Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Budget Committee

This morning the Budget Committee met for the first time under its long standing Chairman John Biggs. We heard from the finance directors of the GLA, TfL, Met Police and LFEPA. Being a broad bruush meeting, debate was expected to cover a lot of ground in not much depth - but in the event there was even less depth than we had anticipated.


We heard about government proposals to allow local authorities to retain half the business rates collected in their areas. Currently they collect the money but it all goes to the treasury. The new proposal is intended to encourage councils to find innovative ways to help business growth.

Where two tier authorities exist there needs to be a way to divide the proceeds of business growth. In the counties the district councils will keep 80% of the revenue and the counties will get 20%. However in London the GLA has greater responsibility for infrastructure than any county so a different split is being negotiated with London Councils. We felt that 60% to the boroughs and 40% to the GLA would be a fairer division of the new income stream.

Furthermore, some councils with large business bases will do disproportionately well - these include The City of London, Westminster and Hillingdon which hosts Heathrow Airport. So some redistribution would be necessary from these to 'top up' other councils' budgets - for example Lewisham and Bromley who have comparitively little business property in their boroughs.

For many years councils have been encouraged to develop employment sites for housing because they got to keep the council tax receipts. This modest reform will redress the balance somewhat, encouraging the development of more business facilities.


It was too early for much in depth comment to be made on these, with the financial year barely begun and appointments to the new governing boards incomplete.

The police told us they had a budget 'gap of £148m, which was awaiting the appointment of the new Deputy Mayor Policing, due for confirmation on Thursday. Then there would be a pause during the Olympics before cuts could be made. The need for some closed police stations was questionned by new member Andrew Dismore. PCSO recruitment was expected to be completed in the autumn.

The Fire Authority had vired £30m to support the police budget in 2011/12, and they expected the money to be returned in the coming year. With the Board of LFEPA not yet appointed, the director would not be drawn on possible cuts.

Transport For London was in better shape owing to bouyant fares income. However this could all change if the economy declined - just a 1% drop in Tube ridership would cost £40m. Savings of £7.6 billion were being made with two thirds of these already implemented. New Deputy Chairman Stephen Knight suggested increasing prudential borrowing in order to reduce the revenue contribution to capital spend, and thus providing room to cut fares. Sephen Critchley from TfL was worried that this might damage TfL's credit rating.

So it was a wide roundup but with a lot of 'wait and see'. With the scene set, a challenging financial year stretches ahead...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

No U Turns Here

A lovely sunny afternoon in Redbridge, ideal conditions for meeting local councillors to see first hand the problems of U turns on the A12. There have been several serious accidents outside Newbury Park Station where foolish drivers ignore the warning signs and use the gap in the central reservation to turn 180 degrees into the opposite lane. I met Cllr Vanessa Cole and Cllr Ruth Clark, along with a photographer from the Ilford Recorder, and we caught pictures of several cars breaking the law in the ten minutes or so that we were present.

The most obvious solution is to close the gap but this would inconvenience law abiding drivers and prevent access to the station forecourt. It would also move the U turn problem down the road to the next junction. So some serious enforcement is required with heavy fines and licences revoked. This will require a police presence or permanent CCTV. I have already raised the issue with TfL and posed a question to the Mayor himself.

And motorists aren't the only ones running risks here. I photographed a group of three pedestrians running across the road - there's a well used and well lit subway right under their feet.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Transport Committee

This morning's Transport Committee featured a rather broad brush session with Peter Hendy and Isobel Dedring, now secure in her role of Deputy Mayor and Deputy Chairman of TfL, following a confident performance at yesterday's confirmation hearing.


With Tube problems once more in the headlines, the committee were anxious to test London Underground's readiness for the Olympics. The most important line will be the Jubilee and last night one of its trains failed in the Western section of the line. This was the result of a freak breakdown of its power unit and the backup as well. Attempts to use a second train to tow the first one clear came to nothing as that train became stuck as well! LU made the difficult decision to walk over 750 passengers along the tunnels to daylight.

