Over the years of being a MP I have worked hard to engage and communicate with my constituents using all available forms of communication. I have made great use of new technologies especially emails and twitter. However, it is not always easy to communicate complex and difficult issues in short mail-outs or quick web-posts.
For those of you that know me, I have always tried to tackle the issues within Westminster and recently have been no different. So far this year I have commissioned two surveys gathering local opinion on the Harrow Road and Basement Developments, along with challenging the changes to policing within the borough and London as a whole.
This is why I have decided to start to link these reports and letters through my new Scribd page to my website.
Please find my first two entry's on Basement Developments and my response to the consultation on police premises and policing in London through the links below-
Read them on my Local News section of my website.
Karen Buck MP
P.S. Coming soon my report on the Harrow Road.
Over the years of being a MP I have worked hard to engage and communicate with my constituents using all available forms of communication. I have made great use of...
It wasn't long ago that people retired from work expecting, at best, a few years in which to enjoy the fruits of their labour. The transformation of our society into one where retirement spans decades for the majority is remarkable, welcome- and challenging. There are now more pensioner than young people in our society for the first time. So the question of how to provide and pay for good care- whether medical care in hospital, or social care at home- is one of the most profound of our age. There has been plenty of bad news to ponder. The collapse of standards at Mid-Staffs hospital may be the biggest and most deadly scandal to rock the health and social care world, but enough stories have emerged about neglect and apparent indifference towards elderly patient in the public and private sectors to justify a rigorous re-examination of our whole approach. The costs of residential care can easily run into the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds, forcing many people to sell their homes to cover the bills. Meanwhile more than £1.3 billion has been cut from local council budgets for older people's social care since the Coalition came to power. As a result, many vulnerable people can't get the support they need and are having to pay more for vital services. 8 out of 10 of those who used to receive social care from Westminster Council lost that service as this government's cuts began to bite in 2011.
Doing nothing isn't an option and the money has to come from somewhere. A commission led by the respected economist Andrew Dilnot suggested care costs be capped at £35,000, to provide some certainty for older people and their families. This week's government announcement does not go nearly that far- setting the maximum at £75,000. This is still a step forward, and will help some people who need residential care in 5 or more years time but Dilnot warned that anything above £50,000 won't provide adequate protection for people. And these proposals won't do anything for the hundreds of thousands of elderly and disabled people who are facing a desperate daily struggle to get the care and support they need right now.
We are going to need a far bigger and bolder response to meet the needs of our ageing population, including a genuinely integrated NHS and social care system which helps older people stay healthy and living independently in their own homes for as long as possible. That will inevitably mean a fair contribution from those who can afford it, but one capped at a realistic level, so it can be planned for and so that the number of people forced into losing their homes in their lifetime is as low as it can be. Long life should be a cause for celebration. Our generation's task is to ensure that the celebration doesn't curdle under the pressure of costs and the lottery of care.
It wasn't long ago that people retired from work expecting, at best, a few years in which to enjoy the fruits of their labour. The transformation of our society into...
Boris Johnson and Met Police consulting on massive programme of police station closures
The Metropolitan Police service is under huge financial pressure, and must save £500 million out of its £3.6 billion base budget by 2014.
The suggestion is to get rid of around one-third of the buildings/space the Met occupies. Many boroughs are being advised that there will only be 1 24-hour station in each area, althoughWestminster is expected to keep more than one.
The Deputy Commissioner has said:
We are considering reducing up to 65 front counters and replacing them with over 200 contact points in popular locations such as community centres, supermarkets and shared local authority buildings. Every borough will maintain one police station open 24/7.
As of earlier this year, Westminster was served by the following:
- Belgravia: 24 hours.
- Marylebone: 24 hours.
- Charing Cross: 24 hours.
- Paddington: 24 hours.
- Harrow Road: 24 hours.
- West End Central: 24 hours.
- St John's Wood: 9am - 5pm Monday - Friday
Since then, Marylebone and St John's Wood stations have closed to the public (and, in the case of St John's Wood, without any effective prior consultation).
