My report from City Hall
No14: 25th July to 9th October 2013
Firstly, a big thank you to
the many of my readers who sent me details of their experiences and suggestions
for questions to raise about accident and emergency services and about public
transport. These first hand comments were very helpful in
backing up my work on the City Hall Health Committee and at our full Assembly
Plenary session with the Mayor and Transport for London: more details below.
If you have any questions
or comments you would like me to put to the Mayor at a future Mayor’s Question
Time session at City Hall, please do not hesitate to send them to me and I will do my best to use them for you,
to hold the Mayor to account.
to Sarah Sackman,
on being selected
as Labour’s prospective candidate for Finchley and Golders Green
at the next General Election for Parliament. Sarah is an excellent choice as
candidate and more importantly, will be an excellent MP after 2015, when she is
elected as I am confident will be the case.
In this report I will cover
what I have been doing on:
accident and emergency services for the winter
pay, zero hours contracts and cost of childcare
questions to the Mayor
releases, letters for publication
solving and casework
Please go to the sections
you are interested in, as I realise this is quite a lot to cover!
Fire Brigade Cuts
This issue has now come to
a head, with Mayor forcing the Fire Authority to implement his cuts package
under the very heavy threat of legal action from him to force them to do so.
The Authority’s legal advice was such
that they had no option but to comply,
even though this was clearly against their wishes, having voted against
these cuts ( against Conservative
opposition) on four previous occasions..
September’s Mayor’s Question Time, I
reminded Boris Johnson of his pledge just before the 2012 Mayoral election,
that there “will be no reductions in fire cover under this Mayor”: his reply
was “get stuffed”. So much for him honouring a clear and unequivocal
promise to Londoners, as he is now doing the exact opposite.
cuts are planned to take effect in January and include 10 fire station
closures including Belsize and Clerkenwell, and the loss of 14 fire engines and 552 front line
This may not be the end of the story
though, as seven London councils, including Camden, have now made an
application for permission to apply for judicial review of the decision. This is
likely to proceed in the courts pretty rapidly.
On a separate front, you may be aware
that the Fire Brigades Union went on strike for 4 hours over the Government’s
refusal to negotiate with them, over their plan to weaken firefighters’ pension
rights. The coalition Government is trying to force firefighters to work until
they are 60. Currently firefighters can retire on ill-health grounds before 60
and retain their pension. Under the Government’s plans,
if a firefighter is deemed unfit before turning 60 he or she will lose part of
the pension. The government is being cynical as it knows from its own
review that two thirds of firefighters will have to retire due to ill-health
when they are 55 as they won’t meet the high fitness standards you would expect
for such a physical job. Forcing firefighters to work longer and then taking
part of their pension off them if they can’t physically cope when they are
close to retirement is unfair, in my view.
NHS accident and emergency services for the winter
The Assembly Health Committee
held a hearing with London NHS chiefs into the preparedness of NHS emergency
services for the winter. The picture looks pretty bleak, with the Mayor’s
health advisor, former head of NHS London, Dame Ruth Carnall, agreeing with my analysis, that they only have
a ”sticking plaster” solution for A and E.
Apart from a probable
winter crisis, we already have had a “summer crisis”, (when demand is
traditionally lower than winter), with London’s A and Es missing their targets
for the 12 successive weeks up to mid September. Our local A and Es have
consistently missed their targets too: Barnet and Chase Farm missed target for
39 of the last 52 weeks, UCLH for 19 weeks, and Royal Free for 10 weeks. The
target itself is to treat 95% of patents within 4 hours, which is less
challenging than the target of the last Labour Government, which was 98% and which
was being met.
This sorry underperformance
was borne out by the examples I received from my readers, with details of
recent experiences. They praised the hard work of the staff, but the general
view was that they were overwhelmed by demand.
On my further questioning,
the head of NHS London said that the expectations would be shifted, effectively
massaging their figures to make the performance look better, if targets were
still going to be missed.
It seems to me to be plain
wrong for the Government, in breach of their promise before the election, to
close Chase Farm’s A and E and especially
so in the run up to winter, it now being scheduled to close in mid November.
It is clear that we are seeing
the results of the Conservatives broken promises on the NHS, with billions
wasted on the top down reorganisation
they promised not to make before the election, money which should have been spent
Low pay, zero hours contracts and cost of childcare
I challenged the Mayor at
September’s Mayor’s Question Time over the abuses of zero hour’s contracts. He
does not see them as a problem, unlike the many low paid people who suffer as a
result, for example the specific case I raised with him.
This was a them we also
followed up in our sessions
on low pay and zero hours in the Economy Committee;
we also have been looking into the high cost of childcare
Transport and fares
This month’s Assembly plenary
session was devoted to questions to the Mayor as chair of Transport for London
and to Sir Peter Hendy, the Transport Commissioner.
I was overwhelmed with
suggestions for questions to put to them, so I focussed on the Northern Line (for
which I had more suggestions than any other issue, and most of which were not
complimentary!) and on the need for a bus
route between Golders Green and Stamford Hill.
