May 2016 Council report

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Acton Central Councillor Dr Patricia Walker taking her place as Mayor of Ealing for 2016-17

What a result! Thank you to everyone who helped out on polling day and in the weeks and months beforehand, knocking on doors, delivering leaflets, and signing up our promises for postal votes. That groundwork helped push turnout up higher than anticipated, one of the factors that saw us win locally.

We will find out in a few weeks how the result breaks down on a ward-by-ward basis, which will give us an idea of what’s changed since the local and general elections. For now, we can enjoy a brief break before campaigning begins to keep us in the European Union.

Council business

Despite the pre-election purdah period, work carried on for us with the meetings programme no less busy than usual.

The final meeting of the Child Sexual Exploitation scrutiny panel I have vice-chaired considered its draft report (pdf) which was accepted with some amendments to the wording of the recommendations. Given the nature of CSE, much activity is hidden from us, and there will always be more we can do to prevent, disrupt and prosecute. That said, we have learned many of the painful lessons from failures elsewhere, and the pro-active and collaborative approach means that our detection rate is increasing. Problems that we continue to face relate to cross-borough working and data sharing, and we recommended the Council does more to improve this.

As always, we had another scrutiny meeting on the changes to waste and recycling services. There’s a huge amount of work that’s gone on over many months behind the scenes to make sure these changes are implemented properly, which contrasts with the approach taken elsewhere to implement almost as soon as the decision has been made. Bins are now being delivered across the borough ready to be used from early June.

This week we also scrutinise the annual parking services report, another unglamorous but important statutory function that OSC carries out.

Finally, we have had our Annual Council meeting, where we appointed Acton Central’s Cllr Patricia Walker as Mayor for the year ahead. She’ll do a great job and is Acton’s first Mayor since my predecessor John Gallagher performed the role in 2011-12.

I was appointed as Vice-Chair of the Planning Committee, which means I’ll be chairing a number of committee meetings over the coming year. As this comes with an additional ‘special responsibility allowance’, it means that all three South Acton councillors are now performing roles with SRAs attached – we’re a strong local team!

South Acton news

The election campaign means we’ve continued to knock on doors and talk directly to the residents we represent, and pick up issues from them to help with. Even on polling day we were collecting casework – I began the day by getting drug paraphernalia cleared from an internal staircase on the estate, and dumped rubbish cleared from Winchester Street.

During last year’s general election we had local Tories scaremongering about the regeneration of the South Acton estate; this year it was the turn of Ukip, with their mayoral candidate making an appearance at Oak Tree Community Centre. Suffice to say – we are providing new affordable homes for existing residents, financed by additional private flats.

We know there are issues for some leaseholders, whose current flats aren’t worth as much as flats in the new blocks – that’s why we’ve introduced shared equity schemes to help them stay in South Acton if they want to. The vast majority of existing residents do choose to stay in South Acton, which is an endorsement of the regeneration project by those who live here.

We have our next ward forum on Weds 22nd June at 7pm at CAIA on Mill Hill Road. Do come along if you can to hear what’s going on in the ward, updates on local projects and a report from the police safer neighbourhood team.

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

April 2016 Council report

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One of the best views in Ealing, from Barwick House looking east

With less than a month to go to the elections on May 5th, all stops are out to support Sadiq and Onkar.

If you can join us on the doorstep, or deliver some leaflets, please  do. This is the first major test for us since the general election and will tell us how we’re doing a year on from a bitter national defeat. It will also guide our campaign looking ahead to the 2018 local elections, as the electorate is the same.

Council business

The final meeting of our Child Sexual Exploitation scrutiny panel is next week, with a presentation on some of the data analysis work that the Council is doing to help identify possible victims and perpetrators. There’ll be an update on the CSE/Missing Children action plan and we’ll also consider what final recommendations to make for Cabinet to consider. While it’s been a difficult panel to sit on, given the subject matter, it’s also been reassuring to hear all of the work that’s been going on and improvements that have been made, and to raise the profile of the issue among councillors and officers.

We’ve had two meetings of OSC since my last report. The first dealt mainly with the difficult topic of Heller House, and whether the decision to close it should be reversed. It’s clear that the current provision isn’t entirely fit for purpose, and has struggled to reach the important Good rating from Ofsted. We supported the decision to provide the same level of care to families who need it, but in a different way – but also recommended that the ‘third option’ of redeveloping the site be investigated, that a review of the consultation process is conducted, and an assessment of demand for the service is considered.

