Monday, January 30, 2012

Conservative Friends of Bangladesh

Tonight we launched the Redbridge branch of Conservative Friends of Bangladesh. A meeting hosted by local chairman Mina Rahman, heard from national chairman Tony Lee, Ms Subrina Hussain, Cllr Matthew Chaudhury, 2010 Parliamentary candidate Zakir Khan, Anne Main MP and of course myself. The audience were really keen to take the Conservative message to London's Bangladeshi community, and it was particularly good to see so many women in attendance. I'm looking forward to working with them

Wildlife Crime Partnership

This morning I joined Romford MP Andrew Rosindell at City Hall to mark the start of a new partnership between the Met Police and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. The Society are providing £100,000 to support the vital work of our Wildlife Crime Unit. On display were illegal items recovered by the unit, including rhino horns, the polar bear skin in the picture and - sadly - a pair of stuffed tiger cubs which were found far from home on a mantelpiece in Islington. London is a key centre for the trade in illegal wildlife products with the profits often going to support organised crime and even terrorism. This historic partnership will help to put and end to the vile trade. More details can be found at .

Budget Debate 2012

Here is my take on the alternative budgets proposed by the Lib Dems, Greens and Labour at last Wednesday's budget meeting.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Out and About in Redbridge

A bright and breezy Saturday morning greeted our Redbridge campaign. In Barkingside I joined local MP Lee Scott, Assembly list candidate Nadia Sharif and local councillors to meet constituents and tell them the good news about Boris freezing the council tax precept for the fourth year in succession. I went on to Woodford where Monkhams councillors were taking the message to local shoppers. Finally I dropped in to Wanstead where Conservative deputy leader Cllr Michelle Dunn and cabinet member Cllr Suzanne Nolan were leading a team sporting blue 'Back Boris' shirts. The response was very positive and there was no sign of Labour's activists.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Elm Park Station

A busy weekend of campaign activity kicked off at Elm Park Station this evening as I joined local councillors Jeff Brace and Barry Oddy, to meet commuters and explain plans for improving the District Line. The work has been going on for some time, patience is short, and a signal failure didn't help the mood. On the positive side, the local police were there with their knife arch, searching suspects, deterring crime and helping everyone feel safe. This is a busy station in the heart of Havering and we were encouraged by the positive response from commuters who we spoke to.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Transport Debate

An interesting and wide ranging transport committee meeting took place this morning.

Hammersmith Flyover

Leon Daniels from TfL gave us an update on Hammersmith Flyover, which was closed for emergency work over Christmas and the New Year. One lane is now open and operating in each direction whilst work takes place to replace steel cables inside the unique 1961 structure. The new cables will be made of stronger steel and with the concrete still in very good condition, the strengthened flyover is expected to last for several decades. Only one section was found to be badly damaged so the emergency work is going to be less than expected.

River Transport

Sean Collins from Thames Clippers appeared alongside TfL, the PLA and my colleague Dick Tracey, taking questions in his role as Mayoral Ambassador for River Transport. Over ten years the number of river passengers had grown from 1.6 million to 4.1 million per year - not including the 2 million users of the Woolwich Ferry. Of these, two thirds were commuters with the remainder being tourists.

4.1 million sounds like a lot but it is no more than an average suburban bus route would transport over twelve months. The Mayor's ambition was to get the number up to 12 million per year. With 10 million per year using river services in Brisbane - a much smaller city - this target was felt to be reasonable. In Brisbane a milder climate, better coordination with bus routes and the lack of an underground railway had all contributed to the high numbers.

Dick talked about plans to extend river services upstream with commuter boats calling at Putney. Further west would be more difficult because the water was relatively shallow at low tide. I asked about plans to extend services downstream to Rainham, allowing commuting from Essex and improving access to the nature reserve at Rainham Marshes. Sean Collins was very positive, stating that a service already ran to Tilbury, although it only served cruie ship passengers currently. Dick talked about introducing a park and ride facility at Rainham, encouraging commuters to leave their cars just where the A13 became congested.

Tube Extensions

Witnesses from TfL discussed the Tube extensions currently under consideration.

The most advanced of these is the Northern Line extension to Battersea. With a price tag of £900 million, private sector financing is essential so the plans had been set back when Treasury Holdings, the private funder, collapsed before Christmas. Despite this TfL are continuing with the Transport & Works Act application to Parliament, in the hope that a new developer can be found. For the longer term they are planning to extend the line to Clapham Junction.

