Sunday, June 12, 2011

Deputy Mayors' Questions

There were two deputy mayors facing questions from the Assembly on Wednesday, with some useful exchanges before the meeting later descended into acrimony...


First up was Kit Malthouse, accompanied by Assistant Commissioner Tim Godwin. They began by confirming that the Met currently employs 32,222 police officers with another 5,000 specials in post. The Assembly recently produced a quite thoughtful report on police numbers, which sought to find better ways of measuring police effectiveness than just counting the establishment.

With £90 million savings required this year and the full details of the central government grant still not available, greater innovation and productivity were needed. The use of a video link to enable officers to give evidence in court from their base at Croydon police station was saving valuable time and reducing the need to travel. Of every 12 officers called to court only 3 actually take the stand, which seems like a shocking waste of time and money. Video links will reduce this cost and they are being rolled out across the Met.

Officers were also lobbying to be allowed to keep more money seized from criminals. The Proceeds of Crime Act allows for confiscation of ill gotten gains but the police only get to keep a sixth of the sum raised with the balance going to government. The practical effect is that the Met actually make a loss on POCA.

I asked about measures to control violence in Romford, particularly in the wake of the shooting outside Liquid & Envy last month. Tim Godwin talked about Operation Target which is focusing on known trouble makers and trouble spots. Stronger licensing powers for local authorities will allow for stricter control of entertainment premises including the levying of a charge to help with policing - welcome developments for night life hot spots like Romford, Kingston and Soho. Little did we know that Operation Target was springing into action at that very moment, with an alleged criminal waking up to find Boris and a horde of police in his bedroom...


Next came Edward Lister, who has replaced Sir Simon Milton as chief of staff and deputy mayor for planning. Edward has led Wandsworth Council for 19 years, holding down the council tax whilst delivering a four star rated service - even according to the last Labour government. With this in mind it was perhaps a mistake for the other parties to seek to find fault with his record. It all seemed to boil down to criticism of a lack of cheap housing and charging for use of the adventure playground in Battersea Park. Despite these criticisms Wandsworth was achieving a public satisfaction score of over 80%, which many London authorities would give their right arm for.

In his planning role, Eddie stated that he would be reintroducing stronger protection for London's strategic views, with tighter rules for tall buildings. He would also seek to reduce back garden development - which accounts for a stunning 25% of development in the city.

I asked him if he would be freezing the council tax precept again next year, thus completing the mayor's four year term without raising the budget. He seemed quite positive and given his history at Wandsworth I wouldn't rule out a very timely council tax CUT in 2012!

Notwithstanding the good results achieved at Wandsworth some Labour members think that Eddie poses a threat to the city. The most notable of these is Ken himself - currently on his outer London tour, delivering inner London messages. Turning up at Bromley he recently condemned Eddie as 'the Ratko Mladic of local government' - a tasteless remark in the week when the real Mladic was indicted for war crimes at The Hague. Having visited the scene of this hideous mass murder at Srebrenica, and blogged about it in 2009, I can only say that such a comparison is bizzarre and offensive, particularly to the many who lost loved ones. The grief was still palpable when I visited some 15 years after the event.

So we asked the Assembly to dissociate itself from Ken's remarks, not a difficult thing to do, surely. The Lib Dems agreed with us, Labour made some poor excuses and voted against and the two Greens split with Jenny Jones supporting Labour.

Bus Petition

With the discord still ringing in our ears, we moved on to petitions. I presented a petition of 518 signatures calling for a bus service to run from Dagenham Civic Centre to Hornchurch via the large Tesco at Roneo Corner. Lead petitioner Cllr Fred Osborne and several constituents had waited patiently through the meeting for this moment. Three other petitions were presented by members from the other parties

Walk Out

With all the main business dealt with and a fewer that 13 of the other party members left in the chamber the Conservative Group staged a walk out in protest at our marginalisation at the hands of the other groups. This is an ongoing bone of contention that dates from the first meeting of the Assembly in 2008 when Labour, Lib Dem and Green members used their ultra slim one vote majority to deprive the larger Conservative Group of any major committee chairs.

When they did their little deal perhaps they failed to realise that they needed all 13 of their members present to maintain a working quorum at Assembly meetings. Of course they are always all there at the annual meeting when the jobs are handed out but at other meetings they are often short handed and therefore rely on us - the people they refuse to include - to prop up their business. Usually we comply but sometimes we don't, and this was one of those occasions.

Last year when I was Group Leader I made a speech to the Assembly about this - it is available on Youtube - in which I told the other groups that having taken so much upon themselves they should have the decency to actually turn up. I also offered to reopen the debate about the allocation of roles but this offer was thrown back in my face.

I understand that my successor James Cleverly has been rebuffed in a similar fashion so I would not be surprised if the group now starts to get a bit more combative. The style of the new leadership is clearly more robust than my own was...

As to the motions we didn't debate as a result, no doubt they will reappear on the next agenda and perhaps we can expect a full showing from the Labour, Lib Dem and Green members as well.

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