One of the many lovely conversations I had on polling day was with a group of women on the way to vote in the bright sunshine. “It’s been so nice to see lots of neighbours” they said. “It’s been like a social event”. And that is something we should be properly proud of. Even if the national result was far from being what I hoped for, we should all celebrate the fact that we can exercise a democratic choice in peace and freedom, especially when that right is denied to so many millions. Democracy also relies on all those people putting themselves up as candidates, often at considerable personal cost, and the volunteers from all parties who do the unsung and unglamorous work of canvassing, leafleting and stuffing envelopes. It may not be fashionable to celebrate the business of politics and those who take part in ii, opponents as well as supporters, but I do.
So- the result. Locally, I was honoured to be re-elected after a closely fought campaign. Westminster North is a wonderful, fascinating area, but it is also an area of extremes, and it tends not to have large numbers of swing voters. I knew the outcome would still be close, and so it proved. Now my task will be to do my best for the residents whilst managing the reality of working with a Conservative Council, Conservative Mayor and Conservative government. I’ve been campaigning on ‘quality of life issues’, like the impact of the growing short let economy on residential areas, mega-basement excavations; defending essential public services like the NHS and care for elderly people, Neighbourhood policing and Children’s Centres, and helping people in housing need. All this will continue. Much of it is likely to become harder still as further deep spending cuts bite. I am lucky to have an excellent team of local Labour councillors and we will be doing our very best for every part of the constituency. However, there are also thousands of residents who are part of the fabric of the community, involved in schools, residents associations, faith groups and not involved in party politics. I want to reach out to them too, and work with them in responding to the challenges we face.
Nationally, we need to come to terms with what was a very bad defeat- and worse for being unanticipated. It is essential that we have an honest and rigorous debate about our campaign, our messages and our policies, which also recognises that different factors came into play in different parts of the country. What happened in Scotland was very different to what happened in some of the English towns, even after allowing for the obvious truth that many English voters were clearly also reacting to the surge of Scottish nationalism. We also never managed to overcome the fact that we were blamed for the global economic crash, and for spending too much before it, even though the Conservatives were backing our spending plans and calling for less financial regulation not more. Yet there was no single cause and therefore no single prescription for the future, and we must make sure that we are open and inclusive in our debates.
Looking forward, it is still true that a Labour politics which embraces aspiration and opportunity is entirely consistent with a commitment to quality public services and a decent social safety net, a healthy economy and a strong sense of national and cultural identity. Indeed, I would argue that we can’t have any of these without the others. Ed Miliband quite rightly put fairness and inequality at the heart of his vision and that perspective must not be lost either. The desire for a better life is not owned by any one sector of society, by any one income group, residents in any one category of tenure, any one ethnic group- aspiration is built into everyone’s dreams, for themselves and their children. We must show we understand this and shape that understanding into specific policies and messages for the next election- responding to people’s need for a decent, affordable home, a clean, safe environment, fair access to educational and work opportunities and the means to make a reasonable living, efficient transport…
In the meantime, we face a fight for London next year, one of the fiercest-fought Parliamentary sessions for many years and all the risks of the coming European referendum. Time to get on with it.
One of the many lovely conversations I had on polling day was with a group of women on the way to vote in the bright sunshine. “It’s been so nice...
I am writing to object to the granting of a licence to Betfred at the Prince of Wales junction. As a local resident, with a local workplace, and as a frequent user of the shops and market at the ‘Prince of Wales’ junction, I am convinced that a betting shop on this dominant site will be harmful to the area.
Considerable efforts have been made in recent years to improve the ‘piazza’ opposite the Prince of Wales, which had been plagued by crack-dealing and street drinking. It was necessary to have a dedicated police team just to deal with the problems in the area. Despite the combined efforts of the Council, Local Area Partnership, traders and residents, this has not been a quick or easy task and whilst much progress has been made, the area still faces challenges. There is a high level of deprivation in the surrounding streets and estates and several services close by providing support for vulnerable people, including Westminster Drugs project, Central and North West London Mental Health service and City Living for people with learning disabilities.
Whilst it is important that a betting shop in this location would be the 8th within a short radius (not least because recent figures indicate that £5m was lost to Fixed Odds Terminals alone in north Westminster last year) what is particularly significant is the importance of this site. Any sustained improvement in the area must start with the ‘corner’ premises of the junction- of which the former Prince of Wales is easily the most physically significant. This site becoming a betting shop sends a signal that we have ‘lost’ the square as a managed, mixed, safe and potentially vibrant part of the community.
I have made direct representations to BetFred in respect of this site, and regret that they have not chosen to respond. I therefore very much hope that Westminster is able to act in the community interest and refuse a licence for these premises.