Peter assured us that the passengers involved would receive refunds and that a repetition of this event was most unlikely during the Games. TfL has signed up to a 14 point plan aimed at reducing Tube delays by 30%. As well as better maintenance and investment the plan features innovative elements such as the blue light emergency response vehicles now driven by LU engineers. In future when passengers are taken ill on trains they will be moved more quickly so that the service can resume.

Despite continuing poor industrial relations it was some years since the Tube had suffered a complete shutdown. The recent Tubelines strikes had very little effect on passengers and staff had now returned to the negotiating table.


Labour members were keen to prove the existence of the mythical 'surplus' that Ken planned to use to cut fares. Peter admitted that there were underspends on the capital projects but these were deferred costs rather than savings. For example Crossrail had experienced delays in aquiring some property, but it still needed to be bought so the underspend was temporary and couldn't be used to cut fares.

Darren Johnson suggested increasing the congestion charge to provide an income stream but other members were not enthusiastic.

TfL were making a strong case for Government funding for Crossrail 2, based on the need to boost the economy with vital infrastructure projects. High Speed 2 would - after its extension to Leeds - ultimately double the number of passengers at Euston Station and with the Northern and Victoria Lines already crowded, Crossrail 2 and a new Euston Station would be the only way to accommodate demand. It was envisaged that Crossrail 2 and High Speed 2 north of Birmingham would be under construction at the same time but Crossrail 1 would be complete by then so the capital could bear the disruption.


The delay to the introduction of wave and pay contactless ticketing had been caused by problems on the buses. The project would be paused for the Games then work would restart with the aim of introducing wave and pay before the end of the year.

I asked about extending the successful Oyster Card to cover rail services outside London. The Department for Transport are not keen, preferring to develop their own ITSO card. ITSO has been in development for years now and it is still more of a concept than a reality. It is used solely for Freedom Passes on Scottish bus services, which isn't much use for London commuters...

The committee were very supportive of TfL's bid to take control of suburban main line services. The improvements to London Overground demonstrated what TfL could achieve by prioritising inner city metro services, with manned stations, improved environments and new rolling stock. However politicians outside London were not convinced and worried that their constituents would suffer worse services as more trains were made to stop for stations within Greater London.


Peter said that the Mayor's pledge to bring in 600 of the new buses by 2016 was achievable. The pilot running on route 38 had proved to be very popular with almost every passenger. The exception was Jennette Arnold who hated it and no doubt missed her favourite bendy bus.

She made a good point however about the role of the conductor. Obviously he was needed to secure the open rear platform but Jennette also felt he should intervene to ensure that passengers folded buggies and left space for wheelchairs and older users. Peter agreed, indeed there is a role for bus drivers here too - performed brilliantly  by some but not at all by others.


With 80% of journeys using the road network, TfL were implementing a much needed 'congestion busting' plan. The committee awaits the results eagerly...

We also plan to review the operation of the new 'Cabbie Cabinet' as well as progress on the East London river crossings, particularly the new Greenwich to Silvertown Tunnel. More detailed sessions will be held with expert witnesses but this was a good broad brush start to the new term.

Mayor's Question Time

Yesterday saw the first MQT since the elections. Labour now dominate the Assembly with twelve members but the Conservative group remains a respectable size at nine - the election was far from the rout that some commentators expected. The real losers were the small parties who were once again squeezed between the two big players and there are only two Lib Dems now along with two Greens. The growth of the Labour Group has forced the remaining Libs around the horseshoe onto the Conservative side and they look distinctly uncomfortable - no coalitionism here.


Questions started where they left off, on cycle safety. Both the Libs and the Greens are pushing a campaign called 'Go Dutch' which seeks to replicate Holland in London with respect to cycle safety. It is a noble cause but fails to allow for the conditions in our capital city - one might as well promote a 'Go Vegas' campaign to increase tourism or a 'Go Littlehampton' campaign to cut crime and pollution. For the Greens in particular this is their way of opposing plans to smooth traffic flow and cut congestion, which they consider to be incompatible with cycle safety.