The second meeting interrogated the Safer Ealing Partnership, and following two high-profile incidents in the ward over recent months I asked about how the police go about reassuring residents. I know a lot of people were concerned following the stabbing in October and shooting more recently; the police and our own Safer Communities team have been working hard to make sure these incidents are a rarity. Cllr Peter Mason also challenged the Borough Commander on police numbers – despite his claims, the evidence shows that under a Tory Mayor there are fewer police for Ealing.

Finally for me on Council-wide business, I gave my third speech in two years on waste and recycling at Full Council on 12th April. The Tories refuse to acknowledge that the changes coming in shortly will have a positive impact on recycling – which will save us millions by reducing the amount we spend on landfill tax – so I dug through the published literature to highlight three studies that show our new approach is proven to work. It might be the only time that “Strategies for local authorities to achieve the EU 2020 50% recycling, reuse and composting target: A case study of England” has had such a captive audience…!

South Acton news

The issues I highlighted around Avenue Road last month continue to concern residents, but we have taken some important actions:

  • Planning enforcement notices to stop unpermitted use of properties
  • Improvement notices under the Housing Act to make these properties safe and prohibition orders to restrict the number of occupants

There is an appeal in relation to one of the planning enforcement notices, but this will not be heard until later this year. Rupa has helpfully written on behalf of residents to the Planning Inspector to request this be expedited given the continuing problems the property causes for neighbours.

One of the properties also now has a full planning application to put a purpose-built block of flats in place of the ramshackle single-storey development behind the main property, so watch this space.

Some of our local members have started a housing campaign – Home Sweet Home Ealing – which we hope will help improve conditions for tenants across the borough. You can find out more at https://homesweethomeealing.wordpress.com

Later this month we’ll have an update on the Brouncker Road incident at the regular ward police panel, as well as the usual run down of the crime stats and priorities for the local police team. Do let us know if there’s any areas you think our officers should be focusing on and we’ll pass on your comments.

Finally, work continues on refreshing the South Acton estate masterplan. Feedback from residents in the red brick area north of Avenue Road was that they wanted to stay in that area, rather than move to another part of the estate as the plan initially envisaged. We said yes to this change – this regeneration project listens to existing residents – but it’s meant we need to look at the masterplan again. A housing needs survey was carried out for the rest of the estate to feed in to this work which should be complete soon.

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

March 2016 Council report

 

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With the next Mayor of London and council colleagues at our borough-wide fundraiser

With just under two months to go until the London-wide elections, it’s important we pull together to make sure our vote turns out on the day. In a low-turnout poll, we have to fight for every vote. Please join us to give Londoners a Labour Mayor for the first time in eight years!

It was great to see Sadiq in Ealing for our fundraiser, as well as so many members supporting both him and Onkar.

Council business

Our budget freezing council tax was passed last month. It’s important to remember that 25% of Ealing residents earn less than the London Living Wage, and as the government continues to cut benefits and introduce ‘pay to stay’ rules for social tenants, we have to protect their pockets as much as we can. Passing on the cost of austerity onto the most vulnerable into the borough isn’t something I would vote for. By growing the tax base – more homes, more businesses – rather than increasing taxes, we’ve protected those who can’t afford a council tax rise.

Cllr Mik Sabiers made the point at the budget meeting that local government funding needs wholesale reform – council tax is a regressive levy, we’re not able to raise it only for those who can afford to pay, and the bands haven’t been updated since it was introduced.

Our penultimate scrutiny meeting looking at child sexual exploitation brought the council’s partners round the table. We looked at a case study of a young girl coming to the attention of the police and how each partner involved contributes to spotting the warning signs of CSE and then gathers evidence to identify where, when and most importantly by whom this exploitation is being carried out.

There is a lot of disruption work – shutting hotels down where they’re being used for abuse, orders preventing suspects from frequenting parks to meet with possible victims, and so on. Prosecution itself is a very difficult task, especially as some victims don’t feel they are victims at all: CSE is not an easy problem.

At Health Scrutiny we looked at the decision to close Ealing’s paediatric services this summer, as well as the independent Mansfield review of Shaping a Healthier Future. It’s clear that the CCG is pressing ahead despite local opposition, and without putting the full business case in public first. The council is looking at its options: the Mansfield commission recommended we instigate a judicial review to force a halt to the closures.

South Acton news

The ward forum was well attended as always, and we had some lively discussion of issues in the ward. Residents around Avenue Road and Heathfield Road have been particularly concerned about a number of linked HMOs and the impact these have had on the local area.

We’ve pressed officers to follow up on these concerns, and I’m pleased to say action is being taken. Planning enforcement notices have been served on all three properties, and further notices under the Housing Act are being prepared. We won’t stand for tenants being exploited or residents having to suffer from anti-social behaviour caused by poor quality HMOs. Some of the action is subject to appeal, so it may be a few months before problems clear up.

