Monday, May 30, 2011

Capital Ring Day Six - Photographs

A gruelling seven and a half miles around some of the most beautiful parts of South West London today. The pictures feature tennis at Wimbledon Park, Wimbledon Windmill, deer in Richmond Park and Richmond Bridge from the stern of the visitor's centre / restaurant. A more detailed account will follow when I have tended to my blisters.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Seven Kings

Tonight we were handing out the Boris Oystercard wallets at Seven Kings Station. This time the team - including John Moss who will fight John Biggs in City & East London - wore Boris Boot Camp tee shirts, and people snapped up our offerings even faster than at Romford. A good sign in an area that returns Labour councillors and a Labour MP.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Tickets To Ride

This evening we were out at Romford Station, distributing Boris Oystercard holders. With the help of local councillors Lynden Thorpe, Linda Trew, Fred Osborne and Sandra Binion they went really fast - everybody wanted one!

The New Mayor

Last night it was Havering's turn to elect its first citizen for 2011/12. Outgoing mayor Cllr Pam Light will be a really tough act to follow, having got no fewer than 694 civic engagements under her belt during the year.

Her deputy, Cllr Melvin Wallace will take over with the benefit of a thorough grounding in the work - he has been deputy mayor for two years. Melvin worked in the city as a stockbroker for over forty years before his retirement and at the council he has been a well informed chairman of the pensions committee, helping to safeguard the financial future for our hard working employees. His wife Joan will make an excellent mayoress.

Melvin's deputy will be one of my closest friends, Cllr Lynden Thorpe. Lynden was elected to represent Squirrel's Heath ward at a by election several years ago. Her grandfather was the mayor and leader of Romford Council for 25 years (!) and his name is on the chain of office that her husband David will be wearing.

The mayor's charity for the coming year will be Havering's own St Francis Hospice and their work is explained at .

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Questions to The Mayor

Last week saw the first Question Time for two months. We usually give the mayor - of whatever party - a break in April to allow elections to take place untainted by political rhetoric, at least from City Hall.

Labour have decided - or perhaps been directed by HQ - to build their questions around a 'theme' on these occasions and on Wednesday the special theme was 'Outer London'. Those of us who represent the suburbs watched Labour's Novelty Visit with some amusement as they sought to criticise Boris on transport around outer London, policing in outer London, and the effect of benefit changes on outer London, without providing much in the way of evidence to support their efforts. For us, there were many opportunities to talk about specific projects which the mayor has helped us with.

In Redbridge we have seen the introduction of traffic lights and surface level crossings on the Gants Hill Roundabout, with far less disruption to traffic flow than I had thought possible - proof that TfL can make improvements without attacking drivers when they put their mind to it. We have also seen the opening of a rape crisis centre for East London, based at the Loxford Polyclinic, fulfilling one of Boris's early election promises.

In Havering we have enjoyed solid cooperation with the Met Police on initiatives such as the Yellow Card scheme and 'Barred from One, Barred from All', both of which serve to reduce drunken violence in Romford Town Centre. And at Gallows Corner we have opened the first new fire station built in London for over twenty years.

Later this year Redbridge will see the completion of another election promise when the Number 25 Bendy Bus snakes its way into the history books, to be replaced by a more conventional service that doesn't block the traffic, catch fire or enable industrial scale fare evasion.

But we want more. I took the opportunity to ask Boris to hold another of his 'Trees For London' votes. The last of these encouraged even more public participation than the AV referendum and was won by the country park at Fairlop Waters, which duly received its prize of new trees as well as a bonus - artificial boulders which both improved the park and helped to preserve the dwindling stock of real boulders in their natural habitat.

Cycle Super Highway 2

I had a crack at Newham Council for their policy of denying cycling opportunities to my constituents. Cycle Superhighway 2 was supposed to reach out of the City, through Tower Hamlets and Newham to terminate in Ilford. I have a keen cycling fraternity in Redbridge and they were looking forward to this new route speeding their way into town. Unfortunately the party poopers at Newham have refused passage through Stratford town centre, thus cutting off CS2 prematurely, with no benefit to Redbridge.