Boris assured us that he was working to improve safety at key junctions. Keen cyclist and new Conservative Group Leader Andrew Boff risked opprobrium by suggesting that if cyclists obeyed the Highway Code there would be many fewer accidents. On his ride to work he feels that he is the only cyclist to stop at the red lights. Some tougher enforcement action would improve safety and save lives.


Val Shawcross, who narrowly missed becoming Ken's Deputy Mayor, is back at transport and she asked a good open question about TfL's business plan. The good thing about open questions is that they allow supplementaries to range quite widely. I took advantage of the opportunity to seek a meeting with Boris to review Crossrail's plans in Havering & Redbridge.

During the promotional phase of Crossrail we were treated to artist's impressions of glittering new stations - a cornucopia of Tie Racks and Sock Shops. The reality is different, and a sad let down. At Romford disabled access is being improved but the new station looks very cramped, as Network Rail have increased the back office space at the expense of the ticket hall and existing retail units. At the start of the month passengers queue out of the entrance and down South Street to purchase tickets and whilst developments with Oyster will reduce demand for tickets to London, they will do nothing for travellers heading out of town who will still have to join the line.

Furthermore there are no plans to link the station to the nearby bus terminus on the south side of the station. Instead a new entrance will debouch on the north side into an alleyway known as The Battis, an area currently dominated by recycling bins and parked vans. An opportunity to regenerate this run down part of Romford is in danger of being lost because of Network Rail's penny pinching.

Boris agreed to a meeting, so that was 'mission accomplished' and we moved on.


I asked Boris about plans to roll out the new look 'Routemaster' and he stated that the budget exists to bring 600 of these fine vehicles into service. New technology will make this the cleanest bus yet, improving air quality and cutting CO2 emissions - air quality in London has been getting better, although you would never know it from the hot air that has been issuing from the Labour and Green Groups.

The bus would also save money by cutting fuel consumption and of course, reducing fare evasion. Boris couldn't confirm which route would be the first to run the new buses in my constituency, but they will be getting an enthusiastic reception when they arrive - unlike the defunct bendy bus who's fan club maintained a sullen silence across the horseshoe...


In a response to a question from Tony Arbour, Boris maintained his opposition to plans for a Third Runway at Heathrow. He was surprised to learn that the Lib Dems in Richmond have been claiming that we support such plans. Tony urged the Mayor to resist the temptation to 'Love Bomb' the Assembly Lib Dems - given their dwindling size precision bombing would be required...


New Member Andrew Dismore pressed the case for a memorial to the Israeli athletes and coaching staff who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago.

The cross party campaign for recognition of this tragic episode has involved Cllr Linda Kelly of Hackney who promoted a plaque to be unveiled in the borough in July. There will also be a commemoration hosted by The Guildhall. However the IOC - with characteristic small mindedness - have rejected the call for a minute's silence during the games themselves.

Andrew and I hope the IOC will change their minds and allow a commemoration of a tragedy that is uniquely a part of their history.


There are five new Members following the election. Andrew Dismore, Onkar Sahota, Tom Copley and Stephen Knight all asked their maiden questions at this meeting leaving only Labour's Fiona Twycross to make her mark. They all looked quite promising so it will be interesting to see how the new Assembly develops over its term of office. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tamil Remembrance Vigil

On Saturday evening I joined local MP Lee Scott and Deputy Mayor Victoria Borwick in Trafalgar Square for a gathering to remember the Tamil people who were the victims of ethnic cleansing in northern Sri Lanka. I attended last year and there was a large crowd despite the rain - yesterday the crowd was if anything even larger.

The Tamils pledged to return to the square every year and to campaign for an independent international investigation of the atrocities perpetrated against civilians by Sri Lankan government forces. Without that independent element any investigation will inevitably be seen as a whitewash.