As at least one station will obviously have to be maintained in the West End, the concern is that either, or possibly both of, Paddington Green and Harrow Road stations will close.
It is obviously reasonable, over time to review the police estate, especially as fewer people are visiting stations in person as more are making contact on-line. It is also sensible, where possible, for public services to look to share premises .But, because the police, council and NHS are all under pressure and out-of-step with each other co-operation is not as easy to do as it should be.
I would certainly not oppose all change, if proper alternative provision were made and any money saved was used to keep up police strength and did not reduce response times.
• We need to know exactly what we are being consulted on. Is the intention to close either or both of Harrow Road and Paddington Green stations? If so would this mean the entire station or just the public access counter? This has not been spelt out.
• What impact would the loss of access to Harrow Road station have on a deprived community with a high level of social stress? We have been fighting for ten years to clear up the drug dealing and anti-social behaviour around the Prince of Wales junction, and there is a real risk that the loss of police presence in the area would set this back.
• Similarly, would the closure of Paddington Green impact upon Church Street, Little Venice and the Edgware Road, which are also areas of high mobility and stress?
• At present, there is no custody suite in the north of the borough, requiring police to travel to the south after each arrest, with all the travelling time this implies. What guarantees can the Met give about the impact on response times and the extra time it takes police to travel across Westminster each time they have to take someone to the custody suite?
• If there is a plan to introduce new police contact points to offset counter closures at either of these stations, how many and where? Have negotiations been entered into to secure these premises?
On top of this massive programme of station closures, emergency services are being cut back in many other areas too:
• London Ambulance Service will lose £53million (19% of its budget) by 2015/16, resulting in 890 job cuts. 560 of which will be frontline staff
• We have already lost over 1,900 police officers in London, including half our SNT sergeants
• London is losing seven A&E departments
• And 31 fire stations are at risk of closure.
I am writing to protest about the inadequacy of this consultation, and to make these points about station/counter closures, but I would very much welcome your comments or questions. You may also want to make your own representations
Jubilee Sports Centre Closure
As you know, Westminster Council took the decision to go ahead with the closure of the Jubilee Sports Centre in order to upgrade the Moberley Centre- although this must still go through the planning process.
Thanks to the massive campaign against the loss of facilities at the Jubilee, the Council have agreed to build a new community sports facility on the Jubilee site and to upgrade the Games Area at Queens Park Gardens to allow for increased and more varied use.
This does not meet the objections of most of the campaigners but it is better than losing a facility at the Jubilee entirely.
However, there are many other concerns which still have to be addressed:
• The impact on Queen's Park Gardens
• How the needs of the sporting community (and specifically footballers) can be reconciled with the interests of other park users and more casual play.
• The importance of providing an open access space on the Mozart estate itself to replace the basketball court
• How the Jubilee replacement will be funded to ensure it doesn't stand empty for lack of revenue
• Whether the buildings/gardens currently occupied by the Ark Atwood school can be brought into the wider scheme after the school moves to its permanent base.
The first Project Engagement Committee meeting took place on the 19th November and local campaigners, councillors and I are remaining closely involved with thrashing out the details. Again, your comments are very welcome.
Tell me your views:
• Please don't forget to respond to my survey on the impact of basement excavations!. Although this issue only affects parts of Bayswater/Lancaster Gate and St John's Wood, for those people who find themselves in the middle of such developments the effect on their lives can be horrendous
• Please complete my survey on the Harrow Road and local environment. Cllr Dimoldenberg, your Westbourne, Harrow Road and Queen's Park councillors and I are working together to get a better picture of concerns about the physical environment, community safety and the shopping outlets along the Harrow Road so we can discuss with Westminster Council and other agencies what improvements can be made, and whether planning and other powers could be better used to improve the quality of life in the area.
And finally: May I also take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy Christmas and New Year
Karen Buck MP
Boris Johnson and Met Police consulting on massive programme of police station closures The Metropolitan Police service is under huge financial pressure, and must save £500 million out of its...
Work Programme has failed local job-seekers
The Government flagship Work Programme has so far failed to deliver access to jobs for Britain's long term unemployed- in fact, so bad have the outcomes been that better results would have been achieved by doing nothing.
