Sunday, March 25, 2012

Boris Visits Havering & Redbridge

On Saturday Boris joined members of the armed forces and the Mayor of Havering to support the Parcels for the Troops initiative at the busy Roneo Corner Tesco. He got stuck in sorting the items generously donated by local shoppers. A tour of the store got a very positive reception. we went on to visit Romford Market and Hornchurch High Street. The afternoon saw us arrive at Ilford where Boris attracted a crowd worthy of a film star, then on to Barkingside and finally a visit to Wanstead. A gorgeous day heralded the arrival of Spring and people were delighted to meet - and be photographed with - their Mayor.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Final MQTs

Wednesday morning saw the final Question Time of this four year term. Following the great Audit Panel Occupation, there were concerns about security. More staff were on duty and Climate Rush demonstrators made their point outside City Hall, but the session itself was undisturbed.

With some members retiring, Question Time had an end of term feeling. Requests from Labour for the Mayor to talk about phone hacking had failed to meet the required deadline, having been lost in the secretariat. The Chair apologised, but the Mayor refused to take the out of time questions and the Labour leader made a rather grouchy statement.

Into the questions, and Labour lead with their collective chin, with a section about transport in Outer London. They tried Outer London as a subject last year and the result was a total car crash, so I was surprised to see them try the same thing again. Boris was suitably robust and knocked them flat by pointing out that their promises would be rendered impossible to fulfil by Ken's plan to cut fares. Conservative members piled in with questions about transport improvements in their own boroughs and it was plain that Labour weren't going to get off the floor again.

I used the opportunity to seek an assurance that disabled access will be an essential feature of all the new Crossrail stations - something that concerned Redbridge Transport For All when I met them on Monday.

The Lib Dems were more calculating in their approach, asking if Londoners were better off than four years ago. A clever question which allowed them to raise a variety of issues as supplementaries. Mike Tuffrey and Dee Doocey are retiring at this election and we will miss their calm forensic style which can sometimes put Boris on the back foot. With the field for subjects wide open, I asked if Boris would get Locog and London & Partners to publicise Gants Hill as a post games destination for spectators who would otherwise clog up restaurants and other venues in Stratford and the West End. Only Five stops away on the Central Line, Gants Hill provides a high quality but less crowded alternative to centres in town and I can see real potential to generate business for the area. Fortunately Boris agrees with me.

I used a question about the new bus to praise the removal of crime ridden bendies from route 25 which serves Ilford. Labour's line is that the new buses are very costly, but new models are always expensive and the price per vehicle will reduce as demand grows. During Ken's reign TfL spent £9.65 million on a trial of hydrogen buses, which they defended as an essential investment at the time, and this is a similar case - except this trial doesn't involve forcing an unwanted hydrogen refuelling station on residents adjacent to the A127 in Upminster.

The Greens raised cycling safety and Jenny wrangled with the Mayor over the accuracy of the figures she is quoting. Casualties are too high regardless of which of them is right, and work on the major road junctions as well as a crackdown on unroadworthy lorries will save lives.

The whole session drifted a bit and ended with a whimper rather than a bang, and I get the impression that Labour were content to leave things in the hope that they will have more members after May 3rd. The small parties face the prospect of another squeeze and could even lose members. Richard Barnbrook, once the BNP's great hope, was absent having gone independent some time ago. It is unlikely that the BNP will be back in May.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Audit and Anarchy

Four years ago I was asked to chair the City Hall audit panel. The committee comprises just four members and meets quarterly to review the authority's risk register and the audit plan that arise from it. We also examine each audit report and question departmental managers on the steps they take to improve processes and resolve any recommendations the auditors make.

It's an important but rather low key role, not attracting any publicity and with very little political disagreement - a good example of different parties working together. The committee also sees good examples of shared services saving the authority money. Procurement for City Hall is now handled by TfL, as are our legal services. Our payroll is operated by the Fire Authority, and audit itself is now done by the Metropolitan Police. No trumpet blowing, but we just quietly get on and save money for Londoners.

So we were surprised to receive a visit from protesters at the final meeting of the panel yesterday afternoon. Around a dozen earnest young people trooped in as we were reviewing the hospitality register, one carrying a guitar. The odd chord was strummed as we considered the gifts declared by members and staff (Jenny Jones received a mounted truncheon from the police, Kulveer had been given a smart new shirt). The meeting drew to a conclusion.

As I thanked staff and members for their work over four years, and the public for their attendance, one young man got to his feet and denounced Haringey Council for cutting youth services. A decision that he claimed had led to the August riots. The assembled auditors and accountants looked a touch bemused.

I closed the meeting and told colleagues they were free to leave. The monologue continued as we departed. I am sure their concerns spread further than Haringey but the protesters were at the wrong meeting in the wrong place. Perhaps they will return for Mayor's Question Time this morning...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Boris Nine Point Plan

Boris has launched his nine pledges for a Greater London, and they are displayed on posters in telephone kiosks around town. I have found three so far in my travels and will track down the rest soon. Like Boris Pokemon, you've just got to catch them all...

Friday, March 09, 2012

Wind Farming

The sun shone yesterday and the sea - fortunately - remained calm, for the visit by leading members of the Environment Committee, to see progress on the construction of the world's largest offshore wind farm, the London Array.

Situated 12 miles out in the Thames Estuary the 175 giant wind turbines cover an area of over 200 square kilometres. Each turbine is 147 metres high and the rotor diameter is 120 metres - as big as the London Eye, but spinning much faster!

Many are already in place as are two offshore sub stations which will boost the voltage before transmission down a 54 km underwater cable to Faversham where the electricity enters the national grid.

Providing 1000 megawatts when both phases are complete, the Array will power over 750,000 homes, making a significant contribution to London's power demands. Electricity will start to be generated later this month.

Olympic Questions

On Wednesday we questioned Lord Coe and Paul Deighton from LOCOG about final preparations for the Games. My colleague Victoria Borwick is an official volunteer and she kindly modelled the purple and orange uniform at our meeting!

Ticket allocations for the 100m final in the stadium were discussed. 30,000 will have been bought by the British public; a further 15,000 will have been bought internationally, and in practise a lot of these will also go to Brits who have been quick off the mark on the internet; 15,000 will go to sponsors and these will be distributed amongst their staff and customers. Of the remainder, 10,000 will be taken by journalists, 2,000 by athletes and 2,000 by IOC officials. The rest of the seats will not be occupied as they are obstructed by large screens and media paraphernalia. There were some angry scenes as members from all parties accused LOCOG of secrecy over ticket sales - Seb will be pleased this was his last Assembly session.

Ticket printing was also raised. Of the five bidders, only two were British, and the bid from Arkansas represented best value for money along with the best compliance with contract requirements. LOCOG assured us that procurement rules and procedures had been followed.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Two Months To Go...

With just two months until the London elections, our campaign team converged on the key constituency of Romford. We were joined by senior government whip Mark Francois MP, and council leader Michael White on walkabout meeting local shoppers and traders. The reception was positive - Havering voters agree that we don't want it to be 'Ken Again' on May 3rd!