Conservative-controlled Westminster City Council's parking controls, and particularly their most recent round of proposals, have generated more local controversy than almost any issue I can remember. And although much of what is proposed and under discussion relates to the west end, Westminster council's parking policies have an impact far wider than that specific local dimension.
That is becaise the issue of parking income, and how it is generated and distributed, needs to be seen in the wider context of revenue-raising and local taxation. As a result, everyone in the local authority of the London borough of Westminster has a legitimate interest in how that income is generated and used. Indeed, the wider issues of congestion, displacement and road management are important to everyone in the community.
It also matters because what happens to the economy of central London is a legitimate matter of concern for us all, since millions of Londoners are affected in their capacity as employees, workers, shoppers, business men and women, worshippers and people who enjoy the cultural and recreational opportunities that central London offers. It is in that context that the Westminster parking proposals have generated such an exceptional level of media interest, particularly, but by no means exclusively, in the Evening Standard. The Evening Standard has, I think, grasped what the majority party on Westminster council seems not to have grasped-that Westminster's financial problems cannot be solved by any means to hand, without a proper recognition of the impact on the wider economy of London.
It is for these reasons that I held a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons yesterday to discuss the issues surrounding Westminster City Council's latest round of parking proposals.
You can read that debate by clicking on the following link: http://bit.ly/AzRBuI
I entirely accept that parking income is a legitimate source of revenue-raising for local government, particularly given the severe constraints on the raising of income by other means, and the critical importance of maintaining decent services for residents.
However, the law is clear on the issue, and the law, common sense and political calculation all demand honesty and transparency in the process, as well as that the charges should be fair and proportionate.
There has not been adequate honesty and transparency about Westminster council's financial pressures, and Councillors have been found out.
They did not tell it straight to local people, but instead have given the impression that they have discovered the philosopher's stone-a way to provide comprehensive, quality services without an adequate tax base. They are paying the penalty for that mistake.
Conservative-controlled Westminster City Council's parking controls, and particularly their most recent round of proposals, have generated more local controversy than almost any issue I can remember. And although much of...
Apart from being a somewhat iconic enterprise locally, the Big Table is precisely the kind of small business that is crucial to the country's economic recovery and the economic health of the area.
It was therefore deeply saddening that Crossrail served a Compulsory Purchase Order for the land on 24th June 2011 to make way for a substantial electrical sub-station as part of the scheme. While the Big Table won a temporary reprieve until January 2012, the closure still appears inevitable.
While the Big Table lies just outside the boundaries of Westminster North its closure is a pressing issue for my constituents and I am therefore completely committed to trying to save Big Table and to supporting local residents and other representatives in their efforts to find a solution. This is not a political issue and representatives of all political parties are working together to find a solution. As the Rt Hon Malcolm Rifkind MP (Kensington) put it: "My position is the same as Karen's. Every effort should be made to find an alternative to demolition".
To work towards this aim I have made representations to various stakeholders and recently wrote again to Crossrail, Transport for London, Kit Malthouse AM, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Sir Malcolm in advance of the public meeting held on 9th November.
I remain heartened by the willingness of residents to take a stand on this issue as well as the degree and vigour of opposition displayed by Councillors from both local authorities. Local opposition to the scheme continues to build and alongside demonstrations Labour Councillors in Kensington are presenting a petition to their Full Council.
I visited the site again myself on Saturday to discuss potential solutions including locating the sub-station on the plot in such a way that allows the Big Table to remain in some form and alternative locations on the other side of the Great Western Road. Crossrail need to give urgent consideration to these or other solutions that could save this important local business.
Apart from being a somewhat iconic enterprise locally, the Big Table is precisely the kind of small business that is crucial to the country's economic recovery and the economic health...
Research recently carried out by the GLA showed that 24% of Londoners are in fuel poverty - meaning that they have to spend more than 10% of their household income on fuel to keep their home in a 'satisfactory' condition.
Many Londoners who are eligible for assistance with heating their homes or with free loft insulation and cavity wall insulation don't know they can get help, or where to find it.
