Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Assembly Meeting

This morning's meeting heard evidence from Professor Tony Travers about possible changes to the tax regime in London.

Jenny Jones proposed a land value tax, to shift taxation from income to wealth, and to encourage the use of derelict land. I pointed out that this would lead to pressure for denser, more profitable housing and commercial projects, with less amenity space - not a very green proposal. It would also in effect be a tax on London, as land values are so much higher in the capital, shifting more money out of the city to the rest of the UK. Professor Travers also noted that the tax would hit people living in fashionable areas whose properties had hugely increased in value. Those who were earning low wages would be forced to sell up and move.

Gareth Bacon suggested giving stamp duty receipts to the Mayor, to be used on new affordable housing - a sum of around £1.3 billion. We were told that the current approach to tax competition meant that around the world devolved taxes were often cut and this could lead to growth in the market, and an increase in the overall recepts.

An interesting session and we look forward to seeing the recommendations of the London Finance Commission which Professor Travers is chairing.

Policing Petition

I took the opportunity to submit the petition to keep Wanstead Police Station. The lead petitioners are Cllr Chris Cummings and Helen Zammett, both local residents who have gathered over 3,500 signatures. The Assembly unanimously agreed to pass the petition to the Mayors Office for Policing and Crime. This is the first petition against a police station closure to be presented at City Hall and I'm sure it won't be the last.

Planning Policy

The Assembly also unanimously approved a Liberal Democrat motion objecting to government plans to temporarily relax permitted development restrictions. In outer London we already face huge pressure on our back gardens and green spaces, so any relaxation of the planning regime would be most unwelcome. The new Planning Minister is Nick Boles MP, a man who spent some time supporting Boris at City Hall - so I hope he will take notice of the Capital's opposition to this plan.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Havering Business Awards

Friday night saw the annual Havering Business Awards dinner, hosted by Maylands Golf Club - a packed night with plenty of opportunities for local business people to network and mingle with the star studded guest list. The after dinner awards were presided over by comedian and celebrity Tim Vine.

From a long list of excellent winners, several stood out for me:

The Queen's Theatre won the best hospitality award, on the basis of a public vote. I visited them over the Summer to see the first night of Return to the Forbidden Planet, and in my opinion the award is well deserved.

The award for best marketing was won by Romford's very own Brewery Centre, which also happens to be where I live! In recent years new restaurants and a Costa Coffee have been added to the already stunning retail opportunities available here.

And there were two special awards for long term support of the awards over several years. They went to Christine Smith of Molly's Florists and Martin Bumpus from our local Lloyds TSB. Special awards were presented by Mayor Cllr Lynden Thorpe.

It was a late night with disco and live entertainers ensuring that we danced into the early hours of Saturday...

Wanstead Police Station Petition

On Friday lunch time the petition against closure of Wanstead Police Station was delivered to City Hall. I took possession of over 2,000 signatures from local councillor Chris Cummins and leading campaigner Neil Zammett.

The petition will be verified by the secretariat with the aim of presenting it to the full Assembly meeting on 24th October.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Conference 2012

I have just got back from the Conservative Conference in Birmingham. An opportunity for Boris to shine, for Dave to set out his stall and possibly our last visit to this great city.

Big Boris

On Monday evening the Mayor arrived to speak at a meeting hosted by Conservative Home in Hall 1 of the International Conference Centre. With an audience of around 1,000, Boris was on form and virtually all of his material was brand new. He particularly took pains to emphasise his loyalty to David Cameron, pointing out that a Conservative victory in London could be mirrored by a Conservative victory in government.

On Tuesday it was time for the Big Performance, with the large Symphony Hall reserved for the London Mayor. Boris acolytes arrived early, hanging around the conference hotel bar. The bridge that links the hotel to the conference centre was the setting for a media ambush, with hordes of photographers and TV cameras lined up to snap Boris as he passed. A great queue formed outside the symphony hall - a needless effort as there was plenty of room inside.

I ensconced myself in a great seat in the wings, almost on the stage - it must have been a good position because half way through the speech I was joined by several newspaper photographers trying to get a close shot of Boris. David Cameron arrived and sat half way back in the centre of the auditorium.

Boris proceeded to produce what in my opinion was his best speech ever. It was a peak performance for a politician who many members would like to see leading the government. Boris referred to David Cameron as 'a broom sweeping up after Labour' and he paid tribute to 'George Osborne the dustpan, Michael Gove the J cloth and William Hague the sponge' - something of a double edged compliment.

He returned to his theme of manufacturing in London, our products including cake from Walthamstow, mosquito repellent and every chocolate hobnob in the world. He paid tribute to the efforts of young people in the Soho film industry - a line that provoked some unscripted titters, but Boris recovered smoothly and moved on from what could have been a Carry on City Hall moment.

He asked what great advantages the city had - 'YOU!!' shouted some enthusiasts in the crowd. No, No, Boris shook his head - he meant the Conservative Government, of course...

Coffee With Cameron

In a conference which has become more corporate in recent years, coffee lounges have sprung up to serve the needs of select thirsty delegates. The initiative was pioneered by Jo Tanner's In House Communications who provided a London Lounge in conjunction with Starbucks last year. They were back for Birmingham and Total Politics magazine had set up a similar operation nearby.

On Monday morning I was one of the first into the London Lounge, having evaded a first night hangover unlike many other delegates. The barrista set out to make a Nicaraguan brew for me - a lengthy undertaking involving watching the coffee percolating through a filter, slowly filling up a giant mug.

I glanced at my watch (again), then glanced up to find the Prime Minister who had arrived with only a couple of advisors in tow. David Cameron spoke to the Starbucks staff and paused for a photograph with them. After some minutes he departed - having drunk my coffee...

Women To Win

Also on Monday, I joined Women to Win for a packed out meeting to discuss the selection process and provide tips for candidates. The impending police commissioner elections have thrown the timetable for candidate selection off course, although the new party chairman has now decreed that the most marginal target seats will be filled as a priority. Assessment boards for European Parliament candidates are currently working their way through the long list of applicants.

It was heartening to see such a large number of ambitious women who want to become MPs despite the recent expenses scandal and the difficulty of securing a seat. Many were in for the long term haul, seeing themselves winning in later elections than 2015. They are right and it is never too early to embark on a political career - likely to be a lengthy undertaking with many ups and downs on the way.

Is This the Last Time?

I like Birmingham. The city is welcoming, the facilities are good (unlike Bournemouth), it doesn't rain all the time (unlike Manchester) and it is not too far from London (unlike Blackpool), and I look forward to the Birmingham conferences. So I was disappointed to hear a rumour that we might not be returning. The cost of security - it was said - is now too high for the city compared to the business benefits, so they will be discouraging party conferences in future. Let's hope it isn't true as they did a great job hosting us for 2012!