Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sir Keith Park

This morning I attended the unveiling of a statue of Battle of Britain hero, Sir Keith Park. This is only a model of the planned artwork but it captures the moment nicely, depicting Park in flying gear as he would have appeared to his fellow fliers whilst directing the defence against the might of the Luftwaffe. Park went on to direct the defence of Malta later in the war. A tribute to this hero is long overdue.

It is hoped that the statue will find a home in Trafalgar Square, on the controversial Fourth Plinth, bringing to an end the parade of embarrassing tat that has defaced the site in recent years.

I'm An Uncle!

For the second time...

Sally, my younger sister, gave birth to a baby girl early this morning. My new niece - Isabel - is in good health, as is her mother. All my good wishes go to them both and to Phil, the proud father.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Car Crash?

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders appeared at an informal meeting of the transport committee this morning. They are predicting dire consequences for their members during the recession.

In 2004 new car registrations peaked at over 2.6 million, but by Summer this year they had declined to around 2.4 million. Projections indicate that this figure will plunge to 1.9 million in 2009, with a slow recovery thereafter - but these are only projections, and they are getting worse as they are revised each month. One manufacturer stated that numbers of new registrations could continue to fall further and for longer.

This poses a problem for plans to improve emissions by introducing new technology, because if new cars are not selling, the new technology is not being used, even though it is now available.

The crash is causing long term problems way beyond the financial markets.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Moving On & Letting Go

After six years on the transport committee I am leaving to join the environment committee. My place will be taken by Andrew Boff.

Transport was always my special interest, no doubt inspired by my parents who bought me The London Game for my 7th birthday. I was the only boy in my school with a map of London Underground on my bedroom wall, and in North Yorkshire that was quite unusual.

I have really enjoyed the transport brief but it's time to move on and let go...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Oysters on Toast at the Budget Committee

Yesterday's budget committee heard from TfL about the future of the Oystercard.

Over the summer, the Oyster IT system crashed three times, enabling passengers to travel for free and losing TfL a large amount of revenue. Transys, the consortium who provide Oyster under a 1998 PFI contract, paid a considerable sum in compensation. This incident just confirmed TfL's decision to retender the contract in 2010, a decision that had already gained momentum before the failures.

In future TfL will seek shorter contracts, to reflect the pace of innovation, and breaking the package up, so as to encourage specialists to take on different parts of the task. They expect to save money by avoiding expensive PFI financing, and by saving money as technology gets cheaper. They think there are around half a dozen contractors with relevant experience of providing similar technology in other cities.

Future development of Oyster also looks exciting, with plans to allow its use on river services and to enable the purchase of small items, for example coffee and newspapers, during the journey. Ultimately Oyster could be loaded onto mobile phones which would be scanned as passengers passed through platform gates.

The Oyster brand is the property of Transys, so a rebranding exercise could be necessary if agreement cannot be reached with TfL, but they do not expect this to be expensive or to disrupt journeys.

The TfL experts were very impressive, which has not always been the case...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Transport Committee

Just catching up on last week's transport committee which agreed the future work programme and examined the thorny issue of train overcrowding.

20 mph Zones

Some boroughs reportedly want to introduce 20mph zones for all their roads - Lewisham is a prime suspect - but TfL won't provide them with the money. To have some boroughs adopt this whilst others make no changes seems crazy to me, actually I can't see why anyone would want to do it, because getting from A to B takes long enough now, but Jenny Jones is going to do an investigation into the possibilities. That is a bit like asking Dracula to investigate vegetarianism, but we await her conclusions with interest...

Cross River Tram

The report on last month's hearing was agreed by majority although the committee did note that the Conservative group think it is an unduly expensive scheme, probably unaffordable in the current financial climate, even if TfL does get its money back from Iceland.

