Karen Buck

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

News

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Very good to meet you at the Labour group in Portcullis House yesterday. As promised, this is to update you about the refurbishment of the Bakerloo line trains.

With over 40 years of service, the Bakerloo line fleet is the oldest on the Tube network and is inevitably starting to show its age. It is one of four London Underground lines (along with the Piccadilly, Central and Waterloo & City lines) set for new trains from the mid-2020s – the New Tube for London.

In the meantime, we are extending the life of the current Bakerloo line fleet. The upgrades will see various customer-facing improvements:-

The seat cushions and fabric are being replaced with a new moquette, and all 36 trains will be completed by the end of the 2016/17 financial year. We have actually started this week, and the seats will be changed out at a rate of around one train per week. The worst of the existing seats will continue to be cleaned thoroughly until they are replaced.

The outsides of the trains will also be refreshed over the next 12 months.

The floor finishes, interior body panels and ceiling ventilation fans, will be renewed by 2020.

Other improvements include structural repairs to the train carriage body and replacement of internal wiring circuits. The larger maintenance work will be done gradually over the next 48 months to ensure the trains remain in service for customers.

I trust you find this information useful.

Yours sincerely

 

Nick Brown

Managing Director

London Underground & London Rail

Bakerloo line refurbishment update

Very good to meet you at the Labour group in Portcullis House yesterday. As promised, this is to update you about the refurbishment of the Bakerloo line trains. With over...

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 Dear Councillor,

We are writing to you as Cabinet Member for Children and Young People to oppose the decision being made by Westminster City Council to cease funding voluntary sector youth clubs and youth providers from September 2016. 

We understand that councils are under pressure to cut ‘non-essential services’.  However, our services are very much necessary to the lives of hundreds of young people.  We give young people a place to feel safe and somewhere they can achieve outside school, whilst gaining skills they can use in the classroom, at home and at work. We support young people to develop their communication skills, teamwork abilities and to build resilience. This enables young people to participate and be active members of the communities they live in. The relationships young people develop with youth workers helps guide them through the challenges they face growing up in some of the UK’s most severely deprived areas, challenges which include substance misuse, criminalisation and radicalisation. Taking away our services is likely to result in young residents becoming further alienated from their society, particularly those who need help the most. 

We believe that these cuts are short-sighted and will prove costly in the long term, as young people will be left without support and resources to deal with their challenges. Whilst the cuts being proposed will undoubtedly save the council money in the short term, the long term financial impact for the council could be worse. We would question whether this has been assessed as part of the council risk and impact assessments.

We acknowledge the intention of WCC to establish a Westminster Youth Foundation – but this will still be in its infancy in September. Without significant statutory resources, the new Foundation will be competing for increasingly scarce resources from trusts and the private sector.

We call on WCC to delay its decision for a year until the impact on young people of such a cut is established, and until a Westminster Youth Foundation is in place that can provide the necessary resources to support the needs of young people in Westminster.  

Yours sincerely,

Mesba Ahmed, CEO of London Tigers

Intaj Ali, Chair of Trustees, Marylebone Bangladesh Society

Geoff Biggs, Director, Westbourne Park Family Centre

David Bryan, Chair of Trustees, Working With Men

Michael Furness, Chair of Trustees, The Crypt Youth Club

Paul Lawrence, Chief Executive, The Feathers Association

Gabby Machell, CEO, Westminster Society for People with Learning Disabilities

Jennie Marshall, Chair of Trustees, The Avenues Youth Project

Albert St. Ange, North Paddington Youth Club

Drew Stevenson, Chair of Trustees, Paddington Development Trust

Graham Whitlock, CEO, Dream Arts

Youth Service cut in Westminster - letter from affected organisations

   Dear Councillor, We are writing to you as Cabinet Member for Children and Young People to oppose the decision being made by Westminster City Council to cease funding voluntary...

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The Freedom of Information (Public Interest and Transparency) Bill, was introduced in Parliament as a Ten Minute Rule Bill on 19 January 2016. Its aims include extending the Freedom of Information Act to cover private companies, social enterprises and charities contracted to carry out work for public authorities and the Royal Household. 10-minute Rule Bills are devices to permit subjects to be debated as draft laws, but scarcely ever make progress in themselves, and it is almost certain that no further progress will be made.

