My committee work in Parliament:
Leaving the EU
The start of formal negotiations to leave the EU which began with the writing of the letter triggering Article 50, may not have been significant in itself (compared with the referendum last year and the substantive negotiations to come), but it felt momentous. Many of us have lived our whole lives, or our whole adult lives, as part of the EU. Many older people remember the catastrophes that befell Europe in the middle of the last century, and feel that, imperfect though the EU institutions are, the European project was and remains a noble one. 36,000 Westminster residents are EU citizens. Some of the near 70% of electors who voted to remain locally may feel we just have to get on with it now, but I know many others (and I am amongst them) feel a deep sense of sadness and concern about the future even though we will all try to ensure that we get the best possible outcome from this next stage of the process.
During the final stages of the Parliamentary Bill approving the decision to trigger Article 50, I backed two amendments. One tried again to protect the rights of EU citizens in this country, many of whom are deeply concerned about their current status. The case that they should not be used as ‘bargaining chips’ in negotiations has been made many times since last June (including by me), but if anything, it becomes more, rather than less pressing with the passage of time.
The second amendment was to give MPs a final and meaningful vote (and not just a ‘take it or leave it’ one) at the end of the negotiations, so a deal could still be rejected if we judged it not to be in the national interest. This was also defeated.
As the process of agreeing the terms on which we leave the EU, and the deal covering our future trading and other arrangements, gets under way, we will be scrutinising the process and holding the government to account along the way. In the immediate future, Parliament will be asked to approve the so-called ‘Great Repeal Bill’ which incorporates the existing EU legislation by which we are bound into British law. Worryingly though, this Bill allows the government considerable power to change laws without having to put them to Parliament for decision.
Very few people voted to leave the EU in order to lower standards of consumer or environmental protection, or to weaken employees’ rights at work. We need to be sure that these things do not happen under cover of supposed ‘technical’ legal changes made possible by this Bill.
Defending the impartiality of the BBC
As many constituents have pointed out in letters to me, the BBC has come under considerable pressure over impartiality regarding their coverage of Europe in particular. I have signed a letter, published last week, defending the BBC against these allegations and making a strong statement of support for the BBC to be free to do its job to report fearlessly and impartially.
As the letter states:
"The reason the BBC is respected as a news source around the world is precisely because it is independent and at a time when those who ask fair and tough questions are being denounced, that independence and impartiality is more important than ever."
You can read the whole text here.
Short Let properties
In March, I introduced a short Parliamentary Bill to strengthen the powers of Councils to deal with illegal sub-lets (NOT to ban all ‘short lets’). You can read my speech here.
Here’s how the Evening Standard covered it.
Self-employment and the ‘gig economy’
The Work and Pensions Select Committee has been looking into self-employment and the ‘gig economy’: whether the UK welfare system adequately supports the growing numbers of self-employed and gig economy workers, and how it might be adapted to suit their needs. This is a wide-ranging inquiry, looking at areas including Universal Credit and other working-age benefits, pensions, and labour market participation. The "gig economy" has come to prominence recently with high profile issues over the hours, pay and conditions of workers in large online courier and cab services like Hermes, Deliveroo, Amazon and Uber.
You can find out more here.
Mental Health and deaths in prison
My other Select Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, is currently looking at the issue of vulnerable people in prison - especially those with mental health needs. The inquiry is structured around three broad themes:
1. Whether prison is the right place for vulnerable offenders such as those with mental health conditions and/or learning difficulties
2. The way prisoners with mental health conditions are treated in prison
3. How to ensure that lessons for the future are learned, errors not repeated and that good practice becomes common practice
You can find out more here:
Local round up
Schools protest about funding cuts
In February, I held a Parliamentary debate into the impact of the Government’s new schools funding arrangements, which, together with an overall squeeze on education spending, is hitting London schools hard. Since then, I have visited and spoken to a number of our local schools and heard about the tough decisions they think they will be forced to make - from cutting teaching staff, pupil support and activities to raising more money from parents.
Now our secondary school heads have written this letter expressing their concern and warning that we risk going backwards after many years of real progress in improving education in the capital.
You can read the letter here.
Meeting local needs for help and advice
Paddington Law Centre
It was a pleasure to speak at the Annual meeting of the Paddington Law Centre, still getting by hand-to-mouth with very little financial support despite carrying out vital work advising and representing local people. In the last year, they helped 2940 clients with employment, housing and welfare rights issues. If anything, the need is simply going to carry on rising, with cuts to Employment Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments, the Council’s tough new homelessness policy and so on, so they need all the help they can get.
This year, I hope to join the PLC lawyers on the Legal Walk on May 22nd – here’s their fund-raising page.