Sharing a stage with Simon Hughes and human rights lawyers is an unusual experience for me but my visit to Srebrenica in 2009 - which I blogged about at the time - left me convinced that it is vital to uphold international law and bring war criminals to justice, wherever they are and however long it takes. Just last week former General Ratko Mladic went on trial for the massacre committed at Srebrenica.

Victoria delivered a message of support from Boris Johnson which also thanked the Tamils for their contribution to London's culture and economy.

We all hope that those responsible for flagrantly abusing human rights in Sri Lanka will soon be brought to justice.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Crimson Tide

On Friday the Assembly met to decide the new arrangements for running City Hall following the London Elections. Labour looked very pleased with themselves and had massacred a dozen red roses to provide buttonhole decorations for their twelve members.

The elections were good to Labour, giving them the largest group in the Assembly - for the first time - and also the largest group ever elected, short of an overall majority by just one. In 2000 and 2008 they had smaller groups and still managed to grab all the key jobs, courtesy of the Lib Dems - so the omens for 2012 were not good.

12 Labour plus the 2 Greens, who have become a sort of tree hugging annex to the socialists, are sufficient together to control the Assembly. The 2 Lib Dems have decided to hang in there with them, making a 'progressive alliance' of 16, against the Conservative group which still totals a creditable 9 members. Our Libs think that their party should have joined Labour in coalition government, but their own reward for backing Labour on the Assembly was nowhere near as generous as the one that Nick got out of Dave.

London Assembly Portfolios

So the assembly itself will continue to be chaired by Labour's Jennette Arnold, with her Deputy being the Green Darren Johnson. they are likely to exchange roles next year.

Assembly Committees have been reorganised:

Audit Panel - Chair John Biggs (L), Deputy Chair Roger Evans (C)

Budget & Performance Committee - Chair John Biggs (L), Deputy Chair Stephen Knight (LD)

GLA Oversight Committee - Chair Len Duvall (L), Deputy Chair Val Shawcross (L)

Economy Committee - Chair Andrew Dismore (L), Deputy Chair Stephen Knight (LD)

Health & Environment Committee - Chair Murad Qureshi (L), Deputy Chair Jenny Jones (G)

Housing & Regeneration Committee - Chair Len Duvall (L), Deputy Chair Darren Johnson (G)

Planning Committee - Chair Nicky Gavron (L), Deputy Chair TBA

Police & Crime Committee - Chair Joanne McCartney (L), Deputy Chairs Jenny Jones (G) and Caroline Pidgeon (LD)

Transport Committee - Chair Caroline Pidgeon (LD), Deputy Chair Val Shawcross (L)

With Standards Committee and Confirmation Hearings Committees to decide their own chairing arrangements...

Not very rich pickings for the Conservative Group there - but that isn't a miss type at the top of the list, I actually did get the deputy job on the Audit Panel. I'm not sure if it was offered as a small personal recognition or as a grim joke at my group's expense but I grabbed it anyway - having done a few of these meetings I understand that one should never look a gift horse in the mouth - even when it is more of a Gift Mouse.

Conservative Group Portfolios

New Group Leader Andrew Boff has appointed shadow roles for our Group:

Housing - Andrew Boff

Transport - Richard Tracey

Budget - Gareth Bacon

Environment - James Cleverly

Planning - Roger Evans

Police - Steve O'Connell

Economy - Tony Arbour

Health - Victoria Borwick

I won't be short of meetings to attend, having been appointed to the Budget & Performance Committee, Housing & Regeneration Committee, Planning Committee, Transport Committee and of course the Audit Panel. The three years I spent chairing the Planning Committee at Havering will be good experience for my new planning role.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Domestic Violence in Havering

Last night we received a presentation from local police and agencies, updating us on progress dealing with domestic violence in Havering.

We have the eighth lowest level of domestic violence in London so the borough compares quite well, largely because our police are very proactive when it comes to dealing with this crime. Over a third of domestic violence takes place at the weekend and one in ten cases occur between midnight and 1pm, suggesting that drink is a contributory factor.

