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As you can imagine, it’s almost impossible to write anything about Brexit without risking it being out of date by the time you read it!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
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
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
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:
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 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:
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?
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
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
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.
Saving All Stars Boxing club
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
…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.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.
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...
November 2018 E-Newsletter
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
Westminster Citizens Advice Bureau
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
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.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
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...
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 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
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.
Access to Justice
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.
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’
‘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
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
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Karen Buck MP
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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...
September 2018 E-Newsletter
Since my last newsletter Parliament has been in recess, so most (though not all) updates are about non-Parliamentary issues.
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.
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
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’
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.”
- 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
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.
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
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.
"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 email@example.com) with the email subject heading ‘Submission for CWH Review’ so that we can submit your ideas into both the Council and Scrutiny Committee Reviews."
Short-lets: New Airbnb figures show the sector still growing
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
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.
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…)
Doctors/GPs and Clinics
- 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)
- Safe Good
- Effective Requires improvement
- Caring Requires improvement
- Responsive Requires improvement
- Well-led Requires improvement
CQC Inspections and ratings of specific services
(Latest report published on 22 August 2018)
- Older people Requires improvement
- People with long term conditions Requires improvement
- Families, children and young people Requires improvement
- Working age people Requires improvement
- People whose circumstances may make them vulnerable Requires improvement
- People experiencing poor mental health inc dementia Requires improvement
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
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!
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 @lovepaddington. Refreshments will be provided. Tell your family and friends! Link to details here.
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
Karen Buck MP
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...
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 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.
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? 
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? 
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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!
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.
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
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’
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.
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...
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.
- Supported the letter to the Prime Minister in defence of the ‘Windrush Generation’ which you can see below
- 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.
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:
- Does it ensure a strong and collaborative future relationship with the EU?
- Does it deliver the ‘exact same benefits’ as we currently have as members of the Single Market and the Customs Union?
- Does it ensure the fair management of migration in the interests of the economy and communities?
- Does it defend rights and protections and prevent a race to the bottom?
- Does it protect national security and our capacity to tackle cross-border crime?
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Zacchaeus 2000 Trust
For finance, benefits and debt advice
10 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 0QP
Tel: 0207 2590 801
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.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY
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...
Round up of the month
There are few quiet months in politics these days, and March has been no exception.
I was one of a number of Labour MPs who joined the demonstration against anti-Semitism which took place in Parliament Square last Monday.
Anti-Semitism is racism, pure and simple, and has no part in my party, our politics or our society more generally. Anti-Semitic attacks have been on the rise in recent years and there can be no equivocation in condemning them for what they are. It is deeply distressing to me that we have reached a position where so many Jewish people clearly feel unwelcome, uncomfortable or worse, in Labour, and where those speaking out on the issue risk being abused for it. That there is a problem to be dealt with can be in no doubt. I pledge my total commitment to ending this intolerable situation and it is right that we are now held to account for turning words into action. I am already an officer of the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Jews and am signed up to the All Party Parliamentary Group against anti-Semitism, but I welcome further suggestions. We have a strong record of tolerance in this local community and I will do all I can to ensure that this is upheld.
In Parliament, I’ve been busy with the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We have just published a report on Free Speech in Universities, which you can read here.
We are also in the middle of an inquiry into ‘Attitudes to enforcement’. The United Kingdom has a proud tradition of respect for human rights. Those rights are supported by political parties, and such rights have long been an integral part of common law, as well as being enshrined in statute by the Human Rights Act 1998.
However, as much as rights may be recognised and protected within the legal framework, there can be barriers to achieving a culture which understands and respects human rights and practical barriers to those who wish to enforce their legal rights. You can find out more about this here.
I’ve also been involved into a number of Parliamentary Ministerial statements and debates, including in respect of the visit of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, where I raised concerned about the death sentences against peaceful protesters; the impact of Brexit on the NHS, and Grenfell and Fire Safety. I’m happy to respond in more detail on these or other issues should you wish to follow them up.
I was in touch with our main local Mosques and with Westminster Police prior to the threatened ‘Punish a Muslim Day’ on April 3rd, after letters were sent to some of my Muslim colleagues in Parliament and to some individuals in different parts of the country. Thankfully, the day seemed to have passed without incident and I am not aware of anyone local having received one of the poisonous letters. Please do be sure to report any incidents of hate crime, as it is essential that the police and government have an accurate picture.
In the rest of this newsletter you will find information about more of the (mostly local) work I have been doing recently.
What a waste of public money as Paddington ‘Free School’ closes after just six years
The closure of the Minerva primary school in Paddington, which was set up under the government’s Free School programme - was announced this month, less than six years after it opened. The school was set up in one of the most expensive areas of the country, despite never being justified in terms of the demand for places. Even Westminster Council made clear that the school was not needed, saying now that “Data was provided at the time to the DfE that evidenced no demand for a new school”
Parents were expressing their dissatisfaction from the start, as the school has already had two temporary sites in its short life, with no outdoor space, never opened on the planned permanent site and has been operating only half full. Our sympathy is first and foremost for the parents and children who have faced all this disruption. However, the extraordinary waste of money involved in this example of a ‘schools free-for-all’ proves once again how essential it is that increasingly scarce public resources are planned and directed properly.
The West End Extra covered the story here.
…whilst our other schools face a cash squeeze
Meanwhile, many of our other schools - primary and secondary - are achieving great things whilst struggling with budgets as funding fails to keep pace with cost pressures. I recently met with the Westminster Secondary Heads group to discuss the local impact, but we already know schools and colleges are struggling to make ends meet. The Government’s real-terms cuts to education funding have seen £2.8 billion cut from school budgets since 2015. This is resulting in significant damage to the education our schools and colleges are able to provide.
Worse still is on the horizon with 17,942 schools (equal to nine out of ten) hit by a real terms cut in funding per pupil from 2015-19.
Class size increases
Research by the School Cuts coalition published on 8th March 2018 shows that class sizes are rising in the majority of secondary schools in England.
In Westminster North, secondary schools have an average of 1.4 more students in every class.
Larger class sizes mean less individual attention for children and young people.
Falling staff numbers
Further research published in February – drawn solely from Government figures – shows that staff numbers in England’s secondary schools have fallen by 15,000 between 2014/15 and 2016/17 despite their being 4,500 more pupils to teach. This equates to an average loss of 5.5 staff members in each school since 2015; in practical terms this means 2.4 fewer classroom teachers, 1.6 fewer teaching assistants and 1.5 fewer support staff.
Calls to stop the selling off of much needed homes
I have been objecting for some time to the sale at auction of much needed housing association flats in Westminster so I was pleased to be able to contribute to this article in last weekend’s Observer.
Access to justice
As the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Legal Aid group, access to justice is very dear to my heart. This month my main Parliamentary Committee, the Joint Committee on Human Rights, has been carrying out an inquiry into the barriers which may prevent people excerising their rights- including issues like legal aid, and we will be publishing a report soon. You can find out more about it here.
I was also pleased to join the Law Society to back their campaign for ‘early help’ – access to legal advice at the earliest point for people with problems, which can so often prevent more complex (and expensive) problems arising down the line.
LOCAL NEWS ROUND-UP
It’s been another busy month for community events!