The Mayor's fourth ‘Know your rights' campaign aims to encourage people to find out what support is available by calling the Home Heat Helpline, free on 0800 33 66 99, or visiting the website: www.homeheathelpline.org.uk
The helpline is run by trained staff who can offer advice on grants for home insulation. Those struggling to pay their fuel bills are transferred to the ‘vulnerable customers' department of their energy company to get the help they need.
The Home Heat Helpline is open 9am-8pm Monday to Friday and 10am-2pm on Saturdays.
The hard of hearing can use the minicom service on 0800 027 2122
The government also recently launched its Check, Switch, Insulate to Save website to help people save on their energy bills: http://bit.ly/pXNnpa
Research recently carried out by the GLA showed that 24% of Londoners are in fuel poverty - meaning that they have to spend more than 10% of their household income...
Today marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year festival. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting the Jewish Liberal Synagogue to meet local children who had taken part in designing Rosh Hashanah cards and awarding a prize for the winning entry (pictured).
Today marks the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year festival. Last Saturday I had the pleasure of visiting the Jewish Liberal Synagogue to meet local children who had...
Reports that St Mary's Hospital is pencilled in for closure in order to realise the development potential of the prime central London site have been swiftly denied.
I am encouraged by the emphatic rebuttal on the part of the Imperial Hospital Trust. The trouble is that the Trust has a massive financial shortfall to deal with, at a time of unprecedented instability in the NHS, and all choices are going to be difficult ones. Worse still, the Conservatives are pushing through a reckless, wasteful and bureaucratic reorganisation of the NHS, which will get in the way of patient care.
Forcing through the biggest NHS reorganisation in its history when finances are squeezed and all efforts should be dedicated to making sound efficiencies and improving services, is high-cost and high-risk.
The NHS and Social Care Bill was railroaded through the House of Commons this week, leaving the essential elements of the Tories' long terms plans to set the NHS up as a full scale market, based on the model of the privatised utilities, firmly in place. A new economic regulator will enforce competition law on the NHS for the first time, and have the power to fine hospitals 10% of their turnover for working together.
The Bill removes a key protection of the 1946 Act that set up the NHS - that the Secretary of State for Health is directly accountable for providing the health service. The Government's plans will break up the NHS as a national public service so that patients will increasingly see the services on which they depend subject to the lottery of where they live.
No fewer than 5 new quangos are being set up to manage the NHS, and local Primary Care Trusts also disappear into 5 different groups- all involving more start-up costs but offering less transparency for the public.
Adapting the NHS as needs change and medical skills and technologies change will never to uncontroversial. But the upheaval this reorganisation brings, combined with funding cuts, make change harder not easier, and we are all the losers.
Reports that St Mary's Hospital is pencilled in for closure in order to realise the development potential of the prime central London site have been swiftly denied. I am encouraged...
With MPs meeting to vote on the final report stage of the Health and Social Care Bill next week this is crunch-time for the NHS.
Having only allowed two weeks to vote on the new bill earlier this summer there is a genuine concern that ministers are looking to railroad this legislation through the Commons. MPs will get only two days to debate these amendments next week, as the prime minister and his deputy hope to square everything off before their party conferences.
Individuals and organisations concerned about the changes only have limited time to force the government to re-think its position.
The Health and Social Care Bill: Re-branding not Re-thinking
As you will know the government announced its plans for NHS reform in the Health and Social Care Bill back in January of this year.
It does not need re-stating that the Bill was highly controversial. The original Bill wanted to achieve the following things through changes to the NHS:
• To hand responsibility for the commissioning of services and medication for patients to groups of GPs in ‘consortia.' In my view this would mean they would either have to spend less time providing frontline services or would have to employ private administrators to run them (in many cases this is likely to be Primary Care Trust staff who have just been made redundant at cost) resulting in more tax payer money turning into private profit;
• To increase the amount of private investment in the NHS and allow private companies to run NHS services and use NHS facilities meaning tax-payer money going into the pockets of private health providers;
• To stop local people from campaigning to save their local health services if it was at risk from closure;
• To make the regulatory body Monitor's prime function to promote competition and private investment rather than promote the best quality care.
