Homelessness and the Homelessness Reduction Bill
What you have been writing to me about
Defending our libraries
Still fighting the fly-tippers
Where to go for help and advice:
I produced a special newsletter full of information about where to go for help and advice - phone numbers, websites (and opening hours where possible). In case you missed it, here is it again.
Many of you have been writing to me since the Referendum, and again after the High Court ruling that Parliament must have a say in the ‘Article 50’ decision which formally triggers the process by which we leave the EU.
Great Britain may have voted to leave the EU, but it is increasingly clear that the ‘Leave’ campaign not only misled the public (an £350m a week for the NHS!) but had no plan for the future. I respect the outcome of the vote but it is essential that it is not implemented in a way that inflicts lasting harm. It is unacceptable that months have gone by without any clarification as to the position of EU citizens legally living and working in this country - and even more unacceptable that they have been described as ‘bargaining chips’ in the leave negotiations. It is extraordinary that we are now in real danger of a ‘hard Brexit’, and that the Government are starting the ‘leave’ process by triggering Article 50 without having set out what they want to achieve from the negotiations. We do not know their position on the single market, on the customs union, on cooperation with our EU partners in dealing with serious crime and terrorism. We do not know if there is a plan for transitional arrangements in March 2019, or if special consideration will be given to the situations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
The referendum may have been a mandate to leave, but it was not a mandate saying how or for what. That is what we must be debating, voting on, and if necessary, putting back to the British people.
Here’s the fuller reply I have been sending.
This month in Parliament
Much of the most important work in Parliament goes on in committees, which go through laws line by line, and conducts inquiries into how policies are working. I serve on two - Work and Pensions and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
This summer, the Work and Pensions Select Committee carried out an inquiry into the collapse of British Home Stores, leaving 20,000 pensioners in the dark about their pensions because of a £571m shortfall. Last month we debated our report, urging tough action to be taken by the Pension Regulator in this case and for changes to make sure something like this can never happen again. You can read my speech from that debate here.
Our committee has also published a major report looking at how fairly our system treats people at different stages of life. You can read this report (‘Intergenerational fairness) here.
We also took evidence into the appalling problems inflicted by Concentrix on many thousands of tax credit claimants. Concentrix have now lost their contract with the DWP
My other committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, is currently looking at Human Rights and Business, including such issues as. Whether, and if so what, progress British business has made in carrying out its responsibility to respect human rights? Alongside, whether victims of human rights abuse involving business enterprises within UK jurisdiction have access to effective remedy?
Homelessness and the Homelessness Reduction Bill
Homelessness has risen by a third since 2010, and rough sleeping has doubled. Not only is this a cause of much misery, it is a very costly way to support those people who have to be found temporary or emergency accommodation. The Homelessness Reduction Bill is designed to strengthen the role of local councils in preventing homelessness from happening. Although I fear that the deepening housing crisis and cuts to housing support will make things worse rather than better, I still support the changes to the law in this Bill, which should at least improve the level of service for single homeless people. You can read my speech here.
What you have been writing to me about
I very much welcome the huge number of e-mails I receive every day on a wide range of subjects, although sometimes the sheer volume means I can’t respond to every individual point. Here are my replies on some of the issues I have had most correspondence about this month,
I have also had many e-mails about the refugee crisis and Britain’s response to the children in the Calais camp. I welcomed the ‘Dubs amendment’ under which the British government was required to accept a number of the unaccompanied children, and have been very concerned at the delays in putting this into practice, even while the camp itself was being demolished. I also raised in Parliament the shocking behaviour of parts of the press, printing photos of individuals and details of where some of the children and young people were likely to be staying in the UK.
Social care in crisis
Despite our ageing population 400,000 fewer people now receive social care than in 2009/10. Leading disability charity the Leonard Cheshire Foundation, produced a web guide to what is happening in every local authority area.
They say that in Westminster 7090 fewer people now get social care than was the case five years ago. You can look up the details and compare with other areas here.
The rise and rise of the ‘Holiday let’ industry
Since the Government relaxed the rules on holiday/short lets, lettings through providers like Airbnb have soared. New figures from Westminster Council show an 80% rise in 1 year! Alongside this, complaints about noise and other problems have also soared, putting extra pressure on council services. I am working with Westminster Council to find a better way to enforce the rules - we don’t want to stop people being free to let their homes for a short period, but we don’t want short-lets to mean residential areas become more like hotels, lose much needed homes or rents are pushed up for longer term residents. I contributed to a piece in the Evening Standard last month, which you can read here.
St John’s Wood Post Office
The Post Office have announced that they intend to franchise the Crown Post Office to a private provider, as they have done in other areas, in order to cut costs. There are also concerns about whether the present location, owned by the Council, can be maintained for the service. Local residents have made their views clear, attending a packed public meeting at the end of October. I am urging the Post Office and the Council to find a compromise on the premises and to keep the Post Office as a Crown service in St John’s Wood. Please consider signing the petition, and letting me know your views if you have not already done so.
Westminster makes huge cuts to the Library service
The Council has produced plans that would cut £750,000 per year from the Westminster Libraries budget and at the heart of these cuts are plans to remove the equivalent of 17 ½ full-time members of staff. Overwhelmingly the roles that would be lost are the qualified librarians whose expertise and passion for reading help make Westminster’s libraries a hugely valued part of our community.
Councillor Adam Hug has said the Council must think again about how to support our vital library services. It could instead look at innovative ways to raise revenue, for example through improved (international) digital access to the council’s treasure trove of rare books and maps in the City Archives. At present there do not seem to be any plans to consult the public about the impact of this major change - something we believe should be a basic requirement before any decision is taken.
In Westminster we’ve seen this story before many times, most notably in our children’s centres where skilled staff were steadily removed through ‘salami-slicing’ cuts and now they provide only a fraction of the vital services that they used to. We will fight to stop our libraries becoming empty shells and instead remain as a vital resource for our community. Please sign the petition here.
Westminster amongst the worst councils for families in poverty, new figures show
Despite the national image of Westminster- Oxford Street, Westminster Abbey- and despite there being some very wealthy areas, Westminster has always had many people living and working here on very low incomes. High housing costs are a particular problem. Latest figures published this month show just how serious the problem is. Wards such as Church Street, Westbourne and Queen’s Park are most affected. Ways to tackle it include paying the Living Wage (over half of all families in poverty are in work), homes at genuinely affordable rents, reasonable priced child care and support services, like holiday and after-school clubs. Progress is being made on some of these - like the Living Wage- but in other ways we are going backwards.
North Paddington Food Bank
You can help. On December 10th local councillors and I will join Paddington Food bank for a Christmas collection outside Waitrose in Bayswater. You can come along, you can donate - or support the foodbank directly (and don’t forget that if you know anyone who needs help, to direct them to the Foodbank) as well.
North Paddington food bank
LOCATION & OPENING HOURS
WECH Community Centre, Athens Gardens, W9 3RS
Wednesdays 9:30am to 12:30pm
MPs express concern over the impact of a huge Business Rate hike
After the first revaluation for years, next year London’s businesses face a huge rise in Business Rates. With the economy fragile after the Brexit vote, we need to make sure we keep business flourishing, and keeping people in work. I went on the BBC Sunday Politics to talk about this last month, and I was happy to add my name to this letter to the Government, co-ordinated by our new All Party Parliamentary Group for London.
Local Round Up
Meeting our new Safer Neighbourhood Police Inspector
I met our new Safer Neighbourhood’s inspector for North Westminster to discuss a number of concerns regarding crime and anti-social behaviour locally. Although the residential areas of the borough are not generally ‘high crime’, crime levels have risen over the last year, and there have been a number of particular areas of concern in recent months. These have included: misuse of fireworks in Church Street; ASB on Hall Place, begging in Queensway/Bayswater, problems with young scooter drivers in Queen’s Park, a spate of incidents affecting the shopkeepers in Fernhead Road, episodes of gang/serious youth violence in different areas, and a rise in hate crimes overall.
Resources remain an issue. Police numbers are well below their 2011 level (we lost 1 in 3 police 2011-2015), and Westminster Council took the decision to turn off the CCTV system this year on cost grounds, but I welcome the commitment given by Mayor Sadiq Khan to strengthen all the ward Safer Neighbourhood teams over the coming months.
Here are the latest figures - you can look at them in more detail, including local ward level data, here.
Visiting the Dutchpot lunch club
The Dutchpot club is a recently re-launched lunch club for older residents, based in Ada Court NW8 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I dropped in a couple of weeks ago to meet them, and promised to spread the word, as there is room for more. Here is a link to there website.
Westminster’s Youth MP
Hamza Taouzzale was elected as this year’s Youth MP for Westminster. It’s been great to do some work with him. Here he is sitting in on one of my advice surgeries to find out a bit more about my job.