Paddington Waterways and Maida Vale Society
I was delighted to be able to get to the AGM of the Paddington Waterways and Maida Vale Society, whose officers do great work contributing to planning considerations in the area, support the local police and much more. Discussions and questions covered planning and development, affordable housing and the problem of short-lets. I continue to urge local residents to join their amenity societies and help them help your community!
Paddington Law Centre
Paddington Law Centre staff and volunteers do outstanding work advising and representing local people with employment, housing, welfare and other legal issues on an absolutely shoestring.
Last year the tiny team dealt with 2985 clients, including 1105 housing cases and 1414 benefit issues, such as helping people challenge the removal of disability payments. A staggeringly high level of cases are won at appeal, showing just how flawed the system is, but that proportion falls when disabled people don’t get good help and advice, so the service the Law Centre offers is critical.
As (almost) always, I joined them for their Annual General Meeting, to say thank you for all they do.
Tollgate - residents having a tough time during the estate re-building
I continue to hear from the residents of Tollgate House about concerns they have surrounding the ongoing development. Several residents have expressed their concern over the future of those who have been displaced by the development as well as current tenants in housing need. Westminster Council have clarified that priority will first be given to those residents who were displaced and then tenants in housing need before the social housing in the new development is opened to Westminster’s general register.
I have also heard from residents who objected to being charged for the cleaning of the communal areas of Tollgate House whilst it is effectively a building site. These photos taken of the lift and the terrace, showing the dirt and dust that residents are living with, were sent to CityWest Homes in a request to drop the cleaning charges. I was very pleased to learn that the Council and City West Homes have now agreed to do this and that residents will no longer be paying for a redundant service.
If you have any other concerns about the development at Tollgate House, please get in touch and let me know.
Meeting the Wheelchair Service User Group
I caught up with the support group for wheelchair users recently, to discuss some of their concerns with the quality of the service, including delays in getting repairs and replacements. I’m taking up specific cases, but would be very pleased to hear from anyone else who has an issue causing them concern.
Councillor Begum and I went along to a meeting of the Dibdin resident’s Association in Maida Vale, where there were lots of concerns raised about parking and noise nuisance. Polly Robertson does a fabulous job keeping the association together and getting the community hall back into use. She’s a real community champion.
This is going to be a running feature, I suspect, as it is being raised more and more widely in Westminster and beyond. I met with the Short Lets Association recently to hear their ideas, as the industry representatives. Whilst I welcome the fact that they are clearly seeking to hear and respond to, some of the concerns, it is worrying that the other main providers of short lets are not even signed up to Airbnb’s pledge to police the 90-day legal limit for such bookings. The sector is growing so fast that we have very little time to get to grips with effectively managing it, and the industry does need to take more responsibility than it has so far to make sure we tackle nuisance and avoid the loss of desperately needed homes to informal hotels.
Queen’s Park Community Day
Queen’s Park Community Council will shortly be up for the first elections since it was set up in 2014. Whilst an ‘urban parish council’ obviously does not have the powers or the money to transform a local area - especially in the face of wider cuts to public spending - the Council and individual Councillors have done some great work, including the Summer and Winter festivals, the fireworks display, looking after Queen’s Park Gardens and more, whilst the Queen’s Park Hub has recently opened and there are lots of new sports activities and classes. I went along to the ‘Community Day’ to encourage people to take part, and it was great to see lots of people there.
If you are interested in the sports and activities running from the Queen’s Park hub, check this website.
Jamie in my office is running the London Marathon for The Avenues Youth Club
James is a member of my team and he is running the London Marathon in 3 weeks for The Avenues Youth Project, who support young people in Westminster by offering help with schoolwork, sports, music, and access to their many other fantastic facilities. This is a charity I have supported for years because of the excellent help they offer children and young adults in the area.
In the context of the recent Central Government cuts to Local Authority budgets, funding for all youth services was axed by Westminster Council. The Avenues Youth Project in Queens Park has been trying to continue providing support to young people in the area and because of these cuts, it will need more help to fund this. We now also know from statistics on child poverty rates for 2017 across the UK, that these were 6th highest here in Westminster (top 2%) making The Avenues' work even more important than ever.
James has been training all through this dreadful ‘Spring’ weather and he is running for a great cause so please follow the link below and donate whatever you can!
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.
Easter E-Newsletter Round up of the month There are few quiet months in politics these days, and March has been no exception. I was one of a number of Labour...
February 2018 E-Newsletter
Sadiq Khan pledges 1,000 more police - but against a backdrop of much deeper police budget cuts
There is little doubt that concern over policing has risen sharply over the last couple of years as the impact of cuts to police budgets bites harder, we have lost around 1 in 3 of our total policing strength since 2011 and levels of serious and violent crimes have risen across the country. Across London, officer numbers could drop below 29,000 by 2021 – the lowest level for almost twenty years. This means a 20% fall in the number of police per head of population since 2010, and financial pressures have been driving a further round of station closures (79 closed under the last Mayor, including St John’s Wood and Harrow Road) and the merger of Borough police commands in an attempt to cut costs whilst keeping as many resources as possible on the front line.
Westminster has a high level of overall recorded crime , and although this is, of course, heavily distorted by the impact of the huge rise in day - and night-time visitor populations, we are still an area under pressure. I am frequently contacted by residents wanting to know what more can be done, especially in respect of serious violent crime. The Met Police have already faced more than £600 million in cuts to their budget in the last few years, with a further squeeze equivalent to £350 million still to come. With 70% of funding coming from the Government, the Mayor does not have the capacity to raise sufficient funds to plug that gap, but I am pleased to report that his budget plans, just announced, include the unusual step of using income raised from business rates in London to support funding an extra 1,000 police officers than would otherwise be affordable. The Met will still be severely stretched and savings are still needed, but it is still an important step.
Additionally, Sadiq Khan has set up a new fund to help young Londoners – particularly those who are at risk of getting caught up in crime. With Westminster Council having ended all funding for youth, play and after-school services in the last couple of years, this is very welcome. We need investment in preventive services as well as policing - and if the Council’s proposed 'Voluntary Contribution Scheme' puts something back in to replace what has been lost, this will of course be welcome.
I also appeared on the Sunday Politics London you can view my interview from the 38.52 minute mark!
Broadband in Westminster - still a problem for many
Much of the coverage around broadband speeds tends to focus on rural areas, but in fact, Westminster ranks very badly.
Westminster North ranked 541st out of 650 constituencies last year for average download speed, and 646 for Superfast Broadband availability. (Cities of London and Westminster South ranked 647 and 595 respectively).
I have met/lobbied BT Openreach and recently spoke to the Council about this- there are issues around cost and planning constraints and here is the latest from Westminster and from Openreach.
Connect Westminster Voucher Scheme
Westminster City Council has secured £2.8m from the European Regional Development Fund to support SMEs to connect to gigabit capable connectivity. Over the course of the project, at least 1,250 businesses will receive grants of up to £2,000 to access affordable, future-proof connectivity.
As of the 5th February, 220 applications have been received by Westminster City Council. The average download speed for these companies is a dramatic 2,096% faster and the upload speed uplift, 15,719%. This makes a significant difference to a business’ ability to operate - but perhaps also reflects how difficult the digital environment has been in Westminster.