However, the manifesto I stood on at the last election included a commitment to this same principle- extending the scope of Freedom of Information laws so that public services run by large private companies are included. During the last Parliament Labour MPs supported amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill which would have brought public providers of public services contracted out under the Bill within the scope of the FOIA. Had we been elected last year, we would have been able to build on the FOI introduced by a previous Labour government. Sadly, I fear that the present government will make no such commitment and this is likely to be an issue that will remain pending until after the next election.

On the wider principles of FOI, I believe that openness and accountability are vital for any Government and that an appropriate balance needs to be struck between the need for transparency and the right for certain Ministerial correspondence to remain confidential. The FOIA - introduced by the previous Labour Government - sought to achieve this balance but I believe it is important to now look at how this could be improved and strengthened.

I am concerned about much of the Government's Commission on the Freedom of Information, including its remit and its composition. I believe the Commission was set up by the Government in order to weaken the Freedom of Information Act. It is therefore welcome that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have held their own public, cross-party review into the Act, to look at whether there is scope to extend any part of the Act in order to achieve its stated objectives.

I hope that this is helpful

Karen Buck MP

Proposed Changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

The Freedom of Information (Public Interest and Transparency) Bill, was introduced in Parliament as a Ten Minute Rule Bill on 19 January 2016. Its aims include extending the Freedom of...

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2016/17 – 2020/21

Over the next five years, West London and Central London CCGs will get the following increases in allocation (in cash terms):

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Compared with other London CCGs, West London and Central London CCGs have significantly larger real terms decreases in total allocations and in allocations per head than any other CCG besides Camden. 

Analysis by the House of Commons Library of Clinical Commissioning Group statistics

2016/17 – 2020/21 Over the next five years, West London and Central London CCGs will get the following increases in allocation (in cash terms): Compared with other London CCGs, West...

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If it looks too good to be true, it will be. And rarely does this simple maxim need trotting out than in the area of social security/welfare.  Periodically, think tanks and politicians rediscover, with breathless excitement, an apparent ‘Get out of Jail Free’ card- an idea whose simplicity has been ignored by their predecessors for some perverse, unexplained reason. Step forward Universal Credit (streamlining most working age benefits into one), our old friend, the Contributory Principle (you get out what you pay in), and now, the Basic Citizen’s Income.

Now, for the avoidance of doubt, all of these have things to comment them- simplicity above all. The tax and social security systems are notoriously complex and make it exceptionally hard to people to predict how they will be affected in future- going into work, taking a pay raise. Means testing within the social security system is unpopular and expensive to administer. There is nothing wrong with seeking simplification and predictability. The trouble is, we live in a complex world, in which those designing tax and security systems have to consider huge variations in costs, limited resources and the behavioural impact everything has on us imperfect human beings. So, let’s take a look at what this means for the Basic Income.

The idea of a Basic Citizen’s Income is not, of course, new- and it has had advocates across the political spectrum, since aspects of the scheme contain and appeal to left and to right. The scheme works by scrapping benefits and tax credits/allowances so everyone receives a flat-rate allowance, with an additional element for children.  Amongst the advantages cited are huge reductions in administrative complexity; a reduction in mean’s testing and the ‘poverty trap’; an end to sanctions and greater flexibility in the labour market, since people will be more confident about transitions of various kinds. What’s not to like?

Well, here a few things.

Firstly, the Basic Income begs the question, can we do without ‘conditionality’ entirely? Conditionality has been given a bad name by the horrors of a punitive sanctions regime and the inflexibility too often pressed upon Job Centres. Yes as social policy commentator Declan Gaffney has pointed out:

“Single parents in the UK offer a test case, as up to 2008 they were effectively in receipt of something very like an UBI, when not in employment. They had no obligation to actively seek work while tax credits ensured that most would be significantly better off in work. Employment rates had increased since the 1990s in response to improved incentives but remained relatively low, and from 2008 obligations to look for work were imposed. By 2014 the employment rate outside London had risen from 57% to 61%. In London the increase was dramatic from a lower baseline: from 45% to 57%. The lesson is that incentives matter”

Second, two elements stand out as risks to the comfortable simplicity of a flat-rate Basic Income- housing, and disability. Housing costs are such a large element of people’s subsistence needs, yet are so varied across the country, they could not realistically be included. (Incidentally, it was precisely this problem that defeated Beveridge!). Similarly, it is hard to see how a flat-rate system can accommodate the needs of the longer term sick and disabled, for whom costs (and, traditionally, benefits, have been higher than for others.