Labour Candidate, Westminster North
I am writing to object to the granting of a licence to Betfred at the Prince of Wales junction. As a local resident, with a local workplace, and as a...
Thank you once again for responding to my survey of Genesis Housing Association residents last year.
The response was overwhelming and analysis of the survey had to take a backseat in order to prioritise dealing with the many resident complaints about poor maintenance, incorrect service charge bills and unresponsive officers. Progress has been made on most individual issues now - and if you haven’t yet had a response, I am still chasing Genesis on your behalf.
The survey reveals a worrying picture of dissatisfied tenants who believe their landlord is getting even worse. As well as trying to pinpoint exactly why so many are unhappy with Genesis, the attached report puts forward practical suggestions for improvement, many coming directly from residents.
I have written to Genesis to ask them to reflect on what you have said. It is clear that they are performing poorly in many different ways and things should not be allowed to continue as they are. My colleague Jim Fitzpatrick recently held a debate in Parliament calling for residents to be given the power to sack a failing housing association and transfer their homes to another landlord. This has to be considered as an option if they don’t improve radically.
I will write to you again once I hear back from Genesis. I do hope they take some of your comments and ideas on board.
Karen Buck MP
Dear Resident Thank you once again for responding to my survey of Genesis Housing Association residents last year. The response was overwhelming and analysis of the survey had to... Read more
At some point, a great many of us will have been victims of crime, or will be close to someone who has. Burglary, robbery, car crime - right through to assault, sexual violence and domestic violence. To be a victim of crime - a stolen phone, a damaged car - is, at the least, disturbing and frequently expensive. To have your home invaded by burglars, or to be robbed on the street (I’ve experienced both) is a hideous experience. At worst, crime is a devastating life changing event. Having taken a particular interest in gang crime, I have sat with the mothers of murdered teenagers and even later, cannot help but be overwhelmed once more with the indescribable agony of someone who has lost a child to violence. Such events are rare-but not rare enough.
Over the last twenty years, we have experienced a profoundly welcome fall in overall crime. The reasons for this are hotly debated, but the trend is clear. This long term reduction doesn’t, of course, mean every type of offence crimes is down, everywhere, year on year. It can be true that crime is down in London but up in Harrow Road, or that street robberies are down in St John’s Wood but car crime is up. ‘Hot-spots’ bubble up in different places and involving different types of offending. On-line fraud is certainly on the up. The overall pattern, though, is positive and we should be pleased about it.
Does this mean that we can be relaxed about the decline in neighbourhood policing we have been seeing? I don’t think so. Complex urban areas like ours need to be managed. The heart of London has to be protected against the possibility against threats of different kinds. Westminster’s police must still rise to the challenges of a massive numbers of working, night-time and tourist visitors, swelling the residential population and, of course, the reason why our local crime statistics often look a lot worse than those of our neighbours. And all the usual challenges of the city still apply- from alcohol related problems to youth violence.
Yet our police numbers fell by around 30% between 2011 and last year, as part of the reduction of 17,000 police nationally. With 4000 fewer uniformed officers in London, it is not surprising that a recent report confirmed that half of Londoners say there is ‘no sign of the police in their areas’. Our neighbourhood police teams- once intended to provide a core of dedicated officers to each area, getting to know the people and problems- have been reduced substantially- with a new organisational structure, given more to do, with fewer resources.
And now we know there is potentially far worse to come, with policing unprotected from the next, even deeper round of spending cuts pencilled in by the current government. Their plans mean we are not half way through the intended cuts in public spending- and policing is on the frontline. Met Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan Howe has already said "We don't think our current funding from the home office fully recognises the challenges of policing our capital” and that the force needed to be more vocal about the cuts, as they could not tackle everything within a shrinking budget.
I want to keep our streets safe- and getting safer- with both the specialist policing to respond to complex challenges, and neighbourhood police rooted in the communities they serve. I do not believe we can face the scale of cuts to policing that the Conservatives are drawing up without consequences. It is one of the choices people face in a few weeks.
At some point, a great many of us will have been victims of crime, or will be close to someone who has. Burglary, robbery, car crime - right through to...
With regard to the proposals to enable HMRC to share data more widely and to the e mails I am currently receiving from the 38 degrees campaign, I certainly appreciate the concerns that some people and organisations such as ‘Big Brother Watch' and the Chartered Institute of Taxation have expressed about the Government's proposals, which would remove HMRC's legal constraints on sharing data and allow the release of non-financial VAT registration data.