Openreach Fibre to Premises
Westminster City Council is also working with Openreach to support the roll out of ‘Fibre to the Cabinet’ Technology within Westminster. Although this is an outmoded technology because it is still partly based on copper rather than supported fibre, it is still more effective.
The council welcome any Openreach announcement of a switch to Fibre to Premises which is the global standard.
As of October 2017, 107 of these cabinets have been deployed. As a result, a total of 24,273 additional homes now have access to faster broadband.
Parking Bay Discounts
The cost of parking bay suspensions is a significant expense for broadband delivery all over the UK. The council has innovated to reduce these costs - broadband providers here are granted the same concessions as other major utilities. This is a suspension of bays for up to a maximum of three months. This scheme has markedly increased the attractiveness of deploying infrastructure within Westminster. Providers such as G.Network and Openreach have made full use of the offer to deploy more fibre in the area.
Coordinating Street Works
Westminster’s Street Works team has also long recognised its role in supporting network deployment, helping utilities undertake work with minimum impact on residents and road-users. While the City Council operates the London Permit Scheme to control works in the highway, the team has always taken a uniquely flexible approach to the implementation of the legislation.
While many boroughs strictly interpret the legislation, the WCC Street Works team take a different approach. In practice this means that rather than imposing strict 3-month notice periods for new major works in all cases, officers may agree earlier starts where there is limited impact on the roads or even an opportunity to phase the works to reduce disruption. This usually means that companies delivering fibre within Westminster can get access to the highway much more promptly than they would elsewhere in London.
The council has marshalled its convening and regulator power to create a conducive environment to the delivery of high speed broadband. There is evidence this is attracting very significant new investment from the market, therefore making a material difference to connectivity speeds in Westminster.
It is true that Openreach often cite high costs and difficulties with planning as barriers to the roll out of superfast broadband in Central London and there are no doubt challenges in some conservations areas. However, the emergence of new competition, the council’s leadership in managing costs and continuous pressure from residents and the business community are creating new opportunities for the delivery of broadband in the borough.
This is the most recent statement from Openreach (Feb 1st) in which they commit to an extension of the FTTP programme in London.
Openreach, Britain’s national broadband infrastructure provider, today announced an acceleration of its Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) build programme to enhance Britain’s digital infrastructure and to reinforce the UK’s position as the leading digital economy in the G20. Openreach is extending its current Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) build target by 50% to reach three million premises by the end of 2020 through its new ‘Fibre First’ programme2. Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Manchester make up the first phase of the programme which will connect up to 40 UK towns, cities and boroughs with FTTP3 with build starting in 2018. Openreach will also continue to focus on delivering FTTP to rural areas, in partnership with the Government, to make sure some of the hardest to reach communities in the UK get access to future-proofed, FTTP networks.
You can read the whole statement here.
Winter pressures and an inspection at St Mary’s hospital
Once again, NHS staff at St Mary’s and elsewhere rose to the challenge of exceptional pressures this winter, for which they deserve our profound thanks. Only one emergency bed was spare at St Mary’s over the Christmas period, representing one of the highest levels of bed occupancy in the country. With the NHS in the midst of the deepest funding squeeze in its history, local managers also report increased demand, and the increased severity of the conditions with which patients are presenting in A&E , delays in transferring patients to Social Care outside hospital, including delays for mental health beds, difficulties with the transfer of patients from the Vocare run Urgent Care Centre to the emergency department at St Mary’s and estate problems that have led to temporary bed closures, such as in Thistlethwayte ward at St Mary’s due to a partial ceiling collapse.
In a statement in November, divisional director of medicine Professor Tim Orchard, who manages the “patient pathway” through the trust’s urgent and emergency service, said: “We’ve also already got a lot of pressure on our inpatient beds – partly as a result of estates problems causing wards to be out of action for repair work but also because we are seeing more urgent and emergency admissions – there’s been an 11 per cent increase since 2015/16."
I raised the issue of St Mary’s building conditions in Parliament in January - whilst planning proposals for the hospital re-build are going ahead, there is not yet enough money to complete them, nor are there sufficient funds to deal with what is the biggest maintenance backlog in the country. What can’t happen is nothing- either the funding gap for the new hospital has to be filled, or the existing building repaired before the situation gets even worse.
Care Quality Commission inspect St Mary’s
In late February, the Care Quality Commission re-inspected St Mary’s and upheld their earlier ‘Requires Improvement’ judgement. They found a great deal that was good about the hospital, but want to see further improvements in maternity, urgent and accident/emergency care and surgery. You can read their report here.
And the Standard coverage here.
Bayswater Children’s Centre ‘latest casualty’ of the squeeze on children’s services
Even though we know the value of ‘early help’ services for young people and families, a huge amount has been taken out of the budget in recent years- there have been £7.42 million pounds in early help cuts since 2015 (as part of more than £10m cuts to children’s services).
When traditional Children’s Centre Services and stay and play drop-in sessions were cut from Bayswater Children’s Centre in 2016 the Council promised that Government funded support for 2 year olds alongside maternity services, after-school services and other voluntary sector sessions would fill the gap. The Council have now confirmed that from summer 2018 the 2 year old provision will be moving to other facilities and the Council is now ‘exploring options for the site’. This is a Centre that was only opened a decade ago as part of the development of a comprehensive network of Children’s Centres!
The (continuing) rise and rise of short-lets
As the scale of the short-let/nightly booked accommodation sector continues to increase, experience from cities abroad confirms that we in the interests of the wider community desperately need to make sure that it is properly managed and regulated. This is all the more the case as evidence suggests the sector is becoming increasingly commercialised and goes well beyond the informal ‘sharing economy’ in which owners let out rooms or their homes for short periods for some extra cash.
I am continuing to make the case for ‘light touch’ monitoring to enable councils such as Westminster to have a reasonable chance of effectively managing the impact of short-lets. I introduced a ‘presentation Bill’ into Parliament shortly before Christmas, which you can read on the ‘They work for you’ website.
This is not at attempt to ‘ban Airbnb’- just to make sure the interests of neighbours and communities are protected, we don’t lose too many valuable homes to the hospitality industry and councils don’t have to spend precious resources making sure the law is upheld.
I tend to receive more letters about animal welfare issues than almost anything, so here’s my party’s new manifesto on the topic. Comments are very welcome!
You may be aware that there is a campaign to ban the sale of electronic shock collars banned across the UK. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have taken action to ban their use but they can still be used legally in England and only Westminster can ban the sale. I have signed the Parliamentary Motion supporting this, and you can add your voice to the petition
Air quality issues are very dear to our hearts locally, as Central London is particularly badly affected, and as an officer of the Parliamentary All Party Parliamentary Group on Air Quality, it is very important to me. On 21st February 2018, the Government were defeated in court for the third time in three years after a case brought by Client Earth.
The judge’s ruling was highly critical of Defra, pointed out that this was the third unsuccessful attempt by the Government to produce a plan to bring down air pollution to legal levels as quickly as possible, leaving people in towns and cities at “real risk” from air pollution. The judge said:
"The history of this litigation shows that good faith, hard work and sincere promises are not enough...and it seems the court must keep the pressure on to ensure compliance is actually achieved."