Boris assured me that he had met Newham's executive mayor, Sir Robin Wales to discuss this matter - amongst other things I suspect - and that the connection to Redbridge would soon be established.

My colleague Brian Coleman was none to impressed with me interfering in the affairs of a sovereign borough in this way and he raised an objection. However on occasions the actions of other boroughs echo beyond their borders - Newham has form on this - and in those cases I make no apology for speaking out.

Tube Strikes

I also asked Boris what he thought about Bob Crow's somewhat provocative remarks at the Transport Committee. The mayor refused to be drawn and perhaps this indicates that some sort of dialogue is taking place. I'm sure that Londoners will welcome steps to prevent the recent industrial strife but I am pessimistic - history will repeat itself until the balance of power is changed by government legislation to require greater participation in the unions' strike ballots.

Jenny Jones also decided to clarify her position, stating that her suggestion that Tube staff go on strike by refusing to collect fares and leaving the ticket barriers open had in fact just been a 'question' to Mr Crow, with no intention of putting ideas into his head. Mayoral candidates - even Green ones - do have to be careful about the causes they espouse....

By this time the Labour Group Leader had left John Biggs to wind up the team's Outer London Novelty Tour. As they embarked on their metaphorical mini bus back to their Inner London strongholds, I wondered who was snuggling on the back seat and what songs they were singing. It was nice to see you, do come back soon guys - and next time bring your map and compass....

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Back On The Rails

I attended my first transport committee since the reshuffle this morning. The committee has set itself the considerable task of investigating service failures on London Underground. TfL place the blame on the discredited PPP initiative - but is this excuse wearing a bit thin? Joining us were the former PPP arbiter, Chris Bolt, John Dickie from London First and Bob Crow from the RMT. Crow was accompanied by Steve Connolly from Aslef, a more softly spoken and thoughtful union official.


Industrial action has risen since Boris became mayor, but the union reps claimed that there was no political motivation for this. They felt that their members were responding to threats and with a contracting budget after years of relative plenty this was understandable. Steve Connolly made an interesting intervention, claiming that LU's performance targets must be weak if they could be disrupted by 'just five strikes', a comment that begs the question, how many strikes is it reasonable to expect? I suppose it depends on the organisation but the higher rate within the public sector reflects a preoccupation with provider interests rather than customer needs.

A discussion of the threat to the Olympics led Bob Crow to insist that London Underground's offer to staff should be at least as generous as Network Rail's £500 payment per individual. In response to John Dickie's claim that strikes cost the capital's businesses £50 million per day, Bob responded that this demonstrated how much his members were worth and that their pay should increase to reflect that sum.

Bob was in no mood to take prisoners and challenged a proposal to require a 50% participation threshold for strike ballots, as being an attack on democracy. He pointed out that Conservative AM Dick Tracey had received less than 50% support from his constituents at the election - an argument that he has used before. Of course that is like comparing oranges to apples as one is a vote to elect an individual and the other is a vote to approve an action. Perhaps a more valid comparison would be with the AV referendum, where many of us felt that a participation threshold should have applied.

A suggestion that more stringent New York style legislation be brought in - banning strikes altogether - provoked a response that America also has the death penalty but we don't talk about introducing it. With logic stretched to such incredible lengths, we decided to move on - but not before Green AM Jenny Jones had suggested to Bob that his members come to work but refuse to collect fares or close ticket barriers...

Block Closures

The whole renewal process is taking much longer than originally planned. The Jubilee signalling work was intended to be complete by the end of 2009 but would now take until 2012 - hopefully. The Northern Line work had slipped from 2011 to 2014. Obviously everyone was quick to blame the PPP contractors, but John Dickie pointed out that these same companies successfully deliver projects on time and budget all over the world. There was much talk of Madrid as a tube system we could learn from.

With night time and weekend work proving inadequate it was now time to consider block closures of whole sections of line whilst the work was carried out. Bob Crow stated that really the whole lot - trains, signalling, tracks, drainage - should be renewed at the same time. This would ensure better compatibility between the elements of the system but would take longer and cost much more. Block closures would be relatively painless in Zone 1 where there were plenty of public transport alternatives. Not so good in outer London where other radial lines could become overcrowded as commuters sought alternative routes.