Here in Westminster, which should benefit from access to the huge labour market in Central London, only 3.6% of those referred have been found work by the private contractors paid to deliver. This leaves Westminster at position 216 out of 379 local authority areas in the country.
The Coalition government scrapped Labour's Future Jobs Fund in favour of the Work Programme, although an evaluation published this week found that the Future Jobs Fund, unlike the Work Programme, was a success and made a net contribution to the economy.
Work Programme has failed local job-seekersThe Government flagship Work Programme has so far failed to deliver access to jobs for Britain's long term unemployed- in fact, so bad have the...
This week, a tiny minority of those entitled to do so will exercise their right to vote for elected police commissioners. These elections will cost around £100m- at a time when the police service nationally is being expected to cut its budget by £1 in every £5 that it spends. London won't be voting- Boris Johnson fulfils that role in the capital- but the challenges are the same. The 20% funding cut is leading to decisions such as the selling off of New Scotland Yard, the loss of 891 Police Community Support Officers be and the closure of up to 65 police stations.
Last month it was revealed that the Mayor might not be able to keep his election promise to have 1,000 more police officers in London than when he took office. Boris has written to the Metropolitan Police asking them to come up with their final proposals for cutting £148m next year. Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary has stated that the government may be able to cut the policing budget by 12% without damaging front line services- the actual demand is for 20%.
Here is Westminster some 230 PCSO posts have gone. Police officer staffing levels look as though they may be broadly protected but it is essential that this does not mean so much attention on the ‘high volume crime' areas in the West End that the residential communities in the North are squeezed. But we also await further information on police station counter closures. St John's Wood station has already got a notice in the window shutting up shop, which is not exactly the way in which these decisions should be announced.
Services and public expectations change and it may be possible to agree on at least some rationalisation of the estate- especially if this helps protect policing levels,. Neighbourhood police teams can sometimes operate from other locations which are even more accessible, for example. However, the loss of 65 stations in London would fundamentally change the feel of the policing presence. Even more modest options need to take place out in the open, with clear, agreed criteria and above all, transparency in the consultation and decision making processes. As I said to the Met Commissioner a few days ago, the police must raise their game dramatically when it comes to good communication with the public, whether at a counter, or via the phone or e-mail. I believe that the general public view would be that, so long as response times are guaranteed, policing is visible and calls and e-mails are answered thoroughly and promptly, some changes may be possible. What must not be allowed to happen is a slow process of boarding up police stations without proper debate and a concrete guarantee of policing quality and responsiveness in exchange. How possible this will be with a demoralised service under huge financial pressure is another matter.
This week, a tiny minority of those entitled to do so will exercise their right to vote for elected police commissioners. These elections will cost around £100m- at a time...
Energy bills are one of the biggest costs facing families. But only 20 per cent of people are on the cheapest deal. With so many confusing tariffs on the market, people find switching energy supplier difficult, or give up trying because all the companies seem to put their prices up. That's why Labour has organised our www.switchtogether.org.uk scheme.
THE LABOUR PARTY DOES NOT MAKE ANY MONEY FROM THE SCHEME
How does the scheme work?
1. Sign up free and with no obligation to tell us you are interested in switching suppliers to save money
2. You can sign up from 26 September 2012 to 25 November 2012
3. You will hear from us in late November 2012 with an offer of an energy tariff based on your usage
4. We will let you know when you need to tell us whether you want to accept the offer.
And that's it! If you accept the offer, we will provide support and guidance during the process to switch you to your new tariff.
No access to internet or email?
Up to five households can register using the same email address - so if you don't have email, ask a friend or neighbour if you can use their email address (and tell them about our scheme at the same time).
You can also call the free number 0800-048 8112 (from 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.) to request a paper form.
Energy bills are one of the biggest costs facing families. But only 20 per cent of people are on the cheapest deal. With so many confusing tariffs on the market,...