Last chance to comment on the London Plan
The London Plan shapes how London evolves and develops and is the framework for all planning decisions and local plans across London.
The current plan was adopted in 2016 but the Draft London Plan now under consideration is also a material consideration in planning decisions.
All comments on the latest draft must be received by 5pm on Friday 2 March 2018. You can see how to respond here.
What is driving child poverty in London?
I spoke in last week’s Parliamentary debate, picking up the particular issue of high rents in private rented and, increasingly, social housing, as a key problem.
You can read my speech here.
Calls for greater transparency over overseas company property ownership as figures show the impact in Westminster
London is an international city and that is part of its strength, culturally and socially as well as economically. But there are growing concerns over the scale of property ownership by overseas based companies, which, without proper transparency, can be a means of concealing offences such as tax evasion, money-laundering, theft and terrorist activities.
New research shows the scale of this ownership, which is heavily concentrated in London, and in high value areas such as Westminster. That’s why I support the Mayor’s call to speed up plans for a new public register of the beneficial ownership of overseas companies that own UK property. The Government is committed to producing a register, but it is still some years away from coming into effect.
Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK, has said: “Giving the public transparency over the real owners of London’s multi-million pound properties would strike a huge blow against corrupt individuals who view our homes as nothing more than safety deposit boxes to hide their loot. Transparency International has been campaigning for the introduction of this register for over three years and with cross-party support there is no reason for any further delay. Nor should secretive company owners be given additional time to make their own arrangements - they have known this was coming for two years already. The Government should publish draft legislation before Easter, so that a Bill can be put before MPs in the current parliamentary session.”
You can see the map based on the BBC research here.
and some very local news…
St John’s Wood Society carry out air quality monitoring
To their considerable credit, the St John’s Wood Amenity Society is taking air quality issues very seriously, and has been supporting monitoring of No2 emissions.
The results are worrying, with air pollution breaching legal limits in a number of places over the autumn and winter especially around the main roads. The Society wants to promote more discussion of the actions that can be taken at different levels to tackle this public health hazard, so if you live in the area, do join them and take part in the debate, link to website.
Abbey Road Studios makes it to top 100 of Historic England’s irreplaceable places.
There may be mixed feelings about this locally, but I am sure it is of interest:
Dear Ms. Buck,
I just wanted to share the good news that Abbey Road Studios in your constituency have secured a place in Historic England's Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places.
Nominated by the public in the Music & Literature category, Abbey Road Studios were included in a shortlist we provided to our judge, writer and novelist Monica Ali, and were then chosen by her as one of the ten places.
I wanted to share this news with you in advance of the official announcement tomorrow, Tuesday 6th February, when we formally reveal the final ten.
We will make the announcement online as well as launch our new podcast series, presented by the BBC's Emma Barnett, which will discuss all ten places.
You can join the conversation on Twitter at #100Places.
Do let me know if you have any questions about 100 Places or about the work Historic England does in your local area.
Of course, there remains a degree of controversy around the pedestrian crossing outside the studios, where Westminster Council once flagged up the case for a crossing guard. A number of residents have expressed concern to me about the impact of the tourists and the risk of accidents, but the Council is not unconvinced of the need for further action, especially given the pressure on resources.
Current status of the CS11 Cycle Superhighway
Contrary to some of the recent media reports, a decision has not yet been finalised over CS11, and specifically the park gate closures. Westminster Council recently wrote to the London Cycling Campaign to clarify their own areas of responsibility, and to confirm that they are not the agency responsible for the gates. Transport for London is in discussions with the Royal Parks, the Crown Estate Paving Commission and Westminster and Camden Councils, including over the exact scope for traffic reducing measures inside the park, which are widely recognised as being necessary. I have met with the Mayor’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner to discuss local concerns, and am clear that it is absolutely right to do what we can to promote safe cycling and improved pedestrian safety whilst ensuring that we guard against any risk of traffic displacement into residential areas.
Concerns over leaseholders and the Church Street masterplan
We (ward councillors and I) share concerns with regards to the content, the assumptions made and the likely implementation of the draft Masterplan policy.
The document claims that the “council is committed to working closely with leaseholders in a way suited to their needs”. This aim was completely undermined in practice when affected leaseholders were shocked to see the demolition of their homes announced as part of the masterplan without the Council speaking to them first. Even during the consultation period communication with leaseholders was very poor, particularly with non-resident leaseholders receiving letters very late.
The key issue as to when and how the valuation of affected homes will be set is not addressed. This is even more important as many leaseholders will soon be living in the middle of a major construction site, given the scale and timeline of the published masterplan. The Council, in its dealings with leaseholders generally and in the document, MUST clearly address the scenario that mass demolition and construction in the area will undoubtedly soon affect the market value of all properties due for demolition, no matter when it might occur.
The examples of property values in the renewal areas given in the document, at least for Church Street, are unrealistic to the point of being misleading. They do not at all reflect the differences between the prices of newly built homes and those of corresponding size in the existing council stock. Prices of new homes are likely to be up to 75% higher than the values of existing homes, not just 27% as the policy document states. It is therefore likely that the council contribution to the new property will commonly be much higher than indicated – and with it the equity shares the leaseholder will not own.
Considering that many leaseholders will not own their new homes outright or will have to resort to shared ownership, the fact that they will in any case have to cover 100% of service charges and full insurance costs (likely to be higher than before) will make ‘staircasing’, gradually paying off one’s equity loan, very difficult indeed.
Even if all financial advice is made available this will not be able to circumvent the basic fact that for almost all leaseholders concerned it will be much more difficult to raise a new mortgage under current lending conditions than those available at the time they took out their original ones. Many leaseholders – in particular elderly resident leaseholders who have lived in the Church Street area for many years – may no longer qualify at all for a mortgage under current conditions.
Given the points above, the Council’s offer to facilitate the purchase of another property from its own vacant stock should not just be offered in some cases, but as a regular option for the many who simply may not be able to purchase a newly built home.
If homes in new developments are sold off plan (before completion), leaseholders who lost their homes should be given clear and enforceable priority.
Of course, some leaseholders in Church Street who bought their property directly from the council would have benefited from the Right-to-Buy discount. Others, who had bought their property off another leaseholder, would not. However, the issue is that Right- to-Buy offered a price which allowed them to move into or stay in their area. This regeneration will offer a price that compels them to move out.
An estate facing demolition is generally the lowest-value housing in any given area, partly because councils will have let the buildings deteriorate, seeing little point in maintaining something that is going to be knocked down. And who wants to buy a home scheduled for demolition anyway?
Another issue facing these leaseholders is that once the council signals its intent to regenerate an estate, it kills the market in the area. That can happen years in advance of a compulsory purchase order being made. Instead, the “market value” becomes the price that leaseholders can get from a single purchaser, the Council, which is also their landlord, and the body applying for compulsory purchase.
Given the approach adopted by councils, it is obvious that the amount offered to compensate leaseholders for the loss of their homes will rarely, if ever, be enough for them to afford a home in the area. Unless they can raise significantly more cash to buy back into the redeveloped and more expensive estate, or to buy more expensive housing in the local area, they will be compelled to leave. It is “pay to stay” for leaseholders.