These initial proposals caused outrage amongst doctors, nurses and the general public and rightly-so. As you will know the result was that David Cameron and Andrew Lansley announced they would conduct a ‘listening exercise' in order to take into account the concerns of health professionals and the rest of the country.
However, despite the work of Dr. Steve Field of the NHS Future Forum and his team in conducting an in-depth consultation and suggesting a comprehensive set of proposals to modify the Government's original intentions, the amendments the Government put forward amounted to little more than a re-brand rather than a genuine re-think.
The new amendments in the Bill have made it much vaguer. This means that although the Government has amended some of the specific points of controversy it has not put sufficient safeguards in their place. For example, the Government have agreed to amend Monitor's key role from that of promoting competition but they have not said what will replace this. As a result I believe even more loopholes for back-door privatisation have been created.
On top of this, while trying to paper over the cracks of an already flawed bill, the government has created a contradiction between what they have said they want and what is actually in the bill. For example, they have said they want fewer commissioning boards than currently exist but with the short-term political fixes they have made to the Bill, it is almost certain that more will be created. This simply means more bureaucracy.
But it isn't just the Health and Social Care Bill which threatens the future of our NHS. During the furore surrounding the phone hacking scandal, the government buried news of its plans for £1bn of NHS spending to be given to private companies. This is on top of £20bn cuts to the NHS across the country.
It is for this reason that along with the BMA and other major healthcare groups, I will still be opposing the Bill and asking for the government to honour its pre-election promise of increasing NHS spending instead of cutting it as it is currently doing.
Hospital and A&E waiting times increase
Cuts to NHS spending are already having an impact. Official data shows that the number of people waiting for NHS care has risen sharply, with hundreds waiting more than a year to be offered treatment.
Despite the efforts of NHS managers to ensure that patient care is not affected by the £20bn of funding that needs to be squeezed from budgets over the next four years, the number of people forced to wait six months has leapt by 61% in a year. The Department of Health's own figures show 11,857 people in June had waited half a year to receive treatment, up from 7,360 in June 2010.
This comes on the heels of evidence collected by BBC Newsnight earlier this year which showed that the number of patients waiting more than four hours for treatment in accident and emergency departments has increased by 63% since the Government scrapped the waiting time target put in place by the last government.
That data (see below) showed an extra 73,000 patients were left with waits over four hours in the last three months of 2010 compared with the previous year.
See the national data here:
With MPs meeting to vote on the final report stage of the Health and Social Care Bill next week this is crunch-time for the NHS.Having only allowed two weeks to...
The riots sweeping through our cities - the worst since the early 1980s - are tragic, inexcusable and unjustifiable.
Our hearts go out to the victims, and our grateful thanks go out to the emergency services, who have worked exceptionally hard and with real courage. This is especially the case as the level of policing does not seem to have been sufficient over the weekend, leaving them at a disadvantage in some areas.
The absolute priority must be to restore order to the streets, to make sure there are sufficient police for the task, and then to review the level of youth intervention for the remainder of the summer. We need to provide reassurance to residents and businesses in affected areas, and also to the vast majority of young people who are not involved in criminal behaviour but who are also frightened and disturbed by what is happening.
We have to act to act quickly to identify other potential flashpoints and head them off, even after the immediate crisis is over.
There will need to be a through inquiry into all aspects of these disturbances. Whilst each individual incident is purely and simply a criminal action, mass riots on this scale, involving thousands of young people, have not appeared out of thin air. To prevent anything like this happening again, we need to be clear about all the different issues, from the rise of gangs and ‘postcode' violence to the role of social media(Facebook, Twitter), to the size and nature of the police response and relations between police and our youth.
However, all that is for later.
Today I simply want to reinforce the key message from the police- every parent should be aware of where their children are, and should make sure that they are off the streets.
The riots sweeping through our cities - the worst since the early 1980s - are tragic, inexcusable and unjustifiable. Our hearts go out to the victims, and our grateful thanks...