I have tabled all the other questions too and replies are awaited and will be
reported in my next edition.
was amazed that the Mayor could not remember when he last travelled on the
Northern Line. The modernisation is two years behind
schedule and it will not be till 2015 that train frequency is expected to
increase, after the new signalling system is in place. in the meantime, it
looks like little is going to be done,
to deal with the frequent failures that
cause such disruption to passengers’ journeys.
need for a Golders Green / Stamford Hill bus route was identified as long ago
as 2009, by London Travel Watch. The Mayor has made
repeated commitments about this, but nothing has happened, so I raised this
with him yet again. I am promised a detailed response which I will report back
on in the future.
also seconded and spoke to the motion adopted by the Assembly on fares policy,
and the need for the Mayor to honour his manifesto promise by limiting fare
increases to inflation. Tube fares have risen six times
faster than wages and three times as much as inflation under Mayor Johnson.
Environment and biodiversity
The Environment Committee
continued its inquiry into green infrastructure and biodiversity at our last
meeting. I particularly
focussed, as an example, on the threat to the Welsh Harp SSSI, as a result of a
planning application approved by Barnet Council and the Mayor, which will see 29
storey tower blocks built right on its edge.
I was amazed to hear that
Natural England, the environmental “ watchdog”, does no direct assessment of
its own when asked to comment on
planning applications, but relies exclusively
on information provided by the developer and the council, which in this case
amounted to the same people. This I
believe is open to exploitation, as I believe happened in this case. We will be
conducting a site visit to the Welsh Harp later this month.
I have been pursuing the
consequences of the so called “new policing model” through questions to the
The official police numbers,
statistics and predictions I have obtained confirm there will be fewer police
in both Barnet and Camden by the time of the next election.
For Barnet, we now have 42
fewer police officers than we had at the time of the last general election in
2010, when Labour was last in office. By the time of the next election in 2015,
there will still be 31 fewer. We have lost 17 sergeants, the most experienced
of our officers on the streets, who provide important training and supervision
to new officers. We now also have 91 fewer PCSOs, patrolling our
neighbourhoods. Before, we had 9
officers and PCSOs in each of our 21 wards’ Safer Neighbourhood Teams, a total
of 189. By 2015, there will be only 135, a drop of 54.
For Camden, we now have 179
fewer police officers than we had at the time of the last general election in
2010. By the time of the next election
in 2015, there will still be 135 fewer. We have lost 27 sergeants, and also
have 60 fewer PCSOs.
I have also established that
calls to the 101 on-emergency number are not free, like they are for 999. As an alternative to calling 101, the Mayor
suggests crime can also be reported by attending a local police station -
except of course, he has closed most of them! The police are still struggling
with the alternative “contact points”. Some have yet to be set up, like the
desperate suggestion of an occasional police stall in Starbucks to replace
Hampstead Police Station. Others have seen little traffic and seem to me doomed
The Safer Neighbourhood
Ward panels which feed into the police at the local ward level are also to be
abolished and replaced with much larger panels covering clusters of half a
dozen or so wards, which will inevitably be further from residents on the
And all this
at a time when the Mayor is cutting the police budget by 20%, he thought it was
right to spend £660 on a female senior officer’s “Napoleon style” ceremonial
The Mayor has decided to ignore
the recommendations of the independent planning inspector over his amendments to
the London Plan. The effect of the Mayor’s decision is to make “affordable
homes” less affordable. Developers are normally required to set aside a proportion
of homes in any major development for social rent (usually through housing associations)
or for shared ownership, part rent, part purchase. The result is that rents
will be charged up to 80% of open market rent, putting these new homes beyond
the reach of the many families who they were supposed to provide for.
Barnet Council, at the same
time, is relaxing existing planning consents by reducing the previously agreed
number of affordable homes, for example at Beaufort Park in Colindale, where
there will be 238 fewer affordable homes. The Barnet cabinet member for housing
has made clear he wants rich people to move into the borough in preference to
poor people, and is relaxed about providing homes for oligarchs and oil sheiks!
We are also now seeing the
early signs of the consequences of the Government’s policy to cut
over the 6 months to November last year, private sector housing benefit
claimants in Barnet went up by 41% and in Camden fell by 1% In
Westminster, the fall was 20%, in Kensington the fall was21% and in the
City, 33%. What this
means is that people are being forced out of central London into outer
boroughs like Barnet. This creates pressures on Barnet’s own housing
putting up rents for local Barnet people as they face increased
people moving from the centre. This also puts more pressure on local
school places in Barnet come under pressure, in Westminster schools are
This is social engineering at its worst.
I tabled a full range of
written questions: for
the replies click here.
Press releases, letters for publication
demands apology from Mayor over Avanti free school
Planning Department faces Government “special measures” for underperformance
“Boris is wrong to
push through fire station closures”
Eid Message from
fares rises “a tax on workers”
Committee on HS2: Government “not yet presented a convincing case”
450 years until all
low-paid Londoners on living wage
London-wide School Christmas Card Competition in Camden
inquiries at City Hall: have you any questions?
Health Chiefs admit
London A and E plans for Winter is short term “sticking plaster” under
questioning from Dismore
defending Belsize Fire Station
Members welcome North London Waste Authority decision on Pinkham Way
Mayor’s bus running
four years late
“Where is Boris on the Northern Line?”
Cllr Davey suggests poor people not welcome in Barnet
publication: Boris Johnson’s “get stuffed” comment
publication: Anti-Immigrant Van
publication: Trade Unionists
Problem solving and casework
Adam Langleben my City Hall
assistant, managing incoming correspondence, casework and my diary: email@example.com