In theory, people facing compulsory purchase must be given the market value of their homes. But until now, local authorities, the Government and the Land Tribunal have all backed an approach that has compensated leaseholders based on the average value of homes on the estate to be demolished, not the average value of homes in the wider area. That approach comes with some obvious problems. Now, West End Gate development is part of the Edgware Rd Housing Zone along with Church St regeneration and a one bedroomed flat is currently on sale for £935,000 and if flats go at this level, it will peg all prices on further sales in the neighbourhood!
The fact that the Council reserves the right to amend the policy in any way in the future in its absolute discretion does not instil confidence for a regeneration scheme lasting 20 years or longer.
The Church Street Ward Neighbourhood forum strongly recommends that as a matter of urgency the Church Street Regeneration Team appoint a named Leaseholders’ Consultant, based at 99 Church Street with the specific brief to make the situation more manageable for all leaseholders. This could possibly re-establish lost confidence and help the situation constructively move forward. An approach to inform only on a block-by-block basis as the demolition schedule continues, if pursued, would fail completely to recognise that people talk to each other, and that painful rumours and anxieties are already rife.
Interested in even more local news? You can find the latest ward reports for North Westminster here.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.
February 2018 E-Newsletter Sadiq Khan pledges 1,000 more police - but against a backdrop of much deeper police budget cuts There is little doubt that concern over policing has risen...
January 2018 E-Newsletter
Make homes fit to live in - my Private Member’s Bill wins government support
In England around 3 million people live in private, council or housing association properties that are unfit to live in. That is, they have one or more serious hazards like damp and mould or infestation which could affect their health and safety. Yet tenants have no legal right to a ‘fit’ home. They can turn to the council Environmental Health Department for help if they are private/housing association tenants (though not council tenants), but in many cases councils can’t or don’t enforce their rights. My Bill will strengthen tenants’ rights against the worst landlords.
Unusually, for a Private Bill by an opposition MP, the Government have given their support, so I am now hoping we can get this made law as soon as possible.
You can read a short article about the Bill and what it does here.
You can read my speech here.
I also asked the Prime Minister for her support to make sure this Bill now makes swift progress and becomes law. You can see my question here.
NHS Winter Crisis
The NHS in the middle of the tightest cash squeeze in its history, is gripped by a winter crisis. Despite the heroic efforts of doctors, nurses and other NHS staff.
Nationally, the latest analysis of the weekly winter statistics published by NHS England has shown that so far this winter, 89,161 patients have waited between 30-60 minutes in the back of an ambulance, and 26,845 have been left waiting for over an hour, bringing the total number of patients to 116,006.
I have met with managers from the Imperial Trust (which includes St Mary’s and the Western Eye), Clinical Commissioning Groups and the Care Quality Commission to hear how they are coping, not only with the overall pressures but with specific problems such as with the St Mary’s Walk In Centre, loss of GPs and in some cases unsatisfactory Care Quality Commission inspections. Imperial have put in place a number of actions to maintain and improve services, but there can be no doubt about the challenge they face.
The information below is from the Imperial Trust (inc St Mary’s) briefing on the current position.
Our urgent and emergency care services continue to be under significant pressure. We’re seeing more patients, and sicker patients, which means more admissions to our wards. We also have more patients who, once they have been treated, need extra support to be put in place before they can go home or to community-based care, which often causes a delay to discharge from hospital. Many of our patients, and particularly those who endure delays in discharge from hospital, are older, frail people with complex health and care needs, including dementia, or people with mental health problems who need specialist mental health care.
Emergency attendances grew by 16 per cent between 2015/16 and 2016/17 then, for the first half of 2017/18 (April to September 2017), by a further 4.5 per cent.
There has been close to a 40 per cent increase in the number of recorded ‘blue-light’ attendances between 2015/16 and 2017/18, from over 2,900 to almost 4,100.
Emergency admissions increased by 3.8 per cent from the first half of 2017/18 compared with the same period in 2016/17. Admissions have been increasing more rapidly since September 2017. This indicates that while alternatives to hospital admission have had a significant and important impact on reducing the rate of increase in emergency admissions, they are not yet able to provide a sustainable reduction in demand for inpatient care.
I have been also been kept up to date with the challenging position regarding the state of the buildings at Mary’s and the Western Eye. We have the largest maintenance backlog of any hospital in the country, and the need for the hospital re-building programme is urgent - yet the financial pressures apply here too:
As well as the challenge of increasing demand, which is affecting all NHS hospitals to varying degrees, our Trust has a particular problem with an aging estate – a third of our buildings are over 100 years old. This is compounded by a general lack of space on our sites, especially at St Mary’s, which limits our ability to open ‘escalation’ beds.
A series of estates problems at the 147-year old Cambridge Wing at St Mary’s over summer 2017 resulted in the loss of 31 beds, as well as our birth centre. Following urgent repairs and structural improvement works, all of the beds were back in use by 3 January 2018.
In Parliamentary health questions I raised this issue of the building and the need for support to either allow the development to proceed urgently or to tackle the maintenance backlog. You can see my question here.
EU Citizens Survey
EU Citizens Resident in the UK Survey – What We Learned
Following the Brexit vote in Summer I sent a survey containing 10 questions to Westminster North residents to gain an idea of the opinions and experiences of EU nationals in the borough. I am very grateful to the 1,170 of you who have taken the time to respond by post or online since July. This is nearly 10% of all the EU Nationals estimated to live in the Constituency. Here is a summary of all these answers and what we can learn from them.
Question 1 established that 95.29% of respondents identified as EU nationals, living in the UK. The remaining respondents identified as either a family member of an EU national, a friend of colleague of an EU national or none of the above.
Question 2 addressed the overwhelming majority of EU citizen respondents, asking how long the respondent had been living in the UK. Answers were broken into number of years in either less than 2 years, 2 to 5, 5 to 10, 10 to 20 or over 20 years. Only 6.35% had been in the UK for less than 2 years at the time of taking the survey. Answers were quite evenly distributed across the remaining 4 choices (20-25%) with the largest group of respondents having lived in the UK between 10 – 20 years (26%).
Question 3 was open-ended and asked respondents: “If you can, and without giving your name, please describe yourself in a single sentence.” The various personal answers to this question cannot all be included here as there were over 1000 of them.
Respondents told me “I live and feel as a part of the UK”, “I am an EU citizen, who considers the UK as my home away from home” and “EU national, finance professional, ambitious hard-working and positively contributing to my community”.
Questions 4 – 7 relate to the impact the referendum result has had on individuals. The average score for the negative impact the referendum has had on respondent’s health (0 - 100) was 31 and for the children of respondents this was 13.
49.8% of people reported that the referendum result had no impact at all on their paid or voluntary work. However 46% of respondents have had a negative experience relating to EU nationality since the Brexit vote which ranges from hostile comments from co-workers to harassment for speaking a European language on the phone in public.
Question 8 asked “in relation to EU nationals, how happy are you with the way the Government has handled the result of the Referendum?” We have found that a significant majority (64%) of respondents were extremely unhappy with the way the government has handled the result of the referendum.