I was alarmed by the sudden closure of the North West London Medical Centre, following the decision of the GP, Dr Dexter, to retire. Without going into any details about the circumstances, I wrote to NHS England to express my concern about the shortness of notice involved. I have also asked for reassurances about the capacity of nearby surgeries to accept all the patients. If anyone has been affected and not been taken on to another doctor’s list, please do contact me.
Dear Karen Buck MP,
Thank you for your enquiry.
Below is our responses to the questions you have asked in your email dated 9th March 2017.
1. The regulations are enforceable however this will not change the outcome in this case as the contractor has confirmed the practice premises, which are not NHS owed, will no longer be available for healthcare after 31st March 2017.
2. In making the decision to ask patients to register with another practice, NHS England and Central London CCG have taken into account the number of patients registered (with the NW London practice) and where they live, as well as the availability of alternative nearby practices. There are 29 other GP surgeries within one mile of North West London Medical Centre, all of which are currently accepting new patients. NHS England has contacted all of these practices to enquire as to their capacity to register additional patients. Of all local practices that have an open list, 10 said they would have capacity to significantly increase their list. 4 practices have stated they would have the resources to absorb all of Dr Dexter’s patients and other practices between them indicated they have capacity totalling approximately 12,500 patients. This demonstrates that there is capacity and the willingness in other local practices to absorb additional patients if required.
3. We are aware of the CQC report at Little Venice, the GP partners responsible for Wellington Health Centre which was rated Overall Good by CQC are now responsible for the day to day running of this contract. The new contractor has provided us assurances on how they will be addressing operational concerns with regards to services at the practice. NHS England and Central London CCG will continue to monitor the practice performance and will be addressing all concerns appropriately in accordance with their contract.
4. We are working closely with (the NW London Medical Centre) to ensure all vulnerable patients are supported to re-register with another practice. NHS England and CCG officers will be holding a drop in session on 23rd March between 1 – 6.30pm for patients to come and talk to us about our decision and any support they may need to register with another practice. We will be monitoring the patient list up until the closure and after the practice closes to ensure patients re-register with another practice. We will also write again to patients that have not reregister after the closure encouraging them to register with another practice. Furthermore we are commissioning a provider to manage the clinical system after the practice closes to ensure operational issues relating to patient care are picked up and dealt with appropriately.
Atilade Adeoye |Senior Primary Care Commissioning Manager: NHS England
As Westminster Council pulls funding from the youth service - we have to do more to support our young people
The Avenues Club
Westminster Council has withdrawn all funding from the youth service, leaving services for young people on the brink. The Avenues Centre in Queen’s Park held a successful fund-raising evening which I was happy to support and they deserve congratulations for this, but it is a huge struggle to replace lost funds for vital youth workers. To see what an important job they do, it is worth reading this article, which features The Avenues and shows what remarkable work they do and what pressures they are under.
The Stowe Centre
Further down Harrow Road, The Stowe Club has also lost funding and we had to say goodbye to Michael Dipple, a long-standing youth worker deeply rooted in the community. The Stowe Centre is a vital facility in Westbourne ward and is a place where historically young people from the Warwick, Brindley and Amberley Estates and beyond have come for many years to get a break from tough home lives, to take part in activities or just simply to have some space. It was once the home to the one of London’s most famous youth football training grounds, known for producing stars like 1980’s Liverpool legend John Barnes. It was also the home of The Cut magazine, written and produced by local young people and created the hit YouTube series Chicken Shop Date as well as a host of other exciting projects.
So, as from 1st April the Stowe Centre will only be able to provide a replacement one night a week session for 11-19 year olds. This will be nowhere near what used to be provided and is a massive blow to the community and life choices of the young people in the area.
Fun for younger kids at the Lydford
Thanks to the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund and City West Homes, a project for younger teens is, however, back on at the Lydford Community Centre. Cllrs Ruth Bush, Tim Roca and I dropped in.
Queens’ Park Football Academy celebrate their first birthday
A big well done to the volunteers who have set up the Queen’s Park Football Academy (and now the tennis academy too!) at Queen’s Park Gardens. I went alone to hand out certificates on their first birthday.
Find out more by e-mailing
Call Ryan on 07802826609
There’s also Family Multi-sports at the Beethoven Centre, Third Avenue W10 4JL between 4.30 and 5.30 for just £1 a family. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 02087351589
Have your say on Westminster’s Tall Buildings policy
There was much controversy in late 2014 and early 2015 over plans for tall buildings being considered, and in some cases approved, by Westminster in apparent conflict with the existing policy on tall buildings. Original plans for the ‘Paddington Shard’ were withdrawn but others like West End Green, were given approval. Now you can have your say on the Council’s new policy. Here’s the link - and it would be great to get a copy of what you say, too.
Big welcome to Council re-think on the Porchester Baths
The Porchester Spa in Bayswater includes London’s last traditional Turkish bath, and we love it! So when Westminster Council proposed a renovation that fundamentally changed the nature of the place, all hell broke loose, with over 1000 signatures on a petition opposing the plans.
