issues at LFEPA referred to above.
Mayor's Questions
You can view my questions to Mayor Johnson by clicking here.
Problem solving and casework
Adam Langleben who was  working at City Hall for me on a temporary basis, managing incoming correspondence, casework and my diary has now been confirmed in his post as my permanent Research & Support Officer:
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Best regards

Andrew Dismore
Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden