Karen Buck

Working hard for Westminster North

Past Issues

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July 2019 E-Newsletter


Responding to the Climate Emergency

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On the Climate Lobby 26th June

With Brexit such a dominant issue in our politics the danger continues to be that other issues of critical importance risk being squeezed off the agenda. So it was good to see the climate emergency being acknowledged this month, not least with the huge ‘The Time is Now’ lobby of Parliament. I was more than pleased to join constituents at the lobby and commit to supporting a wide range of policies to deliver on the environmental agenda. There is no doubt that we are already dealing with the consequences of catastrophic climate change that is leading to weather extremes, natural disasters and rising sea levels. Whilst many of the poorest countries in the world will be worst affected no-one will escape the consequences. Temperatures in the UK are expected to rise regardless of how strongly emissions are reduced, and it is clear that the Government is chronically failing to prepare for the inevitable impacts of climate change, putting communities, industry and infrastructure at real risk.

Last month, the UK’s independent climate adviser the Committee on Climate Change recommended that the Government legislate for the country to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. It said this target was feasible and deliverable and could be met for the same cost as our existing targets were expected to have when they were agreed over a decade ago.

In June, the Energy Secretary made a statement to the House of Commons to say he was introducing legislation to amend the Climate Change Act 2008 with a new, legally-binding target of net zero emissions by 2050.

I have supported a 2050 net zero emissions target for some time now. I therefore welcome the Energy Secretary’s statement. However, we are currently off-track to meet our existing interim climate targets and since 2015 the Government has systematically dismantled policies designed to tackle climate change. It has effectively banned onshore wind. It has reduced almost all support for solar power. It has scrapped the zero-carbon homes standard. It has also sold the UK Green Investment Bank, removed support for tidal power and promoted fracking.

Legislating for a new net zero emissions target is a welcome first step, but it is also vital that the Government takes the strategic decisions necessary to achieve it. This will require large-scale new investment, co-ordinated planning, new laws, and, as with any emergency, significant Government intervention. These things must be at the heart of the green industrial revolution we need to meet the challenge of tackling the climate crisis and I will be at the launch of the Labour Green New Deal campaign next week to help advance this.  

My inbox is really starting to reflect this…

Enquiries June 2019

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Since the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations throughout April, and David Attenborough’s powerful Our Planet, people have become more acutely aware of the environmental impact we are having. The number of enquiries I have had about environmental issues has skyrocketed. In fact, May and June are the first months in which it has overtaken Brexit as an issue since June 2016! (although this still dominates by far when looking at the yearly average below.)

Enquiries 2019

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On another aspect of the environment…

I mentioned in my last newsletter that I had taken part in an air quality study with King’s College London & Hubbub. Well, the results are in and they are quite concerning. The worst part of my day in terms of exposure to harmful particulates was the Tube. The World Health Organisation guidelines advise that individual exposure to Black Carbon – the particulate being measured in this study - does not exceed 10 (ug/m3). On the Bakerloo Line I was exposed to 140 (ug/m3). The Jubilee Line was about half as bad as this although it is still one of the worst tube lines. This is because both are deep lines which can expose passengers to up to four times more pollution than those on the Metropolitan, Circle and District lines.

Personally, I obviously find it very concerning to exceed the WHO exposure guidelines by 14 times at points as there is now strong evidence that both long - and short-term exposure to particle pollutants in ambient air are harmful to health. But unfortunately, I am by no means unique - 7.9 million Londoners (nearly 95%) live in areas that exceed the guidelines by 50% or more. So, it is not just the climate we are damaging with carbon emissions – it is a serious and immediate risk to human health.

Air quality was high up the list when I met with constituents on June 26th and there was a real sense that on this and other issues people wanted to know what they can do as individuals and what can be done by Government. On the air pollution front the guidance should come as no surprise – walking and cycling reduces your contribution and (in general) your exposure to toxic air. People who spend much of the day travelling in cars and lorries are far more exposed to air pollution than those who use other modes of transport. Cyclists and pedestrians may be exposed to high ‘spikes’ but drivers’ average tends to be higher. If you walk or cycle already, this study found that by finding a quieter route to work you can reduce your pollution exposure by 90 per cent.

As well as looking at personal transport habits, people can make sure issues like air pollution are part of the local policy framework in Westminster by reading the 2019-2040 City Plan and submitting comment which has to be done by the end of July.

The City Plan makes positive noises when it comes to environmental issues, saying ‘The move away from petrol and diesel cars towards more energy efficient electric cars is going to be made easier by changes to our roads and more electric vehicle charging points. Reduction in traditional forms of traffic will improve our air quality and considerably reduce our noise pollution. Multiple polluting delivery vehicles won’t be clogging up our streets and pumping out fumes, because better, more convenient, options to consolidate deliveries will exist.’

Yet it is also fair to say that the messages are mixed, including on planning provision for car free housing schemes, and the odd statement that ‘Cars provide a….release from the stress of living in central London’. Whilst we have the lowest level of car ownership in the country, car owners greatly value the personal freedom they offer- but whether driving in central London ‘releases stress’ is a moot point! In any event, whether our focus is  congestion, air pollution or climate change, we have to do things differently.

Sadiq Khan has been investing in cycling, and has also successfully introduced the Toxicity Charge, the Ultra Low Emission Zone, cuts to public transport fares and ‘no-car’ days. Labour have also appointed he first ever Shadow Minister for Climate Justice and Green Jobs and she has recently called on the Government to create free bus travel for young people to help reduce the number of emissions-intensive cars on the roads, a ban on fracking and increased support for onshore wind. I want to make sure the current momentum around these issues is not lost and I will be speaking at the next event for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Air Pollution to discuss the results of the study and the plans of the ‘Air We Share’ campaign that aims to cut Londoner’s exposure to poor air quality. 

I know this is just a snapshot of the wider climate and environment challenge we face and I have been hearing about a real range of issues. I would encourage people to continue contacting me and when this involves debates and votes in Parliament, I will do my best to attend and when it involves Local Authority or Government plans I will make sure any concerns are addressed. A big thank you to the constituents who did come along last month and I hope to keep hearing from you.


Brexit

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When Great Britain asked for an extension to the Article 50 period- the two year notice period for leaving the EU, which began in March 2017- we were told not to waste it. We are wasting it. Half of that precious six months will have been consumed by the contest to choose a new leader of the Conservative Party, and therefore our Prime Minister, and that context has itself been marked by a hardening of rhetoric about leaving with ‘no deal’ on October 31st, even if Parliament has to be suspended to enable that to be pushed through against the opposition of MPs

I remain as clear as ever that leaving with ‘no deal’ would be a disaster, and as we would also then have to start the process of negotiating a future trade agreement with the EU in any event, it’s scarcely the end to the process which so many ‘no dealers’ seem to suggest. 

With time running out, I can only assure you that I will continue to vote against a ‘no deal’ hard Brexit, if necessary by voting to revoke Article 50. That continues to be the over-riding priority.  I would also, naturally, support a new referendum between any deal on offer, with remain as an option, and would campaign for ‘remain’ on the grounds that there's not a deal which offers us the same advantages as membership.

I am very aware that there has been concern about the Labour Party’s official position, which, to be fair, does reflect genuinely held and deep differences of opinion (mirroring the deep divisions across the country as a whole, whether we like it or not.) Therefore I am genuinely pleased that this position has evolved and we are now formally backing a ‘final say’ with a remain option on the ballot paper.


In my most recent question to the Prime Minister, I challenged the Government on ‘no deal preparations’

Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

It took time to get there, but the Prime Minister has now recognised that a no-deal Brexit is not a viable option. However, she knows as well as the rest of us that many of her potential successors do not feel the same way. So can she tell us whether she agrees with her Brexit Secretary, among others, who thinks that we should be spending the coming months stepping up the preparations for a no-deal Brexit, or with her Chancellor, who has issued an edict that no more Treasury money should be spent on preparing for a no-deal Brexit?

Theresa May The Prime Minister, Leader of the Conservative Party

As the hon. Lady knows, there is only one way for this House to ensure that we leave the European Union without no deal, and that is to leave with a deal and to support the Second Reading of the withdrawal agreement Bill and to take that process through this House. I am sure that she also knows that the legal default position continues to be no deal. Were we to get to 31 October—I want us to leave the EU before then—but were we to get to the 31 October position, it would be a matter for the 27, not just for this country, to determine whether there was no deal or not. This is why it is absolutely right that the Government are continuing to make preparations for no deal.


Crime and policing

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There has been a marked increase in levels of community concern about crime recently, ranging from burglary and robbery to serious youth violence and anti social behaviour, and it is deeply worrying.

I pushed for a meeting with Westminster Council and senior police in June and was disturbed to hear that we are down by another 200 police over the last two years, coming on top of a reduction of one third in police strength after 2011 when the cuts to the Met budget began. As I have reported before we are also now dealing with the consequences of the complete withdrawal of funding for youth, after-school and holiday services by Westminster Council in 2016.

On the positive side, Westminster Council has now recognised the consequences of that awful decision and will now be restoring some of that money for youth work. This may not be enough but it is nonetheless welcome.

We are also pushing to maximise police support within the resources the Met has available for the whole capital – obviously it is for the police themselves to decide on operational priorities day to day. I have co-signed a cross-party letter with Westminster Council asking for more help, am meeting with the Met to follow this up, and of course have raised this in Parliament on many occasions.  

I naturally liaise with the local police and the Council’s enforcement teams about individual issues, which have recently included concerns about the following:

  • Burglary and robbery in St John’s Wood
  • A number of serious youth violence incidents, particularly on and around the Warwick Estate
  • Anti social behaviour in the Harrow Road area, the Maida Hill junction and surrounding streets and in Church Street
  • Crime and anti-social behaviour in and around Inverness Terrace and in Bayswater.

This week I was very pleased to have Sadiq Khan come down to meet with me and to hear first hand about these issues. He confirmed that he has raised his Council Tax precept to the maximum possible and raised Business rates to put some additional police back, and I was also able to introduce him to some of our inspiration youth workers as we lobby for support from the Young Londoners Fund.

As I know that many people are not quite sure about how police funding works, and what the balance is between the responsibility of the Mayor and the Home Office, this is helpful from the independent fact-checking charity, Full Fact link here

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Two years on from Grenfell, what progress have we made on fire safety?

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The worst residential fire since World War 2 happened just a few hundred yards outside Westminster and many hundreds of residents living locally, including in high rise buildings, watched the horror unfold.

Two years, change has been painfully slow. The decision to retro-fit sprinklers into social housing high rise blocks has been complicated by the issue of access to private leasehold flats ( some will be fine, others may not be.) The removal of cladding on privately owned blocks is tied up in arguments about who is responsible, and the Government only moved last month to offer £200m towards the initial costs, which is very little and very late compared to the scale of the problem.

In the last two years the London Fire Brigade has made over 1200 visits to high rise premises with suspected flammable cladding. Of these, 316 visits have been conducted at premises with confirmed flammable cladding.

These break down as follows:

Borough

Visits

 

Borough

Visits

Barking & Dagenham

1

 

Hillingdon

2

Barnet

6

 

Hounslow

2

Bexley

0

 

Islington

9

Brent

23

 

Kensington & Chelsea

2

Bromley

1

 

Kingston Upon Thames

0

Camden

6

 

Lambeth

9

City of London

1

 

Lewisham

3

Croydon

14

 

Merton

9

Ealing

8

 

Newham

14

Enfield

1

 

Redbridge

2

Greenwich

45

 

Richmond Upon Thames

0

Hackney

14

 

Southwark

13

Hammersmith & Fulham

5

 

Sutton

3

Haringey

12

 

Tower Hamlets

65

Harrow

2

 

Waltham Forest

4

Havering

0

 

Wandsworth

14

 

 

 

Westminster

26

 

I raised a number of these issues in my speech in the Grenfell anniversary debate, which you can see here.


Meals on wheels? Try Deliveroo, say Westminster Council...

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A constituent wrote to me about an neighbour, alerting to me a serious problem which I took up with Westminster.

I am writing to you on behalf of the more of a thousand residents who are presently receiving meals on wheels in Westminster. I am not sure how many of your constituents receive them, but my 93 year old neighbour does. (She) received a phone call from Adult Services, informing her that the meals home delivery services will stop at the end of August. She made a couple of suggestions, namely Wiltshire Farmfoods, Apetito, who do not deliver in this area, Oakhouse , which she hadn't heard of… she also mentioned Uber eats and Deliveroo.

Westminster have not renewed their contract with Sodexo and apparently there are no plans to use another. Frankly, and I am sure you will agree this is appalling.

Not all of those who receive meals on wheels are able to fend for themselves and some will be on benefits, so the meals will be subsidised, plus they may have carers who tend to them.

The stoppage of meals on wheels will place more strain - financially and otherwise - on social services and the agencies who are under contract to provide carers for those who need them. The time carers spend with their clients is already very limited (unless they are able enough to pay themselves.)

It turned out that residents across Westminster who currently receive a ‘Meals on Wheels’ service through a Council contracted service by Sodexo had been left worried and confused about the changes that will see the contract ended and not renewed on September 30th. The Council wrote to residents explaining that by the end of September they will be able to ‘choose from a menus of options’ but have provided little clarity on how this will work. Different companies have been suggested but there is no suggestion that a direct alternative providing daily deliveries of hot meals was available as an option for residents.

From the start of June residents have been receiving phone calls from social workers that in some cases, rather than providing reassurance, have led to a number of residents contacting councillors and my office very concerned that they, their friends or relatives won’t get the assistance they need after September. There needs to be urgent clarity from Westminster Council about what exactly their plans for meals on wheels are going to be when the current contract ends in September.  If Westminster is not going to provide this service for the elderly that many rely on there needs to be urgent clarity on how they will ensure all residents, particularly the most vulnerable, are able to get regular hot meals. They will need will need to ensure all residents are not left paying more or forced to cook ready meals if this would not be practical or desirable for them. The Council must also ensure that these changes don’t lead to even greater social isolation.


Access to justice

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I chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, and campaigning for proper access to justice, including early legal help, is incredibly important to me. Whether in the criminal justice system, family law, homelessness or disability benefits, getting good advice at the outset is crucial to allow people to exercise their rights, and the earlier it is given, the more it can be possible to avoid complications and greater costs further down the line. Our group has been trying to deepen Parliament’s understanding of the system, including by our ‘Take your MP to work’ day in partnership with Law Centres and other legal firms. I wrote about it for the House magazine.


School budgets under pressure

A survey conducted by Labour Councillors has revealed the widespread impact that cuts are having on schools in the Westminster area.

Councillor Tim Roca, Labour’s Education spokesperson, invited schools to take part in the survey, with 22 head teachers responding from primary, secondary and specialist schools across the borough. Most reported cuts to staffing, books and equipment with further cuts anticipated. 

Headline figures from the survey include:

On staffing levels, Westminster schools said that since 2015:

  • 95% have had to make staffing cuts due to funding pressures.
  • 93% said teacher numbers had either stayed the same or fallen.
  • 91% said that teaching assistant numbers had stayed the same or fallen.
  • 77% said the number of SEN staff had stayed the same or fallen. 

On cuts to spending on other school resources since 2015, Westminster schools said that:

  • 65% have cut spending on books and equipment.
  • 60% have cut spending on teacher training and support.
  • 50% have cut spending on external student support.
  • 35% have cut spending on extra-curricular activities

Councillor Tim Roca said:

“We have phenomenal schools in Westminster with dedicated and hardworking staff. However, they need to be funded and resourced properly rather than being treated as a Cinderella service. We want our schools to be able to continue delivering a first class education to our children.”

“I will be asking Conservative Councillors at our next Scrutiny meeting what they are doing to bring pressure to bear on their colleagues in national government to fight for the money Westminster schools deserve.”

My work on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

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The committee just started an important inquiry into the ‘Right to privacy and the Digital revolution’

This is looking at whether new safeguards to regulate the collection, use, tracking, retention and disclosure of personal data by private companies are needed in the new digital environment to protect human rights.

The key human right at risk is the right to private and family life but freedom of expression freedom of association and non-discrimination are also at risk. Lots of us love the power of the internet to connect us and answer our searches for information but there is potentially a more sinister side to the uses of the data we hand over so easily, and it may be that the concept of ‘consent’ to this use is not the best way of ensuring that regulation is effective.  You can read about it here.

We have also been examining the disturbing issue of the inappropriate use of detention and restraint of children and young people with learning disabilities and/or autism in mental health hospitals, and the threat that such placements pose to their human rights. After hearing evidence from parents and people who had themselves been subject to restraint and confinement, we asked questions of the Care Quality Commission regarding the inspection of some of the units involved.

You can see this evidence session here, with my questions coming up at 15.53.


Local round up

Whiteley’s construction problems

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Following the local outcry against the appallingly high levels of noise from the Whiteley’s construction site, a public meeting was organised in late June and residents have now formed themselves into a group – Whiteley’s Noise Action Group. It is clear from the meeting that this demolition and development is causing real issues for people and in some cases effecting there metal health and ability to work. Ward councillor Maggie Carman and I are continuing to urge the Council to take action to reduce the daily noise from the demolition contractors. Residents from all over the area have made contact with their daily experience of the noise and disruption.

The Council say the following actions are being taken to minimize and mitigate the noise:

  • The site is being monitored by Officers with regards to the compliance with the agreed 2 hour-on and 2 hour-off working pattern.
  • The site has set noise and vibration limits with 4 continuous noise/vibration monitors located on the 4 boundaries.
  • An automatic alerting system is in place to notify the site if the set levels have been exceeded and the site has confirmed that since the works have commenced no such alarm has been activated to date.
  • The Environmental Sciences Team are actively monitoring data that is received from the site and will check for compliance.
  • The company managing and undertaking the construction works are looking at the possibility of alternative machinery to see if they reduce the impact of noise/vibrations from the site.

Taking up residents’ concerns on the Brindley estate

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I’ve been doing some concentrated work on the Brindley Estate in W2 following my recent coffee morning, when a number of residents came to see me about persistent issues with housing management, structural problems in the blocks, uncollected rubbish pest infestation, including rats,  and anti-social behaviour. This involved Network Stadium, the police and the Council’s Environmental Health team. Sadly some of these relatively new blocks of flats have some of the most severe problems and far too many people are living in unacceptable conditions. Whilst my team is very small I am very happy to take up these complaints on behalf of residents.

It’s always sunny for the SEBRA summer party

The South East Bayswater Resident’s Association is an absolute powerhouse and their events are always well attended and enjoyable- perhaps especially the summer party where the sun always seems to shine. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to write a piece in the regular magazine and you can see more on the website here (and do join if you live in the area.)

www.sebra.org.uk

At the launch of the re-furbished St Jude’s Hall

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St Jude’s hall in Queen’s Park is one of our lovely iconic buildings- it was here that Queen’s Park Rangers started life and over the years it has met a whole range of community needs, from different faith communities to youth and pensioner clubs. Sadly it was plagued by maintenance problems and I have been in there myself when buckets were in place to catch the water coming through the ceiling.  I was really pleased to cut the ribbon on the refurbished building which should give it a new lease of life for local use.


Some of the things you have been writing to me about this month

Free Nazanin

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I strongly condemn the Iranian authorities’ continued imprisonment of Nazanin and I believe she must be released immediately. Nazanin has been illegally imprisoned on what I believe to be completely false charges for over three years.
 
I share the understandable concerns about her treatment in detention. The Iranian authorities must not only end their inhumane treatment of Nazanin in prison but end her unjust detention altogether and allow her to come home with her daughter without any further delay.
 
Last week, therefore, I went to the Iranian embassy and met Nazanin’s husband Richard Ratcliffe who has now joined her on hunger strike. We have been asked to do so if we can to show solidarity with Nazanin and her family in these incredibly difficult circumstances, and I was pleased to have to opportunity to demonstrate support.
 
In October 2016 I also co-signed a letter to Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary asking the UK Government to do more to ensure Nazanin’s liberty and it is incredibly disappointing that in this time the Government has been unable to negotiate her release. The Government must continue to engage with the Iranian authorities and firmly press for this innocent British woman to finally be reunited with her family.
 
Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views. I can assure you I will continue to follow any developments closely.

Saudi Arabia

Thank you to everyone who has written to me about the Saudi Arabian-led conflict in Yemen and the deeply concerning use of arms sold by the UK. My understanding of recent developments are that last month the International Trade Secretary made a statement on a High Court judgement on military export licences to Saudi Arabia. This followed a judgement from the Court of Appeal that UK arms sales to the country were unlawful. The Court of Appeal’s ruling is a damning indictment of the Government’s handling of export licences to Saudi Arabia. The UK is supposed to be a guardian of international humanitarian law. The failure to assess our own past violations of this law is a clear breach of the Government’s legal obligations.
 