Train Overcrowding

The committee heard from passenger representatives on suggestions to beat overcrowding on main line routes. The problem is particularly bad south of the river in places where the tubes don't go. One suggestion is to stop more of the express trains at inner London stations, which would help to spread the load but would slow the network down. Another idea is to abolish first class for commuter - as opposed to inter city - services. This seems like a good idea to me, as hardly anyone uses the first class sections whilst the rest of the train is like a sardine can. Often the only people in first class seem to be fare dodgers and other anti socials who see it as a way to raise two fingers to the rest of us.

we will be hearing from train operators next month.

Oxford Street

Victoria Borwick has asked to do a piece of work on the 'bus jam' in Oxford Street, looking at ways to free up road space and improve service times. This is not an easy problem to solve, but rerouting some services and turning others at each end of the street should be considered.

Saturday, October 18, 2008


My fellow ward councillor in Elm Park, David Grantham, got married yesterday to Edwina. The service and reception were held at the Elvetham Hotel near Fleet. As a determinedly single person, I have great respect and admiration for people who make such a solemn and open ended commitment to one another.

I wish Mr and Mrs Grantham all the best for their future together.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Mayor's Question Time

Question Time this morning, and my first outing as group leader, although I have acted in the role on past occasions. The Labour people went racing off and used up their allotted time more quickly than usual, with the result that we got through all of our Conservative questions at a leisurely pace towards the end of the session.

The meeting attracted a packed audience for once, but we soon discovered that protesting tube cleaners - well their representatives anyway - had infiltrated. They interrupted twice, calling the mayor a liar and causing suspension of proceedings whilst they were persuaded to leave. Their tactics don't do much credit to their cause.

Bendy Buses

Labour and the Greens seem to be setting up a bendy bus preservation society (same members as the Ian Blair fan club), judging by today's efforts to force the mayor to keep the articulated monsters. I don't think it will catch on - no calls for a 'heritage route' using bendys for tourists, no requests from members of the public to buy a bendy for the back garden. Boris is adamant that we will see the back of these vehicles.

Economy of London

There was a lot of agonising about the future, diversifying beyond financial services, avoiding knee jerk regulation. Boris was quite upbeat, assuring us that the TfL investment programme - most especially Crossrail - would not suffer.

Traffic Lights

Richard Tracey sought a faster rephasing programme, reducing red phases and clearing some of the unnecessary jams. Other members had pleas of their own and the mayor agreed to press TfL for action, even considering the removal of traffic signals completely in some locations. With the lights at Admiralty Arch on green for just 8 seconds - blink and you miss it - a guaranteed minimum green phase somewhat longer than that would be considered for the capital.

Buses in Oxford Street

Victoria Borwick sought measures to reduce the permanent bus jam in Oxford Street. Perhaps some routes can be diverted, others might be terminated at each end of the street, after all this part of the route can't be helping their overall reliability.

Olympic Costs

Revelations that the contingency fund has already been dipped into after the athletes' village ran into credit crunch trouble. Everyone tries to put a brave face on it, especially Livingstone who was back in his customary place in the public gallery.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Audit Panel Reviews the Last Days of Livingstone

Not quite the highly publicised 'forensic audit', but the Assembly's own audit panel met this afternoon. On the agenda was a selection of dispassionate audit reports which gave a snapshot of the situation at City Hall in April, May and June this year. They show some of the chaos that greeted the new administration:

Budgetary Control

A random sample picked up the fact that two out of five budget holding managers could not gain access to vital monitoring information on the accounts database, which didn't seem to be a problem in those plentiful times. In the case of virements from one budget to another, a random sample found that two in ten had not been instigated by the budget holder. The system has now been made more accountable.

Older Peoples' Strategy

This Livingstone creation was managed by an 'advisory group' which had not met since April 2007! Auditors felt there was no clear view as to the role of the group, perhaps not surprisingly as no terms of reference could be found. Their 'action plan' had not been updated since September 2006. Nobody at the audit panel knew who the Chairman of the panel was, or the names of its members. This looks like a candidate for the current mayor's savings drive - after all, we won't miss what we've never had...