As I am sure you are aware, HMRC consulted on this last summer and the Government have now stated that they plan to go ahead with these proposals and will introduce legislation to do so shortly.
I know there is very real concern about this - indeed, more than 260,000 people have signed a petition opposing the Government's plans. Many people are also understandably concerned about the Government's wider plans to increase data sharing in the public sector, including in the NHS through the Care.data database.
I would be very concerned if the Government put anything forward that could compromise the privacy of individuals simply complying with their tax obligations. I also believe that there needs to be very clear safeguards in place to ensure that personal data is not misused and so that public confidence is retained.
That is why I believe that it is vital that the Government urgently and clearly now set out their plans for the sharing of HMRC data and that they listen and respond to the concerns that have been raised about this proposal.
I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely and I thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.
Karen Buck MP
Dear Constituent With regard to the proposals to enable HMRC to share data more widely and to the e mails I am currently receiving from the 38 degrees campaign, I...
Many people have contacting me recently with regard to overseas domestic worker (ODW) visa arrangements and the Modern Slavery Bill.
I was very pleased to work closely with the leading campaign organisation in this field Kalayan when my constituency included their office in North Kensington prior to 2010, and I heard a great deal of powerful testimony about the scale of the problem and the appalling abuse many overseas domestic workers endured.
I therefore absolutely supported the introduction of the Modern Slavery Bill as it went through Parliament. Modern slavery is a heinous and all too prevalent crime and the complicated nature of tackling it requires special legislation. I believe, however, that this Bill could go further in a number of areas to help victims and survivors of modern slavery – including with regard to Overseas Domestic Workers.
As you know, in April 2012 the Government changed the Immigration Rules to prevent ODWs from changing their employer in the UK, and limiting the length of time ODWs can stay here to six months. I recognise the serious concerns that organisations such as Kalayaan and others have raised about these changes, and the effect they are having on protections for workers against potential abuse and servitude under tied visa arrangements.
I agree that the Government’s changes to the Immigration Rules in April 2012 have made things worse for Overseas Domestic Workers and have led to more of them being trapped in slavery. Kalayaan’s work has also found that domestic workers on tied visas are twice as likely to report significantly worse conditions and fewer freedoms.
I welcomed the amendment to the Bill supported by my colleagues in the House of Lords-which would effectively reverse the Government’s 2012 changes to ODW visa arrangements. Unfortunately, this was defeated by the Government.
Plans for an independent review into Overseas Domestic Workers’ visa arrangements were announced instead, in light of the concerns that have been raised inside and outside of Parliament. . I believe, however, that this review is too late, unnecessary and that it does not tackle head on the plight of many workers who are subject to forced labour and exploitation.
However, there is still more work to be done on the issue of specific offences of child and adult exploitation, and I welcome that a future Labour Government will seek to remedy this. I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely.
Many people have contacting me recently with regard to overseas domestic worker (ODW) visa arrangements and the Modern Slavery Bill. I was very pleased to work closely with the leading...
I know that many local people are very concerned about the current Government's continued support for badger culling.
I oppose culling because I believe it is bad for farmers, bad for taxpayers and bad for wildlife. The previous Labour Government spent £50 million on a ten-year randomised badger culling trial which concluded culling will not work to achieve a lasting reduction in Bovine TB and actually risks making things worse, particularly for farmers in neighbouring areas.
As you know, the current Government commenced culls in West Gloucestershire and West Somerset on 27 August 2013. The initial six week cull in both areas was extended after failing to meet the 70% culling targets. The Independent Expert Panel (IEP), appointed to monitor the effectiveness, humanness and safety of the controlled shooting, concluded that the two pilot badger culls had also failed on both the effectiveness and humaneness tests.
However, the Government ignored the scientific evidence by proceeding with a second year of badger culls in September and October 2014. The IEP was not asked to oversee the second year of the pilot culls and was subsequently disbanded by the Government.
It is now clear the Government has wasted millions of pounds on a badger cull which is unscientific, inhumane and ineffective. I supported a motion in the House of Commons on 13 March 2014 which called on the Government to stop the culls, to not grant any further culling licences and to develop alternative strategies to eradicate the scourge of Bovine TB.
It is appalling that the Government allowed the second year of these culls to go ahead when they had already been described as an 'epic failure' by the former Chief Scientific Advisor to Natural England. I share concerns about reports that the current Government now plans to initiate further culls this summer.
The current Government has wilfully ignored the evidence and I believe is more concerned with killing badgers than with controlling TB. I believe the Government must abandon its failed policy on Bovine TB control and believe that we need an alternative approach that includes prioritising badger and cattle vaccinations and bringing in stricter cattle measures.
