Friday, June 15, 2012

Mayor's Question Time

Wednesday's Question Time followed hard on the heels of May's rather scrappy and political episode. Labour asked Boris to provide an update on the 'Close Protection' operation which saw Diamond Jubilee volunteers allegedly sleeping under a bridge in damp and cold conditions. John Biggs stated this was unacceptable, whilst accepting himself that further investigation was required and we shouldn't jump to conclusions based on media coverage. Boris agreed that the situation needed to be properly understood and any necessary lessons learned before the Games which will see much more volunteering.

Jenny Jones asked for GLA policies on the employment of volunteers and appeared to be suggesting a minimum wage. When Boris pointed out that this was effectively a ban on unpaid work she backed off a bit. Ensuring volunteers are well treated is vital but thoughtless bureaucracy must be avoided.

Kit Malthouse told us that the company involved was run by a woman and condemned some of the media coverage for its misogynism.

The Conservatives asked Boris to state his position on High Speed 2. The Mayor felt that the business case needed to improve and that protection for West London was essential. The rebuilding of Euston Station to provide for the larger passenger volume highlighted the need for Crossrail 2 which should be a condition of HS2 going ahead.


Lib Dem Stephen Knight asked about air quality during the Games and Boris replied that the TfL projections and an independent report showed that it was likely to improve. Knight then broadened the scope of the question, demanding more restrictions on black cab emissions and complaining that Boris had delayed the third phase of the Low Emission Zone. These measures may well clean the air in Central London but they penalise residents in Outer London and it is no surprise that the Lib Dem candidate came ninth in the Havering element of the Assembly election with policies like that.


Darren Johnson asked a broad question about 'housing scandals' in London. Boris used the opportunity to highlight his good record of building new social housing.

Supplementaries about 'housing scandals' can go almost anywhere and Darren chose to raise 'beds in sheds', effectively hijacking a Labour question from further down the agenda. The Chair initially disallowed the question, then decided to bring the Labour question forward. Labour objected and some off stage discussion took place, with ALL the Labour housing questions eventually brought forward to this section - in effect returning to the 'theming' of questions which was an unsuccessful feature of the 2000 - 2004 Assembly before it was knocked into shape by Brian Coleman.

'Beds in Sheds' are a problem in several London boroughs including Redbridge. Householders use their sheds, garages and outhouses to accommodate paying tenants often in sub standard conditions. Tony Arbour referred to a garage in his constituency which included a washing machine and kitchen, neither strictly necessary to its purpose. He stated that the length of the planning enforcement process made this abuse a profitable proposition for unscrupulous landlords. Boris agreed and pledged to focus the attention of the London Fire Brigade on the issue - closing down overcrowded and dangerous accommodation.

I asked about measures to tacle squatting - also a problem in Redbridge. Boris said that he supported government measures to speed up eviction processes and impose tougher sanctions on squatters, who he described as 'a blight and a curse'.


I raised my long awaited question about illegal U turns at Newbury Park. A couple of weeks ago I visited the junction with local councillors and witnessed some very dangerous behaviour by drivers (and pedestrians). Boris stated that TfL would be altering the junction to prevent illegal manoeuvres and that the changes would be made in October 2013. Meanwhile I called for tougher enforcement by the police and TfL not just at Newbury Park but all along the A12 where U turns are a problem.


Andrew Boff returned to the subject of Olympic copyrights. LOCOG are allegedly cracking down on people who upload pictures and videos to social media sites. Boris stated that he takes a much more relaxed view and he urged LOCOG to relax their activities - though how much effect this urging will have remains to be seen, with LOCOG very much a law unto themselves as the Games approach.

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