Karen Buck MP

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

February 2017 E-Newsletter

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February 2017 E-Newsletter

Contents

Leaving the EU
Child refugees
School funding
The ‘gig’ economy
Housing and the Homelessness Reduction Bill
Crime and policing

Local round up

Short lets
Please help save our youth services
Church Street
Leaseholder advice
St John’s Wood issues
Porchester Spa
Councillor reports
(…there’s always lots more I don’t have room for…do ask if there is something you are interested in)

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Leaving the EU

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The last few weeks in Parliament have, of course, been dominated by Europe and the short Bill to trigger Article 50 and start the process of negotiating our departure.

I voted against triggering Article 50. I am very aware of the arguments in favour most specifically, the outcome of the referendum. I am also conscious that even in Westminster, an area which voted heavily for ‘remain’, 1 in 3 of those taking part voted ‘leave’. It is impossible to please everyone. However, I could not ultimately support entering the process with no meaningful way of saying ‘no’ to a final deal that is not in our interests. Here is the statement I sent to the hundreds of constituents who contacted me before the ‘2nd reading’ debate. 

Last night I voted against the trigger for Article 50.  I did not find this an easy decision, since it involved balancing two very fundamental principles-respect for the majority decision of those voting in last year’s referendum, and what I believe to be in the best interests of the country. There is, unfortunately, no way to meet everyone’s expectations - 24,000 people voted ‘Leave’ in Westminster, even though the large majority (54,000) voted remain, and there are others who voted remain but who now believe we need to deliver on the outcome. I am grateful to the many hundreds of people who have written to me in the last week alone, and I have reflected on the range of views expressed. I am also very conscious of the fact that Westminster has the highest number of resident European citizens anywhere in the country, and I have heard about the potential impact on their lives, families and businesses. But ultimately my colleagues and I have to exercise our judgement as to what is in the national interest. As I have previously argued, the ‘Leave’ was certainly a point of departure - what it did not provide was a destination upon which most people could agree.

In the final analysis, I feared that voting for Article 50 now commits us to Brexit in two years’ time with no idea as to the shape of the deal and absolutely no guarantee that we will be able to say no to what is on offer if it is not good for the country.  A good deal may be possible, and it is in all our interests to ensure this is the case, but we could be about to commit this country to a path which will leave us weakened and damaged. We are effectively being asked to sign up to the unknown, on whatever terms the government agrees, or risk not having a deal and defaulting to WTO rules, which could have disastrous consequences for jobs.

During the coming ‘committee’ stage of the Bill, I will consider and support any amendments which secure a proper choice on the final deal, in the hope that improvements can be made. I will also support amendments that aim to ensure that the negotiations secure the protections – environmental and consumer protection, employee rights and so on- which are essential to a decent society. It is vital that future trade deals with Europe or other countries do not lead to a ‘race to the bottom’ on any of these issues. I don’t believe this is what the country voted for, and I don’t believe it is in the interests of my constituents.

During the short ‘Committee stage’ of the Bill a number of amendments were put forward and voted on - all of them were defeated by the Government. They included a commitment to deliver the promised ‘£350m a week for the NHS’, which featured heavily in the ‘Leave’ campaign, the cost of leaving the single market, and parliamentary oversight of the deal the Government secures.

Together with Harriet Harman MP, I backed an amendment to the Article 50 Bill guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in this country. This was in line with our report from our Select Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights. (It is here, in case you missed it.)

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Child refugees

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I was delighted when Lord Dubs, himself a child refugee from Nazi Germany in the 1930s, won Government backing for a scheme to help up to 3,000 unaccompanied refugee children last year. So far, 350 children have been admitted, but last week the Government chose the day of the Brexit vote to bring out a written statement ending the admissions. We forced the Home Secretary to come to Parliament to answer questions and, as there are now once again children with families in the UK who are on their own in Europe and in a desperate situation. This is what I asked: 

Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

French centres are closing, and there are children in Dunkirk—in today’s freezing weather—who have families in this country and were hoping to be considered. Will their needs be assessed if the Dubs scheme is not closed? If not, what does the Home Secretary expect will happen to them?

