Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mayor of Merton Italian night

On Friday, I attended the Mayor of Merton Cllr Geraldine Stanford's Italian night at Geno's restaurant in Mitcham to raise money for her charities Faith in Action Merton Homeless Project and the Merton and Morden Guild. The event was attended by over 80 people and included a rendition of Italian songs along with the inevitable feast of Italian food.

In the raffle, I also won five bottles of wine, it seems that everytime I buy raffle tickets I win something. On winning, the Merton Council leader David Williams remarked to me "that it is another story for the blog", thus the posting. Still it was for a very good cause, the Merton and Morden Guild along with the Faith in Action project provides a very valuable service to many vulnerable people within Merton. Only last week at the Mayor's St George Day event, a pensioner from Pollards Hill remarked to me that the Merton and Morden Guild have organised many outings and events for her and how it allowed her to meet many other pensioners along with looking out for their welfare. The whole night was an excellent event and credit also needs to be given to the Mayor of Merton's team(Pat Charsley, Marie McCann and Carl Brown) for organising the event. Every year the mayoral team at Merton do a outstanding background role in organising the logistics of numerous mayoral events and always to a very high standard.

In a few weeks time Geraldine Stanford will be standing down as Mayor, over the last year she has been an excellent Mayor and an outstanding ambassador for Merton. She will be succeeded by the Deputy Mayor Cllr John Dehaney along with his wife Audrey as Mayoress and I've no doubt they'll prove to be worthy successors to Geraldine Stanford as Mayor.

I enclose a link below to the Mayor's charities
http://www.merton.gov.uk/council/mayor/mayorcharities.htm

Friday, April 27, 2007

Windmill Trading Estate update

The latest news on the Windmill Trading Estate planning application is that I've been advised by Merton Council that a decision will be made on the Windmill Trading Estate development by 8th June. Hopefully it will be good news and the decision of Merton Council to reject this application will be upheld. The proposed development is completely inappropriate for the site and been subject to widespread opposition from the local area as reported previously on this blog.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Alan Ball

I was saddened to hear the news this morning that World Cup legend Alan Ball had died suddenly of a heart attack. Only last week I remember reading up his entry on Wikipedia and his history as a footballer and subsequently as a manager. Although not the most famous of the 11 who won the World Cup back in 66, he was a tenacious footballer who made a considerable contribution to England's success that year. In more recent years he seemed to crop up with regularity on TV screen with his views on the game.

He'll be sorely missed.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Walkabout Wimbledon licensing hearing postponed

I heard yesterday that the forthcoming licensing hearing on 8th May to consider the Walkabout application in Wimbledon for longer opening hours has been postponed, a new date has not been set for the hearing.

Wimbledon Civic Hall

At the cabinet meeting last night, the Conservative administration decided not to proceed with plans to build a 600 seat auditorium on the site of the surface car park at the rear of Wimbledon Theatre. At present, plans are being formulated for a smaller auditorium on an alternative site in Wimbledon, unfortunately I cannot go into further details about the latest proposals due to confidentially and on-going negotiations with partners. This has been a long running issue in Wimbledon and further information will emerge shortly on the proposals.

Merton Tories push ahead with Fairer Charging policy

At last night's Cabinet meeting at Merton Council, the minority Tory administration agreed to implement huge increases in home care, day centre attendance and day centre transport charges. This is despite scrutiny recommending at a recent meeting for the proposed charges not to go ahead.

The charges when implemented will see home care charges rise from £12.28 to £15.48 along with the introduction of day centre transport charges of £2.50 per day for those assessed of being able to only make a partial contribution . On the day centre attendance charge, a u-turn took place and they decided to reduce the proposed charge from £9 per day to £6.50, whilst they'll be no increase for these assessed to make the full charge, for those assessed to make a contribution it will increase from £4 maximum amount per week to £6.50 per day which will equate to £26 per week, an increase of over 500% per week. The new policy will make no difference between those assessed to make a full contribution and those assesed to make a part contribution, so much for fairer charging!

At the meeting, Cllr Margaret Brierly admitted that "the consultation had not been handled well and that the consultation was perceived to be faulty", at least she was being honest though it is little comfort to those who will now be faced with these huge increases. From speaking to people in my local area, may were unaware of these increases and were genuinely shocked on being informed of the increase. I've no doubt it will also have an effect on attendance at the lunch club which provides avaluable service to many elderly people in my local area and it is one of the only opportunities for some to get out of their home each day and meet others.