Accessible Communications

Weren't accessible, not clear on the website, or at the front desk. The 'Accessible Communications Working Group' had no terms of reference and had not reviewed the policy, but at least they had met, albeit 'irregularly'.

If you are going to boast that you provide translations into different languages and braille, it is inexcusable to fail to do so. Improvements have been promised and we will be reviewing progress in January.

Mobile Phones and Electronic Devices

Keeping track of these had been difficult, particularly in the days following the election. We were assured that all the ex advisors and members had now returned the GLA's equipment, after prompting in a few cases.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Bloomberg in London

Last night I was in the audience to hear the Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg. Much of his speech and the questions, was dominated by the financial crisis currently engulfing both cities. Bloomberg;'s view is that there is no point trying to apportion blame when we should be working to solve the problem, however he did identify some practices which should not have been allowed to happen.

The selling on of debt, so that a creditor would eventually find they were owed by an organisation with no means to pay, was identified as a key problem. Likewise the practice of credit referencing agencies also providing consultancy on how to improve ratings to the same customers, was seen as a clash of interest. It's all too obvious in hindsight and I find it amazing that financial experts and supposedly bright - and well rewarded - professionals failed to spot these weaknesses developing.

Sack the managers, let the shareholders fall, but protect the customers, was Bloomberg's view.

The question of policing was also raised. Bloomberg has the power to hire and fire the police commissioner in New York and he was clear that London's Mayor should have the same power. There has been a lot of griping about 'politicising the police' lately, but of course it is the same people who want to bring 'democratic accountability' to the Met, and the two positions conflict because democracy cannot exist without politics.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

The Birmingham Experience

Just back from the Conservative Party Conference, hosted by Birmingham for the first time in 75 years. No doubt different views will be expressed but I thought the venue was a huge improvement on previous seaside experiences. I had the best hotel room ever at a party conference (admittedly the standard is usually poor), which is important when you are speaking at meetings and networking. Being fresh and alert is vital and a clean, comfortable room is a big help.

The conference centre and hotel were confusing, but this is to be expected at a new venue. I got lost around the Bournemouth ICC at my first conference and the Blackpool Winter Gardens were always a maze. The hall was too small for many of the debates, so I hope we can use the larger Symphony Hall when we return in two years (this room was used for Cameron's address).

London Assembly Conservatives' Fringe Meeting

We hosted a lunchtime 'meet London Influentials' event which was very well attended, with two full sessions and a queue out of the door. The 'influentials' were mostly AMs but we also had blogger Guido Fawkes as a special guest. The format was based on speed dating where - I'm told - small groups get four minutes to question their guest before a whistle blows and the guests move to new groups. The atmosphere was lively and exciting, so expect to see this format used more widely in future. It really made a difference from all the 'sit, listen to speeches, and ask questions' meetings taking place elsewhere. Many thanks to Canary Wharf who sponsored our event.

Thames Gateway

I spoke at a lunchtime session on the Thames Gateway, alongside shadow minister Stewart Jackson MP, Lorraine Baldry and Theo Steel. Stewart caused some alarm when he said that spending on gateway projects needed to be audited for value by an incoming Conservative government, but in the current financial straits he is absolutely right. Every penny will need to be accounted for to ensure a return, and what a shame that it takes a financial crisis to restore what should be basic fiscal discipline.

I got a hard time over the 'Boris Island' airport study, which is attracting opposition from Kent and Essex authorities even before it is off the drawing board. Clearly the views of local people will need to figure strongly in any research which is done on this project.

Resilience and Flooding

I also appeared, alongside shadow resilience minister, Pauline Neville Jones, at a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) fringe meeting where designing buildings to resist attack was debated. Pauline is an expert on security issues so I stayed away from that topic and discussed the flood threat to London, which I do know a bit about.

The audience were quite technical and there were speakers from the Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) and RIBA as well. RIBA are hosting a competition to design a flood resistant home and I'm looking forward to seeing the result of this exercise.

So now it's back to City Hall, with the words of David and Boris ringing in our ears. This party is looking more and more like a government in waiting.