Amber Rudd The Secretary of State for the Home Department

The French have transferred the young people—indeed, all the people—from the Calais camp to centres, where they were given beds and food, so that their applications for asylum could be considered. The hon. Lady is right that some camps are now beginning to form in northern France. I am in constant touch with my French counterparts, and we are helping them with money, support and advice to ensure that another camp like that does not emerge. The French are committed, and they have a responsibility to allow the people there to apply for asylum in France, which is where that should happen. We will continue to monitor where we can help and act on the Dublin arrangements.

There is now a petition calling for the Government to fulfil the promise made to Lord Dubs, should you want to sign:

petition.parliament.uk/petitions/183921


Raising cuts in schools funding in Parliament

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London schools face a double whammy. First, a new funding formula is being brought in which has the effect of moving more money away from London and the cities to English counties. Then, the general squeeze on public spending will take £3 billion out of the schools budget in the next couple of years, while costs rise. The effect of the funding formula varies between Westminster schools, with some gaining and some losing, but all will be hit by the cash squeeze on top.  This is estimated  to amount to just over £10 million locally, or the equivalent of £562 per pupil.

Some of the schools facing the worst pressures (combining the impact of the formula changes with the cash freeze and rising costs) include:

Hallfield -£162,000 (6%)
St Luke’s  - £153,000 (13%)
Essendine  - £149,000 (7%)
St James+St John - £134,000 (13%)
Barrow Hill - £112,000 (10%)
St Stephen’s - £91,000 (9%)
Wilberforce - £87,000 (5%)
St Mary of the Angels - £79,000 (6%)
St Saviours - £76,000 (8%)
Robinsfield  - £74,000 (8%)
Christchurch Bentinck - £73,000 (6%)
Queen’s Park - £59,000 (4%)
St Augustine’s - £59,000 (5%)
St Edwards - £51,000 (3%)
Our Lady of Dolours - £41,000 (35)
George Eliot - £225,000 (11%)
Mary Magdalene’s - £9,000 (1%)
Westminster Academy - £1,000,018 (14%)
Paddington Academy - £873,000 (13%)
St George’s - £770,000 (14%)
Quintin Kynaston - £665,000 (9%)
St Augustine’s - £449,000 (9%)
Ark King Solomon - £443,000 (9%)

Other schools just outside the constituency are also hit, with Hampden Gurney and St Mary’s Bryanston Square losing 10% each, and schools in Kensington and Chelsea face even steeper cuts.

I am deeply concerned about this, as Westminster schools have been transformed over the last 15 years, with London schools as a whole moving from being the worst performing to the highest performing. I introduced a debate in Parliament on this issue in early February. You can read this and the Minister’s response here.


Self-employment and the ‘gig economy’

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My Select Committee (Work & Pensions) is carrying out an inquiry into self-employment and the new ‘gig economy’- the good side and the bad. I would be really interested in hearing views from constituents - in confidence. Self-employment can be a great experience with lots of flexibility, but some companies seem to use it as a means of avoiding their duties to their employees, as we have seen in some recent court cases. How should we best support self-employed workers and protect them from abuses? What is the role of the tax and social security system? How can we make sure that people are helped to protect their long-term interests, such as by saving for a pension? If you have thoughts or experiences on this topic, I would love to hear from you. You can find out more about our Committee Inquiry here.


Housing and the Homelessness Reduction Bill

Lots of people have been writing to me about the Homelessness Reduction Bill, which I supported and served on the Committee for. Homelessness has risen by a third since 2010, and rough sleeping has doubled, yet so many people are turned away by Councils and get no help at all. You can read my speech from the final Commons stages of the Bill here.

As we are all to aware, housing support is still being cut, and the number of ‘social rented’ homes is expected to fall by 120,000 over the next few years as more and more properties are sold off. I asked the Minister about this:

Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Constituencies such as mine will be stripped of desperately needed social housing by the proposals in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 for the forced sale of high-value properties. In the spirit of what the right hon. Gentleman is saying today and the White Paper, can he confirm that he will no longer proceed with that policy?

Sajid Javid The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government

I cannot confirm that, because we are committed to allowing people who live in housing association homes the right to buy. We have started a process of pilots, as I think the hon. Lady will be aware; some 3,000 homes, I think, are involved in that. Once that is complete, we will decide how exactly to take the policy forward.