The national debate about welfare has taken on a distinctly harsher tone of late. Perhaps it is not accidental that the hard line emerging from the government to accompany announcements of a further £10 billion in cuts ( on top of the £18 billion beginning to work their way through the system now) is wrapped in ever tougher language. For if the public perception is that social security really is excessively generous, traps people in dependency, and is mostly claimed by shirkers and fraudsters, then cutting a few more holes in the safety net is just that bit easier. The trouble is, so many of the announcements made by government ministers to justify their positions are either wrong, misleading or flimsily anecdotal. So here are a few myth-busters.
Myth number 1: ‘You are better off on benefits". Wrong. Work already pays in almost all cases, even where wages are low, because of the availability of in-work benefits to help with housing, Council Tax or to top up low pay (tax credits). The trouble is, it often doesn't allow people to keep much of their earnings. The new Universal Credit being introduced by the government next year may roll a number of benefits and tax credits into one, but it works on the same principle as the system it replaces, topping up low incomes and withdrawing as incomes rise. There will be gainers from the slower rate at which benefits are withdrawn under Universal Credit, and because of the increase in the personal tax allowance, but many others will be worse off or see no benefit- and unfortunately the losers look like they will include many London households facing the highest housing and childcare costs.
Myth number 2: Spending on welfare for people of working age has spiralled out of control. Although spending on benefits like Job Seekers Allowance, Income Support and Employment Support Allowance do, of course, cost a considerable amount, they account for less than one-sixth even of all social security/tax credit spending- the largest parts of which are pensions and support for low income working people- and 3.4% of all public spending last year.
Myth number 3: We have a crisis of inter-generational worklessness. In fact, if you don't include students, just 1.5 households out of every 100 have never had anyone in work ( that includes disabled people), and the number of inter-generational unemployed is tiny . The bigger issue is that so many people move in and out of employment, usually because the jobs are themselves temporary, seasonal or casual, and 1.4 million people are working part-time when they really want full-time work.
Myth number 4: There are jobs for all who want them. At last count, there were 5.5 people chasing every registered vacancy, but this figure rises to over 20 to 1 in parts of Scotland, Wales and the north of England. Welfare Minister Ian Duncan Smith has said more than once that there are half a million new jobs referred to Job Centre Plus every week. The true figure is around one tenth of that.
Myth number 5: Under the last Labour government, welfare dependency grew. In fact, up until the recession hit it 2008, the number of working age people on out-of-work benefits numbers had been falling steadily. The majority of the fall was in unemployed claimants, the numbers of which fell by a third over the period.
Myth number 6: Poverty is all about the ‘behaviour' of the poor, including the 120,000 ‘troubled families'. But 3.8 million children live below the poverty line, and half of families in poverty have at least one adult in work.
No-one is arguing that we shouldn't take fraud seriously and that there aren't some people who abuse the system. And it is true that work is usually both valuable in its own right and critical to lifting people out of poverty. Yet we risk spending too much time on the wrong things, when our priorities should be jobs growth and apprenticeship opportunities, skills training fair pay, affordable housing and childcare. So we miss the bigger targets and in the meantime, real people suffer.
The national debate about welfare has taken on a distinctly harsher tone of late. Perhaps it is not accidental that the hard line emerging from the government to accompany announcements...
Westminster Council to go ahead with closure of the Jubilee Sports Centre and replacement of the Moberly Centre
As expected. Westminster City Council has now formally approved the decision to close the Jubilee Sports Centre and build a new, larger centre on the Moberly site on Kilburn Lane.
It is not in dispute that the new centre will upgrade and improve sports facilities locally. Westminster has also agreed to provide a new sports hall on the re-built Jubilee site in recognition of the widespread opposition to their plans. Some people are strongly in support of the proposals, and feel they will be of benefit to the area.
However, the Queen's Park ward councillors and I, along with many local residents who have been in touch, do not believe that concerns have been properly addressed.
• The central objection to the re-location of the swimming pool. Most local people we have spoken to believe that the Jubilee is a better location for the pool, and that the Moberly site is less convenient
• Access to synthetic-pitch football, which will be lost from Moberly, and is to be re-located onto Queen's Park Gardens, in turn, reducing capacity for open-access play.