By making the decision it is clear that the Tories do not see "Caring Merton" as a high priority.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Death of Boris Yeltsin

With the announcement that Boris Yeltsin has died, the world has a lost a significant figure who played a major role in the downfall of the Soviet Union. Anyone who can remember the scenes during the abortive coup of August 1991 with Yeltsin on top of a tank in Red Square, cannot fail to recognise his role in the downfall of Communism in the Soviet Union.

While his presidency was later marked by unpredictability on occasions and a fondness for the bottle, he nevertheless made a significant contribution in shaping democracy within Russia along with making it far more open to the outside world.

Sadly since he left office and increasingly in recent years, Russia has slipped back to old ways in many respects with limitations on the media, freedom of speech, the crackdown on political dissidents and the move away from a democratic state. While Yeltsin had his faults, Russia was a far more open place under his leadership then it's become under Putin.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

French Presidential election 1st round

Looking at the result from the 1st round in the French Presidential election, my interpretation of the result is that Nicolas Sarkozy is highly likely to be elected as the next President of France. Looking at the votes, I believe more of Bayrou votes are likely to transfer to Sarkozy in the 2nd round then Royal and coupled with National Front along with other assorted candidates, Sarkozy should be the ultimate winner. I would be surprised though not shocked if Royal came through to win but given her campaign to date and the distribution of votes in the 1st round, I cannot see her winning.

At the beginning of the year, I thought Segolene Royal would win as I believed the right in France under Jacques Chirac was a busted flush and that Sarkozy was too divisive a figure to be elected president. However, the impression that I've picked up from these shores is that the French now want a radical break from the past and see in Sarkozy a person who will deliver change and is prepared to make the tough decisions that politicians like Chirac have failed to make. The downside of Sarkozy is that like George Bush he is a divisive politician who deeply polarises the country.

In France, I think many see in Segolene Royal a politician who wants to continue with the status-quo and fail to make of the reforms that many people in France believe necessary to make. Many claimed a similarity between Royal and Blair in modernisation, though her platform did not reflect this and I doubt she would've pursued the changes necessary given the position of the French socialists. Throughout the campaign, she made many mistakes in outlining her policy positions and seemed ill-defined.

The huge turnout of nearly 85% shows that this election has engaged the people of France in choosing their next President. However, the most welcome news that the odious Jean-Marie Le Pen only got 12% of the vote, after the shock of 2002 when he came 2nd this is relief. The 2nd round will be interesting but I would be very surprised if Sarkozy did not win the election from this position, though I may be wrong in that assertion.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Darlington Lib Dem nominates BNP candidate

When I read this story that the Darlington Lib Dem Group leader(now ex) Steve Jones had nominated a BNP candidate, I was quite appalled that the Lib Dem's have decided only to have an investigation and no expel him on the spot. In his defence he is claiming ignorance, but can anyone be so stupid as to nominate an opponent and then claim a mistake, I don't think so and he must have known what he was doing.

If any Labour party candidate did anything like this they would be automatically expelled and disowned(no questions asked), the Tories similarly would not tolerate this kind of behaviour and for once I fully agree with Francis Maude. Sadly the Liberal Democrats instead of taking prompt action delay matters. For a change Sir Ming should show some leadership and expel Steve Jones with immediate effect.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/6574105.stm

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Community Call for Action

This morning as part of the Neighborhood Governance Review, I attended a meeting with Councillors Henry Nelless and Peter Southgate at the IdEA(Improvement and Development Agency)to discuss the new power of Community Call for Action(CCfA) which is contained within the Local Government Bill that is going through Parliament at the moment. The new power is to be implemented from April 2008 nationwide and is currently being piloted by Kirkless Council in West Yorkshire, Merton may also be involved in a pilot scheme though has yet to be decided. In terms of this power, two different types of community call for action exist, one for crime and disorder issues with the other one being for wider local government issues/community well being.

In terms of community call for action this builds on the proposals made in the Police and Justice Act 2006 for a mechanism, which applies more generally to ‘local government matters’. Below is a brief summary of the proposals.

1. The white paper places more of an emphasis on the role of the councillor, rather than on the rights of the public in triggering the mechanism. There is also no duty in the Local Government Bill for the councillor to respond to individuals who raise an issue. The White Paper states that “councillors will, from their correspondence and knowledge of their area and its people, identify issues which are of significant concern to the communities they represent”. Additionally, councillors will be expected to ensure that those who are more vulnerable and least likely to speak out have their views and needs represented.