Yet paying a higher rate of Basic Income to people with higher housing costs, or to those who can’t work because of disability, re-introduces means-testing, taper rates, work capability assessments…bringing us full circle.

The ‘Get out of Jail Free’ policy card doesn’t exist. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the aspirations behind the Basic Income. There’s lots that can be done to make both our tax and social security systems fairer, more efficient and more humane- and that includes seeing both in a wider social policy context that embraces health, education and housing. There may not be one mega-solution, but everything is connected.  

My article in Progress about Basic Citizen's Income

  If it looks too good to be true, it will be. And rarely does this simple maxim need trotting out than in the area of social security/welfare.  Periodically, think...

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Westminster City Council Planning Department

I write to enter an objection to the proposed development on the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site (31 London Street/128-142 Praed Street) known as the ‘Paddington Shard’. Although I accept the need for our growing city to provide new homes, infrastructure, amenities and economic/business capacity, and have no aesthetic objection to tall buildings (rather the reverse), major schemes such as this must still be considered on their merits and must be considered in the context of proper consultation and a strategic policy.

My objection is based on the following grounds:

1)    The ‘Paddington Shard’ would represent a clear departure from Westminster Council’s tall buildings policy, without that policy having been amended after full consultation. The policy currently states that a single tall building- the 42 storey tower proposed for 1 Merchant Square, be approved within the Paddington Opportunity Area.  As my colleagues from Westminster Labour Group have stated in their objection,

“The proposed design of a single, narrow but extremely tall, tower has a massive impact on the skyline but is not a particularly effective use of the space available. Westminster Labour would have preferred to have seen a design for the site that delivered a similar or greater number of housing units at a much lower height, entirely possible given the space available as shown clearly in the planning objection put forward by Terry Farrell”

Therefore, not only does the building have an unprecedented impact upon the Westminster skyline, the application is not being considered within a revised tall buildings policy which can be explained and justified to Westminster residents and others.

2)    Given this fact, the specific application for 31 London Street has proceeded exceptionally quickly, from outline proposal in the autumn to planning application over Christmas- and potentially, a decision by March. This is despite the high level of controversy locally, and the concerns being expressed by Heritage England and the Skyline campaign.

3)    The proposed benefits offered by the developer- including the ‘Sky Gardens’ and Paddington Bakerloo station upgrade, whilst welcome in themselves, are likely to be primarily of benefit to commuters/users of Paddington station rather than residents, whose outlook will be fundamentally and irrevocably altered by this construction. Wider public realm benefits are also welcome, but would also potentially drive up rents for businesses in and around Praed St . If the scheme is approved in any form, commitments regarding employment and apprenticeships should be transparent and measurable..

4)    The development proposes 330 luxury housing units. There is no affordable housing on site, and the affordable housing offer is unacceptably small at 15%- well below Westminster Council’s own – already inadequate- guidelines of 30%. Of this, the main proposal is to rebuild and expand the Almshouses in St John’s Wood Road- a project which needs to be undertaken but where there are currently not transparent allocations procedure for nominations from Westminster Council so as to ensure those in housing need can benefit.

I would be grateful if this objection could be noted.

Thank you

Karen Buck MP

 

Objection to the 'Paddington Shard'

Westminster City Council Planning Department I write to enter an objection to the proposed development on the former Royal Mail Sorting Office site (31 London Street/128-142 Praed Street) known as...

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Westminster Council Planning department

I write to object to the current proposal for 285-329 Edgware Road (West End Green) with specific reference to the inconsistency of the tower proposal with the Council’s current tall buildings policy, the inadequate timescale for consultation/community involvement, and the inadequate arrangements for affordable housing.