Westminster is set to lose six Sergeants from the Safer Neighbourhhod Teams across the borough. In four residential areas, eight wards will have to share four Sergeants insted of having their own Sergeant. In addition, it has been suggested that existing Sergeants will have to reapply for their jobs and even if they are successful they may be allocated to a new, unfamiliar Ward.
The loss of the six Sergeant posts includes:
Harrow Road & Maida Vale Wards Safer Neighbourhood Team - supervised by 1 Sergeant post
Westbourne & Little Venice Wards Safer Neighbourhood Team - supervised by 1 Sergeant post
Lancaster Gate & Bayswater Wards Safer Neighbourhood Team - supervised by 1 Sergeant post
The Safer Neighbourhood Teams have been a huge success story and anything that diminishes their effectiveness is bad news for residents and businesses in Westminster. The loss of the six Sergeants from the Safer Neighbourhood Teams is a blow to fighting crime and anti-social behaviour right across Westminster. I hope that the Police will pull back from making these cuts. Everyone wants to see more police on the streets and the Safer Neighbourhood Teams have been successful in restoring public confidence in neighbourhood policing. Reducing the number of Sergeants is a backward step.
Westminster is set to lose six Sergeants from the Safer Neighbourhhod Teams across the borough. In four residential areas, eight wards will have to share four Sergeants insted of having...
Westminster Labour Councillors have called on Westminster City Council to save Paddington Law Centre from closure by making a £50,000 grant out of the £850,000 in the Paddington Community and Social Fund. The Paddington Social and Community Social Fund was established through contributions from the developers of the Paddington Goods Yard in order to improve facilities for local residents in the area. The £850,000 in the Fund, which is administered by Westminster City Council, has been unspent for over a year despite huge cuts in local community services.
Paddington Law Centre has been operating in premises in Harrow Road in Queen's Park Ward for over 35 years and gives advice on housing, social services, consumer and debt issues to thousands of residents in need of help. There are queues outside the Law Centre premises on a regular basis.
Unless Westminster City Council acts quickly Paddington Law Centre will close and leave a huge gap in the advice services available to local residents. There is nealy £1 million in the Paddington Community and Social Fund and just a small contribution from this fund could save the Law Centre from closure.
Leader of Westminster Labour Group Paul Dimoldenberg wrote to the Council's Chief Executive about this last week and is still awaiting an acknowledgement to his request.
Westminster Labour Councillors have called on Westminster City Council to save Paddington Law Centre from closure by making a £50,000 grant out of the £850,000 in the Paddington Community and...
Westminster Pre-school Learning Alliance is a grouping made up of nine community nurseries. In past years the Alliance has received grant funds from Westminster City Council to aid with affordable nursery provision in the area.
However, Westminster has recently cut this grant. This means the loss of approximately £45,000 from each nursery. The nine nurseries affected are: Parkview Lodge Pre-School (Westbourne Area), Moorhouse Pre-School (Westbourne Area), The Vestry (Abbey Rd/Maida Vale Area), St. James Community Pre-School (Bayswater Area), Ashmore Pre-School (Queen's Park Area), Fisherton Street Pre-School (Church Street Area), Independent Mother's Pre-school, (Church Street Area), Barrow Hill (St. John's Wood Area), Elgin Pre-School (Harrow Road Area).
In addition to the cuts additional expenses formerly covered by the grant such as cleaning, accounting, and rent have now been made the responsibility of the nurseries themselves. The combination is pressuring the nurseries to drastically increase fees in order to survive. Many are now in danger of having to close.
The withdrawal of the nurseries would mean:
- Extra strain for parents who are already under a lot of pressure balancing finances, work and family;
- Discouragement for parents to access jobs/education due to limited children facilities;
- Loss of jobs and no redundancy packages to dedicated members of staff who have been working for the nurseries for as long as 20 years.
Residents are collecting signatures for a petition calling on Westminster City Council and the relevant authorities to reinstate the grant to the Westminster Pre-school Learning Alliance nurseries and/or to allow the nurseries time to financially prepare for these cuts.
You can sign the petition by clicking the link below:
Westminster Pre-school Learning Alliance is a grouping made up of nine community nurseries. In past years the Alliance has received grant funds from Westminster City Council to aid with affordable...