We should be building more secure affordable homes and ending the policy of selling yet more off!

Back in Westminster, the situation is so bad that the Council is introducing a new policy which could mean local people seeking help as homeless could be sent to private accommodation as far away as Coventry (more details here).

and is if that isn’t bad enough, here are the latest figures for the number of over-crowded households in the borough:

 

Currently occupying

Additional Bedroom Required

Studio

1-bed

2-bed

3+ bed

Total

3

8

35

15

2

60

2

20

36

41

16

113

1

347

392

70

2

811

Total

375

463

126

20

984

My office, councillors, local advice agencies and lawyers where necessary will fight to help people as best we can, and to challenge bad decisions by the Council, so the important thing is to get help as early as possible, but the situation is very grim.


Crime and policing

I met Westminster’s Borough Commander last week to discuss issues such as the future of Paddington Green police station, proposed changes to the borough command structure, gangs and serious youth violence, Safer Neighbourhood policing and making sure we have an accurate picture of hate crime.

The good news is that the Mayor is putting more police on to the front line, strengthening Safer Neighbourhood Teams after years of them being run down, and ‘back room’ operation costs are being cut to free up resources.

However, there is less and less money available for policing. Since 2010, the Met budget has been squeezed by £600m - but there is still another £400m of cuts to come. There has been a long term decline in crime over the last twenty years, which is very welcome, but some trends (gun crime and hate crime) are less positive, and the terror threat remains real. You can see the most recent figures here

The Mayor is now consulting on his first Crime and Policing Plan for London, with consultation closing on March 2nd. There is still time for you to have your say:

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As well as ensuring there are clear standards of service the public can expect from the police and the criminal justice service, the Mayor has identified three new London-wide commitments:

  • keeping children and young people safe
  • tackling violence against women and girls
  • and standing together against extremism, hatred and intolerance

The draft Policing and Crime strategy includes measures to tackle these issues, as well as plans to crack down on knife crime and improve victims services.

www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/draft_police_and_crime_plan_for_london_2017-2021_-_consultation_document.pdf

Tell us what you think

We want to encourage views from communities and individuals across London. You can let us know what you think of our draft Police and Crime Plan in a few ways:

Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime
City Hall
The Queens Walk
London SE1 2AA

This consultation ends on 2 March.


Local Round-Up

Short Lets

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The expansion of the short let industry continues to generate controversy, with evidence that too many lettings are in breach of the law and are reducing the availability of homes for longer-term rent. I contributed to the BBC London ‘Inside Out’ programme investigating this issue - here’s their news summary of their findings. 


Future of the Stowe Club (and you can help the Avenues Club too)

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I have written before about how Westminster Council have pulled all funding from local youth services - a measure I think is deeply damaging for young people and with potentially serious consequences.

Now the Stowe Youth Club on Harrow Road is being forced to close almost all its services for local young people and lay off its hugely dedicated and experienced staff. The Stowe Centre is a vital facility in Westbourne Ward and is historically a place where young people from the Warwick, Brindley, Amberley Estates and beyond have come to get a break from tough home lives, and to take part in activities or just simply have some space. It was once the home to one of London’s most famous youth football training grounds, known for producing stars such as 1980’s Liverpool legend John Barnes. It was also the home of The Cut magazine, written and produced by local young people and created the hit YouTube series Chicken Shop Date as well as a host of other exciting projects. So as from 1st April the Stowe Centre will only be able to provide a replacement one night a week session for 11-19 year olds. This will be nothing near to what used to be provided and is a massive blow to the community and life choices of the young people in the area.

A new petition has been started calling on Westminster City Council to restore funding to the Stowe Club so that valuable services to young people can continue. You can sign here.

Meanwhile, the Avenues Youth club, serving Queen’s Park, is also surviving on a shoestring without Council help. They are holding a fund-raising dinner on March 23rd, so if you feel like contributing to a vital service, please help!

Here are the details.