I am pleased that the West End Green site is finally due for development after decades in which it stood empty. London needs more homes and the capacity to continue to grow its (sustainable) economy, and it is entirely possible to increase density without having a detrimental impact upon the wider community. However, each major scheme must be considered on its individual merits, both in terms of design and impact.

My concerns over this scheme are:

 

1)      Westminster Council’s tall buildings policy proposes one additional tower in Paddington, at 1 Merchant Square. The policy is, I believe, due for revision, yet both this scheme and the proposed 72-storey tower at 31 London Street face being rushed from outline to planning permission over the course of just a few weeks, and in the absence of a revised policy. Towers can be aesthetically attractive and are, indeed, a key component of world cities, but there should be proper public consultation on both the policy and these individual major schemes given the level of public concern. This is perhaps especially the case given the proximity of conservation areas and the strong views held by both local residents and many others concerned with the London skyline.

 

2)      Out of the proposed 691 flats, an unacceptably low number of 154 (22%) are designated as ‘affordable’ . This is despite both the depth of the housing crisis- which impacts especially on lower-middle earners, and Westminster Council’s own (already inadequate) guidance that developments should include 30% affordable.

 

3)      I note the concerns expressed by the local health practice regarding their capacity to meet the primary care needs of additional population on this scale. Whilst higher population density can be made to work well, it does not happen without the commitment not only of the developers but of the Council and other agencies to ensure there is both the physical capacity (public realm, transport) and service provision (health, education, policing) to meet the needs of residents.

 

Karen Buck MP

Objection to West End Green development

  Westminster Council Planning department I write to object to the current proposal for 285-329 Edgware Road (West End Green) with specific reference to the inconsistency of the tower proposal...

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As the Conservatives voted against requiring landlords to make all properties 'fit for human habitation', here's a report on why it is needed, based on research by my office.

 

Report: The Challenge of Tackling Unsafe and Unhealthy Housing

As the Conservatives voted against requiring landlords to make all properties 'fit for human habitation', here's a report on why it is needed, based on research by my office.  ...

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I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. Thank you also to the children of Christ Church Bentinck School for their excellent Christmas Card designs. 

Christmas Card 2015

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year. Thank you also to the children of Christ Church Bentinck School for their excellent Christmas Card...

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I am very pleased that this important issue was debated in Parliament earlier this month, albeit on ‘Backbench business’ which was not be voted upon. 

Whilst on this occasion due to a packed diary of other commitments, I was unable to attend the latest debate  (Like most MPs as well as attending debates on the floor of the House I also have numerous committee duties and long-booked diary meetings)

On the substantive issue, I am in total agreement of the need to protect the bee population.

I appreciate the concerns that have been expressed about declining bee numbers and the impact this could have on food production, the economy and our countryside.

As I am sure you are aware, the EU Commission announced in April 2013 that it would restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides to crops that are not attractive to bees and other pollinators for two years after the European Food Safety Authority concluded that three commonly used neonicotinoid pesticides posed an unacceptable danger to bees.

During the last Parliament, the Coalition Government opposed the European ban on neonicotinoids but the decision to enforce the ban was taken by the Commission after a qualified majority could not be reached amongst member states.

I support the European-wide ban on neonicotinoid use because I believe it is a proportionate response to the evidence on the contribution of the three neonicotinoid pesticides to pollinator decline.

However the current Government has approved an application by the National Farmers Union (NFU) for the ban on neonicotinoids to be lifted this autumn to allow these chemicals to be sprayed on rapeseed in order to help prevent crop damage.

I believe the Government should have rejected the calls from the NFU to lift the ban to allow for the effect to be properly analysed. It is important to take a science-led approach to the use of pesticides and to consider how best to support farmers, to protect wildlife and reverse the decline of pollinators.

I also believe that the Coalition Government's 10-year national pollinator strategy for bees and other pollinators, which was published in November 2014, did not go far enough. It does not, for example, tackle habitat destruction, damaging farming practices, bad planning decisions and neonicotinoid use, which are the primary causes of pollinator decline.

I hope the Government will listen to the concerns that have been raised about this issue and I will continue to fight for the protection of our natural environment.

Continuing issues around bee numbers

I am very pleased that this important issue was debated in Parliament earlier this month, albeit on ‘Backbench business’ which was not be voted upon.  Whilst on this occasion due...

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