Question 9 asked the respondents to answer yes, no, don’t know and/or leave a comment on whether they support the proposals made by the Government on June 26th about EU nationals. 68.77% responded no, indicating a large majority do not support the June proposals. 9.84% responded yes and 18.72% responded don’t know. The answers to this question indicate that a majority of EU nationals in Westminster disagree with how the Government intends to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.
Question 10 provided more detail of what exactly about the Government’s proposals respondents were not happy with. Amongst other issues, a majority of respondents (80.4%) were concerned about proposals relating to “the application for settled status” and 77.8% feared the “possibility of losing “settled status once it has been granted”.
Whilst this particular (and incredibly popular) survey is now closed, it has been fascinating hearing the individual stories and views of Westminster residents. If you have anything you would like to raise with me about the referendum and the ongoing negotiations, please feel free to get in touch.
More councils join the fight for properly managed ‘nightly lets’
I’ve been joining Westminster Council in lobbying the Government for help to make sure people renting properties out on ‘nightly-booked’ sites such as Airbnb operate within the law. Now Kensington and Chelsea Council has produced a report showing that they too are having to spend scarce resources enforcing the law and dealing with nuisance arising from nightly lets.
No-one is against home-owners letting part or all of their property if they want to, provided they don’t exceed the legal limit of 90 days a year and don’t cause a nuisance to neighbours and others. However, Westminster alone is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds a year on this issue, with 1300 properties being investigated for possible breaches.
I recorded a piece for the BBC, which you can view here.
Westminster North ranks 15th (out of 650) in the country for children in poverty
New figures produced last week by the Child Poverty Action group help explode a number of myths about Westminster. To many people’s surprise, 44% of children live in poverty, a higher proportion than in Leeds or Hackney. High housing costs, low pay and disability all help explain the very high level of poverty.
Sadly, so many of the services people need to support them - from holiday and after-school clubs to Children’s Centres and the youth service, have been largely or totally closed down in recent years. Westminster Council has seen its government grant halved - yet although money is very tight, it should still be possible to choose some different priorities and make life a little easier for those with the least.
You can read the full report here.
Queen’s Park station needs step free-access
Last week I joined Tulip Siddiq MP. Councillors and residents, in meeting Network Rail and Transport for London to lobby for step-free access at Queen’s Park station. Queen’s Park is a very busy tube and mainline station, so it is a shame to see how many people have to struggle with the stairs because of mobility problems or as they try and carry heavy buggies. There is a step-free access fund which has allocated around half of the money needed to install lifts at the station, and after this meeting, we are resolved to lobby for the remainder to be provided in the next round of allocations.
Let me know what you think.
Merger of Genesis and Notting Hill Housing Trust
I met senior officers of these two housing associations before the shareholders meeting which approved the merger, along with Andy Slaughter and Emma Dent Coad. This was an opportunity to raise two main concerns:
- A high level of complaints from Genesis tenants (I don’t have many NHHT homes in the constituency) and how the proposed merger could improve services, especially given the fact that larger organisations have a tendency to be less, rather than more, responsive. I have picked up a particular problem with street properties in and around Bayswater recently, and am concerned that there seems to have an alarming lack of maintenance over some time. The associations have also, in combination, converted 1,322 social homes to much more expensive “affordable” rents from 2014 to 2016
- Open market sales of desperately needed flats to fund development elsewhere. More than 70 properties have been or are being sold (not including those within the Church Street regeneration area). My argument is that Westminster residents’ housing needs are not being served by this and I want the disposals programme to stop.
I contributed to this story about the merger, which you can read here.
City West Homes made a number of changes to their customer service last year, including the new call centre and the closure of a number of local estate offices. Local councillors and I have recently noticed a significant increase in the number, and in some cases the difficulty of complaints.
You can read here a report on some of the worst cases that have been brought to councillors recently.
What has your experience been?
I’m supporting the ‘Blue Belt’
More than a quarter of the world’s penguins are in British waters, and I want us to do all we can to protect their - and the wider marine environment. In January I went to the zoo to show support for the Belt Belt campaign to protect the oceans and their wildlife, including the scourge of ocean plastic.
In winter everyone’s thoughts turn to the cost of their fuel bills
Turn2us has an excellent website full of advice and sources of help, including this one on how to find out about ways to help with energy bills. Worth a look.
Cyclists in Kensington Gardens
A number of my constituents have raised concerns about cycling in Kensington Gardens. Click here to read the response I received from the Royal Parks.
Nothing new to report on the St John’s Wood Post Office yet, but I’m in regular touch with them…I’m meeting Transport for London this week to discuss latest developments on the Cycle-Superhighway proposals through St John’s Wood (CS11)…Mark Field MP and I jointly hosted our local advice agencies in Parliament to discuss preparations for the roll-out of Universal Credit locally (not now planned until early summer)…still picking up concerns about traffic speeds and road safety in different areas. Progress has been made with the 20mph zones and some improved crossings, but there is still more to do.
Interested in seeing what North Westminster used to look like? On Twitter, @marymagstweets posts a constant stream of glorious old photos, from Maida Vale to Warwick Estate and beyond. They are fabulous. Take a look if you can.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
January 2018 E-Newsletter Make homes fit to live in - my Private Member’s Bill wins government support In England around 3 million people live in private, council or housing association...
December 2017 E-Newsletter
No help for policing in the Autumn Budget
Hard choices are being forced on the Met Police after no relief came in the budget to ease the budget squeeze. Since 2010, the Met’s budget has been reduced by £600 million. A further £400 million of savings have to be found by 2021, and unless the Government’s funding cuts stop now, officer numbers could fall below 27,500 by 2021 – a 19-year low.
I’ve been arguing for more support for London’s Police - but with shrinking budgets it is essential that everything possible is done to protect front-line services. Boris Johnson undertook a huge programme of station closures as Mayor - we lost Harrow Road, Marylebone and St John’s Wood stations under him. Now the choice continues to be - keep as many police officers as possible (though numbers are still set to fall further) with savings having to come from property disposal and considerable pressure to create larger command structures. As it is, we have fought to ensure that Westminster maintains a daytime facility in the north of the borough (in Church Street) as well as the single "24/7" station all boroughs will retain.
This week, I raised the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions. You can watch it here.
You can sign the petition again the Police budget cuts here.
The EU Withdrawal Bill continues …
News of the deal paving the way to EU trade talks has come through too late to add into this newsletter. The chaos of recent weeks obviously could not go on, so it is good that negotiations can move to the next phase. However, we’ve already had over a year of damaging uncertainty, not least for the millions of British citizens abroad and EU nationals in the UK, and so much remains to be resolved.
Hundreds of constituents have also been in touch with me in the last week regarding amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is now passing through Parliament. This is an exceptionally complex process, due to the sheer number of amendments, some of which are withdrawn or not pressed to a vote, and how the timing of key votes pans out. Inevitably, the process will be somewhat fluid and it may not, therefore, be possible to keep everyone updated on the details of votes over the next month or so, but please be assured that I will continue to vote as I have done previously, against a damaging ‘hard Brexit, against attempts by the Government to gather ever more executive powers to itself, without proper Parliamentary accountability, for a meaningful ‘final vote’ and against an ‘arbitrary ‘exit date’ on the face of the EU.