Church Street

Ward Councillors and I held a ‘drop in’ in Church Street in January, and in addition to the usual range of problems, I was disturbed to hear so many residents asking questions about what has happened to the ‘Church Street regeneration’, which was balloted on back in 2013! In fact, the whole programme has been plagued by delays and changes, and it now seems that Westminster are looking at a whole new scheme for the area (and maybe even beyond the original boundaries) but are staying very vague about the details. I sent a long list of questions to the Council and was only told this:

As regards your other specific questions no decisions have been or will be taken on the regeneration before extensive further consultation with resident groups. We are trying to make sure we discuss ideas with residents at the appropriate time in the process so that ideas are tested with people but that we can also answer their detailed questions - this is always difficult to manage. The focus of the master plan will absolutely be how to deliver and manage the development works to mitigate the impacts of the inevitable disruption during the works.  The master planning team have a consultation specialist in the team to organise the next round of consultation and engagement. There will also be some targeted discussions with groups of residents and stakeholders to discuss proposals for specific areas of the ward. All of the questions you’ve laid out in detail will be answered as part of the draft master plan. I would like to take a moment to address the concerns about blocks being reconsidered – as part of our due diligence in producing a comprehensive master plan, the team are considering all potential development sites and how they relate to each other to ensure that we can adequately answer questions on the implications of the options taken forward – for example, quantifying the number of units a site could hold and considering this in the context of resident views, the number of leaseholders and deliverability.

Of course it is important not to let rumours run ahead of actual plans. However, too many residents have put up with a combination of uncertainty and neglect for the last four years and they deserve to know what is happening to their homes and communities. It is not as if Westminster haven’t spent a fortune on consultation already!


Support for leaseholders

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Last week saw the fifth of my (now regular) free advice sessions for private and council leaseholders, led by lawyers from the LEASE team (the Government’s Leasehold Advise service).  With Major Works issues affecting lessees across Westminster, issues around lease extensions now coming up, and many private blocks having issues with managing agents, access to information and queries about charges, these sessions are always full! Please let me know if you want to be on the list to be informed about the next one. Meanwhile, the LEASE website is a good resource to start off with.


My update on St John’s Wood issues

Last month Transport for London issued their response to the consultation on the proposed north-south cycle superhighway - a matter which is of huge interest to St John’s Wood residents, and on which I have had a series of meetings over the last year. (The full document can be found online

In summary, TFL say that ‘ Having considered all responses to consultation, they intend to proceed to the next stage, namely full engineering design (‘detailed design’), of the majority of the proposals outlined in the CS11 consultation. However, they will be doing further work on the proposals for Regent’s Park before deciding on a way forward for this section of the route. A number of changes have been made in response to the original consultation, such as at the Swiss Cottage and Avenue Road junctions. An assurance has been given that the park gate closures originally proposed will not happen until after other changes have been made (such as at Swiss Cottage) so there can be a proper assessment of other ways to moderate traffic impact inside the park. At meetings I have attended, the gate closures were the main bone of contention and there was a strong wish that other ways of claiming traffic in the park be considered, so I had hoped this was a positive statement. However, I am aware that fears remain as to the possibility of congestion and rat-running north of the park if the Swiss Cottage proposals go ahead, and it is essential that an open dialogue continues to ensure these concerns are heard and responded to.

Not entirely unrelated is the rising concern about poor air quality in London - an issue I have been raising for many years, with particular reference to the dangers posed to children in Westminster schools. It is absolutely right that tackling this public health hazard and also deeply worrying that pollution levels in London earlier this month were above those of notoriously smog-ridden Beijing. Inner London boroughs like Westminster and Camden are particularly hard hit, with air pollution increasingly understood to be a factor in a number of serious health problems - and not only breathing conditions.

One local measure that is very welcome is adding Edgware Road (Kilburn to Maida Vale) to the growing list of Low emission bus zones, announced earlier this month. This means deploying the greenest buses on the capital’s most polluted routes to cut harmful nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The zones are expected to reduce NOx emissions from buses along the routes by around 84 per cent. They form part of a package of measures to tackle London’s air, with major plans set to be implemented in 2017 to tackle the dirtiest vehicles.