Chris Bolt mentioned that London Underground had always claimed that the PPP companies needed less time to do the work. He suggested that LU now had a chance to prove their case, having taken the projects over. The committee will return to this rather telling point when we take evidence from London Underground on 14th June at our next meeting.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Mayor of Redbridge

On Thursday night Redbridge held their annual meeting to elect a new mayor for the borough. Outgoing mayor Jim O'Shea and his deputy Ruth Clark have done a great job as ambassadors for the borough and leading citizens. Jim's charity appeal raised a massive £50,000 for Alzheimer's Care in Redbridge and the Dream Factory. They will be a tough act to follow.

The new Mayor is Snaresbrook councillor Chris Cummins. I have known Chris for well over ten years, we both started as activists in the less than promising environment of Leyton and Wanstead. He is a committed hard worker and this recognition is well deserved. Deputy Mayor will be Cllr Felicity Banks from Roding Ward - a Liberal Democrat, in true coalition fashion. We all wish them well for the coming year.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Volunteers at City Hall

This evening the mayor hosted a reception at City Hall to thank volunteers from Havering and Redbridge. Around 200 guests from a wide range of local organisations were able to network together and admire the amazing view of our fantastic city as the sun set over St Paul's. Boris spoke at length, expressing his gratitude for their efforts then we were treated to an impromptu performance from local opera star Katie Milton, who works at the Queen's Theatre in Hornchurch. A lot of people give their time and effort for free in our capital and it was great to join them to celebrate their contribution.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Volunteering Seminar

Yesterday morning I spoke at a volunteering seminar organised by the Relief Society sisters at Romford Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was joined by contributors from other Essex based organisations including the Thurrock Women's Refuge and St Luke's Hospice.

The aim of the event was to talk about various options for volunteering and I spoke about local politics, becoming a councillor, magistrate or school governor. I reassured the audience that to become a councillor you didn't need to have a political background or know the right people.

Selectors sometimes think that someone who vocalises strong opinions over a pint or two would make a good councillor, but often such people fall silent when they have to defend their views in the cold light of day. The ability to work as part of a team and to appreciate others' points of view is much more important. As is the intelligence to grasp complex issues and explain them to others - a politician who says "They don't understand" really means "I can't explain". A grounding in the community is also essential as that is what distinguishes elected members from their officers and advisers. Finally a willingness to work outside normal hours, sacrificing evenings and weekends is essential.

All the speakers agreed that volunteering provided a good way to learn valuable new skills as well as putting something back into society. They also agreed that a volunteer should select their activity carefully, looking for something they enjoy and are committed to.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Havering & Redbridge Say NO!

A resounding defeat for AV in this part of town:

Havering - Yes 22.7%, No 77.3%

Redbridge - Yes 32.5%, No 67.5%

No need for a recount...

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Safer Nights Out

Despite living in Romford, it is some time since I enjoyed a night out in the town. Cramming into crowded venues and knocking back gallons of cheap booze is not my idea of a good time. With standing room only it's a bit like spending the evening down a very noisy hole when you are my height and I discovered several years ago that it now takes me two days to recover from a hangover - time I don't have to waste. However one worry that I no longer have is the likelihood of becoming a victim of crime.

Violence is still a possibility of course, but a noticeable police presence, CCTV saturation and cooperation between venue operators and door staff has meant the town centre is now much safer at night.

Today Boris met borough police commander Mick Smith and council leader Michael White to see three new initiatives which will cut crime and anti social behaviour in the evenings.

The Yellow Ticket scheme allows officers to take individuals to task for their behaviour. Words of warning or advice are the first step in a process that leads to the most troublesome individuals being banned from the whole town centre.

The Barred From One, Barred From All initiative encourages venues to share details when they exclude a customer for misbehaviour. Being barred from one venue has resulted in a number of people being barred from all sixteen pubs and clubs in the town centre.

And a focus on false IDs means that under age drinkers who fake their identity will be excluded, not just at the time they are caught, but for several years as a punishment. Use of fake passports and driving licences is a crime of course and police have arrested and prosecuted some offenders.