24TH NOVEMBER, 2017 8:30 AM
Over the past few weeks, MPs have finally had the opportunity to debate and scrutinise the government’s EU withdrawal bill line by line.
Labour has been clear from the outset that, while we accept legislation is needed to transfer EU law into British law before March 2019, the government’s bill is fundamentally flawed.
It would turn MPs into mere spectators, while handing huge and unaccountable power into the hands of ministers. It would put environmental protections and workers’ rights at risk, by removing their enhanced protection. It would weaken the devolution settlement, by hoarding powers in Westminster rather than devolving them to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. And it would increase the risk of Britain crashing out of Europe without an agreement.
That is why last month I set out Labour’s six reasonable demands for where the bill needs to change.
These were not just Labour’s demands. They were also the demands shared by many businesses, trade unions, campaigners and indeed some in Theresa May’s own party.
But instead of listening and seeking to improve the bill, all the government has done is to table deeply political and deeply flawed amendments of its own, such as fixing “exit date” on the face of the bill, which would not only tie the prime minister’s hands in any negotiations but also prevent Britain from agreeing appropriate transitional arrangements.
And in the first three days of debate Conservative MPs voted down Labour’s amendments to protect workers’ rights, safeguard environmental and animal welfare standards, legislate for strong transitional arrangements to prevent a cliff-edge for our economy, and to bring the Charter of Fundamental Rights into British law.
Time and time again the Tories have put party interest above the national interest. Ideological red lines above jobs and the economy. Politics above prosperity.
A Labour government would bring a different approach – one that puts jobs and the economy first and is based on our values of co-operation and internationalism.
An approach that protects rights and seeks to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union.
That’s why over the summer I set out Labour’s clear and agreed position to negotiate an early agreement for strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms as we currently have – by which we mean a time-limited period where Britain would remain within the single market and a customs union with the EU, accepting the common rules of both and retaining the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.
I also set out that for the long term, unlike Theresa May who has ruled out any future relationship with the single market and the customs union, Labour would not sweep options off the table. On the contrary, subject of course to negotiations, remaining in a customs union with the EU is a viable long-term option for Labour.
Equally, we are flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained in the long term by negotiating a new single market relationship or by working up from a bespoke trade deal.
Crucially, Labour has made it clear that we have no interest in deregulating our economy, lowering standards or stepping of the level playing field.
A pragmatic approach in the national interest.
The government now has a week before the withdrawal bill returns to parliament for a further five days of debate, and just over two weeks until the crucial December EU Council meeting.
If ministers had the national interest at heart they would rewrite this bill and put an end to the ideological red-lines that are holding back talks with the European Union.
A new advice line has been set up for EU nationals concerned about their status – supported by Westminster Council, working with Westminster Citizen’s Advice and the Migrants Resources Centre, this service will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11am to 2pm
The helpline telephone number is 020 7706 6019.
Should Oxford Street be traffic-free? Have your say on the plans
Plans to remove traffic from part of Oxford Street to create a new landmark public space and world-class shopping destination in London have been unveiled for consultation.
The proposals would see the western section of the famous retail street transformed into a space for people, not traffic, by December 2018, to coincide with the launch of the Elizabeth line.
Under the plans, all east-west traffic would be restricted from entering Oxford Street between Orchard Street and Oxford Circus, with five north-south crossing routes maintained. Details include the creation of new public spaces, cycle routes in the surrounding area, wider pavements and expanded taxi ranks. An 800-metre-long work of public art as a centrepiece for the street is also being considered.
“This is a hugely exciting moment for the capital,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said. “In just over a year the iconic part of the street west of Oxford Circus could be transformed into a traffic-free pedestrian boulevard. Whether you’re a local resident, a business, or shop in some of the area’s famous stores, our plans will make the area substantially cleaner and safer for everyone, creating one of the finest public spaces in the world,” he said.
An initial consultation found 62 per cent of respondents in an online survey supported the principles behind the transformation of Oxford Street - although some raised access and congestion concerns. Westminster City Council and Transport for London staff have so far attended more than 50 meetings with residents, businesses and groups supporting cyclists and bus users, to address concerns as they develop the designs.
“We listened to what people said as part of the first consultation and we now want to hear from as many people as possible about what they think about the detailed plans before we take any final decisions,” said Councillor Robert Davis MBE DL, Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council.
“Protecting and improving the quality of life for residents in the surrounding area will be a key consideration. It’s crucial that everyone knows that we are listening and that they can help shape our plans,” he said.
Since summer 2016, Transport for London has cut the number of buses running along Oxford Street by 40 per cent, with even fewer buses to operate after the opening of the Elizabeth line. Oxford Street lies within both the new T-Charge zone, the world’s toughest emission charge for older, more polluting vehicles introduced in London to help tackle toxic air pollution, and the forthcoming Ultra Low Emission Zone, which will come into force in April 2019.
The public consultation closes on 17 December 2017.
Visiting Ethiopia in the November recess
During the short parliamentary recess, I travelled to Ethiopia with an All-Party delegation, looking specifically at issues surrounding women’s health in a country where despite some considerable progress in recent years 13,000 pregnant women and 200,000 children die each year.
In Addis Ababa, we visited an over-flowing, but clearly much valued, facility for victims of sexual violence, and the only hospital in the country treating women with fistula- the injury that can be done to a women where obstructed labour goes untreated, and which can leave the women doubly incontinent, rejected by her husband and abandoned to a life of pain and indignity. In the UK, obstructed labour is dealt with by caesarian section, avoiding injury to the mother or the baby. But where labour is obstructed in countries with no availability of C-section the woman- in many cases, given the reduced but still significant prevalence of child marriage, a very young girl- suffers days of terrible pain, still birth and life changing injuries. The charitable hospital we visited is transforming lives at the rate of over 3500 fistula repairs a year, but there is still a backlog of 39,000 women needing the surgery, with some women having lived with the condition for decades.
We also travelled to the North of the country to visit refugee camps. There are already 800,000 refugees in Ethiopia and rising, fleeing conflict in South Sudan, Eritrea and in the east of the country Somalia. The refugee camp in Shire, Tigray that we visited is near the Ethiopian border with Eritrea and houses 13,000 Eritrean refuges of which 1,500 are unaccompanied children. At present, a substantial proportion of the number of refugees travelling through North Africa and attempting to make the sea crossing to Europe are Eritreans, so it is in all our interests to support the work being undertaken by Dfid in helping not just the refugees but the surrounding Ethiopian host communities with developing infrastructure and potentially creating work too.
Ethiopia is a country of 100 million people - four out of five of whom live in rural areas - and whilst developing-it remains very poor. Yet, great strides have been made in improving health, through a network of 48,000 Health Extension-Workers who are out in communities advising on, amongst other things, contraception and abortion and referring women with complications up to the 3,500 local health centres, 30 general hospitals and 11 specialist hospitals. Though resources are often very basic indeed, with many shortages, the birth rate is falling, the number of unsafe abortions has halved in a decade. Contraceptive use has more than doubled and under five mortality has fallen by two thirds since the 60s, the fastest in sub-saharan Africa.