A fifth of domestic violence in Havering is committed against men - I thought this was a high figure but in fact it is falling, last year a quarter of the victims were male. However there may be under reporting because the borough's services are set up to work for women - in 2010/11 Havering Women's Aid supported 1192 women but only 20 men. The fact that there is only one refuge for battered men in the country - it is in Wales - also doesn't encourage men to report crimes.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Election Result

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard for a Conservative victory in Havering and Redbridge. The result was as follows:

Roger Evans             Conservative          53285
Mandy Richards       Labour                   49386
Lawrence Webb       UKIP                      9471
Malvin Brown           Residents Assoc      8239
Farrukh Islam            Lib Dem                 6435
Robert Taylor            BNP                      5234
Haroon Saad             Green                     5207
Mark Twiddy            English Democrat    2573
Richard Edmonds      National Front        1936

So I have been re-elected but with a reduced majority and this contest featured a considerable right wing protest vote. I'm very grateful to my constituents for placing their trust in me once again and I am very aware of the concerns that residents were expressing about the direction and effectiveness of the Coalition Government. Together with Boris I will be working hard at City Hall to reduce costs and to improve services over the coming four years.

The Conservative Group now numbers nine, which is just enough to approve the Mayor's budget and his key policy documents. Boris has just signed his acceptance of office so we are all set for the coming term.

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

A Letter From 'Brett'

This evening one of my elite leafleting squad handed me a letter he received today. Written in blue ink on cream coloured A5 paper, it purports to be from someone called Brett Harrison. Starting 'Dear Friend' - a bit forward that, particularly as he doesn't give his address - Brett goes on to explain that he used to be a Tory activist. Brett is now so disillusioned that he won't be voting on Thursday and he urges others to follow his lead.

Apart from that Brett doesn't say much about himself, preferring to pedal Labour's lines about the budget and alleged police cuts. Wonder where he picked that up from?

Fortunately I once did a bit of self training in handwriting analysis, not for any expert role - more to liven up social occasions when people didn't want to discuss politics or transport. A quick rummage produces my graphology guide - now what does the handwriting tell us about Brett?

Blunt - Shown in the letter o that has no inner loops and is relatively wide. If the o is open they will volunteer a frank opinion without being asked. By sending out hundreds of unsolicited letters to people you don't know perhaps...

Defiance - A large lower case letter anywhere in the writing. The defiant person resists other's authority. Seen as resentment at being told what to do and as rebellion in young people. Brett seems more like a socialist...

Low Self Esteem - Shown by the t bar crossed very low on the stem. This person fears failure and fears change thus sets goals with low risk. He remains in bad situations much too long and finds imperfections with himself. He is rarely successful in his own eyes. That's not a good trait to have Brett...

Sexual Imagination - Shown by very long loops in the lower zones y, g and p. They will demand variety in their physical activities which must satisfy their insatiable physical desires. Sexually, they can be very demanding and often creative. Lucky Brett, it's not all bad news...

Ah - but what is this, in very tiny writing along the bottom left of the sheet 'Promoted by Patrick Heneghan on behalf of London Labour both at 59 Victoria Street, London, SW1H 0HA'. No wonder Brett fails to write his address at the top of the letter, as we were all taught at school.

So if this is a Labour  leaflet why doesn't it mention Ken?? Too Toxic?

It doesn't even mention Labour, except in the small print.

All it does is urge people not to vote - strange and two faced behaviour from a party that introduced on demand postal voting ostensibly to Raise Turnout.

Or could it be that they only want to raise turnout in some places. In Havering and Redbridge they want people to waste their vote.

Several constituents have received this letter and emailed me about it. Reactions include:

"How can Labour be allowed to issue such rubbish? Is this against political election promotion rules?" - Mark.

"I think it is an extremely distasteful way of electioneering and object strongly to being approached in this way." - Joy.

If you agree with them then don't forget to vote Conservative on Thursday on all three ballot papers. 'Brett' and his Labour masters will be really smug if you do anything else.