Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hainault War Memorial

This afternoon I attended the dedication of a new war memorial in Hainault. The memorial is situated in Manford Way, opposite the shops. Also there were Lee Scott MP, the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Redbridge, the leader of the council and a number of local councillors.

For long serving Hainault Cllr Ted Griffin, this was a particularly proud moment because he has been campaigning for a memorial for several years. Following the dedication, there were two minutes of silence and wreaths were laid. The rain did not dampen spirits and the event attracted quite a large crowd.

Monday, October 25, 2010

City Hall Austerity

On Thursday the budget committee received an update from Nicholas Griffin, the Mayor's budget advisor, who was appointed earlier this year and has embarked on a raft of projects designed to get better value from the administration.

Since July there has been much progress:

Working with Westminster City Council, who pioneered this approach, we are seeking to reduce the number of IT hardware and software suppliers contracted across the GLA family. This can be quite challenging as each functional body has evolved its own systems over time, but streamlining suppliers will make it easier for departments to work together as well as allowing economies of scale. A similar approach is being pursued by Croydon and Waltham Forest councils.

Internal audit functions will be combined for the different bodies, reducing the number of auditors and allowing more economies of scale. One beneficial consequence will be to create a standard approach to audit reports across the Greater London Authority, with more transparency and democratic oversight.

The real possibility of sharing buildings to reduce estates costs is also being pursued. Space created by staff cuts at City Hall will be used to house staff currently working in other buildings which will then become surplus. The emergency services are looking at sharing new buildings, a forerunner being the site at Harold Hill where a new fire station and police base coexist. Combined fire and ambulance stations are also being considered. A new GLA wide buildings database will enable better use of space.

A 20% savings target has been set for procurement of services and supplies. There will also be more sharing of payroll services and committee support across the GLA.

Political Groups are not immune in the Age of Austerity and a paper was presented to declare savings achieved in each group's administrative support during the year. We have made a substantial contribution, with the Conservative Group underspending the budget by £189,000, roughly £17,000 for each of our eleven members.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Policing Budget - The Investigation Continues

This morning the budget committee took evidence from Bob Quick, the former chief constable of Surrey and assistant commissioner at the Met. A while ago Bob had problems when his confidential papers were photographed by journalists in Downing Street, so it was good to see that he had obtained an opaque file holder for today's session, and his evidence was also detailed and useful.

Years of Plenty

Questioned about the period of growth which has led to the Met having the largest workforce in its history, Mr Quick acknowledged that in addition to the demands of neighbourhood policing there had also been growth in homicide investigators and counter terrorism officers. These were needed to respond to the new challenges and threats facing London. There were also more officers supporting partnership working with local authorities, which produced varying results in different areas.

With this growth came an increase in monitoring, management and inspection, which Mr Quick viewed as less welcome. Figures supplied by Professor Marian FitzGerald - who gave robust evidence at our last meeting - demonstrated that a 28% increase in police constables had been accompanied by a 49% increase in police sergeants and a 34% increase in inspectors and higher ranks, so the growth in managers appeared disproportionate. Mr Quick agreed and he predicted that a retreat from the previous target driven culture would lead to less demand for managers. He also agreed that it was worth considering combining specialist teams and reducing the number of borough command units to achieve savings in management and bureaucracy.

A move away from geographically based management to specialist functions had been shown to achieve savings in Norfolk, Surrey and Warwickshire, however the effect on customer satisfaction had not yet been measured. The committee also felt that these county forces were not comparable to London.


Mr Quick became the latest expert witness to request a move away from simple police officer numbers as a measurement of effectiveness. Measurement of the work undertaken by officers showed that it could be classified as:

60% routine tasks - which is not to say unimportant, including custody processing and taking witness statements. Much of this work could be done by civilians, but public confidence could suffer.

28% bureaucracy - completing paperwork, providing statistics. A single support office assigned to a squad of police could free up a great deal of police time by doing this work for the whole squad.

12% Policing - which must be done by a warranted officer, for example attending court and interviewing suspects. This is where police resources should be focused.

But wide ranging changes to working practices faced formidable obstacles, including legislative barriers and public concerns. These could only be overcome by a consensual approach, securing agreement from the officers and the community they are there to protect.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Conference Day Two

Monday was a day of London and transport debates, appropriate on the day of the second in Bob Crow's series of Autumn Tube strikes.

Boris at the Conference

The morning kicked off with a debate on transport and skills in the main hall. Two years ago a smaller chamber was used for most of the conference but this year there is increased demand so the larger Symphony Hall with its four tiers of seating is being used. Philip Hammond and Theresa Villiers announced transport policies including an extended commitment to build the new high speed railway beyond Birmingham, eventually aiming to connect Manchester and Leeds with London. The ministerial panel were also noticeably supportive when an audience member asked for measures to curb the power of the transport unions.