2. In practice, we think this is likely to mean that the Home Office mechanism will deal with individual problems of residents, whilst the CLG version will deal with issues of more general community well-being (although this is not necessarily the intention of CLG).

3. The white paper goes further than the Police and Justice Act in proposing powers for councillors to resolve problems themselves. It suggests that local authorities consider what powers and budgets could be devolved directly to councillors in order to help them deal with minor problems.

4. While councillors will be expected to play a similar role in ‘filtering out’ frivolous or vexatious complaints, the White paper goes further in proposing the introduction of legislative safeguards to ensure that councils and scrutiny committees do not waste too much time on these types of complaints. They do not go into much detail at this stage however.

5. The Home Office proposals do not give much scope for local flexibility procedurally. The White paper however suggests allowing for scrutiny committees to ‘set their own rules in light of local circumstances’, which could include for example limiting the number of CCfAs brought before the Scrutiny Committee.

6. Unlike the Home Office proposals, there do not appear to be any limitations as to whether County councillors can initiate a CCfA or not (the Home Office proposals relate only to district councillors in two-tier areas). This is likely to make the mechanism more accessible to members of the public.

7. Unlike the Home Office CCA, there is no right of appeal to the Executive


Clearly when implemented they will have great implications for local government in terms of officer support and scrutiny where many of the CCfA will be heard. I believe that the proposals will greatly assist councillors in raising issues of concern within their local community. From my five years as a councillor, I know personally of issues within my ward where it is likely that I would've brought a CCfA where I felt this issue needed wider debate. While guidance is yet to be published about how they are to operate, nonetheless it is a proposal that I welcome and believe it will empower councillors in undertaking their roles.

Greg Dyke for Mayor of London??

It has apparently been reported that Greg Dyke has been asked to run by Francis Maude the Tory Party Chairman to run as a joint Tory/Liberal candidate for Mayor of London against Ken Livingstone.

At present both the selection process for the Conservatives and Liberals has come to a halt as the calibre of candidates putting themselves forwards was so poor or consisted mainly of the loony fringe(which Cameron is desperate to keep hidden away in his party) or complete non-entities. Apparently Greg Dyke seems to be quite keen on the idea, if he so keen why does not run as a Lib Dem, after all he may be just as successful running for them as he would be on a joint ticket.

This is clearly an act of desperation on the part of the Tories, effectively they've given up on beating Ken. From a Labour point of view, if the Tories and Liberal were to run a joint candidate, the Liberals would be committing political suicide in the parts of London where they are the main opposition to Labour(most of Inner London). Indeed until quite recently Greg Dyke was a member of the Labour Party(and stood as a Labour GLC candidate for Putney in 1977). I would be surprised if a joint ticket happened as I'd imagine that many Tory and Liberal activists would be completely aghast at a joint ticket.

Barring a catastrophe, Ken should be re-elected next year, as Mayor he done some great things for London including neighborhood policing, improving the buses and of course winning the Olypmics which will be of huge benefit to London in 2012. Ken is an effective Mayor and needs someone who will put the case for London effecitvely, why change a winning formula?

UPDATE: Looks like the Tories and Liberal are back to square one in their search for a mayoral candidate as Greg Dyke rules out standing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

David Milliband and the Labour leadership

The announcement today from David Milliband that he's not running is really no shock at all. While the speculation of the past few weeks was that he was going to put his hat in the ring, every time when questioned he ruled it out. While David Milliband is an immensely talented politician, he clearly recognised that his chances of succeeding were very low.

In terms of the contest, yes I believe the party would benefit from a leadership contest from a serious candidate (and I exclude McDonnell and Meacher from that category) and that Gordon Brown would be strengthened by facing an opponent. The end outcome will inevitably be success for Gordon Brown, however it would create a genuine debate within the party on our future direction.

Recently certain sectors of the media have embarked on a character assassination of Gordon Brown who has been Labour's most successful Chancellor ever. The pathetic attempt today by George Osborne and the Conservatives to no-confidence Brown on the change to pension taxation in 1997 is part of that process.

At the end of the day, Gordon Brown will be the next Prime Minister (no great surprise!) and that once in position, Labour's ratings will improve. We are going through a difficult time at the moment, we are in uncharted territory in terms of the time we've been in power, clearly we need to renew ourselves in office and go forward.