An extension to the Croxley branch of the Metropolitan Line, linking with Watford Junction, is supported by TfL but funding and promotion will be carried out by Herts County Council as the project is outside the Greater London boundary.

Extension of the Bakerloo Line to South East London is supported in the longer term. Caroline Pidgeon and Jenny Jones were very much in favour as they live in Camberwell Green. Funding is not available and the Bakerloo Line upgrade needs to be completed before the 'Camberloo Extension' is considered.

Central Line extensions east to Harlow and west to Uxbridge are being considered, but the business cases are questionable.

Crossrail 2 - previously known as Chelsea to Hackney - is climbing up the list of priorities, spurred on by the agreement of HS2.


We also examined progress on major station upgrades.

Tottenham Court Road is being enlarged to lift its capacity from 145,000 per day to 250,000 per day - more than the throughput of Heathrow. There will be disabled access and a link to the new Crossrail station. At a cost of £500 million I asked London Underground to consider enlarging the bus stands on the surface, thus making it possible to terminate more services there and relieve bus crowding in Oxford Street.

Victoria is also being enlarged to improve capacity and create a new ticket hall, at a cost of £580 million.

The new Crossrail station and increased capacity at Bond Street is expected to cost £285 million.

Disabled access and improvements to the Hammersmith & City platforms at Paddington are relatively cheap - only £53 million.

A major upgrade at Bank will improve capacity and provide new lifts to street level at an expected cost of £600 million. I suggested that they provide a moving travelator between the Bank and Monument platforms as the walking distance is considerable - much as London Underground have done at Waterloo.

I also suggested that London Underground raise the priority of lift installation at Newbury Park. With a price tag of no more than £20 million this represents a comparatively small investment, yet with National Express East Anglia using the station for their passengers during Liverpool Street line closures, disabled access will benefit many passengers. Network Rail might even be persuaded to stump up some cash for this project.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mansion House Speech

Last night I attended the star studded annual London Government Dinner at the Mansion House. Apart from being a high point in the London social calendar, the dinner - hosted by the Lord Mayor - provides an opportunity to hear the elected Mayor of London set out his priorities for the coming year in his after dinner speech.

Boris was on good form, infectiously optimistic about the Olympics and drawing comparisons with the austerity games of 1948 when Canada donated the wood for the diving boards, the running track was paved with cinders and the visiting athletes were accommodated in draughty school halls. Britain came 12th in the medals stakes, despite Russia and Germany not taking part. Boris expects us to do better than that in 2012.

He also spoke about prioritising London's road network for future investment. The recent closure of the Hammersmith Flyover - and earlier problems at Gallows Corner and Gants Hill - resulted from years of under investment. The Labour government and the Livingstone regime had thoughtlessly pursued an anti car policy without understanding that cyclists and buses relied on the crumbling roads as well as motorists. In addition to more investment in maintenance and new road schemes there would be a new river crossing via a tunnel at Silvertown. As from this morning, Boris announced, the Hammersmith Flyover would reopen one lane in each direction - he got half a cheer for that...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Budget Round Opening Skirmishes

The Budget Committee has been meeting to consider its response to the Mayor's budget proposals - the fourth and final budget round of Boris's first mayoral term.

Last week we questioned the transport commissioner, chairman of LFEPA, deputy mayor and senior representatives of the Metropolitan Police. Yesterday it was the Mayor's turn in the spotlight.

Council Tax Freeze

The headline news is that the council tax precept is to be frozen for the fourth year in a row, leaving the budget exactly where we found it after Livingstone lost power in 2008. In real terms inflation makes this a 12% cut as opposed to the 153% increase that occurred under the Livingstone regime when costs were allowed to let rip. It is a considerable achievement and almost as impressive is the fact that it is no longer debated by the major parties. We can expect to see alternative proposals from the other groups which also leave the council tax frozen. Indeed the Lib Dem's Mike Tuffrey was asking Boris for a council tax cut yesterday - thus stealing the question that I usually pose - so coalitionism is clearly having a positive effect on our partners.


The opposition are keen to discuss the changing number of police officers and other crimefighters in the capital. Facing a difficult budget gap, the police are fighting to maintain officer numbers whilst making savings in support services, procurement and property. A £30 million saving from the LFEPA budget has been offered up to help them bridge the gap this year, but further government funding is required and negotiations with the Home Office are still ongoing.