Rupa will be officially opening the new Berrymede Infant School this month. It’s a great new building to go along with the regeneration of the estate surrounding it, making sure there are places for the increased population. It’s a good example of the Council working hard not just to provide new homes but to make sure the impact of population growth is taken into account in the process.

Finally, don’t forget that your personalised letter informing you about changes to waste and recycling collections will be coming through your letterboxes. Not everyone’s collections will be changing so it’s important to keep an eye out for this information to know how you are affected, and when the changes will start.

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

February 2016 Council report

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Campaigning with Sadiq Khan

It’s been an interesting month so far – learning first hand how busy services at Queen Charlotte’s have become since Ealing’s maternity unit closed! Despite the extra pressures I’m pleased to say we received excellent care and the borough’s newest Labour voter (well, not for 18 years!) is settling in nicely at home in Acton.

Our arrival has meant I’ve missed a few meetings to look after mum and daughter, but I’ve still managed to get out on the doorstep to campaign for Sadiq and Onkar, and will be back out again this weekend. It’s vital we win in London, to freeze fares, build new affordable homes for Londoners and protect the capital’s most vulnerable from the Tory government.

Council business

Next week the Council’s cabinet will consider what recommendations to make about our 2016/17 budget. The option on council tax is to continue the freeze which will have saved residents over £1,000 during a sustained period of wage stagnation and economic uncertainty. We have focused on growing our tax base rather than increasing taxes, with £2.6m extra business rates, £2.3m in extra council tax from new homes, and one of London’s best council tax collection rates.

The budget will go before Overview and Scrutiny Committee this week, where we will look at the details before Cabinet and Council give their approval. There are still a number of difficult decisions to be made, but prudent financial management has ensured we are in a stronger position than we otherwise might be – we’ve been able to find an extra £2.3m for social care, for instance, and Cabinet will also consider establishing a £5m social care transformation fund to reduce demand in future years.

One budgetary pressure we don’t need to worry about as much as some councils is the introduction of the ‘National Living Wage’ in April – as a Labour Council we are proud to already be a Living Wage employer, paying the real London living wage and not Osborne’s Tory imposter.

South Acton news

There’s been a lot of interest over conditions in a number of properties in the Avenue Road area of the ward, with a raid by Council, Police and Immigration officers on a property covered by the One Show. 70 people were found to be living in cramped, poor conditions and residents have rightly been highlighting not only the poor quality of the accommodation but the impact such properties have on the area, with industrial  quantities of waste produced for a residential neighbourhood. Needless to say, we have been working with officers to come up with solutions to this problem (and the landlord licensing consultation I mentioned in my last report is one), but we are limited by the powers we have. I’m pleased that Rupa voted for the ‘homes fit for human habitation’ amendment to the Housing and Planning Bill, but ultimately the government blocked this common-sense clause with its majority.

We’ve had our regular Safer Neighbourhood panel meeting, where the local police team updated on recent activity in the ward. The team continues working hard on our ward priorities of burglary, robbery and drugs, alongside ASB that arises from both drugs and alcohol.

We also attended the Acton Gardens Community Board for a regeneration update. The re-phasing of the masterplan to bring forward the new homes we desperately need is underway, and although this creates some uncertainty for residents in the short term, speeding up the project means that residents get into new homes more quickly. We’ve made sure that communication with residents across the estate has improved – it’s vital that the community knows what’s going on.

You’ll have noticed work starting at the old Town Hall, where a new building in the gap next to the swimming pool at the back will also provide affordable homes. Planning permission was granted last year, and all the final details have now been submitted, so work can now get a move on to provide new homes.

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. Please do come along if you can – the ward forum has a budget to spend on projects in the local area and your input is important.

With best wishes,
Josh, Yvonne and Mik

January 2016 Council report

The year ahead promises to be a challenging one. We have a difficult budget to set next month, and the first major electoral test since the general election in May, where we hope to take City Hall back from the Tories.

While media coverage so far this year has focused on the reshuffle and other internal stories, we’re out on the doorstep campaigning against the Tories and for a Labour victory. We started off the year with leafleting at stations across the borough highlighting how expensive fare rises have been under the Tories, and how Sadiq Khan will freeze TfL fares for four years through efficiency savings.

I hope you can join us over the next few months. If you’ve never campaigned on the doorstep with us, there’s a training session at 7.40pm at Ruskin Hall on Thursday 21st January.

Council business

As we’ve had the Christmas break there’s not been a whole lot of Council business going on since my last report, but there are still a number of things to highlight.