I believe Labour will win a fourth term in office and Gordon Brown will be just the person to achieve that success. In winning the next election, I will also be supporting Hazel Blears as the next Deputy Leader of the party and together they'll make a formidable force in the country. David Cameron may think that he's set for power, but we still have a few years till the next election and polls can change in a short period. I have full confidence in Gordon Brown and believe that we’ve a record of achievement in office to be proud of over the last ten years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Humiliation in the Cricket World Cup

The result against South Africa has to be one of the worst performances by England in one day cricket. To be bowled out for such a paltry score and then for South Africa to win with 30 overs to spare really is a humiliation of the highest order. Even when Scotland met South Africa they managed to achieve a higher score and out success at the World Cup have all been against second tier teams.

England certainly need to re-group, just under two years ago we had the incredible Ashes success and now we struggle to win a match. In terms of one day cricket we've been poor for a number of years and serious questions need to be asked of the current team. With the forthcoming series against the West Indies, England will have to get their act together. Also, we have to face reality that some of our players including Michael Vaughan and Andrew Flintoff are totally out of form and the runs have dried up.

Hopefully we'll see a significant improvement as it couldn't get any worse then the last few months, given the Ashes whitewash and now the World Cup.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Virigina shootings

Seeing the tragic events today at Virginia Tech, I have another sense of deja vu. This is another in a long list of massacres that have inflicted the US through the use of guns. I remember watching the Michael Moore film Bowling for Columbine a few years ago, the film itself had a powerful message along with the power of the gun lobby in the US through the NRA who've been one of the most powerful lobbies in the States. The film in itself was extremely moving especially when it involved interviewing the families who has list love ones in the massacre.

The easy availability of guns in the States is in stark contrast to our strict laws that saw handguns banned in the UK, one of the first measures brought in by the Labour Government back in 97 after the tragic events of Dunblane. One of the things that most struck me when I've first visited the States is the ease at which you can purchase a handgun; indeed Wal-Mart had a counter with handguns. In the States, despite countless tragedies, no change will take place in gun law, with 'the right to bear arms' being part of the constitution. Though some States can legislate to restrict sales and some have tightened up the law, in many states the power of the gun lobby will prevent even the most basic of restrictions on gun sales. With a nation where one in three of the population own a gun, many see guns as part of their security.

While this country does have gun crime it is a fraction of the US level. If we had gun laws as liberalised as the USA then I've no doubt we would have gun murders running at many times the level it does. With a President so gung-ho in his attitude to guns (and in a statement today made clear his support for the 2nd amendment) the status quo will sadly remain.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Aiming Higher project

Last Thursday, I attended a lunch and awards ceremony for the Aiming High project in Pollards Hill which was a project for young mums aged 16 - 19 years old and those expecting, not in education, employment, or training. The project has been funded for the last two years by the LSC and run by the Commonside Trust covering the wards of Pollards Hill, Longthornton and Figges Marsh in Merton.

Among the objectives of the project was to provide gave advice on money towards the cost of child-care and travel, a programme of personal support and guidance and an accredited Young Mums to Be Qualification as it also helped expectant mothers.

From the project, it has resulted in some young mums deciding to go on and do degrees, some have taken up training opportunities at college and others taken up employment opportunities. Many of the mothers have also acted as mentors for teenage girls who find themselves pregnant or have have just become young mums. At the awards ceremony attended by the Mayor of Merton Geraldine Stanford many were given certificates for their achievements.

The scheme has been a great success and tribute need to be given to Jenny Bismouth and Becky Night the two project co-coordinators. From this April, further funding has been received which will allow the scheme to be expanded to other areas in Mitcham

In an area which has an higher teenage pregnancy rate, this is an initiative that I welcome and assists teenage girls who find themselves pregnant or with a baby and gives them help and support.

Night bus route for Pollards Hill?

Last week I received an e-mail from Merton Council about a Transport for London consultation on introducing a new night bus into the local area. At present the Pollards Hill area is devoid of any night bus servic,e despite the huge increase that has taken place during the time Ken Livingstone has been Mayor of London.

The current proposal is that the N133 which runs between Liverpool Street Station and Tooting will be diverted at Streatham to run via Streatham Vale, Manor Road and Commonside East into Mitcham with services running every half hour. Although I welcome the new service, I would prefer the bus to run into the centre of my ward Pollards Hill and then into Croydon. This is the area of greatest need within my area and by providing a 24 hour link into Croydon, it would also cater for the large night time economy that exists in Croydon along with a number of night time workers who work in Croydon, Streatham and London.

