January 2017 Council Report

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Letting commuters know about Labour Mayor Sadiq Khan’s TfL fare freeze on the first day back to work this year

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas break and are looking forward to the first year since 2013 without any scheduled elections.

That doesn’t mean we won’t still be out campaigning and talking to residents about the issues that matter to them – far from it. We’re the kind of local Party that is in touch with people all year round, regardless of any upcoming votes.

As we work towards the 2018 elections, we are holding a borough-wide consultation with members and the public about our manifesto. A number of discussion documents are available to look at on the Ealing Labour website, along with a short questionnaire to feed in your ideas. Take a look and have your say at www.ealinglabour.com/manifesto2018

Council business

My final meeting of 2016 was Full Council, where the Tories once again showed what a pointless and ineffective opposition they are. Their motion attacking Sadiq’s TfL fares freeze was, essentially, a re-run of the arguments we had in May when London voted – and we know how that turned out.

I made a speech defending Sadiq’s promise to freeze TfL fares, and attacking the appalling record of broken promises from the previous Tory Mayor. Every time he promised not a penny of public money would be spent – on the cable car, on the garden bridge – he funnelled public cash into the project. Helpfully for my argument, it had been revealed a few days earlier that not only had Boris wasted money on water cannon that are illegal to use, but he’d spent £1,000 fitting CD players in them! Thank goodness he’s nowhere near any position of importance these days…

This week we also had OSC, where we had an update about changes to legislation following the Housing and Planning Act last year. The short update is that the government is taking its time deciding whether or not to actually implement the powers it now has on a wide range of topics – from bringing in so-called ‘starter homes’ (up to £450,000 in London) as part of developers obligation to provide affordable housing, to ‘flexible’ tenancies that would fundamentally change social housing.

We have previously had the power to introduce ‘flexible’ tenancies for new council tenants, but we have rejected this in the past in favour of offering lifetime secure tenancies as they are. Now it’s likely the government – under the guise of the ‘Localism Act’ will force councils to offer time-limited tenancies only. These would be a minimum of two years, and could be renewed – but remove the certainty that tenancies currently bring for those in social housing.

As yet there’s also scant detail on how the government will implement the forced sale of high-value council housing, and how we will be compensated for losing some of our most valuable housing stock, but ministers have indicated they will be pressing ahead with this in some form.

Finally, the beginning of the month saw the Council’s new landlord licensing scheme come into force. In Acton all landlords must be registered, and we hope the policy will lead to an improvement in the private rented sector – reducing anti-social behaviour like fly tipping and dumping associated with poorly managed tenancies, as well as bringing up the standards of properties on the market.

South Acton news

The terrible fire at the Aeronaut just half an hour into the new year takes one of the ward’s best loved pubs out of action. Thankfully, quick action by the staff meant no one was seriously hurt, and a number of people were rescued by officers from the police station next door rushing into the burning building to help. I’m really pleased to hear that Laine’s are keen to get the pub back in action as soon as they can, and have redeployed staff to other pubs so they can keep working and earning in the meantime.

Our next ward forum is on 22nd March – if there’s a local project you think could do with our support, or an unloved bit of the ward that could do with an injection of cash to spruce it up, let us know. The ward forum can recommend all sorts of projects to improve the ward so we’d love to hear your ideas.

August 2016 Council report

Council business

August is usually a quiet month but it seems politics in 2016 doesn’t play by the usual rules!

The Tories called in Cabinet decisions on the redevelopment of Ealing Town Hall and temporary move from one side of Ealing Broadway shopping centre to the other for Ealing Central Library.

The Town Hall discussion focused mainly on access to facilities for community groups. Leader of the Council Julian Bell explained that we had secured a longer deal on low rates for community groups, that the injection of cash from a third-party would secure the building for future generations and there is no threat to the civic and democratic functions that would continue in a refurbished east wing of the building. All parties there supported the principle of development, and in the end with a steer to those negotiating the final deal that an even longer period of guaranteed charges for community users, the decision was allowed to stand.