• The loss of the open-access basketball court in Lancefield Street, which provides for young people from the Mozart estate and elsewhere.
Whether the Council's projections for the increased use of the new sports centre will reflect the wishes and needs of local people, as well as draw in more users from across the borough, Brent and further afield. We know that the Council is projecting a 65% rise in attendance at the New Moberly, compared with existing facilities, but no-one has satisfactorily explained how they come to that figure, nor why local people NOT using Jubilee/Moberly now will start using the New Moberly.
• The poor quality of the consultation process, which meant many local people had no idea about what was being suggested.
• The absence of any ‘affordable' homes out of the 120 to be built on the Moberly and Jubilee sites.
Westminster will now go ahead with seeking planning permission to re-build the Moberly Centre and to build new homes on the Jubilee site, so there will be further opportunities to raise concerns during the planning process.
In the meantime, your councillors and I are also pressing Westminster on:
• How they intend to fund the security and activities at the replacement facility proposed for Caird Street. The worst possible situation would be to have a sports hall on this site which was closed more often than not, and not meeting local needs or not affordable to local people.
• The need to include an open-access outdoor play/activity area, to replace the well-used basketball court in Lancefield Street.
• Whether the financial plans under-estimate the value of the homes being built for open market sale, and whether there is, thefore, scope to insist on some affordable housing to meet local needs within the new development.
Your views continue to be welcome so please keep on contacting me.
Major changes to hospital services and health care in North West London
NHS North West London is recommending changes to the way healthcare is provided to hospitals across the area. Radically reducing the number of Accident and Emergency units, and affecting some services at the Chelsea and Westminster, Central Middlesex, Charing Cross, Ealing, Hammersmith, Hillingdon, Northwick Park, St. Mary's and West Middlesex hospitals
Although neither St Mary's nor Chelsea and Westminster are on the list of hospitals likely to lose their Accident and Emergency units, there will be knock-on effects locally as demand will increase for services locally, and investment will be needed to cope. Will there be the funding, and the capacity, to manage with rising pressures at a much smaller number of Accident and Emergency units?
The consultation ends on the 8th October 2012.
Local people need to make their views known, and to ask questions about what the changes will mean before the consultation ends on October 8th.
You may want to attend the public meeting on this issue, which is taking place on October 1st, between 6 and 8pm, at Westminster Academy, The Naim Dangoor Centre, 255 Harrow Road, London, W2 5EZ (Paddington or Royal Oak stations or 18 and 36 buses).
There is also a consultation event on Saturday 6th October. Drop-in between 10am and 4pm at Hinde Street Methodist Church, 19 Thayer Street, London, W1U 2QJ.
Other ways to find out what is being proposed:
Call: 0800 881 5209
See the NHS North West London consultation document for details of the proposals.
Key consultation areas
• Which five hospitals should become Major Hospitals with A&E, Obstetrics and Pediatrics, and which should be Local Hospitals with a 24/7 Urgent Care Department (but without a full Accident and Emergency unit)
• Changes being proposed by Imperial College Health Trust to transfer eye services from Western Eye Hospital and the Hyperacute Stroke Unit from Charing Cross to St Mary's Hospital.
• How services can be improved within a community setting to reduce the need for hospital admissions- what they might look like and how they will be funded.
Even though St Mary's Accident and Emergency unit is not listed for closure, It is still important to have your say as the consultation extends across is across North West London, and it remains possible that the NHS may change their plans in the light of responses elsewhere!
Karen Buck MP
Westminster Council to go ahead with closure of the Jubilee Sports Centre and replacement of the Moberly Centre As expected. Westminster City Council has now formally approved the decision to...
The recent suggestion from the Policy Exchange think-tank that social housing in valuable areas should be sold and the profits used to build more homes in cheaper places, re-hashes an old argument but predictably grabbed the headlines.
Doesn't it make sense, with 4.5 million people in housing need, to boost supply? Surely those in need and on low incomes should not expect to be housed centrally anyway (the myth-makers like to refer to ‘Mayfair' or 'near Harrods' as if these neighbourhoods of the global mega-rich are stuffed with council estates).