At present the N159 is a which runs between West End and Croydon is a fifteen minute walk from most of my ward(longer for the more distant parts), although the N133 will provide a much needed service that runs closer to the centre of Pollards Hill it is still a 10 minute walk to the centre of Pollards Hill. I hope Tfl looks more closely at night bus services as they're extremely important for local people especially in an area of high bus usage.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Joint Health Scruitny meeting on Epsom and St Helier NHS trust

Last night I attended the first meeting of the Joint Health Scrutiny Panel in County Hall Kingston, this consists of representatives from Surrey County Council, Sutton and Merton. The purpose of the panel was to question the Epsom and St Helier trust which covers these three areas about the £24 Million deficit in the trust and how it is being addressed by the trust.At the meeting we had the Interim Chief Executive Graham Smith and a manager from the trust. Both of them gave a presentation to the panel about how the deficit was being addressed along with proposed savings. In December, the Chief Executive of the trust Lorraine Clifton resigned along with the trust chair shortly afterwards, Graham Smith was brought in basically as a troubleshooter to address the deficit.

Amongst the proposals, it included reducing peoples stay in hospital which will lead to bed closures and also ward closures in the trust. The reconfiguring of outpatient bookings along with various other measures primarily aimed at the corporate side end along with improving efficiency in the utilisation of scheduling of operating theatres also figure in the proposals.

In terms of job losses it looks like most will be through natural wastage, though staff turnover has been increasing, but then again morale is not exactly sky high at the trust given the cuts that need to be made(most of which has been due to trust mismanagement in controlling budgets). At the meeting I also asked questions about focus groups that they have set up into reviewing services, after questioning they seemed to have little or no involvement of hospital users and it has been geared more towards the interests of consultants and staff. They were also unable to answer questions about the potential impact of patient choice on the health service, which could potentially have a huge impact on income and future funding bearing in mind the commissioning model we're moving towards in the health service.

Another issue is that they seemed to have done a reversal on the use of the Sutton Hospital site. They are considering relocating outpatient services to Epsom and St Helier. When questioned they are clearly looking at options for the whole site which is owned by the trust, we were informed it was a reversal of last years policy. Just eighteen months ago, this site had been designated as the site of the Critical Care Hospital replacing both Epsom and St Helier but it looks like that the trust are now examining other options. Indeed some have speculated that they may be looking to sell the whole site with the Royal Marsden Hospital apparently interested in expanding its site(it abuts Sutton Hospital)it will be interesting to see what happens next as other uses are clearly been looking at for the site.

The meeting was conducted in a constructive manner and chaired very ably by Cllr Chris Pitt of Surrey County Council. Being a councillor who has not been on any health scruitny over the past year, it was also a useful insight into the workings of the NHS and the trust. I have to say however some of the answers given from the trust were slightly evasive(they are clearly not used to scrutiny), though I have to say it showed the benefit of scrutiny in questioning officials about their performance and the impact that their savings may have on service users.

Another meeting is of the joint panel is likely to take place in June.

Chuter Ede

Last night I attended a joint scrutiny meeting on health at County Hall(Surrey County Council) in Kingston which I will discuss further in my next post. Before the meeting I happened to look round the portraits and the building, unlike Merton Council offices(a nondescript sixties tower block in Morden)it is a fairly historic building with many fine portraits.

One of the pictures on display was that of Chuter Ede, Labour Home Secretary in the Attlee government. He was also elected as Labour MP for Mitcham in 1923(he only served nine months before losing his seat at the General Election) and was the first ever Labour MP for what was then the County of Surrey and the seat covered my council ward of Pollards Hill.What was quite unique was his local government record and he served as the Chairman of Surrey County Council and also Mayor of Epsom whilst an MP for South Shields in the North East(this would be unheard of in this day and age). Surrey has always been a true blue country even prior to local government re-organisation in the sixties and it was quite an achievement that he was elected to this position. This is also testament to his considerable skills and respect he had as a politician that he had been recognised in this way with a portrait in County Hall.

Bring it on

What a performance it has been for English sides in the Champions League, while the national team is pretty poor at present the club sides have made a huge impact on the Champions League with 3/4 in the Semi-Finals.