A session with Boris followed and the hall was predictably packed. Hordes of photographers descended on the front of the stage and I had to make do with my own pictures of Boris on the big screen above the stage, rather than the real thing. The great man began his speech with a condemnation of the politically motivated strikes which struck a chord with his audience. He then went on to make his case for defending spending on London's infrastructure, and it is to be hoped that George Osborne was listening from backstage.

No doubt mindful of the commuters struggling into work then returning home to watch his performance on the late news, Boris provided less of the usual humour in what was a hard hitting speech.

Motor Manufacturers and Traders Lunch

I don't usually do conference lunches, wishing to avoid the wrath of my personal trainer when I return to London, but I made this one exception this week. I found myself seated with representatives from Toyota, Honda and London Taxis International. The conversation focused on the development of electric cars and hybrid vehicles which they hoped would maintain our love affair with the car into the future, whilst hugely reducing the carbon footprint of motoring.

The development of plug in points for electric cars is likely to be a restraint on use in much the same way as a lack of filling stations limits the take up of alternative fuels. I suggested that electric cars could be charged at home, using the mains supply and it turns out that this solution is being considered. Range remains a problem for battery powered cars, but in London most journeys are over short distances, making them a good option for the capital.

The man from LTI told me that their vehicles are now being manufactured in China for use in their own cities. You can get a traditional black cab on the streets of Beijing.

London Reception

With Boris and his team returning to the city, I was left to speak to the London fringe meeting sponsored by Four Communications. I don't often get to step out of the 'shadow of Boris', and I took the opportunity to update delegates on the results of the strike which union leaders predicted would 'paralyse London':

40% of services ran as planned.

Only the Circle Line had no services.

The Hammersmith & City, Victoria, Waterloo & City and Northern Lines ran a full service.

DLR - with driverless trains - and buses were unaffected.

Boris Bike usage was up by 25%.

We were grateful to the volunteers who helped to run the underground and to the workers who defied their union bosses and turned up for work in greater numbers than during the previous strike, and we hoped the Mayor could find some way of rewarding their loyalty to London.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Conference Day One

Sunday at the Conservative Conference here in Birmingham saw me address the Thames Gateway fringe meeting, then attend a reception hosted by Women 2 Win.

Thames Gateway

I shared a platform with Thames Gateway Minister (and old Assembly colleague) Bob Neill and Adam Marshall who represented the British Cambers of Commerce.

There was concern that the impending cuts might damage plans to regenerate the Gateway, and I put in a strong plug for Crossrail, the DLR extension to Dagenham Dock and 12 car trains on the C2C Fenchurch Street line. I also pointed out that the current decision not to stop Eurostar services at Stratford meant that the station hardly merited the title 'Stratford International'. It is inevitable that some projects will be delayed or scaled down in the current climate.

On a more positive note, there is now an opportunity to streamline the confusing hierarchy of public bodies currently administering the area. Bob suggested that the current situation looks rather like the wiring diagram for an Exocet missile when put on paper - with the difference that a missile is designed to go somewhere swiftly... Streamlining would make it easier for businesses to invest.

We also wanted an end to restrictive planning regulations that mitigate in favour of large blocks of tiny flats. I told Bob that we need 'buy to live, not buy to let'. For his part the minister was keen to involve local councillors more in planning decisions and he announced a welcome initiative to repeal the laws of predetermination that currently prevent councillors deciding on an application that they have campaigned on in the past.

Women 2 Win

Hosted by Theresa May this reception provided a welcome opportunity for me to catch up with some of the candidates I coached before the election. These included Karen Bradley, now the MP for Staffordshire Moorlands, and Louise Bagshawe, the MP for Corby, as well as Norsheen Bhatti who fought a difficult seat in Stoke and found the experience really motivating.

There were lots of women who are still looking for seats and with the decision to reopen the candidates' list again, there is plenty of potential for newcomers. W2W are also keen to help women with public appointments to boards and quangos, so there are still many opportunities for members to follow in the footsteps of Amanda Sater who was recently appointed to the MPA.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Boris Visits Gants Hill

Friday saw the long awaited opening of the new Gants Hill Roundabout. Work at the site has disrupted traffic flow for over a year and there have been some frustrating delays for businesses and residents. Boris turned out in the rain to declare the roundabout open. He was welcomed by Deputy Mayor Cllr Ruth Clark and chairman of the local business forum, John Clark.

A crowd of onlookers turned out to see the mayor and one person quipped that it had taken longer to rework the roundabout than to build the Colosseum in Rome. Boris predicted that the roundabout would be safer than the Colosseum...

Then it was on to Fairlop Waters where money from the Mayor's tree fund has been used to improve the park, providing not only trees but climbing boulders as well. Boris was photographed with the boulders and with local schoolchildren. He also took a moment to be interviewed by LBC, condemning the totally unnecessary tube strikes planned for Sunday and Monday.

Finally, Boris was joined by Seb Coe and Kate Hoey at Redbridge Sports Centre where he met more local children and handed over a contribution from the Olympic fund to enable more sporting activities for young people in Redbridge. The media became very excited when Boris and Seb took part in an impromptu badminton game, but Boris acquitted himself well and didn't drop any shuttles.