The Court of Appeal found that the Government had made no attempt to make an overall assessment of whether the Saudi-led coalition had committed violations of international humanitarian law in the past during the conflict in Yemen. It said the Government must reconsider the matter and estimate any future risks.
 
Responding to the ruling, the International Trade Secretary said the Government took its export controls seriously. He said the Government had always considered the historical record of Saudi Arabia in relation to international humanitarian law. He further said the Government disagreed with the decision and would seek permission to appeal. At the same time, the Government will consider the implications of the judgement for its decision-making. It will not grant any new licences for exports to Saudi Arabia or its coalition partners that might be used in the conflict in Yemen in the meantime.
 
I am pleased that for now the Government have agreed not to grant any new licenses to Saudi Arabia but the decision to appeal the Court’s judgement is, in my view, shameful. Given the serious breach of its duty of care on this issue, I agree that there are clear grounds for a thorough investigation into the Government’s handling of export licences. There must be a full parliamentary or public inquiry to find out how this failure happened and who was responsible.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome. 

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Karen Buck MP

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July 2019 E-Newsletter

July 2019 E-Newsletter Responding to the Climate Emergency On the Climate Lobby 26th June With Brexit such a dominant issue in our politics the danger continues to be that other...

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May 2019 E-Newsletter


BREXIT

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The usual disclaimer applies regarding the possibility of everything changing between the time I write this and when you read it! This morning the discussions between the Labour and Conservative Party teams ended without a deal. However, we understand that the Government still intend to bring the Withdrawal Agreement back to Parliament for the 4th time in the week after Whitsun. This is despite the fact that the deal has already been voted down three times, with massive opposition from within the Conservative Party as well as beyond it. 

As I have made clear on many previous occasions, I will not vote for the Withdrawal Agreement now unless the public have the final say between it - as the only version of ‘leave’ the government is able to support - and remain, and neither will many of my colleagues. Whilst I would obviously campaign for remain in any such vote, on the basis that no deal is better than the deal we already have, if a public vote backed the deal this would at least give it a serious mandate which a deeply divided Parliament clearly now cannot.

In the meantime, we have the European elections next week. I am urging everyone to use their vote - both as an expression of progressive values during a tough time for politics, but also to help to stop Nigel Farage’s Brexit party from being able to claim that it has topped the poll. This isn’t only because of Brexit itself. Farage’s party will enjoy the enormous advantage of a simple and ostensibly cost free message which can’t be repeated after next Thursday (and I say ‘cost free’ because it will be the Government and Parliament which actually negotiates our future relationship with Europe, votes for or reject the Withdrawal Agreement or delivers a referendum). And there is no doubt that a strong showing by the Brexit Party will be prayed in aid of the case against a ‘final say’ referendum and for a costly, damaging ‘no deal’ Brexit. However, its worse than that. Just as UKIP topping the poll in the 2014 Euro elections undoubtedly shaped the political debate in the years thereafter, injecting an ugly, frequently xenophobic dimension into politics, the same could continue to be true of the Brexit Party. For a few days, Farage’s pitch can be boiled down just to the Brexit message, without much scrutiny of what else he and they stand for, but the wider politics of the Brexit Party represent the same hard-right populism as UKIPs and we should not be at all complacent about the damage it can do.

As a Labour MP - and as someone fully aware of concerns about Labour itself being divided by the competing tensions across the country - I urge supporters to vote Labour. The way the votes translate into seats in the European Parliament means that the battle now could very easily be between Labour and the Brexit Party and the vote share and number of seats won by the largest parties will be extremely important in shaping how the story that is told post-election - and as I have argued, that matters a very great deal.

There is a very helpful explanation of how the voting system works - and why it matters - which you can read here.

As I have said before, I would, however reluctantly, have accepted a ‘soft Brexit’  in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, in order to respect the democratic mandate. This was never on offer and is a key reason why we have ended up with a hugely damaging deadlock at the heart of government. The ‘red lines’ set by the Government ended up polarising Parliament and the Country, when we should have sought dialogue and compromise at the outset. But alongside this, I would also say that crucial political developments - from the existential threat of climate change and the loss of bio-diversity, to the latest developments in serious and organised crime and to the challenges posed by conflicts in so many parts of the world - have made the case for internationalism ever more pressing than it was. The EU is far from perfect but we cannot hope to solve these problems alone. And ironically, Brexit has also siphoned off so much of the time and attention that should be devoted to meeting the domestic challenges of recent years, including the chronic poverty, skills shortages and under-investment in too many of our towns and communities which fed the dissatisfaction which led to...Brexit. The sooner we can get back to dealing with these vital issues, and to concentrating on meeting the most pressing global challenges in constructive partnership with our allies, the better.


Why we (literally) need to shore up St Mary’s Hospital

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I reported in last month’s newsletter how the strategic plan for health care in North West London - ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’- was abandoned by the Government, meaning a welcome reprieve for Charing Cross hospital, but leaving St Mary’s, with its huge backlog of required maintenance, with no clear path for the much needed redevelopment.

I spoke in the Parliamentary debate on health services in North West London, and you can read what I said here.

Top hospital is ‘literally’ falling down

MP warns any more structural problems will ‘put patients at risk’

26 April, 2019 — By Tom Foot

St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington

An urgent refurbishment of crumbling St Mary’s has hit the buffers after a controversial NHS shake-up was scrapped.

Westminster North MP Karen Buck demanded urgent action to rebuild the Paddington hospital that she said was “quite literally falling down”.

Two wards shut because of patient safety and maternity services have been relocated because of a faulty lift, while beds have been lost due to flooding.

Ms Buck said there was £1.3billion backlog of maintenance works at five north-west London ­hospitals, including St Mary’s – by far the highest figure in the country.

In a House of Commons debate she added: “The Grafton ward closed due to significant structural concerns, with the loss of 32 beds in May 2018 and no possible structural solution. A ceiling collapsed in the Thistlethwayte ward. The Paterson Centre was flooded and closed for two weeks, with the loss of activity and 20 surgical beds in 2017.

“Floods, electrical issues and drainage problems are commonplace across the buildings and services at St Mary’s. The hospital simply cannot wait, yet everything is now frozen. We urgently need advice from the minister on how we will proceed.”

Health secretary Matt Hancock announced last month that the government was abandoning its “Shaping a healthier future” scheme that would have bulldozed Charing Cross Hospital and Ealing hospitals. The programme would, however, have significantly updated building and facilities at St Mary’s.

In January 2018 Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which manages St Mary’s, won planning permission from Westminster Council to begin developing a new eight-storey outpatient and ambulatory service building on the east side of the Paddington site – at the Salton House, the Dumbell, and Victoria and Albert buildings. Ophthalmology services were also due to be moved out of the Western Eye Hospital into a modern, flexible and welcoming facility.

The project, however, has not been approved financially by NHS Improvement – the body that monitors foundation trust hospitals – and with the collapse of the scheme there is no guarantee it will go ahead.

Ms Buck told the Commons: “It is now 14 years since the Paddington health campus proposal finally collapsed, which was the first vision of the redevelopment of St Mary’s Hospital. Here we are in 2019, with the collapse of ‘shaping a healthier future’, and we are still frozen in terms of a major redevelopment for St Mary’s.” She said “the failure to gain funding” was a “key risk” because conditions “have deteriorated so much”.

She added: “We urgently need advice from the minister on how we will proceed. Should there be a further structural problem of the kind that we have already seen, it would not only be an imminent risk to patients, but would take out chunks of capacity from an already highly-stretched hospital, which will have repercussions across the whole of north west London. We simply cannot go on like this.”

Ms Buck said the hospital was “very dear to my heart”, adding: “It saved my life once, and I gave birth there, and it is held in very high regard among my constituents. Quite rightly, it has a terrific reputation for clinical care; we should never miss an opportunity to record our admiration for the staff, who deliver health care so superbly to the public.”

Seema Kennedy, junior health and social care minister, responded: “The NHS in north-west London is now in agreement to move on from the ‘shaping a healthier future’ programme.

“In January the government announced that there will be an extra £20billion a year for the NHS by 2024. As part of that, every area in the country will need to develop its own local plan for the next five years for how to spend the extra money.

“The north-west London sustainability and transformation partnership, working with clinicians and the public, will develop a new long-term, five-year plan for how best to spend that money, working together as a single health system.”

Meanwhile, the reports for both the Imperial Hospital Trust and our Clinical Commissioning Group indicate just how severe is the continuing financial pressure. As of March, the CCG describes:

‘an adverse variance to control total of £26.5m’ (which is a somewhat bureaucratic way of saying they are short of money!)

And warns

‘There are significant risks to the delivery of the NWL CCGs control totals in 2019/20’

£10m of this is because of the costs of the ‘GP at hand’ service

deficit for NW London stands in excess of £60m.

Meanwhile at Imperial (including St Mary’s):

The latest board report shows that ‘the Trust was on plan with a £24.6m deficit… Year to date the Trust is over plan on NHS clinical income, especially on non-electives. The Trust has incurred additional costs to deliver this activity within the year and the over performance has put pressure on the Trust’s ability to achieve cost reduction savings. The final version of the 2019/20 business plan is due to be submitted to NHS Improvement on 4th April. The Trust’s control total for 2019/20 has been set by NHS Improvement as £16m deficit... At the time of writing there is a £23m planning gap to achieve the control total’.

So there is intense financial pressure on the service still, and whilst the people working in the NHS are doing their best, it is an uphill struggle for them.


Save the Squirrel

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Over the last few years at least ten pubs have closed in the north of the borough. Of course not every closure can be avoided- people don’t drink in pubs in the way they once did and if the demand is not there, the businesses won’t survive. And we need homes, but at the same time, neighbourhoods need more than just places to sleep - they need services, facilities and places where people gather. Developers know that more money can be made out of converting buildings to (often luxury) flats than maintaining them as growing concerns and that adds the pressure. Local Councillors and I haven’t fought every closure or conversion but we are standing with the community campaigners to defend the ‘Squirrel’- long known by its previous name of ‘The Skiddaw’. ‘The Skiddaw’ has been around for over 100 years and was known for a while as the local enjoyed by former Clash frontman Joe Strummer (W9 was where the Clash started, when they were the 101’ers-named after 101 Walterton Road). Long before that, it was a favourite of the poet Francis Thompson (‘Look for me in the nurseries of heaven’).

The Ham and High covered the recent protest, which you can see here.

If you want to make your voice heard, you can see the plans and make comments here

Reference 19/01895/FULL 

Westminster Labour story here.


Managing the ‘short let’ housing sector- I launch an All Party Parliamentary Group

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With new information suggesting as many as 1 in 40 London homes are now listed on short-let sites like Airbnb, it is becoming ever more essential that we manage the sector effectively, balancing the advantages to homeowners and tourists with the need to protect the availability of homes and the well-being of neighbours and communities.

I launched a new All Party Parliamentary Group on the Short Let Sector at the end of April, bringing together councils, the GLA and the main businesses involved in short lets to shape the debate. On the day of the launch, the Mayor of London made his call for the introduction of a registration system so we can know who is letting, and make it possible to enforce the legal 90 day limit in London, which at present is all but impossible.

www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/registration-system-for-short-term-letting-law


Youth detention: solitary confinement and restraint

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My main Parliamentary Committee- the Joint Committee on Human Rights- has recently published a report on the use of restraint and detention of children, including children with autism, learning disabilities and poor mental health.

There is substantial medical evidence of the physical and psychological impacts of restraint, particularly when used upon children. This evidence was brought into stark relief by the evidence of young people who had experienced these impacts, and parents who relayed the impacts upon their children. While restraint might seem to solve an immediate problem in custody or hospital, it causes harm in the short term and in the longer term: it harms children, it harms staff, it undermines the objectives of detention, and contributes to a vicious cycle of problems that can continue into the future including inhibiting life chances into adulthood. The use of restraint upon children can amount to inhuman or degrading treatment which is a breach of children’s rights. 

Many institutions that detain children are permitted to physically restrain children and to separate children from normal human contact. Restraint can include controversial methods and separation includes a range of practices including total isolation. The practices of restraint and separation engage the rights of children under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): Article 2, the right to life; Article 3, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment; Article 5, the right to liberty and security; Article 8, respect for private and family life. These practices also engage further protections under international law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We undertook this inquiry to assess whether the practices of restraint and separation of children in detention in the UK are subject to appropriate limits and effective safeguards. This report seeks to answer three questions that were set out in the inquiry’s terms of reference:

  • Does the use of restraint and segregation in youth detention lead to children’s rights being commonly breached?
  • Is the guidance on restraint and segregation compliant with human rights standards?
  • Is the Government doing enough to ensure rights compliant standards are applied across the estate, including in privately run institutions?

We considered several different types of institutions which detain around 2,500 children at any one time some for care, treatment or welfare reasons, and some because of criminal offences.

You can see the full report and our recommendations here


Local round up

Queen’s Park Community Council

It was a real pleasure to speak at the Annual General Meeting of the Queen’s Park Community Council on May 8th. The first London ‘parish council’ is celebrating its 5th birthday and has settled into doing great work around the local environment, supporting young people, organising various community festivals and more. But if you live in Queen’s Park, they need your input and support, so do find out about it and get involved!

You can find out more about them here.

Lisson Green Tenants and Residents Association

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I joined the tenants and leaseholders living on the Lisson Green estate for their AGM at the end of April. Despite the best efforts of the (sadly much reduced) Safer Neighbourhood Police team, concerns about crime and anti-social behaviour are still very much on people’s minds, as are continuing problems with the Council’s repairs service and the impact of the ‘Masterplan’ for the wider Church Street area.

Fly-tipping and dumping still a big concern

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Councils across England have reported a 40% rise in the illegal dumping of waste in the last six years (to a total of 997,553) - and Westminster is no exception to the trend. Whilst some former hotspots have been cleared with a degree of success, mattresses are still a common site in parts of the north of the borough, along with other items, including bags of ordinary household rubbish. The Local Government Association says that reductions in Council budgets and insufficiently tough sentences for those convicted are responsible for the worsening situation. We all like to live in a nice environment and there needs to be individual responsibility but we also need effective enforcement against people determined to dump their rubbish on the streets - including those who are obviously clearing out properties at the end of private tenancies.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

May 2019 E-Newsletter

May 2019 E-Newsletter BREXIT The usual disclaimer applies regarding the possibility of everything changing between the time I write this and when you read it! This morning the discussions between...

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April 2019 E-Newsletter 


Brexit

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The dust has settled on one of the most intense and turbulent few weeks in Parliament of the modern era - I’ve certainly never known anything like it. First and foremost, it is a massive relief that we have not crashed out of the EU without a deal. To have done so would have plunged us into chaos, damaged our security and potentially caused a two year long recession which would have lost the economy billions. Second, I am still sure that it is right that Parliament did not accept Theresa May’s ‘blind Brexit’ deal - a Political Declaration covering Britain’s future relationship which is not legally enforceable and would not survive a change of Prime Minister.

Where does this leave us now? Parliament remains divided and there are deeply held differences of view within our main parties as well as between them. These cannot be wished away - they reflect the divisions within the country that drove the referendum result itself and the subsequent reaction to it. I am in no doubt that many of my colleagues representing leave voting constituencies are trying their hardest to reconcile their own views, those of their voters and the argument that Parliament cannot now block the implementation of a Brexit which secured the backing of 17 million people.

The response to this is that Brexit did, of course, mean different things to different people, with some wanting a clean break regardless of the consequences, others a clean break believing that there wouldn’t necessarily *be* difficult consequences, others still expecting there could be a soft Brexit which kept Britain in an economic partnership but out of the political institutions. And in my view, a version of the latter may well have been possible to agree post-2016 but became increasingly impossible to negotiate once Theresa May’s ‘red lines’ were put in place and the tensions within the Conservative Party made compromise impossible.

I cannot now see a way in which the Prime Minister’s deal can be agreed in Parliament, or an easy means of breaking the deadlock, even allowing for the last minute offer of talks with the opposition. It seems unlikely that she can compromise enough to reach an agreement without tearing her party in two. So there is a real risk that uncertainty will continue - we already know that planning for exit day has cost £4 billion and that the toll on business has been phenomenal. Yet we could be back at the cliff edge in another few months. I appreciate exactly why there is such opposition to a ‘final say’ public vote, but I believe that it remains our only way out of this damaging impasse. We must ask the British people to choose between the only version of the Withdrawal Agreement government can put forward - the best Brexit they can recommend-and the option to remain. Some people will argue that the choice must be between a deal and a ‘no deal’ Brexit’ but no government could possibly present an option which threatens the Good Friday Agreement, peace in Ireland and what has been calculated as a £70 billion hit to the economy. This was the spirit behind the Kyle-Wilson amendment, which I backed when Parliament voted on possible options for a way forward, and the ‘Beckett amendment’.

And, of course, let us not forget that the Withdrawal Agreement was meant to be the easy part!


European elections - and a message to ‘GET REGISTERED TO VOTE’

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It now looks likely that there will be elections to the European Parliament on May 23rd and I will, of course, be campaigning for our candidates in that election. A high turnout in that election would send a very important message so before the campaigning actually starts, please take a minute to encourage everyone you know to check that they are on the electoral register. We have a particularly low level of registration here in inner London because of the high population turnover, and young people are particularly at risk of not being registered - it is estimated as many as 1 in 3 young people are not on the register. If there is any chance you may be working or away, please also consider a postal vote.

Please share details of how to register to vote with anyone who may not be on the list - you have until MAY 7th to register

Details are here.

If you are an EU citizen in the UK

The registration process for the European Parliament elections is different to local/devolved government elections. Even if you are already on the Electoral Register you still must follow steps 2 and 3.

Step 1: Register to vote by May 7th:

www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Step 2: Download and fill in the European Parliament voter registration form (pdf)

Step 3: Send the form to your local Electoral Registration Office by May 7th.

Address can be found here.


Breathing easy - what next to tackle the air quality crisis?

Air pollution is now (rightly) seen as one of our most immediate environmental challenges - an invisible killer with a big negative impact on our quality of life.

I equipped myself with a personal air quality monitor in early April, as one of a small team of people to go about our daily lives with a means of checking how good or bad the air is in each place. Unfortunately, the analysis of the results is taking place now so I’ll report on it in my next newsletter, but it was an interesting project- the monitor went with me into the chamber of the House of Commons, my Parliamentary office (pictured), on the tube and the bus, around the constituency and into the BBC studios when I appeared on Sunday Politics.

The project was set up by London Air and the environmental campaign group Hubbub, and I look forward to getting the analysis, which will appear in the next newsletter!

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London’s new Ultra Low Emission Zone came into effect earlier this month, putting the capital at the forefront of action to tackle air pollution worldwide. And with figures showing more than two million Londoners living in areas exceeding legal air limits – including 400,000 children - it is not before time...

Updates to the London Atmospheric Emission Inventory (LAEI) – which analyses air quality – show that between 2013 and 2016, under the previous Mayor, there were no significant improvements in harmful nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations in London’s air – with some areas actually getting worse. The same was true for London’s schools: in 2016, more than 400 schools were still in areas which exceeded legal limits for NO2. While the number of primary schools in these areas fell slightly – from 371 to 369 – the number of secondary schools affected grew from 81 to 86.

There has been an overall improvement recently - in the first three months of 2016, 43 monitoring sites in London recorded hours exceeding their legal limits for NO2, with 13 exceeding their annual limit (18 hours). So far in 2019, just 10 monitoring sites have recorded hours with pollution levels above the limit, while none have breached its annual limit.

But a recent study by King’s College London looking at the overall rate of improvement in NO2 levels across London found that, compared with legal pollution limits, if the trend of inaction seen between 2010 and 2016 continued it would take 193 years to reach legal compliance (3).

More positively, the ULEZ is would help reduce this to just six years, meaning London’s air would be within legal pollution limits by 2025.

You can see the interactive air quality map of London here.

A reminder about the ULEZ

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Charges for ULEZ will be £12.50 for most vehicles including cars, motorcycles and vans (up to 3.5 tonnes) and £100 for heavier vehicles, including lorries (more than 3.5 tonnes) and buses and coaches (more than five tonnes).

Because hourly NO2 exceedances are almost exclusively due to traffic, these improvement suggests that the cleaning up of the Transport for London (TfL) bus fleet and drivers complying with the ULEZ ahead of its introduction are already having a significant positive impact on air quality.

The Low Emission Bus Zones have had a major impact on pollution levels: Putney High Street has exceeded legal limits for just four hours so far in 2019 – compared to almost 400 the same period in 2016, or a reduction of 99 per cent.

The LAEI is the key tool for air quality analysis and policy development in London. Before this latest update, the most up-to-date figures available were for 2013.

The updated LEAI data is available to view via the London Datastore: data.london.gov.uk/air-quality/.

To find out more about ULEZ – including checking if a vehicle is compliant – visit: www.tfl.gov.uk/ulez.

And here is a piece about it from the Evening Standard.


Climate emergency

The threat posed by global warming has once again risen to the top of the agenda, with David Attenborough’s masterly programme last week, the protests in London and the attention that has been won by Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish climate activist. (I was in Parliament to hear her speak this week and it was incredibly powerful). Britain may have achieved more than many countries - we were the first in the world to legislate for action with the Climate Change Act in 2008 - but the challenge is an exceptional one. People need to feel that change is possible, and that they and national governments, can still, even at this late hour, avoid catastrophe. No one is well served by hopelessness. But at the same time we must recognise the scale and urgency of the issue.  

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So I am backing the call to declare an environment and climate emergency

Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary declared a national climate and environment emergency in the House of Commons and challenged Michael Gove to do the same. The announcement follows a wave of motions passed by local councils declaring a climate emergency and a call to action to prevent a dangerous rise in global temperatures by radically transforming our economy.

‘Climate Emergency' is an internationally recognised declaration being used around the world to publicly declare concern over the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) findings. The IPCC’s recent Special Report, describes the enormous harm that a 2°C rise in global temperatures would cause.

Last week it was revealed that the UK will miss almost all its 2020 nature targets, with 14 out of 19 biodiversity targets currently not being met by the Government.

“Labour is calling for the House of Commons to declare an environment and climate emergency. Species decline, habitat destruction and climate change are progressing at an alarming rate under this government, risking our food supply, landscapes, infrastructure, and public health.

“We need urgent action to prevent and reverse ecological catastrophe. A Labour government will kick-start a Green Industrial Revolution, with investment in clean transport and energy creating hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country. And we will bring forward a fully-resourced plan for nature to restore and enhance our natural world.”

“Even if every individual takes steps to limit their carbon footprint, the planet will continue to warm at a dangerous pace.

“If we are to seriously consider any realistic chance of keeping global temperature below the limit of 1.5 or 2 degrees and sea levels from rising, we need radical action from the government. It’s clear that our environment isn’t safe in Tory hands.  

“Austerity has had a serious impact on our natural world, with vital agencies such as Natural England having their budgets slashed in half and staff morale at an all-time low.

“We need political leadership to change our laws, taxation and infrastructure. The UK, along with the rest of the world is facing a serious environmental and climate crisis. But this government has stuck its head so far in the sand that even children are taking to the streets to protest. “


Serious youth violence and working with the police

The escalation of serious youth violence across the whole country in the last couple of years (many of the biggest surges in violent crime have been outside the capital, though London has also been badly affected) has left everyone horrified and desperate for a solution. Two weeks ago a young man was murdered in NW8, and whilst we have thankfully escaped the worst of the crisis, there have been enough incidents to cause serious alarm. There is not a single cause - although the rise in ‘county lines’- drug supply lines starting in the biggest cities and supplying  smaller towns all over the country are a part. We are struggling with the massive reduction in police numbers since 2010 - London now has the lowest level of policing for two decades - and of course the collapse in support for prevention and diversion services, from youth clubs to Children’s Centres and holiday/after - school programmes, doesn’t help either. Together with local Labour councillors, I am continuing to push to get support back in to these vital services. We also called a public meeting earlier in the month to let residents of one of the most affected areas have their say and hear how the police are responding.


NHS Plan for north west London is abandoned

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For the last seven years, health services in North West London have been developed within a framework called ‘Shaping a healthier future’. This plan included some elements which were highly controversial and some which were otherwise sound – specifically, the desire to improve services to care for more people for longer outside of hospital by improving primary and community services.  It has been obvious for a long time that the plan was in danger of being undeliverable because of the cash squeeze on the NHS but we were all surprised (including, it is fair to say, many of the people actually delivering the local health service) when Secretary of State Matt Hancock formally axed it in response to a planted question in  Parliament.  My colleague Andy Slaughter, the MP for Hammersmith, welcomed the final reprieve for Charing Cross hospitals, the future of which has long been in doubt. However,  despite all the thousands of hours of work and the millions of pounds spent on consultants, north west London’s NHS is now in limbo, and there is particular concern about where it leaves St Mary’s hospital. St Mary’s, part of the wider Imperial NHS Trust, needs massive investment in its old and increasingly poor physical infrastructure, and it is now hard to know where this investment will come from. We have a £1.3bn backlog maintenance liability across the Imperial NHS group of 5 hospitals - the largest backlog estate maintenance liabilities of all NHS trusts in England. There have been many instances where the condition of the buildings have impacted upon patient care.

St Mary’s maternity services had to be temporarily relocated due to a lift fault in Sept 18, the Grafton Ward was closed due to significant structural concerns with loss of 32 beds in May 18) and a ceiling collapsed in Thistlethwayte ward yet the redevelopment plans remain on hold.

I raised these concerns both in Parliament on the day of the announcement and on the BBC London News that night and will be continuing to press the Government for a solution. We simply can’t go on like this.


Everyone needs to be able to worship in peace and safety

Easter weekend was shattered by images of the atrocities in Sri Lanka, including the bombs targeted on Christians. In the autumn, I joined the Liberal Jewish synagogue at a Shabbat service  in memory of the Jewish worshippers murdered in Pittsburgh. And a few weeks ago, it was time to show solidarity with Muslims in the aftermath of the shootings in Christchurch. All these events - and many others - have rightly sent shock waves around the world. They have, understandably, led to a call for increased security at places of worship. I have been hugely impressed by the work of the CST (Community Security Trust) which works on security for the Jewish community - and it was great to see the CST respond quickly after the Christchurch killings, offering advice and support on how mosques can protect their congregations. Ultimately no-one wants to see places of worship dominated by security arrangements but there clearly needs to be proper risk assessments to reflect different circumstances. I joined a number of other MPs of all parties after Christchurch to support assistance with mosque security.

HOUSE OF COMMONS

Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP
Secretary of State for the Home Department

By email

April 2019

Dear Home Secretary

We write as members representing our Muslim constituents to urge the early release of the very welcome additional funding you have announced for security at places of worship. You will recall the matter was raised in Home Office questions on Monday 1 April.

Following the appalling attack in Christchurch last month, we have been speaking to our local mosques, and they are understandably extremely concerned about security, particularly with the approach of the Holy Month of Ramadan, when the community will be highly visible. Many of our constituents will be attending late-night prayers during this month, and feel especially vulnerable when out late in the evening.

While the new funding will make a difference, it is therefore imperative that it is released as a matter of urgency, and that application processes are kept as simple and clear as possible, in order that measures can be taken to improve security in good time before Ramadan. We would very much appreciate an early opportunity to meet you to discuss how this could best be facilitated, and look forward to hearing from you in the very near future.

Yours sincerely 

Kate Green MP

Rt Hon Anna Soubry MP, Chair, APPG on British Muslims

Wes Streeting MP, Co-chair, APPG on British Muslims

Naz Shah MP, Vice-chair, APPG on British Muslims

Debbie Abrahams MP
Rushanara Ali MP
Dr Rosena Allin-Khan MP
Jonathan Ashworth MP
Ian Austin MP

Rt. Hon. Dame Margaret Beckett MP
Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP
Lyn Brown MP
Karen Buck MP
Ruth Cadbury MP
Sarah Champion MP
Vernon Coaker MP

Julie Cooper MP
And 77 others


We are once again failing to invest in our children’s future

Some powerful new statistics show just how deep the cuts in Children’s Services have gone locally:

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Parliamentary and local round up

As I have already written, the last few weeks has been dominated by Brexit, but I have also been in the Chamber to press Ministers on the impact of the changes to the NHS plan for West London, serious youth violence and the increase in the number of working families in poverty, as well as many written questions. You can follow what I do here.


Queen’s Park Bangladeshi awards ceremony

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It was a pleasure to join the Queen’s Park Bangladeshi association for their awards ceremony and celebration on March 31st.  There is a strong Bangladeshi community in North Westminster and I welcome the organisation’s work is promoting activities, helping those in need and playing a part in wider civic life.

International evening Christchurch Bentinck

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A reminder that pupils in our local schools have families who have come from all over the world - but they all enjoy the programme of international music and dance, and perhaps especially, the food, which features at this annual event


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

April 2019 E-Newsletter

April 2019 E-Newsletter  Brexit The dust has settled on one of the most intense and turbulent few weeks in Parliament of the modern era - I’ve certainly never known anything...

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March 2019 E-Newsletter


Brexit Bulletin

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There is never a good moment to write an update on Brexit, so please forgive the fact that by the time you read this it will probably be out of date (again)! But as I write on Thursday morning. 

  • I voted against the Government’s deal (in the Meaningful Vote on the Withdrawal Agreement) on Tuesday night, for reasons I have set out in detail previously, and this was heavily defeated.
  • Parliament has last night (Wednesday) voted strongly to lift the threat of a deeply damaging ‘no deal’ Brexit - this clearly expressed the will of the House of Commons, but is not legally binding and will need to be enacted.
  • So the next move will be to legislate to suspend the Article 50 period to allow us more time and the debate will be over the length of time of that suspension and what it will give us the opportunity to do. We don’t want to be back in an identical cliff edge situation in a few more weeks.
  • I remain of the opinion that only by giving the public a ‘final say’ (‘people’s vote) with an option to remain will we be able to resolve this impasse, however difficult this may be (and it is by no means an easy option), but it is by no means clear that there is a majority in Parliament for that.

So I will continue to vote for measures that protect our national interest, prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit, ‘managed’ or otherwise, and give us the time to let the public decide.

By way of background: As I have set out before in previous briefings, as an ardent ‘remainer’ I was prepared, however reluctantly, to countenance an approach which respected the 2016 referendum result but which did not damage Britain’s economy, security or influence- by staying in the Customs Union and the Single Market.  This seemed in the early days to be the basis of a compromise around which a majority could come together. It would have had significant disadvantages over full membership, of course, but was infinitely better than either ‘no deal’ or the Government’s deal. Theresa May’s adoption of the hard-Brexit ‘red lines’ made negotiating such an option impossible and we are struggling to cope with the consequences of that position today. Of course, I also believe that triggering Article 50 so early - in March 2017 -  was a terrible mistake (and voted against it) and that it would be impossible to complete negotiations in this time. It gives me no pleasure to know that this has been proved right.

We will see what happens tomorrow. I’ll be on the march on March 23rd  which will once again demonstrate the strength of feeling in support of a ‘People’s Vote/Final Say’, but who knows if this will already have been overtaken by events.


NO coach station at Royal Oak - Mayor of London says plans will NOT go forward

I am obviously delighted that the Mayor and Transport for London have recognised Royal Oak would not be appropriate site for a coach station. This is not least because of our strong local concerns about air quality and the impact of existing traffic levels. Bayswater Councillor Maggie Carman, alongside residents and other local campaigners, has been working extremely hard on this. Both she, Councillor Adam Hug and I have lobbied hard to both make the case and demonstrate the level of community concern. Therefore, It is a great relief to know these have been listened to. Below is a copy of the letter I received from the Mayor of London about the decision and here is the link to the Evening Standard story

 

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Short Lets Sector: BBC Investigation & APPGSLS

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In January you heard from me about the increasing number of people who have been in contact over the growing use of short-term holiday lets in the Borough.

At the time, I had just written for the Mail on Sunday about some of the issues these short lets can cause for neighbours and local residents. For instance, I have heard about residential properties effectively being run as hotels and about the adverse affect this can have on local areas.

A wider problem in London is of course that these properties could provide permanent homes for long-term renters, which are becoming harder and harder to come by.

At the end of February I spoke to BBC News about a recent investigation which revealed that some firms have been explaining methods to potential clients on ways in which they can get around this rule. For example by using new photos to make previously listed addresses appear as new or by slightly altering the name. 

This footage showing the employees of certain short-let platforms advising clients on how to break the law is shocking, disappointing and completely contrary to everything we were told about how short-let accommodation would work. I very much hope that these and other harmful practices can be brought to a stop.

This is one of the many reasons I will be working with cross-party colleagues over the coming months to set up an All Party Parliamentary Group on the Short Lets Sector. We hope by working alongside platforms like AirBnB we will be able to establish ways in which we can minimise the illegal use of these sites and other undesirable consequences.

We hope to work with a number of the key groups most affected by this rapidly growing industry, we also hope to offer assistance and guidance to Local Authorities, short-let sites and the Government on how this growth can be managed more effectively.

You will hear more from me on these developments in the near future but for now, if you are experiencing problems with short-term holiday rentals in the area, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Policing and Knife Crime

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Along with 50 Parliamentary colleagues I signed a letter calling for additional help for the police to help tackle the recent surge in violent crime (please find below). But policing alone won’t be sufficient- I spoke in Parliament about the importance of prevention work and early intervention, and that means support for facilities like our youth centres. Westminster Council pulled all funding two years ago and there is now almost nothing provided for our young people. It’s not just about activity, either- these services helped identify people at risk of becoming victims or being drawn into gangs. I’m continuing to work with the Avenues Centre, All Stars Boxing club and others to help them do their best to survive in these very challenging circumstances.

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Disability Confident  - Access to Work Event

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Today (Thursday 14th) it was great to have an opportunity to speak at the DWP led Employer Disability Confident Event with Conservative MP for the south of the Borough, Mark Field. At a time when politics can feel particularly divisive, Mark and I are always happy to take opportunities to work together on important projects like this.

The Disability Confident scheme was introduced in the summer of 2013 and it is aimed at supporting disabled people in the work place. This can range from making workplaces accessible for people with a range of disabilities to ensure that jobs are advertised in an accessible way.

It is important that we continue to try and reduce the employment gap between disabled and non-disabled people which, as of June 2017 was 49.2% for people with disabilities. In comparison, the equivalent employment rate for people without disabilities is 80.6%. The event was incredibly well attended and I am grateful to all the prospective employers who attended and to the DWP for helping to organise.

To find out more about the Disability Confident campaign you can visit their website here and if you are interested in becoming a certified Disability Confident employer you can visit the Gov website here.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

March 2019 E-Newsletter

March 2019 E-Newsletter Brexit Bulletin There is never a good moment to write an update on Brexit, so please forgive the fact that by the time you read this it...

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January 2019 E-Newsletter


Brexit - the ‘Meaningful vote’ next week and the immediate aftermath

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As you can imagine, it’s almost impossible to write anything about Brexit without risking it being out of date by the time you read it! The next ten days will be critical, although, despite there being only 77 days to Brexit, even now we may not see matters resolved - a fact not helped by the Government’s decision to delay the ‘meaningful vote’ on the Withdrawal Agreement from the original date in December to next week. Despite wasting a precious month, there is no significant difference between the deal before Parliament in December and that before us next week and it will almost certainly be voted down.

As I have made clear previously, I will vote against the Government’s deal for reasons I have set out at length previously including in my last newsletter which you can see here.

A ‘no deal’ exit should be ruled out once and for all and I was one of over 200 MPs who signed the cross-party letter earlier this week calling on the Prime Minister to do just that.

We will continue to hear that the choice is between this deal and ‘no deal’ but this is a false choice and must (and I believe will) be resisted. One of the defeats suffered by the Government this week demonstrated that the sensible majority in Parliament will not allow us to be crashed out of the EU without a deal.

If Parliament votes down the deal next week, the focus will then shift to what we immediately do with the other options available to us.

I am clear that the flawed deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated is the logical outcome of political choices that she made and the product of negotiations that have been spectacularly mishandled by her Government - it is, for example, astonishing that it is only now that any attempt has been made to build cross-party consensus, or to involve civic groups like trade unions! However, while we must not rule out the possibility that an acceptable deal might somehow emerge before 29 March, we must also recognise that because Theresa May has run down the clock, the window for substantively renegotiating the deal on offer has almost certainly now closed.

I believe therefore that the best option is to suspend Article 50 and ask the people to vote again on a choice between the deal on offer for leaving the EU and an option to remain.

That option is not without considerable risk. There is a danger that a  ‘no deal’ option finds its way onto a referendum ballot paper, which would be catastrophic for our economy and puts the two-decade long peace settlement in Northern Ireland in jeopardy. There would be anger at what some will present as a refusal to acknowledge the validity of the 2016 result (I don’t think this is the case but I don’t doubt many will).  But I believe it is the least worst of the very difficult options in front of us, and it is what I will continue to vote and argue for.


EU Nationals Advice Project for residents living in Westminster

Although broad commitments have been made by both parties in relation to the status of foreign nationals following Brexit, the precise details of how EU Nationals resident in the UK will have to apply for settled status are not finalised. The UK Government has reached a basic agreement with the European Union on Citizens’ Rights. This agreement will protect your rights after the UK leaves the European Union and enable you apply for settled status.

My office continues to receive requests for advice on the future of EU nationals resident in Westminster as well as the thousands of more general enquiries about the Brexit negotiations.

Unfortunately as a Member of Parliament I am not in a position to give specific immigration advice to individuals. However, if you're one of the 30,000 EU citizens living in Westminster and you're worried about your rights after Brexit, Westminster CAB, the Migrants Resource Centre and Westminster City Council continue to run a helpful advice project.

The Dedicated Westminster Residents’ Advice Service and helpline is an advice service and helpline that has been set up to help EU nationals living in Westminster who are worried about their status in the run up to Brexit.  You can call 0300 330 9011 (open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am to 2pm). Or visit www.westminstercab.org.uk/advice/eu-nationals-advice-project.

You can also visit eucitizensrights.campaign.gov.uk to find out more about your rights, whether you qualify for settled status and a step-by-step guide to help you through the application process.


My Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill becomes law

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I introduced a Private Member’s Bill to update the law to protect tenants forced to live in unfit properties after doing well in the MPs ballot in 2017. I am absolutely delighted that, unusually for a PMB, it completed its journey through Parliament just before Christmas and has now become law-coming into effect at the end of March.

Finally seeing the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Bill become law and receiving Royal Assent the week before Christmas was a sweet pleasure. And no one could say it was a rush job, either! It isn’t only that my own first attempt came via the 2015 Private Member’s Ballot (I was a lot lower down the list), or that this second shot has taken 18 months from introduction to conclusion, or that we tried to introduce it as an amendment to the 2016 Housing and Planning Act. It is that the Fitness Act finally implements a Law Commission recommendation from as far back as 1996. The fact is, giving tenants, in both social and private sectors, the ability to act against landlords letting unfit properties is long overdue. Private tenants do have rights if the property is in disrepair, but disrepair is only one way in which a home can be unfit- so, if the boiler is broken, a tenant has rights. But if a house or flat is freezing cold or riddled with damp or mould because the heating is completely inadequate, or because of a design or structural problem, they don’t. Importantly, the Bill was strengthened as it went through Parliament by extending the remit to the common parts of, for example, a block of flats- so ‘fitness’ also covers things like the windows, roof and outside walls

Private tenants can turn to their local council to enforce on their behalf and some councils do a fine job, but capacity and willingness to act are hugely variable. We know from the English Housing Survey that some three-quarters of a million private sector properties are seriously sub-standard, yet enforcement action rates are far, far below this level. Tenants in council homes - a quarter of a million of which are unfit - don’t even have this protection since councils cannot enforce against themselves.

There is always more to do. Legal Aid will be available on the same basis as disrepair is currently, but we know that there is a wider issue with access to Legal Aid and Legal Aid lawyers. Concerns about retaliatory eviction are real and I am strongly of the view that we need to move on next to improve tenant security by removing Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions. The Act does not replace the role for local authority enforcement - it complements it- but local councils are under financial pressure as never before and it will always be the most vulnerable who suffer most.

Despite that, this is a good and important measure for tenants and it will make a difference. I am hugely grateful for the expert housing lawyers - Giles Peaker and Justin Bates, who drafted the legislation. The government got behind it a year ago and the MHCLG have been hugely constructive. And there has been backing across the sector from housing campaign groups like Shelter and Generation Rent to the main landlord associations, which recognise that good landlords have nothing to fear and can support measures to tackle the rogues. No one should have to live in an unfit home. This Act will help make that aspiration a reality.


Section 21 Debate

On Thursday 6th December I sponsored a Backbench Business Debate on the use of Section 21 Evictions in the Private Rented Sector. Over the course of this three hour debate we heard some shocking accounts from MPs of retaliatory evictions and families facing multiple evictions in quick succession. You can watch the debate here.

This debate was the culmination of efforts made as part of the ‘End Unfair Evictions’ campaign which has been building momentum since summer. Over 50,000 people signed a 38 degrees petition calling for the Government to give renters stability and certainty in their homes by abolishing Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act.

The petition ran for 10 weeks before reaching 50k signatures and was handed to the Housing Secretary, James Brokenshire on the 23rd of August by representatives from Generation Rent, London Renters Union, and ACORN. At the time of the debate there had been no official Government response and it was helpful to have Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government - Heather Wheeler present to clarify their position.

For those of you who have not followed the campaign, the reason I felt this issue was so important is because a majority of renters will have Assured Shorthold Tenancies which in theory will only guarantee them a minimum of 6 or 12 months in their home. This initial fixed term of the tenancy is the only period during which tenants can have the security of knowing they cannot be asked to leave their home, for no reason, at any time. Outside of this period a landlord can serve a Section 21 eviction notice giving tenants 8 weeks’ notice to vacate the property.

On average, these unwanted house moves cost around £2,306. Many tenants in the Private Sector will experience two or more such moves in quick succession so it is not hard to understand the serious financial difficulty people can face renting on low incomes. 

On Monday 12th November, the health equality campaign group Medact delivered a letter signed by 200 health professionals to James Brokenshire, warning that short-term tenancies and no fault evictions harm tenants’ mental and physical health. We have also heard about the detrimental effects of evictions on children, in terms of both social life and academic attainment.

Beyond the devastating personal impact this process has on tenants, Section 21 evictions are now believed to be the leading cause of homelessness in the UK and burden local authorities with temporary accommodation costs of £845m per year.

Over the course of this debate, MPs shared some truly upsetting stories from their own constituencies of the instability faced by some in the Private Rented Sector. Labour have called for the scrapping of Section 21s outright, and has proposed the introduction of three-year tenancies instead.

Heather Wheeler responded to the debate arguing that “Section 21 provisions provide an important guarantee to landlords that they will always be able to get their property back at the end of the tenancy. The flexibility for landlords and mortgage providers to recover their asset if they need to is crucial to retaining investment and supply in the sector, including the availability of buy-to-let mortgages.”


The impact of Airbnb and ‘short let’ accommodation

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The rise and rise of the ‘short let’ accommodation sector - including but by no means limited to, Airbnb, is having an increasingly significant impact on our communities. I contributed to this major feature on the issue in the New Year edition of the Mail on Sunday, including an opinion piece which you can read below. The full MoS article is here.


NHS Long Term Plan

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The Government published their NHS Long Term Plan last week. And made a statement to Parliament about it.

Whilst a number of the principles are entirely sound - such as a renewed focus on prevention - and it does make sense to review the overall strategic priorities for the NHS, there are nonetheless a number of concerns.  If prevention is so important, for example, why cut the public health budget which is specifically *about* preventive health measures? Why, as the Royal College of Emergency Medicine point out, does the plan fail to commit to retain  the four-hour wait A&E target? The RCEM say this is “a serious mistake and will result in misery for patients in their time of need”. 

In the statement I asked about the fact that Central London is facing substantial real terms cuts in funding, which will affect all aspects of health care, including mental health:

Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

Money might not be everything, but transforming a service against a background of real-terms cuts is almost impossible. The Central London clinical commissioning group is in the middle of a 13% real-terms cut, the West London clinical commissioning group is having an 8% real-terms cut, real-terms cuts are being made in mental health services, and Westminster City Council has cut 31% of its funding for social care. Can the Secretary of State indicate whether inner-London residents will see any benefit as a result of this plan?

I will be looking to see whether the upcoming financial allocations make any substantial difference to this picture.


Universal Credit

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Universal Credit was intended both as a simplification of the tax and benefits system and as a way of improving the financial advantages of work for people on low incomes, but, fine as these aims are, it was always oversold, over-ambitious and built on incorrect assumptions about the system it replaces. Eight years after Universal Credit was outlined to Parliament, it still does not work properly.  Its introduction was not helped by the Government cutting funding for it in 2015, only to have to restore it later. Whilst some people undoubtedly gain from UC, others have seen dramatic falls in income, resulting in rent arrears and debt problems and a need for emergency help such as via foodbanks.

The next stage of UC was always going to be the most difficult - the moving over of some 3 million people - many with long term illness and disabilities- from their previous benefits. The Government have, in light of the difficulties making UC work effectively, wisely put back the decision on doing this until more work has been done on managing the risks.

However, many people will still be applying for Universal Credit as new claimants and as their circumstances change, and 2.4 million households will be more than £2,000 a year worse off under Universal Credit. There are also still £4.7 billion of further benefit cuts to be administered between now and 2020.

Speaking in the Parliamentary statement last week I asked:

Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

I served in 2011 on the Welfare Reform Bill which paved the way for UC, and it is clear that the questions the Government could not answer then about UC they still cannot answer now, eight years later—and a little humility on the part of the Minister would be very welcome. Does he recognise that managed migration clients will not for the most part be the same as roll-out clients? There will be a higher level of vulnerability, with many people unable—and will continue to be unable—to work because of sickness and disability? What extra provision is he building into the system to make sure even this pilot does not leave people with a debt crisis and at risk of losing their home?

Alok Sharma The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

The hon. Lady gets to the point of the pilot phase, as that is precisely what we want to make sure happens: we want to get this right particularly for the most vulnerable. We are working with a range of stakeholders. I set out in an earlier answer the work-streams we are working on, and we will continue to do that until we get this right.


Minister’s Response on Access to Justice in the Disability Benefits System

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In August I wrote to the Department for Work and Pensions following a number of recommendations published by the advice and advocacy charity, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust, in their report ‘Access Denied: Barriers to Justice in the Disability Benefits System’.

Z2K do fantastic work surrounding Benefits locally; in assisting claimants with general advice and appealing refusal decisions. They also conduct important research such as this report. I wrote to the DWP in support of the recommendations put forward because my office receives correspondence on a weekly basis from claimants whose refusal has been upheld at Mandatory Consideration stage and who experience great difficulty in accessing the right assistance and advice.

There is clearly a problem with the current MR process whereby only 11% of original decisions are overturned by the DWP, compared with nearly 70% at independent appeal stage later on. Below are some of the key recommendations of the report which I asked the Department to take into consideration:

The DWP should require MR decision makers – and give them sufficient time and training – to conduct a full case review. This means considering all the evidence, addressing any oversights shown in the assessment report and recording, and if necessary contacting the claimant for further information.

The DWP should extend the deadline for claimants to submit an MR request from 28 to 56 days.

The Government should reinstate legal aid for all disability benefits cases. DWP should extend the standard deadline for lodging an appeal from 28 to 56 days.

The Government should introduce a ‘PIP pending appeal’ rate for all those previously in receipt of DLA or PIP.

The DWP must immediately stop discouraging GPs from issuing fit notes and instead return to the original wording of the letter, informing doctors of the process through which their patients can claim ESA pending appeal.

It was obviously disappointing to receive a response which seeks to defend a system that is so clearly not fit for purpose, link here. In particular, the refusal to consider introducing PIP pending appeal on the grounds that to do so would encourage appeals; it would also suggest that the Department had no confidence in the decision made, is disheartening because we currently have no reason to have confidence in the initial decisions made by the DWP and encouraging appeals is exactly what we ought to be doing.

I am afraid for the time being, claimants who feel that they have had their Benefits stopped or new claims rejected unfairly, should seek advice from organisations like Z2K and CAB Westminster so they can receive help in challenging these decisions.  As always, please also feel free to contact my office for assistance.


Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK

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On the 30th November I hosted a group of Commonwealth Parliamentarians from Kenya, Ghana, Malawi and Namibia in Westminster North as part of a CPA project on Modern Slavery. Modern slavery, human trafficking and forced labour are problems which, due to their very nature, cannot be easily addressed by any one country acting alone.

It is currently estimated that over 40 million people worldwide are victims of modern slavery, forced labour and human trafficking. Cooperation between countries of origin, transit and destination is vital if these problems are to be addressed effectively.

The CPA UK’s Modern Slavery Project supports MPs from Malawi, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda and other countries to strengthen their anti-trafficking legislation and exercise scrutiny over government anti-trafficking efforts. This visit allowed Commonwealth MPs the opportunity to meet local voluntary sector organisations.

One of these organisations was The Passage, who are a local homelessness charity who also help to deliver Westminster Council’s 'Housing Options' Service to single homeless applicants. We heard from their anti-slavery coordinator about some of the work they do with vulnerable people who have been the victim of trafficking and modern slavery and some of the measures which can be taken to prevent this from happening. You can read more about their work here.

We also heard from ‘Stop the Traffik’ who have conducted some of the most extensive research into modern slavery and trafficking and were able to share some of the key findings from the intelligence they have gathered. You can read more about their amazing work here.

Both organisations helped to shed some light on the key risk factors surrounding trafficking and modern slavery. We also heard from various Commonwealth MPs on the issues uniquely affecting their countries and how a coordinated approach can help to provide a more effective response to this tragic and growing problem.


Local News

Saving All Stars Boxing club

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All Starts Boxing gym is an iconic sports programme in an iconic building, and the managers are to be admired for their perseverance in keeping going despite funding pressures and endless problems with their landlords and the building. Thanks to a timely intervention from the Octavia Foundation, a crisis was survived in the late Autumn and there have since been some very successful fund-raising initiatives, including The Save our All Stars music concert which featured Sophie Ellis-Bextor, The Feeling, Beverly Knight, Ed Harcourt, Chrissie Hynde and Sid Griffin which has really sparked this 2nd phase of fundraising with interest from the Press and articles in the Daily Star, Evening Standard and Kilburn Times. The concert raised £10,500 with a further £1000 raised via online donations since we announced the concert.

Link to the concert photo album on Facebook

The artists involved have been fantastic and have pledged to continue supporting our fundraising campaign, we're organising an online "celebrity auction" on eBay for which they have donated prizes such as an hours flight in one of the artist's light plane.

However, the fight has to go on. I am working with the Octavia Foundation, Queen’s Park Community Council and ward councillors to see what further help can be given, but please do spread the word - all help and suggestions are welcome.

Kindred Studios

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I have had a great many representations about Kindred Studios, who are operating a very popular studio/workshop facility on a temporary basis in the former City of Westminster College building in Croxley Road. The building is now surplus to the requirements of the College and has long been due for sale as part of the wider development programme and, as a public, educational facility, I fully appreciate that the College needs to generate income from the sale. Many public sector organisations are under financial pressure to sell land and buildings so the income can be used  It has never been easy to find sums of money on this scale for site purchases, of course, and I would certainly welcome the possibility of continuing with the provision of much needed affordable work space. The arts and creative sectors make a massive economic contribution as well as a cultural one, and should be supported. What I absolutely don’t want to see is simply more luxury housing that meets no local needs at all! The Maida Hill Neighbourhood Forum made a successful application to designate the site as an ‘Asset of Community Value’ before Christmas, which allows a short time to consider alternative options and local councillors and I are liaising with Kindred, Paddington Development Trust and others to see if there is a way forward.

Closure/relocation of Victoria Coach station

There has been some speculation that, following the prospective closure of Victoria Coach station when the lease expires in 2023, Transport for London are considering Royal Oak amongst other options for re-siting. There is cross-party opposition to this locally, which has been expressed to TfL in unequivocal terms. This area is already congested and has some of the worst air pollution in the country, so there can be no question of making that worse.

Randolph Surgery

There has been considerable concern about the standard of service at Randolph Surgery over the last year or two, and so I was not sorry to learn that Virgin have now handed back their contract and the Clinical Commissioning Group are consulting now with the patients regarding the future of the practice. They are proposing to appoint a new provider for GP services. Local Councillor Geoff Barraclough has written to the CCG with a number of questions about the continuity of care, the recruitment process and the consultation, so please do let me know if you are interested in seeing this or any reply (or if you have any questions yourself you would like us to pursue). 

Jubilee Sports Centre site

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Local councillors and I have been repeatedly pressing Westminster Council on the issue of empty buildings, both private and public. Former pub sites such as the Windsor Castle and Neeld Arms in Harrow Road look dreadful and create an air of abandonment which no one wants in the neighbourhood. Only a sustained campaign forced the owners to tackle the dilapidation of the Chippenham, which had actually reached the point of being dangerous. We have also expressed concern about the delay in the re-development of the (now closed) Jubilee Sports Centre in Caird Street, following the opening of the Moberley Centre last summer. Sadly (though perhaps not surprisingly) the site has now been broken into and squatted. We have been told the following by the Council:

I am writing to inform you of the latest situation and an issue regarding the development of the Jubilee Sports Centre site.

Officers have been informed that a small number of squatters have broken into the facility and occupied part of the centre.  It's understood that they have caused damage to the security cameras, doors and windows.

Since the centre was closed, the site has been fully secured with site hoarding, security sheeting over the window and door openings up to the second floor and security cameras.  Since the reports of the break-in, a 24 hour on-site security team have been deployed.  The Police have also been engaged and Officers have commenced legal processes in order to resolve this issue as soon as possible.

I will keep you updated as this situation progresses.

In terms of the commencement of the development, Officers are in discussions with the appointed developer with a view of progressing works as soon as possible.  Increasing construction costs and a challenging residential property market has prolonged negotiations but it is anticipated that this phase of works will commence in the Spring.

Serious youth violence

Many people living in and around the Harrow Road and Church Street areas will know that there has been a serious issue with anti-social behaviour and youth crime in the last few months. This pattern is not unique to us - violent crime has risen in almost every area of the country, with bigger increases outside London than in, but this is not comforting. We have lost a third of our police in Westminster since 2011, the Met has had cuts made to its budget of over £750 million pounds, and the Council withdrew all funding for Youth Services, after school and most holiday provision in 2016, as well as making huge cuts to Children’s Centres and other early interventions schemes.

But I will continue to make the case for help to tackle this problem, locally and nationally. Together with other London MPs I met Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick last week and asked for a high level meeting with Westminster Council and local police to get more help into the most affected areas before there is a tragedy.

And yet:

there is £1.2 million to make Victorian lampposts on the Embankment look nicer

Labour Councillors have condemned Westminster Council’s decision to spend £1.2 million on refurbishing Victorian lamp columns lining Victoria Embankment at a time when the Council has cut its funding to local youth organisations, libraries and the vulnerable.

The Council plans to spend £1.2 million grit-blasting the Victorian lamp columns back to the bare metal, before being repaired and repainted. Yet:

  • In September 2016, Westminster City Council ceased funding voluntary sector youth clubs and youth providers. This had a dramatic impact on local youth services. The Stowe Youth Club on Harrow Road, for example, was forced to close almost all its services for local young people and lay off its dedicated and experienced staff. Now, the Stowe Centre is only able to provide a replacement one night a week session for 11-19 year olds and is a massive blow to the community and life choices of the young people in the area.
  • And in 2016, the Council announced a funding reduction of £1.4m from Substance Misuse programmes and £0.7m from Sexual Health schemes. This led to the closure of the vitally important North Westminster Drug and Alcohol Service (NWDAS) in Harrow Road, which serves the whole of the northern part of the City including parts of the West End.
  • In 2017, half of the staff at Marylebone Library, were axed as part of Westminster Conservatives’ plans to cut £750,000 from the Libraries budget. In addition, 2 jobs were cut at Charing Cross library, 2 jobs went at Victoria Library and over 4 jobs were axed at the Music, Archives and Reference Libraries.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour’s Environment and City Management spokesperson, said:

“Once again, Westminster Conservatives have shown a warped set of priorities. The £1.2 million could have been better spent on young people, vulnerable residents and other local services, rather than on repainting 150-year-old lamp posts. I think most people would agree that maintaining services to local residents should take priority.”


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

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January 2019 E-Newsletter

January 2019 E-Newsletter Brexit - the ‘Meaningful vote’ next week and the immediate aftermath As you can imagine, it’s almost impossible to write anything about Brexit without risking it being...

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November 2018 E-Newsletter


Brexit

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On the 11th December, Parliament will vote on the framework for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. It is utterly extraordinary that two and a half years after the referendum and with only 18 weeks until the end of the Article 50 period, we find ourselves in this mess. To crash out of the EU with ‘no deal’ would be a disaster, yet the deal on offer is unacceptable and will leave Britain poorer. Yet these are being presented as the only alternatives. I don’t think this is acceptable and that, first Parliament, and then the public need to have the opportunity to choose a different way forward.

How we got here...

Most of my constituents know that I have always believed that Brexit would be a disaster and that no possible deal could replicate the advantages of our remaining in the EU. That is why I campaigned for a ‘Remain’ vote and voted against the triggering of Article 50, which locked us into a ridiculous timescale for the complicated process of negotiating withdrawal. And whilst I respect the deeply held views of many people who voted to leave, the fact remains that the ‘Leave’ campaign was based on a raft of promises which could never realistically be delivered, and a false prospectus was put before the British people. There was the possibility, in the aftermath of the referendum, that we could aim for a  ‘soft Brexit’, which kept us in the Customs Union and Single Market, for example. But this was never the aspiration of the ‘hard Brexiteers’ who now have such dominance on the Government’s side. So two years have gone by whilst they tried to square the circle of avoiding damaging the economy whilst ‘taking back control’ from Brussels, and without ever being clear what that means. It is now obvious that they have failed.

The Withdrawal Agreement we have before us exposes all those contradictions. It is, of course, only the first stage of the process, so it has always been essential that it sets out a firm framework for the future relationship. It does not do this.

The ‘Political Declaration’ governing the future relationship, which is not legally binding and has to be taken on trust, was initially just 7 pages long, revised to 26, but still incredibly vague- which is why it is asking us to agree to a ‘Blind Brexit’. So it lays open the prospect of the hardest of Brexits at the end of the transition period, which does not protect jobs, rights or living standards. Despite the considerable length of the ‘Withdrawal Agreement’, it is asking us to take a leap into the unknown.

So what is wrong with what is on offer?

It won’t protect jobs or the economy

It won’t deliver frictionless trade. It does not include plans for a permanent customs union – which is vital to protect manufacturing. It is vague on the issue of services, which are the larger part of our economy, the political declaration only seeks the bare minimum – (“beyond…WTO commitments”) and on areas such as financial services it offers no firm mechanism to protect the industry.

In the backstop period there will be significant barriers to trade for firms in Great Britain. This is because Great Britain (though not Northern Ireland) will be out of Single Market regulations for goods, and the whole of the UK will be out of the Single Market for services.

We now have the latest assessments of the economic impact of the deal, as well.

It will weaken rights and protections

It only provides for a’ no-worsening’ clause for workers’ rights and the environment, which means  that we can fall behind the EU as rights develop in future; that a future government could strip away important EU-derived rights and protections – such as TUPE, equal rights for agency workers and paid holidays – so long as the UK Government can argue that the overall “level” remains as per the moment of exit, and it will be very difficult to enforce. Claimants would no longer be able to argue that a specific right or protection has been violated, but instead would need to make a more abstract argument that a “level” had been reduced.

As the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“The Government has failed to achieve a Brexit deal that delivers for working people in this country. What’s on offer is a blindfold Brexit. It doesn’t guarantee jobs or rights at work into the future. And it leaves the door open for extreme Brexiteers who want to strip away the protections we already have."

It undermines the integrity of the United Kingdom

The backstop proposes a different constitutional settlement for the UK to the rest of Great Britain, which inevitably raises the potential of further pressure to break up the union from elsewhere, particularly in Scotland.

It doesn’t contain the measures we need to ensure our security

There is no separate security arrangement proposed for the backstop period. That means that following transition (proposed to end on 31st December 2020), existing security arrangements would fall away.

The Political Declaration also suggests that the Government has given up on key common EU security arrangements – including the European Arrest Warrant arrangements (it speaks only of negotiating “swift and effective arrangements” on extradition, not remaining within the EAW) and it makes no clear commitment to main current arrangements in Europol and Eurojust.

It fails to keep the UK in common EU agencies and to ensure close cooperation

The Political Declaration relies on incredibly vague aspirations such as achieving “dialogue and exchange in areas of shared interest” and “consideration of appropriate arrangements” – not firm commitments to retain membership or equivalent arrangements in a whole raft of agencies and programmes we would want to remain in (e.g. Erasmus, the EMA, EASA, Horizon 2020).

It offers no certainty over future immigration rules

The Political Declaration contains just two vague sentences and no detail beyond committing to “reciprocity”. This is an extraordinary lack of detail on what was a central issue during the referendum.

This is why I raised my concerns during the Prime Minister’s Parliamentary statement on November 22nd  

Please find the link to the video clip here

This is not a deal I can accept.

And, although this is an incredibly fluid and fast moving situation, it doesn’t seem as if the Government has any chance of getting a majority in Parliament.

What other options are there?

I also know that leaving with ‘no deal’ would trigger the greatest crisis for this country in modern times - the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, has even said he can’t guarantee people would not die as a result! This cannot and must not be regarded as a serious option. (This BBC guide to what ‘no deal’ means in practice is very useful)

Some constituents have written to me to say that ‘the public voted for a ‘no deal’ Brexit when supporting leave at the referendum

I don’t accept that. People voted ‘leave’ for a number of reasons, to do with Europe itself, concerns about immigration, worries about a loss of local and national identify and (as new research from the LSE has confirmed) as a response to austerity and public spending cuts having a severe negative impact on their communities. None of these concerns should be dismissed and all must be engaged with. But, even setting aside some of highly misleading information put out during the campaign, messages were very mixed about what leave would mean. Boris Johnson was only one amongst senior ‘leave supporters' who insisted that Britain could and should remain in the Single Market.

We can’t accept that this is a straight choice between a bad deal and no deal

The deal in front of us represents the worst of all worlds- a loss of say and of influence for an uncertain future. Leaving without a deal would be a catastrophe. We need to reject these two options, seek a much stronger relationship in the future than the vague ‘political declaration’ offers- such as retention of the Customs Union and Single Market (‘Norway+) and let the public have their say.

If Parliament does vote this down in a few weeks, the only and right option is to give the public the final say on Brexit in a People’s Vote, in which the choice includes staying in the EU.

I believe people are much better informed about the options and the constraints than was the case in 2016. Of course there is a risk involved, but no options now are risk free and I believe this is the only way forward.  This doesn’t mean it is an easy option-it isn’t. It doesn’t mean the result is certain- it isn’t. And there will also be important issues of timing and sequencing to consider which MPs may have to consider during the voting process in early December. I will do my best to navigate these in accordance with the principles I have set out here, and to report back to constituents as soon as possible.


Also in Parliament

Over the last few weeks I’ve continued to raise other issues in Parliament, as well as meeting constituents, dealing with problems raised with me, and liaising with the agencies delivering services to the community.

Here are some of the debates I have taken part in, and questions I have asked

Legal aid

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As the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, access to justice is one of my key concerns. You can read my contribution to the debate on Legal Aid in late October here

Human Rights Committee

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This is the major Parliamentary committee I sit on - you can read all about our current work here.

We’ve been looking at the use of restraint and solitary confinement in Youth Detention. 

We are also now taking evidence on immigration detention, which follows up from the work done in response to the Windrush scandal earlier this year.


Air quality

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I was very pleased to take part in a public meeting/discussion on the action we must take to tackle the air quality crisis, held at Imperial College at the end of October.

We covered a number of issues, from the Low Emission zone and the importance of promoting alternatives to cars in the city, to diesel scrappage schemes. You can read the highlights of the debate here.

Ultra Low Emission Zone

As one of the essential steps towards improving air quality, Sadiq Khan is introducing a new ‘Ultra Low Emissions Zone’ which comes into effect in central London in April. Drivers will need to be prepared for it- here is some more information:

Final preparations are being made to launch the central London Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) in four months’ time.      

The ULEZ will require vehicles driving into central London to meet new emissions standards or pay a daily charge. The scheme will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, within the existing Congestion Charging Zone, in addition to the existing Congestion Charge. London’s toxic air is one of the biggest health challenges of this generation. Around half of London’s air pollution is caused by road transport and the ULEZ is one of a range of measures to clean it up.

This week, the first signs on the zone boundary have been installed and a total of more than 300 will be fitted in total. We are working behind the scenes to ensure our systems are tested and ready to support a seamless launch.

Our other priority is to ensure that anyone affected by the ULEZ is aware of their options and able to take appropriate action. We have a major pan-London marketing campaign underway and are using all the channels at our disposal to reach drivers.         

Today we are sharing a new leaflet as a simple guide to ULEZ for stakeholders, businesses and individuals. A PDF version is attached and we have hard copies available.

We particularly want people to visit our online vehicle checker at tfl.gov.uk/ulez to see instantly if their vehicles comply with the new standards.

If they do not comply, we want to encourage them to make a plan and take action now to avoid paying the charge. This could include buying or leasing a compliant vehicle and/or changing how they make trips, for example by using public transport, walking or cycling. The scheme also has a number of discounts and exemptions for particular road users. More details can be found at tfl.gov.uk/ulez.


Universal Credit Roll Out So Far

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As many people are aware, the introduction of Universal Credit nationally has been far from a seamless process and there are continued complications for many claimants. Last month I spoke out about the impact Universal Credit has had on tenants. This was following research from the Residential Landlords Association which found that two thirds of private landlords are concerned about Universal Credit tenants falling into arrears, and that the average arrears owed has doubled in the last year.

I remain concerned about elements of the online system through which claimants are required to supply information and open their claims. We have seen that opening a new claim is still the biggest problem for people using UC and this has been no different in Westminster since the roll out in summer. 

There has, however, undoubtedly been progress since Universal Credit first rolled out in certain areas of the UK in 2016. What I have heard from fellow MPs and people working in the welfare & benefits sector is that effective local partnerships is one of the key ways claimants can be provided with necessary assistance with making that initial claim and complications which may arise down the line. 

I am working with the Marylebone Job Centre Plus, Westminster Council’s Housing Benefit Department, Citizen’s Advice Bureau Westminster and a host of other advocacy groups and social landlords to ensure that we can flag any individual cases where further assistance is required. I am pleased with the responses we have had from work coaches and advisors so far when we have raised cases with them and I would encourage anyone experiencing difficulty with their UC claim to contact me so that we can make sure you receive help in ironing out any issues. 


Changes to Housing Options in Westminster

The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) came into force on Tuesday 3 April 2018. During its passage through the House of Commons I spoke in favour of the measures aimed at preventing people from becoming homelessness and going into emergency or temporary accommodation. 

My feeling at the time was that against the backdrop of the continued sell off of public and social housing the HRA would be equivalent to running up a down escalator. Unfortunately the struggle to provide decent social housing in London has continued without any real improvements.
However, the requirement for Local Authorities to target the causes of homelessness is a welcome step and this week saw another service open in Westminster to provide advice on prevention and assistance with homeless applications for families.

Following the introduction of ‘The Passage’ as a contact point for single homeless applicants last year, Westminster Council have now (November 28th) opened the Housing Solutions Families Service at 82 Bruckner Street. As with the other 9 outreach services currently operating at various locations across the borough, this is run in partnership with Shelter who can help to provide expert advice and referrals when necessary. 

Any family who is homeless or at risk of homelessness and who wishes to make a homeless application will now be able to access Westminster Council’s new Housing Solutions Family Service and can do so in the following ways; 

a. Online Self-Assessment form. This is accessed through Westminster’s City Council’s website. Once submitted, the document is sent directly to an officer who should then contact the applicant to arrange an in-person appointment.

b. Referral from a Public Authority. Under the new Duty to Refer, certain public authorities must notify the Council when they become aware of a household that is homeless or threatened with homelessness. 

c. Contact Centre. Westminster Council’s contact centre team can arrange appointments for families who require assistance or who wish to make an application.

d. Visiting 82 Bruckner Street. Families are welcome to visit the new service where they will be met by a member of the team to establish how WCC can help. There are self-help kiosks available where families can access self-assessment forms and also other useful information about the service. Anyone visiting Bruckner St in an emergency homelessness situation will be seen by the duty team.

*Single applicants should still approach The Passage: 020 7592 1850, St Vincent's Centre, Carlisle Place, London SW1P 1NL. 
If anyone experiences any difficulty in accessing assistance and advice at this service or anywhere else, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Local round up

Harrow Road

With progress finally now being made on the Chippenham pub (an eyesore for an unacceptably long time) residents have expressed understandable concerns the former Warwick Castle and Neeld Arms pubs on the Harrow Road itself. No one wants to see buildings left empty, especially with a housing crisis, and neither do we want the visual impact of dilapidated or boarded up buildings.

Councillor Roca has pursued this and says:

“In regards to the Windsor we understand the Council has accepted evidence of a demand for student housing so the developers expect to get planning permission for their current scheme. Part of the scheme is to give the ground floor front of the Windsor Castle an A1/A3 alternative use (for a shop, café, restaurant etc). When the previous freehold owner sold it, they put on a restrictive covenant preventing it reopening as a pub.

You'll also know that sadly the Squirrel (Skiddaw) has also closed for refurbishment but we worry this will never happen. An application to have this listed as an Asset of Community Value was declined last year.

We are also waiting for a response from the Council on the former Neeld Arms, and (in Queen’s Park) on the state of play as regards the now closed Jubilee Sports Centre.

St John’s Wood Society and the South East Bayswater Residents Association

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It was good to get along to the St John’s Wood Society AGM in late October and to talk about some of the local issues (not least policing concerns). A lovely tribute was paid to Sir Hugh Cortazzi at the meeting. Sir Hugh was a former ambassador but more recently built a deserved reputation as a scourge of the monster basement excavations which plagued the area for many years.

The South East Bayswater Residents Association shares with the St John’s Wood Society the distinction of being one of the most effective amenity societies in London (and both deservedly enjoy big attendances at their meetings as a result.

Royal Oak coaches

Concerns have been raised about the possibility of Royal Oak being a site for a new coach station when Victoria closes. Ward councillors and I are very clear that this is not an appropriate site and are in touch with Transport for London to communicate that. (Our comment is here)

The Deputy Mayor of London for Transport has responded to us this week saying:

As you may be aware, from 2023, parts of the existing coach facility at Victoria Coach Station will become unavailable to coaches as various leases expire. To prepare for this, TfL has begun looking at alternative coach facilities around London.

The Mayor’s Transport Strategy (MTS), published earlier this year, explains that Transport for London (TfL) will be working with stakeholders to identify and deliver replacement facilities for Victoria Coach Station through the provision of one or more hubs.

I can assure you that the work to replace the coach station is still at a very early stage. TfL is looking at a wide range of potential options across London that would achieve the MTS aims while providing a good service for coach passengers and operators. Given the complexities of coach operations in London, this is a substantial piece of work. 

Nurseries and children with special needs

The Portman nursery in Church Street, working with the Serpentine Gallery, held a special conference at Regent’s College where parents of children with special needs spoke movingly about their struggles and how important the services were to them. I was invited to go along and do an introduction to the session, having spent a number of years chairing Westminster’s Early Years development Partnership. 

Remembrance Sunday

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This year’s Remembrance Day events were, of course, especially poignant, as they mark 100 years since the end of the horrors of World War 1. In addition to the massive and ceremonial event at Westminster Abbey, it was lovely to see the newly revived Paddington event in Lancaster Gate so well attended.  Sometimes local events in Westminster are squeezed out by our position at the heart of the capital city and it is really important that we try and make sure that all our communities and neighbourhoods are represented.

London Tigers

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Hundreds of people turn out for the annual awards ceremony of the London Tigers, which this year took place in Porchester Hall. Its always good to have the Tigers back on home turf given that they started on the Lisson Green estate, although now operate across London and beyond. I joined local councillors and others in giving out awards, not just for sport but in recognition of all the voluntary work and community development Tigers do, with women, with young people and on public health

Find out more about them here.

Fly-tipping

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Latest Government figures for fly-tipping, released in early November, reveal that, despite a very small dip last year, the trend has now been upward over a number of years.

For the 2017/18 year, local authorities in England dealt with just under 1 million (998,000) fly-tipping incidents,a slight decrease of 1% from the 1,011,000 reported in 2016/17, following annual increases since 2013/14.

Westminster reported a staggering 13890 incidents last year, the 14th highest in the country, out of 325 councils (although some other badly hit areas, such as Birmingham) are much bigger. Enforcement action was taken in 7111 cases. It is estimated that fly tipping costs the country over £57 million a year, as well as making the area look unpleasant and uncared for, so it is really important that we get a grip of it.

One particularly bad site in Shirland Road has been improved by the Council after a long campaign - the bins have been moved and ‘planter’ put in place to stop dumping on a wide area of pavement where the bins stood previously. Such ideas are sensible and need to be pursued elsewhere, because what we don’t want is the problem then just to move elsewhere!

We are also calling for action in Bayswater after recent complaints.

Westminster Citizens Advice Bureau

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I was really pleased to host the Westminster Citizen’s Advice Bureau Annual meeting in Parliament two weeks ago. The CAB staff and volunteers do a great job, especially given the rising pressures of debt and homelessness and the problematic introduction of Universal Credit. Last year, they helped 12,050 individuals with a range of problems, with disability benefit issues being the most common.

Supporting North Paddington Food Bank

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Last Saturday I joined other volunteers outside the Co-op in Harrow Road collecting for the North Paddington Food Bank- the Co-op have been big supporters and we are grateful for their help. Demand is rising and stocks are never adequate, so any help you can give to the Food Bank would be appreciated – and please spread the word.

npfoodbank.org.uk/


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

November 2018 E-Newsletter

November 2018 E-Newsletter Brexit On the 11th December, Parliament will vote on the framework for Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. It is utterly extraordinary that two and a half years...

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October 2018 E-Newsletter 


Brexit (and why we will need a ‘People’s Vote’)

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In my last newsletter I said that writing about Brexit - despite its huge importance - is incredibly hard because the situation is in constant flux. That is truer than ever as we enter these crucial few weeks leading up to a Parliamentary vote on the Government’s proposed deal. I also said that I had joined an increasing number of politicians and public figures who believe that the deal should be put to a ‘People’s Vote’, so that voters can consider whether what is on offer for our future relationship with Europe is better than what we have now. Ultimately, with so many different visions of, hopes for and expectations behind the ‘Leave’ vote, what is actually available as a trade-off between sovereignity and market access needs a public mandate. However, I seriously doubt that there is a majority in Parliament to allow this to happen. So what are the choices we face in the next couple of months?

In leaving the EU and seeking to forge a new relationship with Europe, we must now confront the trade-offs that were largely ignored or brushed aside in the run up to the 2016 referendum. EU negotiators have made clear that while an agreement tailored to the specific needs of the UK is possible and achievable, the UK will not be allowed to cherry pick between the EU single market’s four indivisible freedoms: goods, services, labour and capital. The Government’s ‘Chequers proposal’ finally demonstrated some acceptance of the inevitability of compromise but was never going to be workable, or compatible with the EU’s insistence of those ‘four freedoms’. As the EU’s Chief Brexit negotiator had already said, ‘there can be no partial membership of the single market’.

However, in proposing a future UK-EU economic relationship based on a dual-tariff customs arrangement and participation in the single market for goods alone, the Chequers plan is both unworkable and at odds with the EU27’s insistence that any future relationship must respect the four freedoms. For that reason, the EU was never going to accept it.  Michel Barnier also said that the EU would not accept the customs proposals, which would allow the UK to maintain frictionless trade with the EU, while still being able to sign free trade agreements with countries outside Europe. Without significant additional compromises on the part of the UK Government, compromises that the extreme Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group will not permit the Prime Minister to make, the ‘Chequers’ option is now obsolete.
 
Both the UK and the EU27 want to conclude a deal. Theresa May needs it because of the damage crashing out with no deal would do to the economy (to say nothing of the political risks), while the EU wants to maintain the exchange of goods and services with its single biggest trading partner. But that still doesn’t mean it is guaranteed to happen.
 
However, the withdrawal agreement upon which so much attention is currently fixed doesn’t even deal with all these issues, yet, the future economic relationship will only be addressed in a political declaration that will only be an annex to the legally binding agreement on the three core divorce settlement issues: citizens’ rights, the negotiated financial settlement and the Irish border. Much of this has already been agreed - including those sections that relate to citizens’ rights and the financial settlement. But one of the last major issues on which there remains considerable disagreement is the issue of the Irish border. That is why agreement on a legally enforceable backstop arrangement, one that will cater for the eventuality that no future economic relationship that protects North-South cooperation and avoids a hard border can be agreed post-exit, is now crucial to concluding an agreement in what little negotiating time remains.  
 
Earlier this year the EU proposed that, unless and until the future relationship removes the need for physical infrastructure and associated checks at the Irish land-border, Northern Ireland alone should remain, effectively, in the EU’s customs union and single market for goods. The UK Government responded by making clear that this was unacceptable on the grounds that it would effectively create a customs border in the Irish Sea and put at risk the UK’s constitutional integrity. Despite a summer of talks between Barnier and the Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, both sides remain broadly wedded to there respective positions. 
 
The need for the backstop to act as a legally enforceable insurance policy against any future circumstance, including the UK walking away from the negotiating table after 29 March 2019, leaves little scope for the EU to agree to substantive changes to their initial proposals. Similarly, dependent on the DUP to remain in office, May clearly feels that she has little room for manoeuvre.

That said, the EU has made clear that there is scope for further compromise and reducing the need for checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Of course, a customs border, if not a regulatory one, could also be prevented if the UK were to remain in a customs union with the EU after the transition period ends, either temporarily or permanently, as Labour is arguing for. But in the absence of signing up to our proposal, agreement on the issue now requires May to shift her current position, but unless she changes her approach to date – making all-UK proposals for the future relationship under the cover of a fall back solution for the border issue – it will inevitably be met with hostility by the EU27.

The big question therefore is whether May is able to give ground on the Irish backstop issue without triggering a leadership challenge. Or whether there is even a majority in Parliament to sign off on a deal that has been reached on the basis of the UK having given significant ground on the issue. My fear is that the Government’s strategy in relation to this issue is simply a form of high-stakes brinkmanship based on the belief that at one minute to midnight, the EU27 will blink first. Based on the history of the past two years, there is scant evidence that they will do so.
 
There is every incentive for May, practically and politically, to bring back a withdrawal agreement that contains a political declaration that is vague and ambiguous- a ‘blind Brexit’. This would potentially allow her to get the withdrawal agreement over the line without having to confront the extreme Brexiteers on her own benches.

Doing this would be unacceptable. A vague political declaration on the future framework would not be a solution to the problems that we are grappling with; it would be tantamount to avoiding those problems altogether and it would leave the UK in a far weaker position during the transition than we would otherwise be. We must have clarity on the future relationship and we therefore need a political declaration that is detailed and substantive.
 
Labour intend to apply the six tests that we set out back in 2017 to whatever agreement the government brings back to Parliament. However, as Keir Starmer made clear in his recent speech to the Labour conference, if May’s deal does not meet those six tests, MPs will be instructed to vote against it. Exiting without a deal would be a catastrophic error for which no-one voted, for which we are quite unprepared and for which there is no majority in the House of Commons.  But we cannot be put in a position where the choice is between a bad deal or no deal.

In the event that a deal were voted down by MPs, a General Election would be a possibility, and the public could be asked who should take charge of the negotiations. Since this demands that two-thirds of MPs vote for it to take place I suspect this is unlikely considering the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act introduced by the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition Government in 2011. A referendum on the deal is another option, as I have said, and Labour would campaign for this if there is not an election - the precise form of the question put to the electorate in such a referendum would obviously depend on the circumstances, but as I’m pleased that Keir Starmer stated plainly that on the Labour side we believe it would have to include the option of remaining in the EU.

It’s going to be a challenging autumn…


Funding our local NHS

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If it feels as though the NHS is under pressure, that’s because it is - and nowhere is being squeezed more than we are here in Central London.

I asked the independent House of Commons Library to analyse government spending on local Clinical Commissioning Groups- responsible for ‘purchasing’ many of the hospital and community services in each area

After adjusting for inflation, Central London CCG will see funding fall from £272 million to £259 between 2016 and 2020, which is the equivalent of an 8% cut in spending per person. The figures for West London are £360m down to £343m or 6% per person.

As so many costs are fixed ones - staff and hospital buildings, it is no surprise that this adds up to real pressure on services.

Here’s the piece West End Extra ran on the story.


Access to Justice

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I chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, and last month I introduced a debate to tie in with the Government’s review of the impact of the legislation which saw significant cut backs in legal aid cover.

You can read my debate and the Minister’s response here.


Universal Credit

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Although intended to simplify the benefits and tax credit system and ‘make work pay’, Universal Credit has proved to be a massively complicated programme to deliver and huge cuts to its funding undermined the main objectives. This week I have spoken out twice against the freeze on working age benefits, which have left low income households, in and out of employment, worse off, and the extent to which Universal Credit has trapped tenants in escalating levels of rent arrears.

I continue to work with local agencies to try and make sure we deal with local problems as quickly and easily as possible. Do please get in touch if you need assistance.


‘Tell it like it is’

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‘Tell it’ started out during a troubled time in the Queen’s Park area a few years ago, when gangs and serious youth violence were causing serious problems for many young people and great worries to parents. Sadly many parents, some of who were themselves isolated and vulnerable, did not feel they had somewhere to go for support, and so ‘Tell it’ filled a need. Finding funding is tough and getting tougher and after a while the organisation lost its premises. Now, and once again with help from the Octavia Foundation, 'Tell it' is up and running at 472 Harrow Road. I was delighted to go to the opening on October 5th and welcome the effective re-launch of the organisation.


Church Street police station

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One of the consequences of the £1 billion squeeze on the Met Police budget has been a programme of police station closures- with Harrow Road, Marylebone and St John’s Wood stations closed by Mayor Johnson, and more recently Paddington Green closing its doors. 'Response Policing' for Westminster shifted to Queen’s Park station over a year ago, but more recently, in a positive development, a new base for Safer Neighbourhood policing in the north of the borough has opened in Church Street. This is genuinely welcome, since it means Safer Neighbourhood teams remain located in the local community and makes it much easier to keep a visible presence.


Works started on the former Chippenham pub

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Work has finally started on the Chippenham pub building, which we expect to open as a shop (possibly as a Co-Op). It is obviously a relief that this has happened as the building was both an eye-sore and dangerous (with window glass actually falling out onto the street at one point).

The reconstruction of the Carlton Tavern (owned by the same company!) is also finally underway, after it was illegally part-demolished in 2015, just days before English Heritage were going to list it as a historic building.

Whilst not every pub can, or should, be saved for its original purpose owners and developers cannot be allowed to get away with leaving buildings neglected and run down, or as happened acting illegally in the case of the Carlton.


Concerned about Anti-Social Behaviour?

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The Met Police are changing the way Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) can be reported. I have been sent this information, which you may find helpful:

The new ASB online form will be available to the public from Friday 14th September.

The form can be accessed at the link here.

There will be no change to the current ASB process, other than the method that the original report is being made by. The public can continue to report via current channels, this is simply opening up a further opportunity for them.


Macroom Nursery

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We are still trying to find a way to maintain the London Early Years Foundation Nursery in Macroom Road, where it shares part of the site previously used (and now being sold by) City of Westminster College. It's understandable that the College wants to realise as much from the sale of the site as possible to fund its development plans, but desperately sad that more and more public buildings are being lost in the area, making it harder and harder to sustain services and affordable homes. Here’s the story.


All Stars

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I’ve been working with the All Starts Boxing Club as they work hard to stay in their iconic building in the Harrow Road after long-running struggles with their landlords. The club and I are hugely grateful to the Octavia Foundation for stepping in last month and we all hope this is an important step in getting them a period of calm in which to develop their services. You can find out more about All Stars at. 

allstars-gym.co.uk

And if you are interested in supporting them, there’s a fund-raising dinner and boxing show on November 16th. 


St John’s Wood Post Office

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Despite a big public campaign, Post Office Ltd have now confirmed their intention to close the Crown Post Office in Circus Road and move the service. This will be deeply disappointing to the many residents who have put forward a range of objections and made the case for the existing Post Office over the last two years.

As I reported previously, I worked hard to try and get an agreement between Post Office Ltd and Westminster Council, who own the current building, to see if an agreement could be reached on the rent for a new lease. Sadly it proved impossible to bridge the gap. I did write to the Government Minister responsible and am happy to pass on the full reply, but this is probably the key part:

These decisions are ultimately commercial ones for the Post Office to take as a business but when proposing such changes the Post Office runs extensive public consultation processes to give local communities the chance to inform their plans I do appreciate that a potential change to the management or location of a post office can cause concern in the local community. The Post Office's rationale for franchising post offices is to ensure continued access to Post Office services for local customers in a way that is sustainable for the long term. Moving the directly managed 'Crown' offices to retail partners has been successful throughout the UK, removing significant losses of £46 million from the business and thereby reducing the burden on taxpayers.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

 

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Karen Buck MP

You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

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October 2018 E-Newsletter

October 2018 E-Newsletter  Brexit (and why we will need a ‘People’s Vote’) In my last newsletter I said that writing about Brexit - despite its huge importance - is incredibly...

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September 2018 E-Newsletter


September newsletter

Since my last newsletter Parliament has been in recess, so most (though not all) updates are about non-Parliamentary issues.


Brexit

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It’s always a risk saying anything about Brexit, since the situation is so fluid, but many of you have written to me about the ‘People’s Vote’. I have added my name to this, despite deep reservations about referenda in general, and the referendum on Europe in particular. I have some scepticism about when such a decision could be put to the country given the fact we are fast running out of time within the Article 50 period (this was one of the reasons why I voted against Article 50). However, on balance I think that Parliament may not have the authority to settle this issue, given how divided we, and the country as a whole, are, it seems that putting the final deal to the people may be the best option.

The people vote letter reads: “Brexit is taking longer and costing more than we thought, and it’s been changing our communities, our hospitals and our job prospects in ways that were not clearly set out during the 2016 vote.

“If, however, we were to stay, change and lead in Europe, we would allow the government to focus on the NHS, schools, the environment, jobs and driving up living standards instead of the intractable negotiations.

This is why I believe we must have a final say, a people’s vote, on Theresa May’s Brexit deal. That vote must keep the EU membership deal we currently have on the table. That is what is best for Britain.”


Joint Committee on Human Rights

My main Parliamentary Committee - the Joint Committee on Human Rights has published a major report on access to justice, which you can see here: Enforcing Human Rights.

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We have also begun a new inquiry into Immigration detention, details of which are here.

The deadline for submissions is 7 September 2018, TODAY!

Scope of the inquiry

The Committee seeks evidence on:

  • Whether current legal and policy frameworks are sufficient in preventing people being detained wrongfully and whether current practices in the detention system protect human rights;
  • Whether the initial decision to detain an individual should be made independently such as through prior judicial approval;
  • Whether immigration detention should be time-limited;
  • How far current policies ensure that people are only deprived of their liberty if it is necessary, rather than for administrative convenience; and
  • Detainees’ access to legal advice and their ability to engage with the legal processes to challenge their detention.

The Committee will also take account of the recommendations within Stephen Shaw’s follow-up review into the welfare of vulnerable people in detention, once this is published.


Rohingyar crisis: Let Britain lead the way in calling For the International Criminal Court to act against the Myanmar military

The number of displaced people in the world has reached an all time high, with the horrors of the conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Myanmar driving the latest waves of refugees. Last week, a report by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission called for Myanmar’s top military generals, including Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide in the north of Rakhine State, as well as for crimes against humanity and war crimes in respect of the Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States. I am supporting Rushanara Ali MP in calling for the UK to lead on seeking a referral of the Myanmar military to the International Criminal Court.


Blitz on dumping and fly-tipping

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Complaints continue to come in from across almost the whole constituency about the rise in dumping (mattresses being particular favourites) and fly-tipping. After many months of being pushed by local councillors and by myself the Council has begun an enforcement blitz in the W9 area, but welcome though that is, we will want to see concrete results - and we suspect that until there have been a number of well-publicised examples of people being caught/fined this won’t stop. Other suggestions for improving the situation include better education for residents, more bins, targeted use of cameras and easier/cheaper collection of bulky items. If you are aware of any particular hotspots (Walterton, Shirland, Hormead and parts of Maida Vale are already well known examples), do let me know.


Let’s go Plastic free: Why we want Westminster Council to promote a ‘Plastic-free city’

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Labour Councillors have called on Westminster City Council to promote a ‘plastic-free city’ by encouraging supermarkets, restaurants, cafes, bars and shops to:

  • use more easily-recycled containers
  • offer paper bags to package fruit and vegetable
  • promote ‘packaging-free shops’ which allow customers to bring their own containers, keeping waste to an absolute minimum.
  • use paper drinking straws in cafes, restaurants and bars
  • be part of a water bottle refill scheme org.uk
  • locate Recycling Points in the entrance of stores for old plastic bags and film,
  • boost recycling and cut waste by encouraging shops, restaurants, cafes to introduce a deposit when customers buy drinks bottles and cans
  • encourage residents, visitors and office workers to carry reusable coffee cups and bottles

Labour argue that the Council should also give a lead by installing new drinking fountains in parks, squares, shopping areas and near transport hubs across Westminster to enable people to fill up water containers/bottles. In addition, the Council should:

  • work with the Canal & River Trust and Port of London Authority to ensure waterways and surrounding areas are clear of plastic and other debris, through regular clean-ups of these areas to stop plastic getting into the Thames
  • call on the Royal Parks to ensure that all events there (Concerts, Winter Wonderland etc) are plastic-free in terms of takeaway containers
  • support a local social enterprise to make and sell products encouraging people to reduce plastic use – reusable cups, paper straws, reusable shopping bags

Labour say that the Council should encourage more innovations by high street operators, for example:

  • Pret a Manger launched a plastic bottle deposit return scheme in Brighton which will recycle any plastic bottles and return a 10p deposit on any Pret-branded bottles. The initial feedback reported 15 percent of Pret bottles were returned on the first day. Pret a Manger has also partnered with bottle makers Chilly’s to create a range of reusable 500ml plastic bottles. Pret has also been offering free filtered water stations which are available to passers by and customers alike at 66 of its shops across the UK.
  • Morrisons has begun a deposit return scheme trial for the return of single-use plastic bottles in two UK stores. The two reverse vending machines will award participating customers with points coupons. The machines accept all plastic bottles that have a barcode and Morrisons own-brand bottles that may not have one. Customers can return a maximum of 20 bottles a day and receive 100 Morrisons More points in the form of a coupon which can be spent in store for each one. They can also choose to donate a 10p cash alternative to the supermarket’s charity partner, CLIC Sargent.
  • Iceland has introduced a reverse vending machine in its Fulham store which rewards customers for recycling with shopping vouchers. The machine accepts any Iceland plastic drinks Every bottle deposited will warrant a 10p voucher.
  • Visitors to Canary Wharf can recycle their single-use plastic bottles and cans using a Deposit Return Scheme in Canada Place. The machine currently rewards users with a ‘thank you’ note and plans are being finalized for the machine to print 5p or 10p discount vouchers, depending on the retailer.
  • Whitbread plc offers free drinking water for customers and passers-by in each of its Costa Coffee and Premier Inn locations.
  • McDonald’s has promised to discontinue use of plastic straws in all its UK restaurants.
  • Leon restaurant chain has replaced plastic straws with biodegradable alternatives.

Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, Labour’s Environment and City Management spokesperson, said:

“Westminster Council needs to become a ‘plastic-free city’ as soon as possible and we hope that the Council will give serious consideration to our proposals so that we can work together with local businesses and residents to steadily reduce the use of plastics in the office, at home, in shops, restaurants and bars. We need to build on the pioneering work started by a number of businesses and work with the Mayor to tackle this serious challenge to our environment.”

Key Facts

  • Plastic bottles and their lids make up 10% of all litter found in the Thames.
  • The average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is at least 450 years.
  • UK consumers use around 13 billion plastic drinks bottles a year but more than three billion are not recycled.
  • About 40 countries worldwide – including Norway, Germany, Sweden and Israel – and 21 US states have some kind of deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.
  • Most schemes involve returning bottles to an automated collection point or to the shop from which they were purchased.
  • The Norwegian scheme claims a 94% recycling rate for bottles made from PET, the clear plastic used for water and fizzy drinks. The drinks industry has installed machines in shops that take in used bottles and cans and give back a coupon to return the deposit.
  • The 5p levy on plastic bags in the UK has resulted in single-use carrier bags usage down by 83%.
  • 80 % of 18-22 year-olds ranked tackling single-use plastics as important or very important for employers, ahead of reducing electricity use, water consumption and reducing greenhouse gases.
  • Environmental responsibility is now in the top three considerations for all younger workers and 43% said they would be shocked if their employer continued to use single-use plastics.

St John’s Wood Post Office

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As many of you know, I have been lobbying Post Office Ltd. to save the St John’s Wood Post Office for around two years, since they first indicated the likelihood of a downgrading of the service (and of course we had a very well attended public meeting in late 2016). I’ve been in regular contact both with them and with the Westminster Council, the owner of the current premises, in the hope that a compromise can be found on the costs of maintaining the Crown Post Office in its current location. Due to commercial confidentiality, neither side would share with me exactly what they were negotiating on in money terms, but the upshot is that there was a gap between what Westminster Council wished to charge in rent and what Post Office Ltd. were prepared to pay for a new lease. I have now been told Westminster Council gave notice to Post Office Ltd in February.

I can appreciate why Westminster want to maximise their income given the drastic cuts in government grants they have experienced in recent years, but it is also true that the Post Office has only just broken even after not making a profit in 16 years and so there is financial pressure on both sides. I’ve been in touch with the Council since the announcement was made, and there doesn’t seem to be more they can or will do. I’ve met Post Offices Ltd. and will be writing to the Minister to stress the strength of local feeling on the issue.

In the meantime, I thought it would be helpful for you to know what Post Office Ltd. are saying:

Dear Ms. Buck,

I wanted to update you about an announcement we have made today concerning Post Offices services in the St John’s Wood area of your constituency.

Post Office Ltd. are proposing to move St John’s Wood Post Office to a nearby retail store which will be known as SW Food Store but is currently St Johns Wood Food Store at 41-45 Charlbert Street, London, NW8 6JN, where it would be run by our new retail partner. 

Posters announcing the decision and the start of a six-week public consultation will be displayed in the branch from tomorrow. In addition, I can also confirm that you and other local stakeholders should also receive a more detailed written briefing tomorrow.

The new St John’s Wood branch will be a bright, modern open-plan layout which will include a complete internal refurbishment.  Access into the store is level with the street, and automatic doors will be installed at the entrance. The Post Office counters at the new branch will be open 09.00 – 17.30 Monday – Saturday, compared to the existing branch’s opening hours of 09.00 – 17.30 Monday – Friday, and 09.30 – 12.30 on Saturdays.

In addition, the serving position located at the retail till will offer customers a selected range of Post Office products and services, without having to join the main queue.  These services will be available 07.30 – 23.00 Monday – Saturday, and 08.00 – 23.00 on Sundays. This will provide customers with an increase of access to these products and services of 62.5 hours a week.

A wide range of services would still be available at the branch, with the exception of DVLA Photocard Driving Licence renewal and Security Industry Authority (SIA) licence application services.  The nearest alternative branch providing this service is Swiss Cottage Post Office, 9-10 Harben Parade, Finchley Road, South Hampstead, London, NW3 6JS, approximately 1 mile away.

This move is part of the continuing modernisation of our branch network. We believe the most effective way to secure the long term viability of Post Office services in St John’s Wood is through a carefully selected retail partner, and we are confident that our proposal is the best way of safeguarding services for the community for years to come.

The vast majority of our 11,600 Post Office branches, large and small, are successfully operated in this way with retail partners and we believe this is the best approach to keeping Post Offices in main shopping locations and at the heart of communities where they play an important role in local economies.

I asked about the number of counters and staffing levels and have been told this:

There will be four serving positions::

  • Two open-plan positions;
  • One traditional screened position, which will also provide travel money services, and;
  • An open service position at the retail counter.

The serving position located at the retail counter will offer customers selected Post Office products and services, for which they will not have to join the main queue. The position will be open from 07.30 – 23.00 Monday to Saturday and 08.00 – 23.00 on Sundays, offering customers an additional 62.5 hours a week of access a week compared to the current branch.

Here are the details of the official consultation, which closes on 19th September. I urge you to respond directly


Housing Issues

My Private Member’s Bill on Housing Fitness - which will give tenants new legal rights when their accommodation is substandard, should finish its passage through the House of Commons next month. Here’s a piece I wrote about it last week

I went on Newsnight in August to talk about the still growing crisis of homelessness and housing need.  You can see it here (It’s 24.50 minutes in)

City West Homes

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After what felt like a period when services were improving earlier in the summer, my caseload has got much worse again with serious disrepair issues affecting tenants and leaseholders. Local Labour councillors want to know your views.

CityWest Homes review – time for residents to have their say

"After belatedly recognising the declining performance of CityWest Homes (the Arms Length Management Organisation that runs Westminster’s housing stock) Westminster Council’s Conservative leadership announced a review, led by consultants Campbell Tickell, looking at the organisation’s performance and structures.

Labour is disappointed and frustrated that the Council’s consultants will only be meeting with the current Residents Council and a few selected additional residents before their report to Cabinet is produced, excluding other CityWest residents from having a direct say in their future. However local Councillors are being asked to feed in their own views into the process.

Labour have repeatedly set out their views about the urgent need for reform of housing management in Westminster, recently calling for CityWest to be scrapped and other major changes. However it is very important that residents are able to put forward their ideas about how they would improve the way in which housing in Westminster is run. So Labour are asking for local residents to submit their ideas to us about how the operation and structures of housing in Westminster should be reformed. (While examples of performance problems are welcome, we are interested to hear ideas on how they might be resolved.)

Please send your ideas to Labour’s Shadow Cabinet Member for Housing and Customer Services, Pancho Lewis (to plewis@westminster.gov.uk) with the email subject heading ‘Submission for CWH Review’ so that we can submit your ideas into both the Council and Scrutiny Committee Reviews."

labourwestminster.wordpress.com/2018/08/16/citywest-homes-review-time-for-residents-to-have-their-say/


Short-lets: New Airbnb figures show the sector still growing

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Information from the home-sharing platform shows Tower Hamlets is outstripping Westminster and Kensington, fuelling a near doubling of London rentals to 49,348 in just two years.

The listings snapshot aggregated by data analysts Inside Airbnb shows the average nightly cost across 32 boroughs and the City is £98.

Tower Hamlets is the most popular borough, with 5,072 listings at a £77 nightly average, of which 2,174 (42.9 per cent) are “entire places”, 2,817 (55.5 per cent) are private rooms, and 81 (1.6 per cent) are shared rooms.

Westminster has 4,703 listings at a £151 per night average, with 3,284 (69.8 per cent) entire homes, 1,378 (29.3 per cent) private homes and 41 (0.9 per cent) shared rooms.


Bayswater Medical Centre

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Like many patients and residents I was extremely disappointed to hear about the problems affecting the Bayswater Medical Centre, which was found to be ‘Inadequate’ after an inspection by the Care Quality Commission.

You can read the Care Quality Commission’s recent inspection report here

The West London Clinical Commissioning Group will now consider a merger of the practice with the Grand Union Health Centre, proposed by the partners at the Bayswater Centre. You can read the decision papers here

Obviously, the first concern has to be to ensure that patients are receiving good and safe care locally, so some action is clearly needed. I understand that the partners have indicated that they will both be retiring from the NHS in the near future and, as they (not the NHS) own the building, this has been put up for sale. They have expressed an interest in merging with another local practice before retirement and this has led to the proposal to merge with Grand Union. Obviously absolutely none of this is what any of us want, as we would all prefer to maintain a quality, local surgery running either at this location or very close. I have been asked why this can’t happen.

In theory, the options would be for another practice to take over the existing surgery, or for the NHS to buy another surgery building in the immediate vicinity- and for this all to happen very quickly.

The problem is that: the current premises don’t belong to the NHS and it is not immediately clear that another GP/GPs would be able to afford to buy the surgery (or something similar). Even if this were possible, there is still a process to be gone through with regards to contracting with other GPs. And judging by recent experience and our understanding of the NHS finances, there is not a large fund available to pay for such a solution.

I’ve asked some questions about this and have been told the following by the Clinical Commissioning Group:

The CCG doesn’t itself hold capital for Estates development. It secures relevant funding from NHS England via a robust framework requiring detailed business case development demonstrating compliance against identified key criteria. This is a process  which involves extensive forward planning and governance, can take up to 18 months, and requires the specific commitment of GPs taking up occupation.    

GP contracts operate under a national framework and West London CCG, as with any other commissioning organisation, is obliged to operate within the legal parameters of this contractual framework. The GP contract allows GPs to hand back their contract, with 3 or 6 months’ notice, which the CCG is legally obliged to accept. GP contractors may also propose practice mergers which will be reviewed by the CCG taking into account a range of factors, including service quality, convenience of access and patient views amongst other factors. In this instance we have received a proposal for Bayswater Medical Centre and Grand Union Health Centre to merge which is currently under consideration pending the completion of the practice patient engagement exercise.

Patients can choose to register with other local practices if they do not wish to move to Grand Union 

Lancaster Gate Medical Centre         0.2 miles away

Garway Surgery                                 0.3 miles away

Dr Purssell And Partners                   0.6 miles away

Newton Medical Centre                    0.6 miles away

And Grand Union is considered to have the following advantages:

  • A purpose built health centre that is DDA compliant
  • A greater choice of clinician with 12 doctors, 4 nurses and 4 Health Care assistants.
  • Longer opening and consultation hours
  • All appointments are available for on line booking
  • An in house Pediatrician to see children under the age of 18
  • A specialist service for the over 65s called My Care My Way
  • An anti-coagulation service (which was previously stopped at BMC)
  • Specialist clinics in house called virtual clinics with renal consultants and respiratory consultants.
  • Access to  wider range of Out of Hospital Service
  • Access to a practice with higher quality performance against a wide range of quality metrics

This may not be of comfort to all the patients at Bayswater, some of whom live very close and many of whom are familiar with the existing surgery. The issue once again highlights the risks of the system wherein some GPs own their own buildings and for whatever reason only have to give relatively short notice of closure. It doesn’t always present a problem but it certainly can, and in very expensive areas such as Central London alternatives are difficult to find and to afford. The numbers have fallen rapidly, however, so hopefully we will have fewer such issues in the future.


Randolph surgery

The other GP surgery which has generated a lot of concern recently has been the Randolph practice, and I have been taking up complaints with the local Clinical Commissioning Group. The surgery was recently inspected by the Care Quality Commission and found to be safe, but requiring improvement in most areas.  (The CQC website is a really good source of information about the quality of health services across the board…)

The Randolph Surgery requires improvement

Doctors/GPs and Clinics

Specialisms/services

  • Diagnostic and screening procedures
  • Family planning services
  • Maternity and midwifery services
  • Services for everyone
  • Treatment of disease, disorder or injury

235a Elgin Avenue, London, W9 1NH
(020) 7266 2621
Provided by: The Randolph Surgery

CQC inspection area ratings
(Latest report published on 22 August 2018)

CQC Inspections and ratings of specific services
(Latest report published on 22 August 2018)


In brief…

Macroom Nursery/Croxley College site

I was very recently alerted to the possibility that the Macroom Road Nursery, run by the London Early Years Foundation, may have to close soon as the former college site is being sold. Whilst no longer needed by the City of Westminster College, the building is currently being used by a number of small, creative industry businesses (‘Kindred Studios) which is great to see. My Labour Councillor colleagues and I are pressing Westminster to find a way to, firstly save the nursery and secondly ensure that the larger site doesn’t just end up as more luxury housing.

Moberly Sports Centre and the future of the Jubilee site

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The new Moberly Sports Centre is open and it’s excellent - although we would still far rather it had not been built technically in Brent, at the absolute farthest corner of the borough.  My concern, shared by the thousands of people who signed the petition to save the Jubilee pool two or three years ago, is that we shouldn’t lose community facilities in the heart of Queen’s Park (and, of course, all the new homes on both sites are high end, luxury housing). Ward councillors and I are now pressing for the Jubilee site to be developed into the promised new community hall as quickly as possible - we absolutely don’t want the building left standing boarded up and increasingly run down.

Hallfield Resident’s Association

I was very pleased to get to the AGM of the Hallfield Residents Association at the end of July - the estate is now into its 10th year of major works, with several more years to come. Given that the need for works to tackle the problems of the window and building design, which was causing serious problems with cold and damp was first properly identified in 2006, and work won’t finish till 2022, this has to be one of the longest such programmes anywhere!

Gloucester Terrace

Meanwhile my staff and I have been continuing to try and get information out of CityWest Homes to help leaseholders facing substantial major works bills in Swanleys and in Glocuester Terrace.

Church Street regeneration

This summer, Sadiq Khan announced his intension to withhold HLA investment from estate regeneration programmes where the Council chooses not to ballot residents on their views. Westminster Council’s plans for Church Street are vastly different from the those they held on an initial ballot on in 2013, and they should go back to the people who live there to win support for their revised scheme.

Queens Park Community Theater

Don't miss this fantastic theatre starring local residents performing scripts they've written themselves, coordinated by . Refreshments will be provided. Tell your family and friends! Link to details here.  

Casework

I continue to work on a large variety of casework for constituents with issues ranging from Universal Credit to housing, health and education. If you or anyone you know has an issue they would like to raise, do get in touch via email

Community meetings and tours of Parliament

I'm always delighted to attend residents’ association or community meetings and hear the latest news. If you would like me to attend your residents’ association or community meeting do get in touch at the email above.

Likewise, if you would like a tour of Parliament, please do get in touch via email or by phoning 0208 968 7999


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome 

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk
Twitter: KarenPBuckMP
Facebook: KarenBuck4WN

September 2018 E-Newsletter

September 2018 E-Newsletter September newsletter Since my last newsletter Parliament has been in recess, so most (though not all) updates are about non-Parliamentary issues. Brexit It’s always a risk saying...

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June 2018 E-Newsletter


High rise fire safety - a year on from Grenfell

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We have reached the first anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, and grieve again for the 72 people who died, as well as those who were injured and bereaved in the worst residential fire in modern British history. The horror of the fire, the shambles of the aftermath, the failure to adequately house all those made homeless is rightly the focus of our immediate attention. However, tens, if not hundreds of of thousands of people living in high-rise buildings nationwide have also been affected and, as it has become increasingly clear that many of the assumptions that had been made about fire-safety were wrong, the implications will be felt for many years to come. Thankfully, Westminster has taken action to remove cladding from the six 20-storey block Little Venice estate (which most of us know as the Warwick estate) but across the country, progress in removing cladding from tower blocks has been painfully slow. It was only last week - 12 months after the Grenfell disaster- that the government finally committed to providing money for cash-strapped councils to make progress on fire safety without compromising other vital repairs and maintenance work. Meanwhile, we *still* don’t how many private blocks are affected, nor where the (disputed) responsibility will lay for paying to remove cladding in leasehold blocks. Although we will not know for certain how the Grenfell fire spread in the way it did until the official inquiry reports, there is no reason to delay making progress either on improving fire safety in existing blocks, or making sure that flammable cladding is never again used  in new buildings. Even the fact that this second point has to be made is astounding, yet the recent report into building regulations post-Grenfell by Dame Judith Hackitt did not go that far, prompting a storm of outrage, and a hurried promise by the Government to consult on a ban after all.

I wrote an article for the Guardian in response to the Hackitt report, explaining why a ban on the use of flammable building materials may not be enough, but is an essential starting point. You can read it here.

Along with ward Councillors, I have been kept closely informed of Westminster Council’s actions on fire safety locally, and have, of course, pressed the Government on funding support and clarity around the legal issues, such as those relating to leasehold properties and the installation of  sprinklers. Do feel free to contact me if you have any specific questions I may be able to help with.


Brexit

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As I have said on many previous occasions, I deeply regret the outcome of the referendum and am absolutely clear that it is in Britain’s best interests to minimise the damaging consequences by negotiating to remain within the Single Market and the Customs Union. Worryingly, however, over the last couple of months, the negotiations over how we leave have once again become bogged down in attempts to finalise outstanding areas of disagreement in relation to the divorce settlement. The question of how to avoid a hard border in Ireland goes to the heart of the problem. It was set aside in March but the current impasse will have to be overcome soon if the negotiations are not to stall or even break down entirely. The EU has been clear that sufficient progress has to be made on the border issue by the EU Council summit in late June, in advance of a solution being agreed at the October Council summit. This is itself the final such summit before the draft withdrawal agreement must begin its process of ratification in both Europe and the UK.

There is no solution to the Irish border issue that does not involve some form of customs union between the EU and the UK. That is because without a customs arrangement that ensures no tariffs, differences in cross-border VAT, customs checks or rules of origins checks (as well as the need for regulatory alignment in other areas currently facilitated by our participation in the single market) infrastructure would have to be placed on the border. Imperilling the basis of the Good Friday Agreement.

In February, Labour put forward a new, comprehensive UK-EU customs union as a negotiating priority. But the Conservatives have refused to soften their red line in this area and are now gripped by an internal argument between two customs arrangement options that they first outlined in a ‘Future Partnership’ paper published on 15 August, but which we have known for some time are not feasible or practical.  The first is a ‘customs partnership’ between the EU and UK. It is untried and untested. By the Government’s own admission, it would take at least five years to implement and it would be ripe for abuse. It was roundly rejected by the EU last year, not least because it would require EU member states to completely reconfigure their own national customs systems. The idea is not simply “blue sky thinking”, as the Secretary of State described it in September last year; it is pie-in-the-sky thinking. For once, Boris Johnson is right – the idea is “crazy”.

The second is a “highly streamlined customs arrangement” or what has recently been badged as ‘max fac’. This position would involve both sides agreeing to implement a range of measures to minimise frictions to trade, together with specific provisions for Northern Ireland. It would therefore require a range of measures, including unproven “technology-based solutions”. According to the Chief Executive of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, it would take three years to put in place and would still result in friction on our borders. As he made clear recently when giving evidence to the Treasury select committee, it would also create extra bureaucracy that could cost business up to £20bn a year!

In her Mansion House speech in March, the Prime Minister claimed that both these customs arrangement options were serious and merited consideration, but they were nonetheless widely derided. The EU immediately ruled both out as non-starters which makes it even more incredible that the Cabinet continue to discuss both options as if they were realistic propositions. Meanwhile, time is running out- hence the suggestion that the Government may look to negotiate customs and regulatory alignment beyond the currently envisaged transition period up until 2023 – an option that was again immediately ruled out by the EU who maintain that a ‘stand still’ transition must be comprehensive (i.e. including continued participation in the single market and with full ECJ jurisdiction).

The truth is that the Government have absolutely no idea about what to do about the issue of customs and the Irish border. The fall-back that surfaced in the EU Commission draft legal text published on 28 February—namely, that Northern Ireland should go into a customs union with the south and that the UK border should be shifted to somewhere in the Irish sea—is clearly unacceptable. The Prime Minister quite rightly made it clear that no UK Prime Minister could accept such an outcome. Hence, the Irish border issue remains unresolved.

Last week, the Prime minister announced plans to publish yet another Brexit white paper, setting out for the first time in detail (and over a year after triggering Article 50) what Britain is seeking from its future relationship with the EU. That would suggest she finally plans to make a choice, but it doesn’t mean that the Cabinet is united on the issue, and there will first have to be agreement on what to put in the policy document, including a plan for a future customs relationship!

VOTING ON THE LORDS AMENDMENTS TO THE EU WITHDRAWAL BILL

This is how I have responded to people writing to me about the EU Withdrawal Bill - as of Tuesday afternoon!

The House of Lords defeated the Government fifteen times during the Lords stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill, and it is these fifteen amendments we voted on this week. I supported them in the Commons. Many of the amendments build on those we pressed in the Commons during the Bill’s Committee Stage, including amendments relating to a customs union, enhanced protection of existing rights and protections, the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, limiting the scope of the sweeping delegated powers in the Bill, and guaranteeing a meaningful vote on the draft withdrawal agreement. The most important one is, in my view, that granting Parliament a meaningful vote on the final deal in the autumn. We cannot be presented with a choice between a poor deal and a catastrophic ‘no deal’ scenario, for which the Government has not prepared and which would have devastating consequences for jobs and communities. Given the extent to which ‘taking back control’ was a key theme for those campaigning for a ‘leave’ vote in the 2016 referendum, I am less than convinced by those who now argue that Parliament should not assert its right to shape this most important of decisions.

I strongly believed that it is in our national interest to remain within the EU, and campaigned for that result in the referendum. The next best alternative is for us to remain part of the Customs Union and the Single Market, and I will be supporting those Lords amendments which come closest to securing those objectives, including the amendment on the EEA.  The Government has proposed a compromise on the Custom Union to buy off their rebels, so it may be that the crunch vote on this will come later, when the Customs Bill and the Trade Bills return to the Commons in the next few weeks. It is worth saying, however, that the only way any amendment would be successful is if (almost) all opposition MPs and around 10-15 Conservative MP rebels vote in favour.

(NB Since drafting this, we have had the first batch of votes and lost each one. Importantly, the government appears to have made a concession to their backbenches regarding Dominic Grieve’s proposal for a version of the ‘meaningful vote’ in order to avoid defeat, and we can now expect a fresh vote next week. We will have to see whether it represents something substantial or whether the putative rebels lost their best opportunity earlier today..)

In addition, you may be interested to know that I raised these specific points on the two recent occasions on which I had a Question to the Prime Minister:

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)

Q14. We must continue to have the closest possible relationship with the single market if we are to avoid taking a major hit on our economy, but time is rapidly running out for us to negotiate a bespoke new deal. What possible reason can there be for the Prime Minister not giving Members of Parliament the earliest possible opportunity to vote in this place on the European economic area? [905351]

The Prime Minister

This House has had and will continue to have many opportunities to debate these issues in relation to the European Union and the United Kingdom’s future relationship with it. There will be not only the meaningful vote that has been promised, but the voting on the European withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill that will come before this House and on a number of other relevant Bills for our Brexit.

Ms Karen Buck (Westminster North) (Lab)

Q10. Ministers will today discuss the two customs arrangement proposals first put forward last August. The first is untried and untested. The second relies on unproven technology. In any event, neither will be ready by the time they are needed, and both have been written off in Europe. Why, with just six months to go before a draft Brexit deal is signed off, are the Government still considering options that we all know are not feasible? [905101]

The Prime Minister

We are very clear that we are going to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019. We will be leaving the customs union, and we want to ensure that we can have an independent trade policy. We also want to ensure that we deliver—we are committed to delivering—on our commitment to having no hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, and that we have as frictionless trade as possible with the European Union. There are a number of ways in which that can be delivered—[Interruption.] There are a number of ways in which that can be delivered, and if the hon. Lady is so interested in the whole question of a customs border, she might like to ask her Front Bench to come to a decision on what the Labour party policy actually is on this.


The secret life of London’s mega-basements

I provided some information and comment on this fascinating recent study into London’s mega-basements, by the journalist David Batty. You can read the story here


Maida Vale Studios - join the campaign

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The BBC is to withdraw from and sell the historic Maida Vale Studios.

The BBC's Maida Vale building was acquired in response to the rapidly increasing requirements of broadcasting in the early 30s. Built in 1909, Maida Vale Studios were orginally the home of the Maida Vale Roller Skating Palace and Club, seating 2,650 people and proud possessor of its own orchestra balcony. The Palace only lasted three months however, and for the rest of the decade the building was occupied by a variety of companies.

In the 1930s it became home to the BBC Symphony Orchestra, but was also a standby centre of the BBC radio news service during the Second World War. Like Broadcasting House, the site had to be repaired after taking a direct hit during the London Blitz. The BBC Symphony Orchestra, still uses the Maida Vale studios for both performances and recordings of classical music. It can hold more than 150 musicians, a choir of over 100 and an audience of 220. Overall, the building houses a total of seven music and radio drama studios. Outside its classical music remit, it was famously home to John Peel's BBC Radio 1 Peel Sessions, and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, famed for its realisation of the Doctor Who theme tune. In 1994, the Beatles album 'Live at the BBC' was released, with most of the material having been recorded at Maida Vale. Several other albums, sometimes named after the studios, were recorded in studio MV4. Van der Graaf Generator released an album called Maida Vale in 1994. Portions of October 1990 and September 1991 sessions by Nirvana were released in 2004 on the band's 'With the Lights Out' box set. In 2006 the group Hefner released an album called 'Maida Vale', which was recorded here. The White Stripes included their version of the Dusty Springfield classic 'I Don't Know What To Do With Myself', recorded for The Evening Session in MV4 by Miti Adhikari on their album 'Elephant'. In 2002 Andrea Bocelli's 'Sentomento' was made here. The label Maida Vale Records, a subsidiary of Cooking Vinyl, has a policy of releasing material from various radio stations.

Westminster Labour launches campaign to save BBC Maida Vale Studios

From the beginnings of radio through to rock and roll, Maida Vale has been at the heart of the nation’s cultural heritage. From the Beatles to Beyonce, every significant pop artist has recorded here. Not only that, the studios also welcomed classical music, light entertainment and the pioneering Radiophonic Workshop. It’s no surprise that every mention of the studios begins with the words iconic or legendary.

Councillor Geoff Barraclough , Labour Councillor for Maida Vale ward said:

“We are concerned that the BBC will try and demolish the Studios to build yet another row of soulless corporate apartments.

We need to safeguard London’s heritage and Maida Vale Studios need urgent protection

  • Westminster Council should immediately designate the building an Asset of Community Value
  • Historic England should list the building as soon as possible

If the BBC really are to leave, it’s important that the building is preserved and renovated. It should be put to a new use that fits its historic place in British popular culture and enriches the area in which it stands. This is public land. So, if any part of the site is used for housing, at least 50% must be affordable. 

We are calling for the BBC to run a full consultation on the future of the Studios, soliciting ideas from the local community as well as the world of arts, theatre and music to create a new use for Maida Vale. This should take the building’s story forward and build on its legacy to create an iconic and legendary facility for future generations.”

If you are interested in knowing more and joining the campaign to save the Maida Vale studios, please just e-mail me back saying:

Save Maida Vale Studios

You can sign the petition here 


Legal aid

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I chair the All Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, and our last meeting was dedicated to the impact of financial pressures in the criminal justice system.

The rule of law and access to justice are towering pillars of a healthy and functioning democracy. Yet, these principles and every aspect of the criminal justice system is under threat. Each week, we hear news of another trial collapsing due to lack of resources or cases being adjourned because of problems with the courts.

In 2016, MPs were told by the Public Accounts Committee that the Criminal Justice System was at breaking point. It has faced huge cuts in the fixed fees payable to those defence barristers who carry out publicly-funded work in the Crown Court under the Advocates’ Graduated Fee Scheme (AGFS); cuts that, proportionately, have far exceeded those imposed on public service providers in any other sector. These are the very same barristers who are working tirelessly under an ever-increasing workload for fees that haven’t changed over a twenty year period. Without their commitment, and their continued goodwill, the system that we are all so proud of, will cease to function. The result is that there are now real and pressing concerns about the viability and sustainability of practice for many at the Criminal Bar, and about whether the Bar will be able to continue to recruit and retain the practitioners needed to do this vital work for the future. Those from less privileged backgrounds, from different ethnicities must be able to see a viable future, a life for them, at the Criminal Bar in order for our Justice System to work properly.

In 2015 the Bar started to negotiate a new scheme for payment of fees with this Government, asking at the outset for further investment to be made in Legal Aid. The Government insisted throughout on “cost neutrality with the result that there is no provision for payment for consideration of disclosure under either the old or the proposed scheme and by 2019/20 there will be a £600m reduction in an already meagre and inadequate budget for the Ministry of Justice. In planning more cuts and bringing into the force the proposed fee scheme, Ministers are further crippling a legal system already on its knees and are doing members of the legal profession and the public a huge disservice.


Fly-tipping

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With dumping and over-flowing bins becoming almost a fixture in parts of the borough, and especially around ‘hot spots’ in Maida Vale, Harrow Road and Queen’s Park, it is clear that we need more effective enforcement. Some of this dumping is done by local residents, of course, but the nature and scale of the problem also suggests that flat clearances are also a feature, possibly linked to the high turnover in our large stock of private rented properties. I have been complaining and asking for help from Westminster Council since 2015, but whatever is being done isn’t working.

The local Labour councillors have now put together a ’10 point plan’ to curb the fly-tippers.  Let me know what you think- about the problem and possible solutions.

May 2018

Labour launches 10-point plan to tackle rubbish dumping in Westminster

Labour Westminster Councillors have launched a 10-point plan to tackle the current dumping epidemic across Westminster.

Labour say that the current Council approach to tackling dumping needs to change to respond to the massive increase in furniture, household goods and other material being dumped on the streets.

In no particular order, Labour’s 10-point plan includes:

  • Better ways of reporting dumping - the current Council ‘Report It’ system doesn’t really work with a mobile phone. One resident told us his experience:

“A month or so back I tried to report a litter problem in Park Street. The system defaulted to Hyde Park Street and nothing could get it to change to Park Street. I even exited and started again with same result. Consequence is I've given up am not likely to try again.”

Another resident said:

“It has a number of very irritating rules about how good my password should be. It asked for my national insurance number.  Not sure why. Then you try and add a “case" and you can’t. It’s terrible at the moment.  Problem with launching it half-cocked is that people will try it and then give up and never try it again.  As there is little upside to reporting it needs to be easy to do.  In any event, probably ought to be iOS app so that location is automatically reported and you can add a picture.”

 

  • Monitoring Twitter posts - Twitter has been full of examples of rubbish dumping pictures across Westminster, often with the @CityWestminster address. But the Council’s twitter account is not monitored so no action is ever taken as a result. So, how about a Council-monitored Twitter account?

 

  • Better enforcement - the current policy of ‘warning people’ isn’t working. The City Inspectors should be able take a much harder line. Fines are only given on the second offence, but this is treated as a first offence so there’s a 50% discount. The Council should make it clear that there is zero tolerance for dumping and should levy fines on the first offence and drop the 50% discount

 

  • Weekend working - City Inspectors work Monday -Friday yet there’s no doubt that offending goes up at the weekend at the same time as the Council’s ability to enforce dumping takes a couple of days off. The Council needs to think smart - Perhaps the Council could empower Traffic Wardens to take photos and issue fines for those seen dumping?

 

  • Improved publicity – The current ‘warning signs’ are simply ignored. The Council should introduce prominent signs with the following message "3 people were fined £150 this month for leaving rubbish here - don't dump". This would get across the message that people do get fined for dumping.

 

  • Use cameras to identify the dumpers – CCTV cameras located at dumping ‘hotspots’ do stop dumping. There was a long-standing furniture dumping problem at the corner of Harrow Road and First Avenue which was stopped by locating a CCTV camera there. This should be the norm at all dumping ‘hotspots’

 

  • Introduce a speedier bulky goods refuse collection service – currently residents wait up to 10 working days (2 weeks) for a collection. One resident wrote:

“I am trying to dispose of large items legally and responsibly using the Council, it is most unhelpful.  Not only do Veolia (contacted via the Westminster council site) charge over £20 but they then refuse to pick up for over a fortnight, even though they take full payment at time of booking. No wonder people leave their unwanted furniture etc. all over the streets.”