Now the Council and their new leisure service providers seem to have listened, and have come forward with improvements which do seem to preserve the most essential elements of the baths. I attended a meeting to see the new proposals and I’m pretty hopeful…
Putting a roof over our heads - come to our meeting on local housing issues
Housing issues dominate my caseload, as they do for our local councillors - from overcrowding to homelessness, high rents to poor conditions. Join me, local councillors and housing experts for a discussion about the housing crisis and what needs to be done:
Paddington and Maida Vale Waterways Association AGM - residents despair of poor broadband connections
Paddington and Maida Vale Waterways Association are like the St John’s Wood Society, South East Bayswater Residents Association and the Lisson Green Tenants and Residents Association - one of our energetic local societies, campaigning to improve the quality of life locally. It was great to get to their AGM again last month, and talk about issues such as community safety, short-lets and air-quality. The meeting did, however, agree to ask me to send yet another complaint in to BT about the poor quality of broadband in parts of Westminster. Mark Field MP and I have both been raising this issue for some years and will continue to do so until we get the broadband we need and deserve.
Concern over London business rate rises
Before the Budget, I signed this letter to the Chancellor warning of the impact of sharp rises in London’s business rates, and have been very concerned about reports of the impact they will have, and the very steep rent rises, especially on our small businesses.
In his budget last month, Philip Hammond announced nearly half a billion pounds to help businesses facing major hikes in their business rates, with councils distributing £300m worth of discretionary relief to businesses hardest hit by the rises. We are told no business losing small business rate relief will see their bill increase this year by more than £50 a month.
Do please let me know how you are getting on with accessing this relief fund and/or coping with the impact of business rate rises.
Biting off more than they can chew? Concerns grow over Westminster’s plans for Church Street
Plans for the regeneration of Church Street won residents’ support in a ballot but are now years behind schedule, leaving tenants, leaseholders and local traders in limbo.
Instead of concentrating on getting back on track, Westminster Council have been considering an even bigger and more ambitious scheme which could involve the demolition and rebuilding of many blocks on the Lisson Green estate.
I am deeply concerned by the delay in the existing scheme, the poor condition of some of the blocks that have been awaiting re-development, and the lack of clear accurate information about the Council’s plans. You can see the questions I have been asking here.
Labour councillors criticise proposed estate office closures
CityWest Homes - the organisation that runs Westminster Council’s 21,000 council and leasehold homes is planning massive cuts to its network of estate offices in local communities across the city.
Under plans set out to councillors this week, it seems that CityWest Homes are looking to close almost all of its free-standing estate offices, leaving only the four area service centres remaining. This is part of a service redesign aimed to cut over £5million in costs and encourage more people to use online and phone services. CityWest have confirmed that they plan to close six estate offices at Church Street, St John’s Wood, Little Venice, Westbourne Park, Paddington Green and Charlwood Street.
Westminster Labour Councillors are opposed to these massive cuts to CityWest’s presence in local communities. While many residents may not use the office all the time, it is important to know it is there when needed, and there remains a significant proportion of residents who either lack regular internet access or whose lack of confidence communicating in English makes phone or internet contact more difficult. CityWest Homes says that it wants to see staff spending more time out and about on our estates, yet basing them all out of centralised area service centres will see staff spending time further from the communities they are supposed to be managing. CityWest Homes have talked about possibly holding drop in sessions or surgeries in areas hit by the cuts to estate offices. However, this will not be enough to deal with the needs of vulnerable residents looking for face-to-face contact with their housing officers when they need it.
Westminster Labour will stand with local residents who want to fight to save their local estate offices that are valued by their local communities. If estate offices are ultimately closed, Westminster Labour are demanding that CityWest Homes and Westminster Council ensure that they are replaced by a permanent base for estate teams to work from in a nearby community building that is both accessible and has a staff member present to assist resident enquiries. Furthermore, CityWest must commit to protecting the future of the residents halls whose operation may be hit by the cuts to estate offices.
Labour Group Leader Cllr Adam Hug said “These drastic estate office closures are yet another sign of the retreat of council services from our local communities. Many of our estate offices are a valued part of the community and in particular older and more vulnerable residents would really feel their loss. CityWest Homes and Westminster’s Conservative Council need to think again.”
Shadow Cabinet Member for Housing Cllr Tim Roca said “Shutting offices which had over 13,500 visits in a nine month period last year alone, before having a website fully functioning and ready is only one among a number of concerns we have with the closure and redundancies envisaged by these proposals. It is clear these cuts are being foisted on CityWest Homes by Westminster’s Conservative Council, and there needs to be much more time spent listening to what residents need rather than what the Council wants.”
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
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