Another fixture against Chelsea is pretty tantalising and of course I think Liverpool will again come up trumps. Although I generally cannot stand Manchester United, I do hope they beat AC Milan and given their performance against Roma last night it is difficult to bet against them progressing to another final.

Although it is hypothetical, a Liverpool V Manchester United final would be something to savour though it could be a repeat of the 2005 final when Liverpool last triumphed, all I say is bring it on and it is why I'm such a passionate football fan. The one downside of the Champions League final date is the Merton Annual Council meeting which will could go on a long time and with it being a 30-30 it will also mean a 100% turnout, unfortunately it will mean no trip to Athens. If we happen to lose and it is Chelesa, well then it can go on all night though no doubt many of my Chelsea colleagues would disagree.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Greg Rusedski retirement

While he may not have been the greatest player to have graced tennis, in terms of success he is the only British player to have reached the final of a grand slam tournament in living memory(1997 US Open). He never came close at Wimbledon(Quarter Final was his best performance) but he was a fighter and put in some memorable performances during his career. In recent years he has been plagued by injuries but I've always seen his as pretty courageous player who if luck had gone his way may have been a grand slam winner. Enjoy the retirement, hopefully the next generation like Andy Murray will deliver that long elusive grand slam success.

Friday, April 06, 2007

P3 site application rejected (Hartfield Road car park)

At Planning Committee on Wednesday, the application for the P3 site on Hartfield Road(this is the car park at the back of Morrison's and the cinema in Wimbledon) was rejected by the committee. I'm not on planning and have not been given the full details of what happened, though from having looked over the application a number of issues did exist(some of which I would have raised if I was on planning) and a number of objections had been made by local residents regarding the application.

The turning down of the application will inevitably cause further delay to the building of the new Wimbledon Civic Hall, the receipts from this site would've been used to facilitate the development of the Civic Hall which adjoins Wimbledon Theatre.

A local resident has passed on to me an e-mail from Stephen Hammond(and their own comment) about the application and any potential appeal from the applicants. Chris refers to Cllr Chris Edge(Dundonald councillor). If the proposal is withdrawn from the market it will effectively be back to square one on the proposal, as the Labour opposition we will be watching closely future developments.


----- Original Message -----
From: HAMMOND, Stephen
To: [various residents]
Cc: corinna.edge@merton.gov.uk ; denise.march@merton.gov.uk ; david.williams@merton.gov.uk
Sent: Friday, April 06, 2007 7:48 PM
Subject: RE: P3 application rejected


Well done

I sent a letter of objection to Chairman which I hope was read out

Whilst it may go to appeal, the council can scupper that if it now withdraws the site from the market.
Chris might I suggest you speak to David Williams asap about this and then a new consultation and planning brief can be drawn up.

Stephen
----------------

It might tell you something about the Conservatives' plans for the site? It contrasts rather with David Williams' comment to the Council on 12 July 2006

"I know of nothing, however, at this point in time, which would prevent the sale of P3 going through. Madam Mayor, this Administration is committed to building a new civic hall."

p 24: http://www.merton.gov.uk/democratic_services/ds-agendas/ds-archived_reports/_4623-6398/6147.pdf

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Merton Council - Fairer Charging Policy suffers a setback

The minority Tory regime in the Civic Centre plans to increase Day Centre charges for almost 2,000 older and disabled residents by 1,025% from 31st April this year suffered a set-back at the Health and Community Panel meeting last night. At a packed meeting, Labour Councillors forced the Tories to reassess their decision. In an unexpected move, one Tory Councillor (Cllr Barbara Mansfield) refused to back her own side’s plans. She abstained from the vote condemning the increases, which Labour won.

A number of members of the public attended the meeting and argued that the increases were unacceptable. A local resident who would be affected by the charges explained to the panel how the charges would have a significant effect on her and her son’s life.

Labour Councillors also pointed out that consultation on the changes had been inadequate and flawed.

When questioned by the Panel, members of the Tory Cabinet including Samantha George and Margaret Brierly present were repeatedly asked to justify the increases but refused to comment. Clearly even they had difficulties defending the policy.

The Tories have decided to increase charges for using Day Centres from £4 per week to £9 per DAY – which equates to £45 per week, a 1,025% increase. They also want to charge older and disabled residents £2.50 per day for transport costs to drive them to Day Centres – where previously this was not charged for. Home Care users will also pay more – the hourly rate will increase from £12.28 to £15.48 per hour, a 26% increase.