Another resident tweeted:

“Recently booked bulky pickup thru Westminster site. Two minute process Easy. Got multiple texts as reminder of pickup too. Only downside was 1-2 week wait for collection.”

Expecting people to store unwanted beds and fridges for two weeks before they are collected by the Council is totally unreasonable and impractical for the vast majority of people. Most people living in flats do not have the space to store bulky goods. And these days, people expect a much swifter service than the Council is providing.

  • Cut the cost of bulky goods collection – it currently costs £24 for 5 items plus £5 per additional item. Introducing a ‘first time free’ policy would surely encourage more people to have their rubbish collected?

 

  • Introduce a Saturday service - Westminster does not have a ‘municipal tip’ where residents can take their recycling or bulky refuse. The nearest ‘tip’ is in Wandsworth at Smugglers Way. And while it might be convenient for those living in south Westminster it is not convenient for residents of Marylebone, St John’s Wood and Paddington

The Council should introduce a Saturday bulky waste service to enable residents to take their waste to a parked refuse freighter at a number of locations across Westminster. There could also be a smaller vehicle to collect electrical items and scrap metal, household appliances like cookers, fridge/freezers, washing machines, TV's, monitors and computers.

  • Introduce a Landlord service - With the growth of renting and increasing turnover of tenants, many landlords take the opportunity of redecorating and providing new furniture when leases come to an end. The Council should provide a paid-for service for landlords to enable them to dispose of unwanted items when tenants are moving out. The Council can promote this through managing agents, housing associations and City West Homes

“The increase in rubbish dumping on the streets needs to be tackled head-on with more use of CCTV and tougher action against those responsible, together with improved services to give residents more options for getting their unwanted furniture collected. The Council also needs to improve its on-line reporting options so that action can be taken to deal with dumping issues quickly and effectively”

Let us know what you think.


Gaza

A large number of constituents wrote to me to express their horror at the killings on the Israeli - Gaza border during the recent protests. I raised this in the Parliamentary statement:

Karen Buck Labour, Westminster North

The Minister speaks of balance, but no balance has been expressed by the US Administration, who have rightly condemned Hamas but said nothing about the carnage unleashed on civilians by the vastly superior IDF. The Minister has said that the UK disagrees with the United States Government’s position, but will he undertake to convey to them urgently the fact that their failure to be unequivocal and make absolutely clear that the level of violence was unacceptable will simply delay any political solution to this crisis?


Local people lose out as Housing Associations sell homes at auction

My analysis of sales at auction by some of our local Housing Associations formed part of a major story in this week’s Guardian:

"Housing Associations have made at least £82.3m from auctioning homes in five London boroughs since 2013, according to figures seen by the Guardian. Analysis by the Labour MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck, shows that Westminster, Brent, Camden, Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea sold 153 properties at auction through Savills estate agents – with more than half in Westminster where sales totalled £36.4m. The true figures are likely to be much higher as the data only covers sales made by one agency. The auctions are part of a wider trend of some Housing Associations selling off social housing in expensive central London to fund new developments, which tenants say are unaffordable or far removed from their families, schools and work.

Buck says: “I’m dealing with a family who are statutorily overcrowded and in the highest medical priority and I haven’t been able to get them moved in over eight years. That’s because Housing Associations [in general] say they don’t have the stock in the area and yet they’re still selling off homes.”

Nationally, sales of Housing Association social homes to the private sector have more than tripled since 2001, with 3,891 social homes sold in 2016. Overall, more than 150,000 homes for social rent have been lost since 2012."

You can read the whole story here.


Air Quality Ultra Low Emission Zone

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has confirmed the expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone up to North and South Circular roads from 25 October 2021. Strict emission standards will also apply to buses, coaches and lorries across the whole of London from 26 October 2020. Both schemes will lead to emission reductions across London and more than 100,000 residents no longer living in areas exceeding legal air quality limits in 2021. The ULEZ is to begin in Central London from 8th April 2019. It will cover an area 18 times larger than the Central London Ultra Low Emission Zone and will affect large numbers of polluting vehicles that don’t comply with strict emission standards. It is estimated that 100,000 cars, 35,000 vans and 3,000 lorries might be affected by the expanded zone and tighter standards every day.

These bold measures will deliver a major improvement to Londoners health by reducing the toxic air quality that is currently responsible for thousands of premature deaths and other serious conditions. Research demonstrates these effects disproportionately impact the poorest Londoners.

Recent studies by the University of Oxford have shown the health damage from cars and vans costs £6 billion annually to the NHS and society, with the bill from London vehicles totalling £650 million a year.

Expanding the ULEZ beyond Central London and strict standards for heavy vehicles across London will result in more than 100,000 Londoners no longer living in areas exceeding legal air quality limits in 2021, a reduction of nearly 80 per cent compared to without expansion. All areas of London are expected to see reductions in pollution, including on the North and South Circular Roads and only 4 per cent of roads in Outer London are expected to exceed legal limits in 2021.

The expanded zone will be managed in the same way as the Central London ULEZ, which is being delivered in April 2019, 17 months earlier than planned and will operate on top of the Congestion Charge, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Drivers within the expanded zone using non-compliant vehicles will pay a daily ULEZ charge of £12.50, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. These include:

  • motorbikes that do not meet Euro 3 standards
  • petrol cars and vans that do not meet Euro 4 standards (roughly the equivalent to not being more than fifteen years old for cars in 2021)
  • diesel cars and vans that do not meet Euro 6 standards (roughly the equivalent to not being more than six years old for cars in 2021)

Across London diesel buses, coaches and lorries will need to meet the Euro 6 standard.

Following an extensive consultation, the Mayor will also tighten the standards for the most polluting heavy vehicles including buses, coaches and lorries across the whole of London from October 2020, using the same boundary as the existing Low Emission Zone.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Tackling London’s lethal air and safeguarding the health of Londoners requires bold action. Air pollution is a national health crisis and I refuse to stand back as thousands of Londoners breathe in air so filthy that it shortens our life expectancy, harms our lungs and worsens chronic illness.

“I promised hard-hitting measures to tackle our shameful air pollution and today City Hall is confirming the next stage of our plans to expand the Ultra-Low Emission Zone up to the North and South Circular roads.

“We’re doing everything in our power to tackle this issue and are starting to see improvements in air quality with the wide-ranging action we’ve taken already on tackling the most polluting cars, and cleaning up our bus and taxi fleet. An expanded Ultra-Low Emission Zone, in conjunction with the Central London ULEZ, will really help transform the air that millions of Londoners breathe.

“Some motorists will need help switching to greener transport options, which is why City Hall are urging Ministers to deliver a diesel scrappage scheme to get the dirtiest cars off our roads and offer drivers a fair deal, especially the many diesel drivers who brought vehicles thinking they were more environmentally friendly after Government advice.”

The public consultation on expanding the ULEZ standards was the largest ever recorded by TfL and showed staunch support for the Mayor’s proposals, with 56 per cent supporting or strongly supporting the expansion of the ULEZ boundary from Central London and 74 per cent backing the new London-wide emissions standards for heavy vehicles.

The Mayor listened carefully to feedback through the consultation and has decided to give disabled tax class vehicles and specially adapted private hire vehicles until October 2025 to replace their vehicles. This gives these vehicles an extra 6.5 years from the start of the central London ULEZ or 4 years from the start of the expanded ULEZ to comply. Similarly, charities have been given a longer period of time to replace existing minibuses. They will have a two-year sunset until October 2023.

Sadiq has already strengthened the ULEZ standards to include a particulate matter standard after recent health data revealed that every part of London exceeds recommended World Health Organisation air quality guidelines for PM2.5.

by a further 28 per cent across London, so this expansion is a huge step towards protecting the health of all Londoners.”

The Mayor is working with TfL to ensure London’s public transport lead the way in low emissions. TfL is no longer procuring double-deck pure-diesel buses and instead only procuring hybrid, electric or hydrogen buses, with all buses meeting the new standards across London by 2020. TfL will only allow new taxis in London that are zero-emission capable and newly manufactured private hire vehicles will need to follow suit from 2020.

The Mayor also announced he is supporting a major new study into the health benefits of reducing toxic air pollution on more than 3,000 primary school children in polluted areas of London and Luton. Research has found that some children in London are breathing in air so damaging that it is affecting the development of their lungs.

The study will test how policies like the Ultra-Low Emission Zone can improve the growth of children’s lungs and reduce chest symptoms, comparing London children whose schools are placed within the ULEZ zone with children in Luton whose schools are in traffic-restricted zones.


Local Round Up

Support your local youth services

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Any donation you make towards the ⁦@AvenuesYouth79⁩ between 11th (today) and the 15th (Friday) of June your #Donation will be #Doubled by ⁦@ChildhoodTrust⁩ as part of their #SummerGive18 #RT

www.secure.thebiggive.org.uk/charity/view/64611/the-avenues-youth-project

In brief:

Some of the other issues my staff and I have been dealing with recently include:

1. Taking up the concerns about the impact of delivery vehicles in Monmouth Road, Bayswater.

2. Illegal parking and inadequate lighting in Elmfield Way, where there continues to be a dispute between Westminster Council and the NHS over the ‘adoptions’ of the road, and therefore where the responsibility lies for management and upkeep.

3. The poor state of the playground in Alfred Road, next to Westminster Academy.

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4. I joined the Paddington Law Centre on the annual ‘Legal Walk’, helping raise money for their essential advice and advocacy services.

5. The children from Edward Wilson school designed my Eid card for 2018 (they’ll also be designing my Christmas card), so I popped in to hand out some prizes and subject myself to a gruelling hour of tough questions!

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6. The fourth of our ‘round-table’ sessions to prepare for the local roll-out of Universal Credit brought together housing providers, advice agencies, Shelter, the Council and the DWP to share contacts and try and iron out problems in advance. It’s going to be really important that anyone experiencing difficulties gets help as early as possible so please use my office as well as Citizen’s Advice, Z2K and others if you need assistance.

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7. A trip last weekend to the ‘Kindred Studios’ open day was a revelation! This project has taken over the now vacant former City of Westminster College site in Saltram Crescent, W9 and opened their doors so local people could see the incredible work being done by small creative businesses. The founder/Chief Executive has now written to me with more information:

After a two and a half years in a 14,000 sq ft building in Ladbroke Grove, we lost our lease and moved our 90 members to a newly vacated site belonging to City of Westminster College.  The new larger site offered the possibility to expand our project which now includes 175 artists (mostly living within a 2 mile radius of studios), a professional development programme for college students aimed at giving students hands on real life experience of the creative industries and a community engagement programme which involves our neighbouring families and schools.

We are now working with 4 local primary schools, offering a whole variety of very engaging hands-on workshops delivered by our own resident artists and are building a community garden in which we can further extend our educational offer

Community programmes

www.kindredstudios.co.uk/community-programmes/

Crowd fund

www.spacehive.com/arts-and-environmental-learning

I have 850 applications from local artists and more coming in every day.  Our mailing list is growing and we are attracting the attention of other creative businesses who want to support us. Maida Hill is, indeed West London is, a buoyant creative neighbourhood and I feel that what we are doing here is really needed on so many levels.


Wishing everyone celebrating today ‘Eid Mubarak’

www.karenbuck.org.uk/eid_mubarak_2018


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome. 

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk
Twitter: KarenPBuckMP
Facebook: KarenBuck4WN

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.

June 2018 E-Newsletter

June 2018 E-Newsletter High rise fire safety - a year on from Grenfell We have reached the first anniversary of the Grenfell disaster, and grieve again for the 72 people...

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April 2018 E-Newsletter 


The treatment of the ‘Windrush generation’

Westminster is one of the most diverse areas in the world. Being both inner city and the heart of a successful global metropolis, it has always been one of the ‘areas of arrival’ for new communities - from Ireland, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Bangladesh - and a place where people from all over the world base themselves for work, study and leisure. We have one of the largest numbers of nationals from other EU countries living here, and many people are here for both the short and long term from all points of the globe. Whilst no society is perfect, and the financial squeeze on public services and affordable housing has taken its toll, I think we can be genuinely proud of our history of tolerant co-existence, and recognise the massive benefits, economic and cultural - there are in being an open city. Amongst many other examples, our NHS and care services rely on the contributions of doctors, nurses and other workers from abroad and would not function without them.

Yet we do now also have to confront head on the fact that hate crimes have risen in the last two years, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia and that many EU nationals feel less welcome than before the referendum. Very recently it has also become clear that the government’s ‘hostile environment’ in respect of migration has led specifically to some shocking examples of deportation and denial of services to long-standing residents from the Caribbean (the ‘Windrush generation’) and more generally to a risk that people in need are being denied the ability to get health care, access housing and so on. There must be rules governing immigration and these should be enforced so people have confidence in them, but this needs to be done with sensitivity and common sense.

I am horrified by these developments, not simply because of the incredibly harsh treatment being meted out to many older people who have lived and worked in this country for years in the firm belief that this is their home, but because the signals are sending ripples of fear far wider and that is deeply sad.

I have:

  • Supported the letter to the Prime Minister in defence of the ‘Windrush Generation’ which you can see below

 

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  • Contributed to the Parliamentary statement on Windrush
  • Continue to be delighted to try and answer individual questions and wherever I can help people of all communities with concerns or practical problem
  • I am also concerned that EU residents who have been seeking reassurance about their future status and the process of confirming this after Brexit, will be even more anxious and I will be raising this in Parliament as well.

Brexit

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I remain as concerned as ever - more so, as the clock ticks down - about the risks of a ‘hard Brexit’ and the damage this will do Britain.  I have always been clear that there must be a meaningful vote on the final deal. That means it cannot be a ‘Hobson’s choice’/’take it or leave it’- the draft withdrawal agreement as presented or no deal, meaning the hardest of departures. If Parliament rejects the deal, Parliament must then determine the way forward in the first instance but this could well mean a further public vote, either in the form of a referendum or another General Election.

I believe as many options as possible should be left on the table to help us resolve this exceptionally difficult situation we are now in and I am absolutely not ruling anything out.   It is, however, now hard to see when, practically, a second referendum could actually take place on the final deal. The Article 50 negotiations are likely to go down to the wire and we cannot have a referendum on a negotiation that is still taking place. Neither are the EU 27 going to give the UK an extra 2-3 months outside the Article 50 process to hold a second referendum (as you may know, I voted against triggering Article 50 last year because I was so concerned by the constraint it impaired). There will simply be no opportunity for a referendum to take place on the final terms of withdrawal before the UK has left the EU. It is my belief that only Parliament is in a position to have the final say on the final deal and, as a result of Amendment 7 being passed, we’ll now have one.

I would not support a deal which did not meet the tests we have set:

Our six tests for Brexit and the final deal:

  1. Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
  2. Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and the Customs Union?
  3. Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
  4. Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
  5. Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
  6. Does it deliver for all regions and nations of the UK?

Let me emphasise again I am absolutely not ruling anything out, and there must be a public say in what happens next. 


Syria

Many of you wrote to me about the conflict in Syria and I have written a response which you can see here

I also contributed to the Parliamentary statement pressing for tougher action to be taken against the Syrian regime and its backers in respect of sanctions and access to the international banking system.


Anti-Semitism

I wrote about anti-Semitism last month, making clear that my view is that anti-Semitism is racism and has no place in our politics. I have now met with some of our local Rabbis to pledge my support to the community and to hear their concerns, and I am extremely grateful to them for this dialogue. I am pleased to serve as a Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Jews and a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Anti-Semitism. We have to be judged on actions not just words, but language does matter, of course, and I agree with what Jeremy Corbyn said in his Evening Standard article;

“When members of Jewish communities express genuine anxieties we must recognise them as we would those of any other community. Their concerns are not “smears”."

You can read the whole article here.


Airbnb/Short lets

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I took part in this ‘Radio 5 Live investigates’ special on short lets last week:

Holiday Letting Fire Safety

5 live Investigates

Senior fire officers are warning of potential safety risks as more and more people let out their houses to tourists through Airbnb and other short term letting websites. The National Fire Chiefs Council says fire and rescue services are not aware of how many short term rental properties are operating in their areas, making it hard for them to assess possible risks. It says some of these properties are being used in effect as small hotels, but if fire officers don't know where places are they can't inspect or give owners advice to ensure buildings are safe.

MPs have called for all properties operating in this way to be registered.

The Short Term Accommodation Association, the professional body for the short let sector, says it has adopted the safety standards of the residential long let industry. It says in instances where those standards are not being met it addresses them with urgency.

You can listen here.

I’m also about to host a roundtable with Airbnb and other providers to urge all those which don’t automatically enforce the 90-day limit on hosts to join Airbnb in doing so.


Tackling the latest rise in serious youth violence

There has been a sharp rise in violent crime and serious youth violence in the last year, not only in London but across the country. Worryingly, three young people have been stabbed in North Westminster in the last two weeks. The reasons for this, some 6 years after the last such peak, are complex- some of it at least may be linked to the development of ‘country lines’, which is the term used to describe how London-based drugs suppliers sell Class A drugs in other parts of the country. I attended, and contributed to, the City Hall summit with the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary, which discussed not just policing but prevention and access to mental health services for some very damaged young people. It would be wrong  just to say that cuts, including cuts in policing - we have over 21,000 police in England since 2010 - are responsible for this latest problem, since we had higher police levels during the last crisis. However, I firmly believe that having reduced Safer Neighbourhood Police teams and Youth Services make dealing with it much harder.


Scandal of closed children’s centres

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More and more evidence comes forward about the importance of ‘early help’ for families and children, and how it prevents problems further down the line. Sadly, our Children’s Centres have, like our youth clubs in Westminster, had their funding cut dramatically. This one in Westbourne is closed and padlocked, despite it having served one of the poorest wards in the whole country


Local round up

Randolph surgery

Several patients of this surgery contacted me about their concerns, including lengthy waits for appointments. I took this up with the Clinical Commissioning Group and have had this response:

The Clinical Commissioning Group are aware of issues at this practice, including in the recruitment of a salaried GP – an all too common feature these days I’m afraid because of the workload and day to day pressures, particularly in central London. They have followed up with the surgery who is fully aware of the problems with waiting times for routine appointments and is urgently recruiting a further salaried GP. Unfortunately there has been a combination of sickness absence, maternity leave and staff annual leave which together have all coincided to compound the staffing issues at the practice. The Practice Manager is confident that employing another salaried GP will ease the problems they are experiencing but the CCG will continue to monitor the situation. As in all cases, we do recommend that patients raise formal complaints with the practice, if this hasn’t been done already, so that these can be investigated and recorded. This also helps NHS England in its performance monitoring role of general practice. 


Meeting the new Lords Chief Executive

I was really pleased to meet Guy Lavender, the new Chief Executive of the Marylebone Cricket Club last week. We talked about making sure the neighbouring community remains happy with the impact of the club, and the commitment to extending outreach and community access to sports facilities.


Lisson Green Estate Residents

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Together with Church Street Ward councillors, I attended the annual meeting of the Lisson Green Tenant’s and Resident’s Association in early April. These meetings are always well attended, but unfortunately this year after the call centre was introduced last summer, the change in contractors and the closure of a number of estate offices, there were many more complaints than usual about City West Homes and the repairs service. 


Supporting the Westminster Young Foundation

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The Young Foundation was set up after Westminster Council withdrew all financial support from the Youth Service, and is exploring new ways to try and get investment into this vital area.  I was delighted to co-host (with Mark Field MP) a reception for the Young Foundation in the Jubilee Room in Parliament, where businesses and funders were invited to hear about the good work being done and the very high levels of need in the borough.


Getting ready for Universal Credit

It’s been great to work closely with local advice providers and others to share information and try and get everyone well prepared for the roll-out of Universal Credit, the new benefit replacing many existing benefits this summer in Westminster. I’ve been organising meetings jointly with Mark Field, with the latest one also involving a number of housing providers, as the housing payments system has caused a number of problems in other areas as it starts and we want to avoid those as much as possible. We’ll be meeting again with the DWP soon to carry on this preparation.

It is absolutely essential that anyone moving onto Universal Credit who finds themselves in difficulties gets advice as quickly as possible and my staff and I will work together with the agencies involved to do all we can to help. 

Westminster Citizens Advice Bureau

21a Conduit Place, Paddington, London, W2 1HS

Tel: 0300 330 1191

www.westminstercab.org.uk

Zacchaeus 2000 Trust

For finance, benefits and debt advice

10 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 0QP

Tel: 0207 2590 801

www.z2k.org


May 3rd is Local Election Day

Please don’t forget to use your (3) votes on Thursday May 3rd in the local council elections. These elections are crucial in deciding who represents you on Westminster Council so don’t miss your chance to have your say!


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk

Twitter: KarenPBuckMP
Facebook: KarenBuck4WN


Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY

April 2018 E-Newsletter

April 2018 E-Newsletter  The treatment of the ‘Windrush generation’ Westminster is one of the most diverse areas in the world. Being both inner city and the heart of a successful...

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