Much of the discussion on the Library was held in private session, as it concerned the financial details of the deal with British Land to finance the move across the courtyard. The new location will be smaller, with fewer books – but with a much better layout, and stock focused on material that is actually borrowed, and at no cost to the Council, this is a good deal for a temporary move before a new library can be provided on the Perceval House site.

The first results of the new waste collection system have come in. In June we saw a year-on-year increase from 48% recycling to a whopping 55%. If we can continue this performance, it will vindicate the move to alternate weekly collection. As a reminder, the Tories believed it would have no impact on recycling whatsoever – despite all the existing evidence to the contrary. It remains to be seen whether they now accept we have done the right thing to save over £2m a year in landfill charges and other associated costs.

South Acton news

Despite the excellent new recycling rates noted above, the changeover to the new waste collection system has pushed a few existing issues to the fore. We are working closely with officers and our contractors to provide better waste management for flats (particularly HMOs and above shops), investigate and deal with some flytipping hotspots and littering across Acton.

Firstly, visits are being made where households aren’t currently conforming to the new service. This may be by leaving bins on pavements or presenting black sacks alongside bins, but these education visits are invaluable in making sure residents are aware of how to use the service.

Additional resource is being provided by Kingdom Security to identify flytippers by sorting through rubbish, and warnings are being issued. These can and will be followed up with fines for persistent offenders – up to £400.

The regular Acton Gardens Community Board had a useful update on rent levels following concerns from some residents that new homes would be unaffordable. Despite the Tory definition of “affordable rent” being up to 80% of market value, I’m pleased to say L&Q’s rents (L&Q are the housing association involved) are ‘target’ rents – based on income. Combined with housing benefit, this means that rents when residents move from council to L&Q properties remain actually affordable.

Finally, enforcement visits have begun on the problem HMOs in the Avenue Road area, after the period allowed to make adjustments to comply with our various notices has expired. There has undoubtedly been improvement, but feedback from residents is that there may still be breaches. These will be investigated and appropriate action taken – I’ve asked for us all to be kept up to date with findings.

As ever, do get in touch with myself, Yvonne or Mik if you have any questions, problems or just want to chat!

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

June 2016 Council report

 

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The LabourIN battle bus came to Acton this month

The clock is ticking in the EU referendum. It’s vital that we remain in Europe or risk huge damage to our economy. With fears of Brexit wiping £30bn off the stock markets – which harms pension funds and risks jobs – in just one day, it’s clear that a vote to leave will cause real pain for those who can least afford it.

Council business

The meeting of Full Council on 7th June was mostly uneventful – we approved a new licensing policy for the borough, but the bulk of the meeting were debates. We discussed Heller House again: everyone agrees that the site is unsuitable and better respite care can be provided. We are looking at the ‘third option’ of redeveloping the site to provide respite care in borough, but those currently receiving it would still need to access care elsewhere in the interim. We are working closely with families to ensure they have the care they need.

I had hoped to speak on our motion about our fantastic local schools and against forced academisation, but last minute advice was that my wife’s employment as a teacher in the borough meant I could have a pecuniary interest and should leave the chamber.

At Health Scrutiny we heard early plans for transformation of mental health services, including a new ‘single point of access’ that makes it easier to access care. The project is a collaboration between the CCG, WLHMT and the Council, and I was pleased to hear in response to my question that on our side we are being open and contributing well to the development of the plans. I did stress the need to work with all parts of the Council and not just Adults Services – others on the committee pointed out the excellent work that special schools do, so it’s about joining up as many dots as possible.

Our regular Planning training covered recent updates to legislation and neighbourhood planning. The new ‘starter homes’ – which could cost up to £450,000 in London – are particularly worrying, as we will have a duty to promote them as part of the affordable housing component of new schemes. We currently make sure that developers provide homes for social rent and some for part-ownership, but this new category makes  a mockery of the ‘affordable’ label and will in practice mean far fewer homes that ordinary working families can afford to live in.