Living in central Romford has many advantages, but it can be noisy in the evenings and alcohol causes a lot of unpleasant behaviour. A few years ago I was walking home one night - working late again - and a young, scantily clad girl jumped on me outside the station, giving me a huge kiss. I was shocked and horrified of course, particularly when she shouted "Why are you out on a Friday night? You're too old for Romford!!!!".

A case of mistaken identity I suppose, and I still won't be going out on the town. But I will feel that bit safer from molestation walking home in the evening.

Mayor About Town

This morning Boris visited Romford. He met police officers conducting a cycle marking scheme and saw some new policing initiatives in action. The Mayor then visited the new Havering Museum, spoke to black cab drivers and toured the Liberty shopping centre where council leader Michael White presented him with Havering's historic coat of arms to take back to his office. As always, Boris was made very welcome by shoppers and residents.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Assembly AGM

Fresh back from two bank holiday weekends, the London Assembly held their annual general meeting this morning. The main business was to allocate committee memberships and chairs for the final year of this term - unsurprisingly every member turned up.

Chairing the Assembly

I had agreed to be my group's candidate for chairman, although my hopes were not high. The other parties did a deal to shut us out of the most significant role three years ago and despite a combined majority of only one vote, they have stuck to this arrangement. In the event I was defeated by Labour's Jennette Arnold who won by 13 votes to 12. The Conservative group leaders said some nice things about me for which I am grateful and Jennette revealed that I was the first Conservative member she met when she joined the Assembly in 2000, replacing list member David Lammy - I must have made a memorable impression.

Jennette demonstrated a steely resolve in chairing a meeting which drifted from humour to ill temper and back again. I wish her well for the pre election year which I predict will see some heated exchanges.

Lib Dem Dee Doocey - now a Baroness and well deserved - defeated Conservative Victoria Borwick by 13 to 12 to become the deputy chair. Dee is effective but she has been stretched by her commitments as a working peer and I hope she is not biting off more than she can chew, particularly as she was also made chair of the Economy, Culture and Sport Committee.

Some Victories

I was reappointed chairman of the small Audit Committee, unopposed, for the third year running. I have set out to broaden the remit of the small panel, moving beyond just talking to auditors and accountants, and inviting the City Hall managers to give evidence when we consider audits of their departments. I believe that the audit process gains more credibility when a public hearing is involved.

And Victoria Borwick becomes the new chairman of the Health and Public Services Committee, succeeding James Cleverly who has done some good cross party work and raised the profile of the committee since 2008.

The Stitch Up

Of course these were minor concessions in a process that once again stitched up the chairs of all the major committees:

Budget & Performance - John Biggs (lab)

Business Management & Administration - Jennette Arnold (lab)

Economy, Culture & Sport - Baroness Dee Doocey (lib dem)

Environment - Murad Qureshi (lab)

Planning & Housing - Jenny Jones (green)

Transport - Caroline Pidgeon (lib dem)

And there is a timely lesson here for the advocates of proportional voting systems. The Assembly has existed for eleven years, and on every occasion the Lib Dems have sold their support to one of the larger groups in return for a disproportionate reward. At their high point they had only one fifth of the membership (5 seats), yet they have chaired the Assembly for 5 years, the budget committee for 6 years, the economic development committee for 6 years and the transport committee for 6 years.

In a hung authority the third party almost always wields disproportionate power and where an authority is routinely hung as a consequence of the electoral system, then that abuse of power becomes routine. We can't have this in our national government, so I am voting NO in tomorrow's referendum - and I urge everyone to do the same...

Sunday, May 01, 2011

All For Charity

Last night I took a break from the gruelling AV campaign to join the Mayor of Redbridge, Cllr Jim O'Shea at his charity ball, hosted by the Prince Regent Hotel.

A well attended dinner was followed by a raffle and an auction to raise money for Redbridge Alzheimer's Society and The Dream Factory. The event was kindly sponsored by Barclays, Waitrose, Skanska, Hills of Woodford and Broadway Music & Vision. There were no speeches but I was asked to propose the Royal Toast - a real privilege after yesterday's wedding!

We were also joined by the Mayor of Tower Hamlets (pictured), actress Vicki Michelle from 'Allo 'Allo and boxing champion Colin Macmillan. Great to have local celebrities offering their support.