Boris seemed quite upbeat on the prospects for a successful conclusion when we saw him yesterday. Senior police officers were also positive last week, with Acting Deputy Commissioner Cressida Dick maintaining that services would not be harmed and the crime fighting capacity of the MPS would be kept up. The aim is to have some 32,300 fully warranted officers in post in March - 1,000 more than when Boris came to power, but a fall on more recent numbers.

The Met is one of the few police forces still recruiting new officers and these are being drawn largely from the ranks of PCSOs and special constables. The number of specials has grown over the mayor's term but the promotion of good PCSOs - which none of us want to stifle - is leaving vacancies which will take time to fill. The police have undertaken to recruit to those vacancies but some may be unfilled by May, leading to concerns for the future should the mayor's priorities change.

Other question marks hang over the Met budget, with the cost of the August riots still not fully clear and big bills expected for policing the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic Games.


Opposition parties are seeking to make fares a key issue in the coming election. Livingstone has made his usual promise to cut fares if he is elected, but the promise extends no further than the coming year and he has form for freezing fares in election years then jacking them back up in subsequent budgets.

Labour are claiming that TfL has a massive underspend which could fund a fares cut, however TfL pointed out that they have failed to consider cuts to the grant from government and pressures caused by higher passenger numbers - the Tube had its busiest year ever in 2011, and there was a 50 year high for bus passengers. Deputy Chairman Daniel Moylan states that "There is no fairy money under a toadstool!". Perhaps Labour's 'Fares Fair' campaign should be renamed 'Fares Fairy'...

Within TfL Project Horizon is delivering cuts to bureaucracy by combining functions between TfL and London Underground. The number of directors has been cut by 25% as have the budgets for back office activities. At last the combining of the various transport providers under the TfL umbrella is delivering economies of scale.

Fire Brigade

Under Brian Coleman, LFEPA has made considerable savings and has even helped to bail out the police budget this year. Reserves have been cut to £24 million which we were assured is sufficient to cover unexpected costs. Training is being contracted out and this is expected to deliver further cost reductions.

Shared Services

The impetus of a tough budget round has pushed GLA functional bodies into serious consideration of shared services, achieving economies of scale right across the group. At TfL the progress is mainly being achieved between its own departments and transport providers. Within the police service sharing is largely being done across the Greater London boundary, with cooperation from other neighbouring forces. However there is still much to be done to achieve economies across the whole group - for example, the MPA now audits the GLA as well as the police, the GLA now supports LFEPA meetings as well as London Assembly meetings. Boris has made it clear that this is one of his top priorities for the coming year.

As the budget debate heats up, the most contentious issues are revealing themselves - council tax, fares, police numbers and bureaucracy.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

New Year at Wanstead

This morning I joined local Conservatives at Wanstead Station to greet travellers and explain Boris Johnson's transport investment plan. On the Central Line there will be new stations at Bank, Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street, designed to relieve overcrowding and provide easy access to Crossrail. On the District Line we can look forward to a new station at Victoria - the busiest on the Tube - and new air conditioned trains, to be accommodated in the enlarged depot at Upminster.

The investment programme also means more construction jobs for Londoners, with 14,000 created by Crossrail and 18,000 by the Tube upgrades.

Despite the strong winds, darkness and pouring rain, we got a friendly reception from the people we met. A few Labour people turned up later to promote their fare cutting plans which would endanger the upgrades, and there was even a rumour that Ken Livingstone was going to put in an appearance. I expect we will be seeing a lot of each other in 2012...

Monday, January 02, 2012

Happy New Year

It is time to wish everyone well for 2012. The last year has really flown past, but the coming twelve months present a greater challenge.

The first four months will see some determined campaigning leading up to the London elections on May 3rd. In an action replay of 2008 it's Boris vs Ken vs Brian Paddick once again, with all three candidates looking older and more experienced.

Then - after a brief pause for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee - we can look forward to the Olympics, bringing a great spectacle and hopefully a lot of extra business to the capital. Reaping the maximum benefit whilst minimising the disruption to a city that never sleeps will be a considerable challenge.

After the Paralympics close and everyone heads home, we can begin the clean up and heave a sigh of relief that it all went off so well - which should take us nicely to Christmas!

For some it has already been a Happy New Year, with Merton and Westminster coming joint first in the float contest at the New Year Parade. Westminster's float featured deputy leader Cllr Robert Davis decked out as Captain Hook on a magnificent galleon. Despite the rain many spectators turned out and everyone enjoyed themselves. Not a bad result for Redbridge either - they came fifth, scooping a £3,000 prize.