Sadly, one of President Donald Trump’s first acts was to bar US federal funds from supporting any organisation that provides or advises on, abortion, which has hit Marie Stopes International and others very hard as they do this work in partnership with the Ethiopian government and Dfid. The cuts in funding that flow from this decision are estimated to mean 88,467 unintended pregnancies, 27,425 abortions of unintended pregnancies, 15,822 unsafe abortions. MSI is set to lose £30m, representing 17% of their total income as a result of the Trump policy. MSI are working to make up the gap with additional funds (including from the UK and the Netherlands.)
Access to justice and the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act
As the Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, I am deeply aware of the importance of access to justice.
These figures show what has happened to legal aid work in Westminster since the LASPO Act came into force in 2013:
Type of case
Family Legal Help
Housing Legal Help
Source: Legal aid statistics England and Wales provider and area data 2016 to 2017 (www.gov.uk/government/statistics/legal-aid-statistics-january-to-march-2017)
Last week we had a debate on legal aid in parliament as Ministers begin a review of the impact of LASPO, and you can read what was said here.
Westminster Council cuts another £30 million from the budget - Labour would make different choices
Westminster Council has seen the level of government support cut by over half in recent years - one of the biggest cuts of any local authority in the county. As a result, the Council has cut £130 million in spending since 2014 alone. At the recent council meeting a further net figure of £30.8m in cuts and required new revenue streams was put forward, this included some money already identified.
We are already seeing the impact of these cuts on the youth and children’s services, but the pressure is also on social care for older and disabled people, and on the enforcement needed to maintain a decent quality of life for all residents.
I support my councillor colleagues on Westminster, who, even in tough times, want to make some different choices. They are calling for funding to reinstate council support to Westminster’s Youth Clubs, though ongoing support to fund staff members and a one-off grant to the Young Westminster Foundation, more support for our Children’s Centres, for children’s stay and play sessions and for targeted outreach to vulnerable families. They also is want:
- The council to invest more in adaptive technology to support the elderly and vulnerable to live independent lives, a move that also saves the council money.
- Alternative ways to protect vital support to Westminster’s Rough Sleepers reducing cuts to outreach services and developing a new social impact bond to address the most important challenges facing people on our streets.
- A cost effective way to support small businesses to comply with the London Living Wage by offering 500 independent firms a year who employ up to 30 people between a £250 and £500 business rate discount when they become accredited with the Living Wage Foundation.
- Ensure the council continues to inform residents about planning and licensing applications by continuing to send written notices.
- An emissions based resident parking charge scheme to help tackle the vital issue of air pollution in Westminster.
Some of the savings suggested to pay for extra investment in children, young people and homelessness include £39,000 from providing private health care; £758,000 by reducing reliance on Temporary and Agency staff; £51,000 off Members’ allowances, to delete payments to Deputy Cabinet Members and £100,000 less money for the Lord Mayor’s budget.
The new draft ‘London Plan’ will help shape the city for the better
I greatly welcome Mayor Khan’s commitment to help London pubs. We all know about the illegal demolition of the Carlton pub in Maida Vale, but many other pubs have closed or are threatened (most recently the Salt House in St John’s Wood)
Of course, not all pubs can or should be saved - our habits change and the city changes with them-but when property values and the potential gains from residential conversion dictate everything, we risk losing the services and amenities that keep our neighbourhoods alive.
The draft plan contains other ideas as well, including a crackdown on fast food shops near schools:
You can have your say on these ideas and many others- including how to boost the number of affordable homes here.
Preparing for Universal Credit
As Universal Credit gradually extends to more working and out-of-work households across the country, concerns have grown about the hardship it is causing. Particular problems include: the length of time claimants have to wait for payments, rent arrears and the risks of increased evictions, and access to free school meals.
Some improvements were made in the November budget but there is still huge anxiety about it. I brought together the local advice organisations to discuss how we can prepare for the local roll-out next spring.
It is essential that anyone in difficulty seeks help as early as possible.
Thankfully, after a lot of pressure, the government’s Universal Credit helplines are now free:
Live service: 0800 3289344
Full Service: 0800 328 9344
Other ways to get help and advice:
Westminster Citizens Advice:
Advicelocal is a new postcode tool that can help with questions relating to seven areas of law - welfare benefits and tax credits; council tax; debt and money advice; housing and homelessness; employment and work issues; disability and social care; and asylum and immigration.
Advicelocal is easy to use. You just need to enter a postcode and choose an advice topic to find tailored information for your area, including key local authority resources and details of local independent advice organisations.
Around the constituency
St John’s Wood Adventure Playground
St John’s Adventure Playground is London’s oldest, and It was a pleasure to join them for their 6oth birthday celebrations. Although there have been concerns raised about the possible redevelopment of the area, it is absolutely essential that we keep this playground!
The annual London Tigers sports and volunteering awards are always amazing! This year, the event was on home turf at Porchester Hall- for although the Tigers don’t have their own pitches in the area, they grew out of the Lisson Green estate and still provide local opportunities for young people. They have grown to be one of London’s most important community based sports providers, and the awards ceremony drew supporters from all over the capital and beyond.
South East Bayswater Residents’ Association is one of the most active and effective amenity societies in London. As usual, the AGM was very well attended, with a lively debate covering planning issues, the Whiteleys re-development, the lack of affordable housing, policing and traffic issues.
Separately, I am also taking up the issue of cycling off the designated paths in the Royal Parks, which has been raised with me by residents.
Westminster Citizens Advice
Westminster Citizen’s Advice AGM took place in the swanky Exchange House building on the edge of Broadgate, but that couldn’t disguise a message of real hardship and growing demand for help. I was delighted to be able to go along and add my thanks to the amazing staff and volunteers who provide assistance to thousands of anxious and often desperate people facing debt, poverty, homelessness and other problems.
A new threat to All Stars Boxing club
The All Stars club has been training boxers for many years in this iconic, though sadly neglected, building in the Harrow Road. Now they are (again) fighting for their survival:
*Stop press* News has just come in that All Stars have secured an injunction preventing the landlord from selling the freehold of the building...so discussions about the repairs can go on. A battle won, but support still needed.
The Salt House, Abbey Rd!
Property values are such that there is increasing pressure on lots of non-residential amenities - pubs being a very good example. Of course not all pubs can or should be saved - habits change and the world changes with them - but neither do we want to live in an area stripped of all but luxury housing. With the support of the St John’s Wood Society, the Salt House in St John’s Wood is campaigning to safeguard its future.
Please don't allow change of use of The Salt House, a beautiful local pub on the famous Abbey Rd.
Why is this important?
The Salt House has been a public house since 1872 and has now been sold to property developers who wish to turn it into luxury flats and offices.This is such a sadly familiar story in London. We have to stop developers tearing apart what gives London it's pulse and character.
The Salt House is one of the few remaining local pubs in the area and has many long term regulars who love it dearly. It is also home for the key staff members and their family who live above it and a secure job for many more. It would be a travesty if this beautiful Victorian pub was granted change of use and disappeared after over a century and a half.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP
Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.
December 2017 E-Newsletter No help for policing in the Autumn Budget Hard choices are being forced on the Met Police after no relief came in the budget to ease the...