Finally, we recently had a ‘peer review’ of the Council by the Local Government Association. The headline finding is that, despite the enormous pressure on our budget from Tory austerity, “Ealing is a high performing council…The council is doing great things for its community.”

South Acton news

We had a tour of some of the new homes being built as part of the South Acton estate regeneration, after one of the regular Community Board meetings. These are high quality new homes, and the latest planning application included more affordable homes than originally envisaged in the master plan.

The problems we’ve had with HMOs in the Avenue Road area have returned with a number of complaints about fly tipping, but we’re following up with enforcement officers to sort this out. I’m also dealing with a dumping problem on Fordhook Avenue which has been going on for some time.

Overall the introduction of the new collection scheme has gone very well. There have been a few glitches but the number of problems we’ve had to intervene to sort out has been minimal. Please do remember that food waste is still collected weekly from your brown caddy – this is the best way to minimise waste and ensure the system works smoothly.

Our next ward forum is on Weds 22nd June at the Armenian centre on Mill Hill Road, starting at 7pm. There’s plenty on the agenda and as always it would be good to see you there – the ward forum can suggest ideas for spending some of our budget on local projects.

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

December 2015 Council report

From myself, Mik and Yvonne – a very merry Christmas to you and your family.

The major highlight of 2015 must be victory for Rupa in the general election. After so much hard work and pairs of shoes worn out pounding the streets, it was a bittersweet victory as we watched results coming in from the rest of the country.

2016 brings with it London-wide elections. I’ll be leafleting at South Acton Station on 4th January to get the year off to a flying start, and knocking on doors at the weekends to drum up support for both Sadiq Khan and Dr Onkar Sahota. Rupa’s victory tells us this is the way we win – I hope you can join us and be part of another great Ealing Labour victory!

Council business

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At Full Council on 8th December I seconded the Labour motion on police and crime. London has suffered from £600m cuts to the Met, losing over 3,000 dedicated ward PCSOs. The widely praised neighbourhood policing model developed under a Labour government had six dedicated officers in each ward, but with cuts and the Tory Mayor’s ‘local policing model’, this has been eroded to just two dedicated officers per ward. Our hard working South Acton officers are facing enormous pressures and we must fight to protect the resources we have left.

Council also passed policy against the Government’s vindictive Trade Union Bill, the Housing and Planning Bill and rejected a Tory motion on housing policies that will only stoke demand and not solve the housing supply crisis we have. Listening to the Tories try and say that they understand the housing crisis was just unbearable – their policies are making it worse!

The future of Ealing A&E is still uncertain. At Health Scrutiny hospital executives were vague – at a time when blue light conveyances to Ealing are on the rise, they may still downgrade the hospital’s emergency department. Northwick Park is simply not coping even before the now-annual winter crisis – we cannot lose even more capacity at Ealing. The independent Mansfield report into Shaping a Healthier Future has now recommended reversing the changes, which instead of saving money are in fact costing the NHS more – the Council, along with other boroughs affected, is considering its options.

One of my final meetings of the year will be the Scrutiny Panel on Child Sexual Exploitation. We’ve finished our initial background work, and are now interrogating the Council and our partners in how we work to tackle CSE within the borough. It’s not a problem that any one agency can solve alone, so this meeting will look at communication and training with partners, parents and young people, as well as the results of an independent external review of the Council’s CSE work.

South Acton news

The Ark Priory school’s sister school, the Ark Byron, was unanimously approved at Planning Committee this week, for the Acton Park depot site. The new site isn’t in the ward, although pupils are sharing the Priory school while they wait for the new building. I’ve had excellent feedback from parents in the ward about this school, so I spoke in favour of the application. As we can no longer open our own local authority schools, it’s important we work closely with academy providers we trust with good track records of delivering excellent education to meet the rising demand for school places.