It was wonderful to see so many St John’s Wood’s residents turn up to a public meeting organised to discuss the future of the local Post Office, following the announcement that Post Office Ltd intend to franchise the service ( which means it being run by a private provider or within another retail outlet). Westminster Council own the building and let the premises to the Post Office, which should potentially make it easier to reach a compromise solution, but it doesn’t seem to! As of the time of writing, however, Post Office Ltd have not announced a formal consultation on their plans, which seems to mean they haven’t identified either a provider or, potentially, the actual site (whether existing or elsewhere). I am in regular contact with them on this issue and will be letting people know as soon as I hear any more.

Planning issues continue to be a major concern in the area, as always. I responded to the recent Government consultation on basements, in support of tighter controls which have the backing of government and can when needed, resist challenges from the very deep-pocketed. Meanwhile I continue my campaigning against breaches of the rules in respect of short-lets, The recent announcement by Airbnb that they will restrict landlords who try and advertise properties outside the 90-day permitted maximum is very welcome, there are loopholes and I am particularly anxious that those looking to exploit them don’t simply switch between various online letting platforms. No one objects at all to owners making some extra money from a letting or exchange but too many short lets can cause real nuisance in an area, costs public money in enforcement and removes much needed homes from the residential stock.

The impact of the fall in government grant to Westminster Council continue to be felt across a number of services, from the libraries to the (now totally withdrawn) youth and play/after-school services. Perhaps most dramatic, in light of the pressures on the NHS which have dominated the news recently, is the impact of cuts in social care out-of-hospital support for the elderly and disabled people. St Mary’s Hospital is not alone in trying to respond to the equivalent of a ward of patients at any one time who could be cared for at home were support available. Westminster Council has cut social care budgets more than almost anywhere else in the country by £35 million (or almost a third of the total budget). This makes no sense at all, and is causing problems to back up into longer waiting lists, cancelled operations and in some areas, reduced access to treatment. We need to have a thorough debate about how we raise the resources to care for our ageing population - for whilst rising life expectancy is a wonderful thing, older people deserve to know there will be good care and adequate pensions.


Winds of change at Porchester Spa…but how welcome are they?

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As a long-time devotee of the Porchester Spa, I am twitching nervously over the planned changes Westminster Council and Everyone Active are proposing. Some refurbishment is clearly necessary, but the worry is that what has been a rather traditional Turkish Bath will lose its unique character.

You can see for yourself (and make comments here.)

There’s also a petition here (it’s quite long, and these are just the first few lines below!)

We, the regular male and female users of the Porchester Spa, are not just a customer base, we are a London-wide, multi-generational, ethnically diverse community and as such we believe Westminster Council has a duty of care towards us and the traditions we represent. The Porchester Spa is the oldest spa in London and several members of our community have been going there for decades. In short, it has been a major feature of their lives.

The architectural plans for major refurbishment of the Porchester Spa include welcome and much-needed renovation but also misconceived changes of use that will be to the detriment of our community.


Looking after our neighbourhoods

Your local ward councillors and I are in a constant battle to improve the quality of life locally, taking up issues from fly-tipping to traffic calming. I’m trying to get the Council to take action against the owners of the Chippenham pub to keep it in good order - it’s a disgrace at the moment, and potentially dangerous (I witnessed a narrow miss when a pane of glass blew out of one of the upper windows). We are pressing for a resolution to the long-standing traffic problems around Chippenham Mews off Harrow Road, dumping where bins were removed on Queen’s Gardens in Bayswater, and lots more. Please do let us know if you would like something raised and we will do out best to help.

Here are some links to the more recent Councillor reports:

Maida Vale Ward

LINK: MAIDA VALE WARD LABOUR ACTION REPORT – January 2017

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From Councillor Rita Begum and the Labour Action Team

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Westbourne Ward

LINK: WESTBOURNE WARD LABOUR ACTION REPORT – January 2017

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From your three Westbourne Labour Councillors David Boothroyd, Adam Hug and Papya Qureshi

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Harrow Road Ward

LINK: HARROW ROAD WARD LABOUR ACTION REPORT – January 2017

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From your Harrow Road Councillors Ruth Bush, Guthrie McKie and Tim Roca

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Queen’s Park Ward

LINK: QUEEN’S PARK WARD ACTION REPORT – February 2017

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From your three Queen’s Park Ward Labour Councillors Paul Dimoldenberg, Patricia McAllister and Barrie Taylor


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk

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