I am therefore pleased my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have stated that a future Labour Government would end the Government's ineffective and inhumane badger culls. The next Labour Government will work with scientists, wildlife groups and farmers to develop an alternative strategy to control Bovine TB which puts scientific evidence at the heart of policy.
I know that many local people are very concerned about the current Government's continued support for badger culling. I oppose culling because I believe it is bad for farmers, bad...
You wrote to Claire about the proliferation of betting shops on the Harrow Road and asked if we would like to comment on this.
Claire asked Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones who is Director and Lead Clinician, National Problem Gambling Clinic, UK.
Addictions Directorate, CNWL for her thoughts and she has provided the quote below from her team.
The National Problem Gambling Clinic receives over 800 referrals a year, the majority of patients referred use bookmakers as their preferred mode of play. Clustering of bookmakers in areas which would instead benefit from regeneration projects such as community centres, subsidised gyms and libraries can increase the number of people betting.
As more people use gambling as a recreational activity because of the lack of alternatives, more people with a vulnerability to problems will be uncovered.
We do not believe four betting shops in one high street does anything to safeguard the wellbeing of the local community, particularly when reflecting on the younger population of that borough.
The staff at the National Problem Gambling Clinic, CNWL NHS Trust.
Claire Murdoch, CEO &
Professor Dorothy Griffiths, Chair
Central & North West London NHS Foundation Trust
Dear Karen, You wrote to Claire about the proliferation of betting shops on the Harrow Road and asked if we would like to comment on this. Claire asked Dr Henrietta...
Business is the beating heart of the economy. Businesses create jobs. Businesses generate wealth. And as the economy keeps changing we need to support and nourish ‘start-ups', small businesses and innovation. Government does not do the job of business, but good government can shape the framework within which business flourishes. For there is a powerful myth that government is a dead weight on the wider economy, making the job of business more difficult. In fact, businesses both large and small, rely on what good government can ensure. At the practical level, the private economy needs sound infrastructure - efficient transport has never been more crucial than it is now. Businesses need skills - and skills start in our schools and colleges. (A quick glance at London business organisation, London First's ‘Manifesto for Jobs and Growth' makes the point well). In addition, employees get sick, and need the care of the health service. Working parents rely on childcare (a substantial part of which is now publicly funded). The social security system shares the burden of sickness/disability; unemployment and pensions. In recent years, low wages have required a vast level of public spending on ‘in-work' benefits, such as Tax Credits and Housing Benefit and, indeed, these benefits acted as a massive stabiliser in the economy during the financial crisis, when employees' earnings fell sharply.
At the more abstract level, business also needs governments to set and uphold the law and negotiate the rules within which economies operate, including the framework for international trade. Businesses want a fair, open and stable environment in which to trade, which is why so many are anxious about the prospects of us lurching into an exit from Europe. And, of course, governments stepped in to protect the banking system when the banks ran into trouble a few years ago.
But, on the other side of the equation, society has a reasonable expectation of what business will do. That includes paying fair taxes on the activities carried out within this country; offering a decent deal to employees, serving consumers honestly, and meeting certain standards in areas ranging from financial transparency to environmental protection.
Unsurprisingly, the wider public takes a dim view of the behaviour of big companies which do a great deal of business in Britain, but avoid paying tax on it, or who shift offshore to cut their tax liabilities. On far too many occasions, the Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee has exposed examples of blatant tax avoidance. Sometimes it is the tax payer who loses, sometimes it is small businesses and suppliers, sometimes it is the consumer. Story after story has appeared of corporate bad behaviour, from the fixing of exchange rates to the exploitative use of zero-hour contracts, from over-stating profits to potential breaches of the code of practice in relation to the suppliers of major companies, from misselling Payment Protection Insurance to the energy giants not passing on savings to customers fast or large enough as the oil price plunges... the list goes on.
All too often, even the worst behaviour seems to go effectively unpunished, and in some cases is even apparently rewarded by massive pay-outs. Not only does this shock the public, all those businesses that do uphold strong professional and ethical standards are also damaged by stories that undermine trust. We have a common interest in everyone playing by the rules.
I want a constructive relationship with business at every level. I want stability regarding our position in Europe, more help to small businesses, such as our proposed cut in Business Rates, and investment in infrastructure and skills, with a particular emphasis on boosting quality apprenticeships. There is nothing wrong with a healthy debate about the specifics of these and other policies, but let's have this in the spirit of partnership and a shared interest in a strong, healthy society and economy.
Business is the beating heart of the economy. Businesses create jobs. Businesses generate wealth. And as the economy keeps changing we need to support and nourish ‘start-ups', small businesses...