The Tories say that the increased charges will “maximise income” for the Council. Overall, the Tories want to charge residents £0.5million more for using Day Centres and Home Care.

In terms of transport charges, the Council will also be implementing a flat rate daily charge of £2.50 for all those who use transport, at the moment it will only affects full cost clients attending day centres. Within my own ward of Pollards Hill, this new charge will affect users of the Pollards Hill lunch club who rely on Merton transport, many of whom are frail, they will be faced with a daily charge of £2.50 if this is implemented The lunch club in Pollards Hill is a fantastic service for many elderly people and provides a nutritious meal at low cost allowing them an opportunity to get out of the their house and meet other people. The people who use Merton transport to the lunch club are in most case far too frail to use public transport. If people stopped come along because of the transport charges, it will hit some of the most vulnerable people in Mitcham.

The matter now goes to the Cabinet on 23rd April for further decision, if they are implemented it will have a huge effect on many vulnerable residents throughout Merton, clearly being a caring council is a very low priority for the Merton Tories.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Liverpool, are they on the way to another Champions League final???

A convincing victory in Eindhoven tonight and a result beyond my wildest expectations. This was another convincing performance and Liverpool are knocking them in at the moment including another from Gerrard (to make him the record Liverpool goal scorer in Champions League) and Crouch getting another to follow up on his hattrick against Arsenal last Saturday (sweet revenge for the cup defeats this season).

If Chelsea beat Valencia over two legs as I suspect they will it will set up a repeat of the Semi-Final of two years when Liverpool won 1-0 over two legs. With us also beating them last season in the FA Cup we have a pretty good record against Chelsea. And if we get to the final, Manchester United may await, now that is what I would call a dream final.

Many hypothetical’s of course, but my prediction of Liverpool winning the Champions League is not so far fetched, they are certainly a far superior team to 2005 and have the potential to go all the way. With the extra resources coming in for next season from the new owners, the future looks very rosy for Liverpool FC.

Tracy Barlow found guilty

As a a big Coronation Street fan(when I get the time to watch the soap) I've been following the trial of Tracy Barlow closely over the last week and delighted that she has been found guilty.

As a character she has been one of the most manipulative, deceptive characters in the soaps history and seems to have finally got her comeuppance(or maybe not?). Kate Ford has been quite brilliant in playing the role of Tracy Barlow and hopefully she'll be back in the course of time(an overturned verdict?).

Monday, April 02, 2007

Andrew Judge re-elected as Merton Labour Group leader

At tonight's AGM of the Labour Group, Andrew Judge was unanimously re-elected as Merton Labour Group leader. Andrew has been leader of the Labour group in Merton since 2001 and as leader from 2001-6 helped transform Merton Council. Although we lost overall control last year of the council, we achieved the best result in London of any incumbent Labour Council. This was partly down to the considerable work put in during the period Andrew was leader within Merton Council in improving council performance and the delivery of services. The vast majority showed a marked improvement in his five years as leader. This will no doubt be recognised later this year when the results of the recent Corporate Assessment are released which primarily covers the period Labour was in control of Merton.

As an opposition party in a hung council we've held the Tories running Merton to account at every opportunity since the election last year along with exposing their waste and service cuts to vulnerable people. The next year will bring with it many challenges, but under Andrew we have no better person to lead us in the battles that lie ahead and lead Labour back to power in 2010.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

200 years since the abolition of slavey event in Pollards Hill

Yesterday along with my Pollards Hill ward colleague Richard Williams, I attended an event in the Pollards Hill Community centre to mark the 200th anniversary of the abolition of slavery. The event itself was organised by Rev Jennifer Thomas of the Ascension Church in Pollards Hill and Pastor Mike Jefferson of The Way Church.

A wide variety of different groups were involved including local churches in Pollards Hill, Doris Halford dance school, along the William Morris Primary School who performed Islands in the Sun on drums along with other music to fit in with the occasion. As with many events in Pollards Hill it also involved many different cultures which added to the diversity of the event.

Perhaps though, the most moving part of the afternoon was the rendition of Amazing Grace by John Newton. Until yesterday, I was unaware of the history behind this most moving hymn (and probably most the most famous) and John Newton the author who had been a slave trade master but had found God and realised the error of his ways. Through joining with William Wilberforce they were prime movers in abolition. I hope shortly to watch the film Amazing Grace which is in the cinemas, anniversaries like this really make you think about the past and that the suffering that many of our ancestors went through.