Well, not this way it doesn't. I'll start and finish with the importance of 'mixed communities'. 'Social' housing has existed in inner London for 150 years, when the big philanthropists like the Peabody Trust started replacing the slums which had scarred the city from Parliament to Covent Garden to Holborn. Swathes of what now include some of the country's most expensive properties were once desperately poor. Even as recently as the 1960s, the Notting Hill Housing Trust started by buying and replacing private homes that were a by-word for slum landlordism- somewhat ironically paving the way for the regeneration which now sees houses there sell for many millions. London has always been socially mixed, is now highly ethnically mixed, and has benefited economically, culturally and socially as a result- and social housing has helped make that possible.
More recently still, certainly in Central London, the international property market has changed the landscape significantly. It has been estimated that 60% of new sales in central London go to overseas buyers and £5 billion a year is flowing into London's 'luxury' housing market. This is helping to feed the house price bubble and freezing out low and middle income buyers and renters alike. Now, foreign ownership of property is an accepted reality- but equally, the scale and impact should not be permitted to distort our own civic life.
Then there is the effect on tenants. Government Ministers praise a mobility scheme which gives tenants a chance ‘to improve their job prospects, live closer to family or simply move to a home better suited to their changing needs'. Sound objectives, but they depend on a varied stock being available. One example given is of a woman living in the countryside who swapped her council house for one in town, closer to her job. But under the Policy Exchange scheme, the village house would be sold off, not re-let. And someone has to do those low-paid jobs in Central London, too- especially those which involve unsocial hours.
Nor is it true that 'existing tenants would not be affected', as claimed. Certainly, the property being sold would be vacant, but what about the family down the road in over-crowded accommodation, or the disabled person needing a medical transfer? They would be either left for longer in poor, sometimes terrible, conditions, or required to move out, regardless of their history, their connections, their responsibilities.
Sales are not the only way to deal with the investment shortfall anyway. In the 1960s Notting Hill Housing Trust bought properties to protect poor people from slum landlords, but as these grew massively in value the balance sheet of the organisation strengthened and became the foundation for hundreds of millions of pounds of prudential borrowing for more social homes elsewhere If you decide to buy a second home, and you have a first house on which you don't owe very much, the best way of raising money is often to extend your mortgage on the house you already have. Councils and housing associations have, on average, outstanding debts of only £17,000 per house and already sweat their assets, so the last thing they want to do is to lose the most valuable of them. New investment made sense in itself, too, which is why the previous government had an £8 billion investment programme. That programme passed the value test - creating an asset that will make a profit in its lifetime, and pay off in jobs created and benefit bills reduced, but it was slashed by 60% by the current government.
Of course, the number of council homes has plummeted over the last 30 years, with Right to Buy massively reducing the rental pool. Lots of new homes would be built from the proceeds, went the promise, but the sold homes were never replaced and most of the money disappeared into the Treasury. Many ex-council homes were rented back to low-income and homeless households at much higher prices- helping fuel the rise in Housing Benefit. People who would once have been eligible for a council home ended up in expensive private rented homes, with the same effect. So the promise was made and broken before. Would it be different now?
Finally, let's return to the issue of mixed communities. We hear a great deal about promoting mixed communities in poor places, like Newham, or Southwark. Fair enough everyone understands that concentrating poorer people in poor neighbourhoods is bad- for their life chances and for the wider community, as was debated last August during the riots. Those councils want a better mix, with more home-ownership and greater affluence. Yet the same logic applies where low cost housing is currently limited, because those areas have become more valuable, or because they are away from the inner city, in suburbs, towns and even villages elsewhere. Will London's outer suburbs, or market towns in the surrounding countryside build hundreds of thousands of new council homes and, crucially, offer them to those people, outsiders by definition, squeezed from the inner city?
Or, as seems likely, will already affluent areas become ever more so, communities be broken up and the millions in housing need become more marginalised still?
The recent suggestion from the Policy Exchange think-tank that social housing in valuable areas should be sold and the profits used to build more homes in cheaper places, re-hashes an...