This month we open a consultation into greater licensing of private landlords. We know that some tenants get a rough deal with poor quality, crowded accommodation, and residents complain about poorly-converted flats leading to issues with fly-tipping and antisocial behaviour. We have some powers already, with ‘additional licensing’ in parts of the borough, but we want to roll this out across Ealing and introducing ‘selective licensing’ in Acton and elsewhere to broaden the scope of properties we have powers to deal with. Currently if a properly doesn’t fall into a narrow definition of HMO, we have limited means to deal with the source of tenants’ and residents’ complaints.

The consultation is live at http://www.ealing.gov.uk/prslicensing until 3 April – please do let us know your experiences.

My final meetings of 2015 were both scrutiny meetings. The scrutiny panel I am vice-chair of met to look at the work Ealing is doing to combat child sexual exploitation, and received a report from an independent review of our processes. While there were some improvements highlighted, which officers are taking forward, it was clear that our approach – working in partnership, taking a multi-agency view – is the one that the evidence suggests works best. It was a reassuring meeting. Next month we will have evidence from the council’s partners, including the police, to look at what they are doing.

Finally, we had OSC which Mik chairs, receiving a number of call-ins by the opposition parties. These were all rejected, although the timing of the Lib Dem call-in meant residents had to pay for an extra full Council meeting on 5th January to ratify the revised Council Tax Support scheme.

2016 will see the major and high-profile changes to waste and recycling collections come into force. Residents will be contacted beginning next month with further details about when their wheelie bins (black for waste, blue for recycling) will arrive and when the new system – recycling one week, residual waste the next – will begin. Food waste, which makes up 30% of black bag rubbish, will be collected weekly from brown caddies.

South Acton news

We’ll shortly be consulting residents in the area south of Bollo Bridge Road about a new CPZ for the South Acton estate. Parking stress is causing issues on these roads, and while the intention was to introduce a CPZ once regeneration was complete, we’ve brought this forward as requested by residents.

Phase 6 of the estate regeneration will be submitted for planning approval shortly – this phase includes many new community facilities and improved public space. It sits on the current Oak Tree Community Centre and Hardy Court area, but the phasing of works means that there should be no loss of community centre provision during demolition and construction.

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.

All residents are welcome to attend and give their views on ward matters.

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

November 2015 Council report

 

This month we attended the annual services of remembrance at Acton Care Centre and Ealing war memorial. It’s always humbling to see the turnout at these civic events, as we gather to remember those who have given so much to ensure our country remains free.

Council business

I had hoped to speak at Full Council on our motion about Ealing’s help for refugees, but ended up speaking about business rates and local government funding settlements – no less important but perhaps less exciting!

The Tories want to pretend that devolving business rates to councils is a panacea, but it’s clear that a) many (Labour) councils will be hit with big cuts as the current redistribution from high-growth areas to areas of economic deprivation ends, and b) any modest rise in Ealing’s income will not make up for the harsh cuts imposed by both Coalition and Tory governments.

At Health Scrutiny we continued looking at the devolution of public health funding to councils, with a particular focus on mental health services. There is a lot of joined-up thinking already happening, but there’s always more that could be done.

Finally, at OSC we considered the communications plan for the wheelie-bin roll-out next year. This is a major change to the way we deliver the waste collection service, which will save us £2.3 million a year once everything is in place, so it’s important we get it right. Unsurprisingly the Tories were more interesting in trying to derail the project than making sure it gets done well – but officers had answers for each of their increasingly desperate hypothetical situations.

In more positive news, we have announced that we will be incentivising employers in the borough to pay their staff the London Living Wage with a one-off business rate discount. While this won’t cost us much, it could make a real difference to families struggling to pay the bills.

South Acton news

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Proposals for Phase 6 of the estate regeneration

Along with speaking to lots of residents on the doorsteps, I also visited the Bollo Youth Centre in their temporary home to take part in their debate night. It was great to see that regeneration of the estate hasn’t disrupted activity, and we had a good discussion about morality.

The Youth Centre will get a new home in Phase 6 of the regeneration, which will be submitted for planning approval in the next few months. This is the community hub phase, incorporating new retail units, dentist, community centre and, of course, new affordable and private homes. The latest in a long series of consultation events was well-attended and it was good to see progress in the designs since the last one.

Phase 7 was given unanimous approval at Planning Committee, providing more affordable homes at the bottom of Church Road than currently there. This will give us capacity to keep residents of the red bricks north of Avenue Road, as well as increasing the number of homes we have available.

The Thames Water works on the High Street have caused disruption but are almost at an end. Overnight working was suspended following an incident involving bricks thrown at workers and vehicles, further leaks were discovered and part of the shaft collapsed – so it’s taken a lot longer than initially planned to clear the sewer. In the meantime I’ve made sure that waste and recycling within the road closure area has been collected, as it was starting to pile up.

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