Two sites in the ward are identified for education provision in a new planning policy document, the ‘Schools DPD’. This has recently had its ‘examination in public’ and minor amendments are now published for consultation before it is adopted as a formal policy. This is a proactive approach to planning for school places, and lays down a framework for sites into the future.

We’ve had two Acton Gardens Community Board meetings – first a regular meeting with the usual updates, and secondly the AGM where new board members were elected by residents. It was great to see so many residents come to this meeting – I’ve been working with the regeneration team to make sure there is more publicity of the scheme to residents, with new sites identified for posters around the estate.

Dates for your diary

The next South Acton Ward Forum is at 7pm on 2nd March 2016 at the Centre for Armenian Information and Advice on Mill Hill Road.

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

Questions for the leadership candidates

As the leadership contest gets underway, these are (so far) the questions I’ll be asking myself of the contenders.

  1. How far out of our comfort zone will they take us?
    We don’t win elections by persuading voters we’ll look after the NHS; they know that already. We had a comfortable lead on this issue throughout the campaign, but it’s not what voters ask themselves in the booth. They want to know we’ll build a strong and stable economic foundation so that we can afford to invest in our health service.
  2. How will they connect with voters from capital to coast?
    It’s no use being a metropolitan party. While we can’t afford to lose our city power bases, if we’re not winning coastal seats like Waveney, where I grew up, we can neither claim to represent the country nor run it.
  3. Where should power lie?
    One thing I’ve learned as a councillor so far is that while the coalition had been trumpeting localism, the reality is often the opposite. Residents don’t feel empowered when responsibility is devolved but power (and funding) is centralised.
    So what will our relationship with the state look like? Will communities be empowered, will regions, or will power lie in Whitehall?
  4. What will the UK look like in 2025?
    It’s no use fighting battles we lost in 2010 for what direction our country should take. By the next general election CCGs will have been operating for almost a decade, PCCs will have been re-elected, and construction (probably) underway on HS2.
    The vision our leader needs must be rooted in 2025: where will they take the country under 5 years of their premiership?
  5. What is Britain’s role in the world?
    Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the general election campaign for me was the back-burner on which foreign affairs was placed. Trident made a brief appearance, along with a clumsy attempt to blame Cameron for migrant deaths in the Mediterranean. But with Putin pressing at Europe’s borders, ISIS rampaging in the middle east and China’s ascendency, leadership candidates hoping to be Prime Minister must set out their stall for the international stage.

South Acton Councillors’ December report

Firstly, from all three of your South Acton Labour Councillors – Yvonne Johnson, Mik Sabiers and me – we wish you a very merry Christmas.

It has been a very busy year for us, not least with the local elections, and next year will be just as busy with the General Election coming up on May 7th.

Council business

The first round of proposed savings has now passed through Cabinet. There are a number of changes proposed to services that you may already be aware of, and there will be more in future Cabinet meetings before the budget is finalised and approved at full Council in February.

All of these changes are in the context of unprecedented cuts to our funding from central government – because George Osborne is more interested in cutting taxes for millionaires than he is in local services. The independent OBR has costed Osborne’s failed tax policies at an additional £25 billion added to the deficit, and we are paying that price. Continue reading

November Council Report

Acton Councillors, Dr Rupa Huq and Julian Bell attend the Acton Care Home remembrance service

Acton Councillors, Dr Rupa Huq and Julian Bell attend the Acton Care Home remembrance service

In the last few weeks, Yvonne, Mik and I have attended the remembrance services at Acton Care Centre and Ealing War Memorial. This year marks both the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War and the end of British troop presence in Afghanistan, so these services were particularly poignant as we remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

It is now six months since the local elections, and I must say that having experienced colleagues alongside me in the ward has been a real help, so thanks to Mik and Yvonne for their guidance so far. Continue reading