St John’s Wood
I was pleased to be able to join the St John’s Wood Society for their Annual General meeting last month, when once again a lot of discussion centred on concerns about the proposed Cycle Superhighway. I am continuing to lobby Transport for London to try to make sure that measures to encourage cycling and improve cyclists’ safety do not cause major problems with rat-running into residential streets.
I am also grateful to the St John’s Wood Liberal Synagogue for once again hosting my Rosh Hashanah card design competition. It was great to join them for a recent Sabbath service and to give prizes to the children who produced the best designs.
“Faces in Westminster” launch
Westminster has been home to a large Bangladeshi community for many decades. Church Street councillor Azis Toki and others raised funds for a ‘living history’ book, recording the stories of the men and women who came to London in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. It’s a lovely book, full of anecdotes, warm, funny and moving. I was thrilled to host the official launch in Parliament, with lots of the people who featured in the book, and we had a great time.
London Tigers back on home turf for a glittering awards night
London Tigers started life in Westminster and have now spread to deliver sports and community cohesion projects across London and even beyond. Hundreds of volunteers, cricketers, footballers and more turned up to Porchester Hall to collect their awards for what was a very special occasion this year - their 30th anniversary. It was lovely to be there and to hand out a special achievement award at the end. Congratulations are due to everyone, but perhaps especially to Mesba Ahmed who has been the driving force behind London Tigers since the beginning.
Still fighting the flytippers
Dumping and fly-tipping are real problems in some areas- such as Hormead Road, Walterton Road, Marban Road and Shirland Road, but mattresses and furniture can appear on the street anywhere. I did a walk around with the Council officers to look at some of the hot spots. Here is their follow up report:
Please see the comments below regarding recent work carried out under the control and guidance of Hussein Balli our Senior City Inspector. As you are aware we have been carrying out regular patrols in the most problematic areas across the city and to assist in that work additional work was completed ‘out of hours’ to assist in the process.
Residential City Inspectors recently undertook three specific deployments around Big Black Bins & Micro Recycling Centre’s after an increase in complaints from local Councillors and MP Karen Buck. Residential City Inspectors were mobile for these outside of core hours monitoring / enforcement exercises.
The main issues raised were that of household & recycling waste was being deposited illegally on to the public highway around Big Black Bins & Micro Recycling Centre’s. Westminster Residential City Inspectors increased the monitoring of these facilities, looking to gather data and undertake enforcement and education, across a variety of collection periods for both recycling and household waste.
City Inspectors undertook one weekday evening inspection where 17 residential Fixed Penalty Notices were issued for waste offences on the public highway. At these on-street facilities, issues identified were residential household and recycling waste, that had been abandoned [fly-tipped] on the public highway by the Big Black Bins & Micro Recycling facilities, the waste had not been disposed of correctly by residents, who by failing to place their waste into the on-street facilities had been guilty of fly-tipping. None of the Big Black Bins & Micro Recycling facilities were full at time of inspection.
In addition to the increased monitoring, a new educational letter drop has been conducted in the local area’s advising residents of the collection times and alternative waste disposal methods, including that the bulky waste removal service. All Residents have been provided with details via the educational letters distributed of our Environmental Action Line and the Report It function on the Council’s website and advised to report any waste issues accordingly in order that they can be picked up in a timely manner.
On Saturday 15th October and Sunday 16th October there were 2 planned inspections/operations of the Big Black Bins and Micro Recycling Centre's for the weekend by a team of Residential City Inspectors.
Enforcement figures from Saturday’s waste operation, 29 Residential Fixed Penalties Notices, 2 Commercial Fixed Penalty Notices and 1 Waste transfer notice plus one possible prosecution for Sec 34 offence, City Inspectors will be calling the business in for PACE Interview for abuse of residential facilities on Walterton junction Shirland Road.
Enforcement figures from Sunday’s waste operation, 18 Residential Fixed Penalties Notices, 2 Commercial Fixed Penalty Notices and 1 Waste transfer notice plus one possible prosecution for Sec 34 offence, City Inspectors will be calling the business in for PACE Interview for abuse of residential facilities on Leinster Gardens.
In total 64 Residential Fixed Penalties Notices, 4 Commercial Fixed Penalty Notices, 2 Waste transfer notices and 2 possible prosecutions for Sec 34 waste offenses, PACE Interviews to be undertaken for abuse of residential facilities prior to passing to legal services.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.